Seven-year -old Ed Deagle was on the corner of Lover’s Lane and Norton’s Lane in Deltaville with his dad just hanging out at the general store. It was August 23, 1933, a normal day until suddenly the skies darkened and it began to rain. Lee Deagle, his father, had just purchased a new car and walked quickly to his home, just a short distance away, to put the new car in the garage. By the time Lee got to his house, it was raining heavily and he found shelter in the house. As he looked out the door he watched his brand new car be tossed around like a toy by what turned into a tornado. The roaring twister flipped over the general store and destroyed everything in its path. Young Edward was nowhere to be found. The search went on for hours until finally he was found under the flipped over general store building nudged between wooden beams. Ed said, “I think God must have plans for me. He saved me during the tornado in 1933 and he got me through the fighting in World II, where I was nearly shot by a Japanese solider, and he just recently got me through a fall that might have killed me.”
Ed Deagle was born in Deltaville, the son of the legendary Lee Deagle. Lee Deagle was a gifted machinist and one of those people who could figure just how to do anything when it came to boats. He was a waterman and he worked on building boats. He had a small shop at the end of Lover’s Lane in Deltaville where he built a small marine railway into Jackson Creek. In 1934, he had the opportunity to buy the boatyard run by famed deadrise boat builder, Linwood Price.
Ed Deagle had big shoes to fill following in his father’s footsteps. Yet he went on to accomplish unprecedented achievements in the world of boat building and as a leading member of his community.
The marine railway was renamed Deagle and Son Marine Railway. A marine railway is a device used before the more modern boat lifts we now see in most boatyards. It is a cradle on rolling railroad track that rolls into the water and submerges so the boat can be float onto it. Both are then pulled up and the boat settles on the cradle as it rolls up and out of the water. It is now mainly used for larger and heavier boats. Eventually, Deagle’s boasted the largest marine railway with the largest capacity on the Chesapeake Bay. It soon became one of the busiest marine railways on the bay and was able to haul everything from large commercial vessels to large luxury yachts. The U.S. presidential yacht Sequoia graced the rails at Deagle’s. The famous Miss Ann, long a symbol of the Tides Inn Resort, was hauled at Deagle’s. From steel tug boats to the famed Higgs PT boats, they all at one time or another rolled up the rails at Deagle’s.
Ed recalls as a young teenager the many incredible jobs his father did at the railway. Many of the conversions from sail to power were done at Deagle’s. Ed said he recalls the first big boat his father hauled after he bought the railway. It was called the Harriett C Whitehead. The boat was known to be the largest commercial schooner working the Chesapeake Bay. Before Ed’s dad could haul the boat, he had to repair the railway and actually make it bigger to accommodate the large vessel. The docks had to be modified as well. He didn’t have any money in those days so he called upon his friends who worked for free to get the railway working.
Lee Deagle’s expertise in wood, machinery and just about anything dealing with boats made him the go-to-guy for converting sail powered log canoes, then larger schooners and bugeyes to power boats. Ed Deagle learned his boat building and repair skills at a tender age from his dad. Luckily for Ed Deagle, his dad was also his mentor and his friend.
Ed Deagle worked at the railway all through school until, at age 18, he was drafted into the army. Ed says when they asked him his occupation he said boat builder. The next thing he knew he was on a ship bound for New Guinea. In New Guinea, he was assigned to a US Army Amphibian Engineers Company. Ed had spent years around his dad’s railways so even at the tender age of 18 he was an expert on boat building. Ed and his crew assembled the six sections of 56 foot-long prefabricated landing craft. Arc lights and welding sparks lit up the night. The work was done right on the beach and went on for 24 hours day. Ed estimates they built over 100 landing craft. When the landing craft was finished, it was also Ed’s job to take them out into the water to do a sea trial to be sure they were working properly.
Ed likes to tell the story of when he was in Corregidor harbor in the Philippines in the thick of a battle. He watched as a US Navy dive bomber came in to drop its bomb on a Japanese gun emplacement on the deck of a freighter the Japanese had sunk to block the harbor. He said the dive bomber hit the gun and took it out. He was horrified as the pilot veered to the right and into enemy guns. Ed didn’t discover until he was home from the war that the pilot he watched was his boyhood friend Norton Hurd. Hurd crashed landed near the carrier he was attempting to land on, but was rescued by a destroyer.
When he returned from the war, Ed Deagle worked with his dad. Eventually, he built a marina next to the railway and expanded the capacity to 49 boats in covered boat slips. To get the marina operational, Ed first had to build his own dredge and dig out the sand to build the marina. Ed worked on developing the marina evenings and weekends for over 5 years while still working with his dad at the boatyard. He added a travel lift and covered slips. Ed Deagle said he built everything in the marina with “these own two hands.”
Ed Deagle married his high school sweetheart, Katherine Caudle, on July 15, 1946. They now live in a beautiful home overlooking Fishing Bay. Their home reflects their fascinating lives in the world of boats. Since he retired, Ed Deagle has used his boat building skills to build many authentic deadrise boats models. Many of the models he has built are models of famous boats, like the Iva W. Many of his models are boats they worked on in his boatyard and icons of the deadrise boat world.
In his book Chesapeake Bay Buyboats author Larry S. Chowning tells a story Ed Deagle told him. Ed said as a young boy roaming around the boatyard where the schooner and skipjacks were being converted from sail to power, he got to keep the yawl boats that were discarded because they were no longer needed. Many sailing vessels had yawl boats. Powered yawl boats were used to push and pull sail powered boats, like little tugs, when there was no wind.
In the beginning, Ed worked at both the boatyard and the marina, but it began to get very busy and he opted to run just the marina. Eventually, Ed went back to work in the boatyard and sold the marina.
Ed now leases out the boatyard and is enjoying his retirement with his lovely wife Kitty in his home just around the corner from the boatyard. The couple has a daughter named Becky Lengua, two grandchildren and three great- grandchildren.
Ed Deagle is a highly respected member of the Deltaville community and well known for his many stories about boats he and his father have worked on over the years. One of his favorite stories is about a time when a waterman friend of Lee Deagle’s named Captain Howard Ward from Crisfield brought his Chesapeake Bay buyboat in for repairs and bottom painting. While discussing the work to be needed Ward said, “I sure wish this boat was 20 feet longer.” Lee Deagle said, “I can do that” then both men sat down together for a few drinks. Once the repairs were finished, Lee Deagle remembered the owner’s request to make the boat longer. Lee got to work with his crew and a cross cut saw and cut the boat in half. He then moved the sections twenty-feet apart and built a section to join the two halves. A few weeks later when the owner of the boat arrived, he was astonished to see that his 50 foot boat was now 70 feet long. It seems the owner had had a few too many drinks when he commissioned the extension of his boat. He had totally forgotten that he told Lee to do the work. It all turned out well when the boat owner remembered and was thrilled to now have the twenty foot longer boat that he had always wanted.
Over the years Ed Deagle carried on the “we can do that” tradition established by his dad. Watermen up and down the Chesapeake Bay have great respect for the work done at Deagle and Son Marine Railway. Be it a conversion from sail to power, building a new deadrise or repairing the heaviest trawler or luxury motor yacht, the word around the bay was “Take it to Deagle’s”.