The Freewheelin’ Harvey Young

by Jack Fritsch

Harvey Young is one happy guy. You have all seen him along Broad Street, always with a big beaming smile. He explains that he wakes up every day with a smile on his face… he adds almost apologetically “I’ve always been that way. I was born that way. I came into the world with a smile on my face.” Not surprisingly he has wonderful happy memories of growing up on Nantucket in the 1960s and 70s. In 1970 Harvey was 13, in the 8th grade at the old Cyrus Pierce School, and enjoying a very, very big year.

Harvey was born and raised on Nantucket, the fifth of six siblings. His father came out here when he was five, and his mother later to work at the old Cottage Memorial Hospital when it was still a cottage on Westchester Street. They lived down Old South Road, when it was still a dirt road, one of the last houses before the State Forest. There were only three other families down that way, so it was a pretty tight neighborhood, with the kids all playing together with a pretty wide spread of ages. The gang also included the nearest families living at the start of Fairgrounds Road and in “the projects,” the new houses built after World War II on the two new streets laid out behind the Inquirer and Mirror (Goldstar Drive and Newtown Road).

His father built a baseball diamond in their backyard, which all the neighborhood kids loved. “Between the six of us, and the five Holdgate kids across the street, it didn’t take much to get a game together.” Harvey was a natural—born with a talent for projectiles…” if it was something to throw, I was great at it.” He became a fearsome pitcher in the island soft ball league. A couple of old-timers taught him a few tricks… even how to throw a proper diabolical knuckle ball (with a soft ball no less): “It was so cool watching it going over the plate, looked like a fast ball but wasn’t, and moved all over the place… it was a great pitch for striking out the batters, but the catchers hated it!”

His father owned Young’s Bicycle Shop down on Broad Street (founded by grandfather Harvey A. Young in 1929). He was a hardworking and enterprising man, who, together with his wife Cynthia working at the hospital, was able to provide well for their family. Remember these were still hard times on Nantucket— the summer boom with tourist dollars didn’t really take off until the late 1970s, so islanders perforce lived frugal lives—but Harvey complacently points out that they were always well fed and clothed. He smiles and remembers “We had a really nice childhood.” No one was wealthy, so everyone was in the same boat. Of course right across the street from the Bike Shop was the yacht club… but Harvey explains there was no resentment… “They were just different, that’s all.”

Mid-Island Bowl: Harvey front row, first on on the left in the black shirt.

He started working at a young age, like all kids in those days. Where off-island you might have a paper route, or mow lawns, Harvey was brought down to the wharf. There was always a stack of flat bicycle tires in the back of the shop, and at the age of twelve he started fixing flats at 25 cents per tire. He got very good at it… too good. His father quickly saw that Harvey was making too much money, and it would be cheaper to put him on the payroll at minimum wage for 40 hours per week (in the summers of course). He laughed “There really wasn’t that much for me to do. It was really like Bike Shop Day Care. I mostly just got in the way.”

What he mostly remembers was messing around on the wharf. One of his older brothers taught him how to fish (to get him out from underfoot at the shop), and he found his passion. He would go fishing every day with his drop line, catching scup, sea robins, eels, squid, lots of cunners (which they called wharf rats), an occasional skate and even sand sharks. He loved it. He was a wharf kid, messing around with boats, doing all the things kids do on wharfs… yes, even diving for coins when the ferries were coming in and out.

Two of the Young brothers, Harvey on the left and Robert on the right

His father had a great imagination and kept things interesting down on Broad Street, even in the off-season. At Christmas time, when downtown was asleep in those days before the Christmas Stroll, he would turn the front of the Young’s Bicycles into a Christmas Toy Shop and sell hot chocolate. Harvey loved it, and said people were very disappointed (even the Selectmen complained) when they finally stopped doing it. The hot chocolate would make a comeback though: when the weather got cold enough, Roger would embank sand in a large oval across the street (where the Steamship truck parking is now) and get permission from the Fire Department to open a hydrant to flood his make-do ice skating rink. The skating was a big hit, a mid-winter diversion, and the Young’s would open the shop to let people in out of the cold and enjoy their hot chocolate.

The biggest event in young Harvey’s life was when his father decided to build “Mid Island Bowl” in their property in 1962, an eight lane candlepin bowling alley. Harvey said even just having the construction site in their backyard was a blast: all the backhoes and heavy equipment, the excavation, watching a bowling alley get built from the sand up. It was the first Butler building on the island, with corrugated steel sheets hung on a steel I-beam frame. He gleefully remembers crusty old-timers stopping by at the end of each day, giving the side walls a thump and declaring “It’s gonna blow away in the first nor’easter!”

Harvey Young at Mid-Island Bowl

Well, it did not blow away, and lasted in business until about 1980. It was a pretty basic, plain bowling alley, a family affair, with no food service or bar. Harvey moved from the bike shop up to Mid-Island Bowl, eventually becoming the manager, tending to whatever odd jobs needed doing. Not setting up the pins though…”No sir, we had Automatic Pin Re-setting machines!” But most importantly, he got to bowl. And he bowled… a lot.

Harvey explained that if you put a lot of time into something, you are going to become pretty good at it. At a very young age Harvey became very, very good at bowling. By the age of ten he was winning every competition on-island. He became known as The Bowler. Strangers would see him out and about, and say “I know you. You’re The Bowler. To be honest, it freaked him out a little, a small kid having adults come up to him and know who he was: “I was thinking I don’t know who you are, we don’t hang out together or anything.” (Islanders will still often complain that living out here can be like living in a fishbowl—everyone sees and knows everything about you. Imagine what that was like when the yearround population was only 3400 or fewer).

Harvey (far right) at Mid-Island Bowl with Jane Melbie Valero and John Fee.

Harvey won every competition out here, and then would go over to the Cape for the Regional Bowl-Offs… and win. He won in 1967, 1968, 1969, and yes in 1970, and would then go on to a televised statewide championship Boston’s WCVB’s Candlepin Bowling show. He still gets animated talking about taking the ferry with his father, and driving up to Boston for the contests: “It was really big deal!” Harvey competed in the under 18 category, bowling against a lot of older kids from big cities. He did well, but always lost to Billy Doucette.

Billy was his nemesis: a brawny kid from Haverill who worked at Academy Lanes up there. He held the record for the most consecutive wins of any youth bowler. And he always beat Harvey. But remember, we said that in 1970 thirteen- year-old Harvey was enjoying a very, very big year. Well, that year he beat Billy Doucette. After losing every time for the past three years, he finally beat his arch rival. Once. He still didn’t win the championship, but who cared, he had beaten Billy Doucette! “It was my peak, my pinnacle, the height of my athletic prowess… since then it’s been all downhill!” he says with a delighted, cheeky grin.