Remember When?

By Plane, Boat, and Golf Cart

Pine Cay’s first (and only?) treadle sewing machine.

By Diane Taylor

Some offer mosaic classes to school kids. Others weave straw baskets for sale. Still others grow tomatoes or sweet potatoes or collect conch pearls or count birds or feed the donkeys or bear daughters or fight our legal battles or save the reefs. And it seems they all need pants and someone with a sewing machine to fix them. It’s called belonging . . .

Our fine house on Pine Cay in the early 1980s had no electricity. Candles, sometimes half toppled over in the late afternoon heat, lit the stage for dinner. Batteries provided light for the kitchen and living room. The day’s water was hand pumped every morning from the cistern underneath the house to a container in the attic from where it reached sinks by gravity. All laundry was washed by hand and sun dried on a line over the flat roof. The refrigerator ran on kerosene. The toilet was of the composting variety.

The Cuban crows were of the raucous variety, right outside the bedroom window. They began their loud discussions before sunup day after day until I ran out one morning waving arms and garbling in my best crow-ese. They were duly terrified and never returned.

Fortunate we were, Toddler, husband, and I to be living in this spacious home thanks to owner Chuck Hesse, who decided we needed the house more than he did. We had sailed to the Turks & Caicos from Miami in a 28-foot sailboat—an at-times harrowing passage with small child

aboard for new mother me. Chuck relocated to his work place, the dome, which was a five-minute walk away down a narrow sandy path. 

It was quite a voyage to procure a treadle sewing machine to Pine Cay in the early 1980s, but Diane Taylor made good use of it to sew a variety of clothes for residents.

Immediately after moving into this expansive airy house, I felt I could now expand my creative side with a sewing machine. Did Singer still make treadle sewing machines like the one I’d grown up with in the 1940s and 1950s in Canada? A single call via VHF to Miami unearthed a Singer company and yes, they still made treadles. Very pleased, I placed an order. The treadle arrived by air to Provo, by boat to Pine Cay, and by golf cart (no gas vehicles were allowed on Pine Cay) to my door step, no mishaps, no delays—it seemed both magical and completely normal. We ripped off the cardboard and placed it against the dividing wall between the kitchen and dining room where it shone like a new member of the family—shiny black metal feet and golden wood body topped with its glistening black arm. 

My treadle was the only sewing machine on Pine Cay. As word got around that Dee (as I was known then) had a treadle, people began appearing at the screen door with requests. Bennett Gardiner from North Caicos, a technician at PRIDE (Protection of Reefs and Islands from Degradation and Exploitation) came with a pair of pants over his arm and asked if I could shorten them for him. Of course! Then it was Kenneth Williams from Bottle Creek, another PRIDE technician, also wanting pants shortened. Sure, be ready tomorrow! At the time, Kenneth was helping fabricate and install an experimental “fence” made of dozens of Slinkies for the fledgling conch farm. The Toddler also needed pants, of the jumper style, and soon he was running around scaring the lizards and hermit crabs in a pair made of russet-coloured cotton knit.  

Then it was Ginny Cowles. Ginny had once flown Louis Leakey, the renowned anthropologist and archaeologist, around Kenya one summer. Now she and her husband Bill owned and ran the Meridian Club on Pine Cay. She came to the door one day, also with pants, of durable taupe-coloured cotton. She’d bought them from a catalogue and they were several sizes too big for her. Could I fix them, she asked. I was dubious about cutting them to fit, but she said she didn’t care if they were unwearable after I’d tried my best, as she couldn’t wear them anyway. Okay! Scissors in hand, I cut and cut and cut. Then sewed everything back together. Amazingly, they looked like pants and, more amazingly, they fit. How much, Ginny asked. Five dollars, I said. Oh, charge me more than that, she said. No, no, I said, that’s the hourly wage here. So, we settled on five and grinned.

Kenneth Williams was a PRIDE technician who fabricated an “experimental” fence for the fledgling conch farm out of Slinkies.

A few years later, circumstances dictated that I leave the Islands—by far the most difficult departure of my life. I gave the treadle to Alexander Grant, a young man who worked on Pine Cay during the week but lived in Sandy Point on North Caicos. Now Pastor Grant, forty years ago he wanted the sewing machine for his wife Nella and their three growing children. Sturdy and dependable as those Singer treadles were, Nella used the sewing machine for straw work for many years, and it still resides with the Grant family in Sandy Point, where it belongs.

Thank you to Charles Delancey for Sandy Point updates. Thank you, all these years later, to Chuck Hesse for the house. 

Chuck Hesse comments: “I lived, as a local, from 1974–75 in South Caicos. I became aware that many pre-central- power items were being stocked at TIMCO on Grand Turk. My house design on Pine Cay was an undertaking to live on a remote piece of property, making use of the kerosene refrigerator and freezer as well as the “wobble” hand water pump available through TIMCO. I added a 12-volt wind generator, VHF radio, and car tape player. For bathing, I added a passive solar hot water heater and cattle trough tank for gravity water pressure, and sunk my tub into the floor to assure better shower water pressure. Along with a small skiff and hand spear, I knew what happiness was about. I thought my home incorporated all that local residents saw as normal with just a few more creature comforts—a lifestyle Diane seemed to find uniquely memorable.”

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South Caicos was once a major exporter of salt harvested from its extensive salinas. Award-winning Master and Craftsman Photographer James Roy of Paradise Photography ( created this vertical composition by assembling a series of six images captured by a high-definition drone which was a half a mile away from his position.

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