The MLA’s steadfast business members: Lonnie’s Hydraulics, Topsham

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) was established in 1954. In that year a determined group of lobstermen banded together to gain greater control of their fishery and the price paid for their hard work. Since that time, numerous businesses connected to the lobster industry have shown their support for Maine lobstermen by becoming MLA business members. Many have done so for decades, passing on the belief in the organization to their children and grandchildren. This month Landings begins a series of interviews with a few of the MLA’s longtime business members.
Lonnie’s Hydraulics Inc. of Topsham is run by Rodney and Karen Woods. But the business was started by Rodney’s stepfather, Lawrence “Lonnie” Staples, who passed away in 2015. Staples had worked for 45 years as a crane operator, a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local No. 4, before, according to Woods, “he started fixing hydraulic jacks in the cellar. Then some fishermen talked him into getting some hose machines.” Bit by bit Staples took on more hydraulic work until in 1986 he officially started his company with his wife as bookkeeper and Woods as his co-worker.

A talkative man, Staples was a Mainer to the core, proudly announcing that he had never left the Pine Tree State’s borders. And he was a frugal person. “He started out with 25 feet of hydraulic hose and a few fittings because that was all he could afford. You only spend what you’ve got,” Woods recalled. “All the old-timers on the coast remember him.”
Woods is proud of the business he and Lonnie built which his son, Nick, who graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Maine, is now a part of. Today they do machine work related to hydraulics both for fishing vessels and for heavy excavation companies. “When the phone rings you don’t know what will be on the other end,” Woods laughed. “It keeps it interesting. If you ever think you know all about hydraulics, then you’re a fool.”

Rodney Woods, left, and his son Nick are carrying on the family business. K. Woods photo.

Being a MLA business member continues to be important to Woods, as it was to Staples. “Lobstermen are a big part of our business,” Woods said matter-of-factly. “It makes sense to look out for them.”