He once led the California Highway Patrol on a 3-county chase at the end of which the officer bought him an Arbys Roast beef.
He told US Senator Edward Kennedy to get a real job while they stood side by side on the half-deck of The Mayflower.
He schooled famed archaeologist/anthropologist James Deetz on the sociological ramifications of The Brady Bunch–
He is Cape Cod’s Most Interesting Man.
With a name harkening back to colonial times and a wit as droll as any yankee who has ever scratched the earth, Dave Wheelock is an authentic throwback. Shipwright, timber-framer, archaeologist, author, museum curator, historian and part-time farmer and fisherman, stories flow from beneath his Newman’s Own mustache in a soft spoken, southeastern Massachusetts lilt. Women have written him fan mail about his dreamy blue eyes. Dudes want to have lived out even a small percentage of his stories.
I don’t always restore house frames, but when I do, it’s for a good cause.
Needless to say, it’s been nice to be able to work with him.
We’ve been moonlighting at The Benjamin Nye Homestead, replacing sills, post bottoms, joists and a few studs. It’s quiet on this little jog off of touristy route 6-A. You should visit the place. They’re open for the season.
It’s a charming little house–quintessential Cape Cod, really.
Digging out old sills gives Dave a chance to sift through the debris for artifacts on this rich site:
He’s found coins, the obligatory pottery sherds, and pre-colonial evidence of a Wampanoag settlement–a storage pit in the front hall of the house, dug well-before the Nyes’ built their home.
A woman’s hand-
The other day, while fetching out the rotted end of an old joist, Dave also found this:
To the untrained eye, this would appear to be nothing more than the random remnants of a rat’s nest.
But Cape Cod’s Most Interesting Man knew better–
This is the coolest thing I’ve found in the last 20 years, he said.
If you knew Dave, you’d realize how significant this statement was.
It was flax–expertly, patiently arranged by “a woman’s hand”, as Dave said. The detail of such a delicate and fragile artifact somehow surviving for centuries beneath the floor was astonishing, once Dave put the rarity of such a find in context.
Think of all the steps which led to this, Dave reminded us: The growing of the flax, its meticulous combing and dressing, and the rat which unbelievably did so little damage to it. Perhaps the Nye’s sprinkled a little more arsenic around the rat-hole when the original thievery was discovered sometime around the Revolutionary War.
All this drama played out on a little stage here on Cape Cod, fleshed out centuries later by an expert eye and a sublime storyteller.
Another day another find:
Our man Dave picked up a sash-sawn floorboard the other day–it came up from near the hearth of Nye House’s parlor.
Those divots, he was sure, represented the shallow burning of the legs of hot kettles being put down on the pine. They looked a little like cigarette burns to me, but we always influence our perceptions of “history” with our own experience, don’t we? It would be interesting to see if any of the house’s kitchen tools fit the profile of the burn marks.
Oh, he carves gravestones too-
Thanks to Tonia Deetz Rock for the reminder about this little gem of a video which The Heritage Museum in Sandwich produced a few-less gray hairs ago:
Jethro’s got a goat playing a fiddle inside his head–and you know what they say about goats–they’re hard to catch.
The stories flowed while we cut new oak to replace the old: Tales of eccentrics who hurled angry epithets at rocks in the woods, tales of ground penetrating radar and whether to exhume or not to exhume, and a characteristic chuckle from Dave when he realized he didn’t know his own cell phone number–
I’d call myself but I wouldn’t pick up for that asshole.
The Benjamin Nye Homestead & Museum is off route 6A at 85 Old County Rd in Sandwich, Mass.
They’re open Tues – Sat, noon-4:30. (508) 888-4213