By Erin Place
OXFORD—Three local stars of the History Channel’s “Down East Dickering”—Tony Bennett, Chris “Codfish” Codwell and Duke the Jack Russell terrier—couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate their birthday than with their fans at their birthday bash this Saturday at the Oxford Plains Speedway.
The trio hails from Bethel and is in the midst of shooting the second season of the reality TV show that follows them and three other groups around the state of Maine doing what they do best—making a living by dickering, or bartering back and forth for the best deal for goods and services. Bennett, Codwell and Duke all celebrate their birthdays this month, with Duke’s being a milestone at 10 years old.
The “day of fun and motor madness” kicks off at 9 a.m. at the dragway area of the speedway, behind the track, which is on Route 26 in Oxford. There’s the flea market, swap meet, yard sale and antiques for perusing. Admission is $5.
“We’ll actually be dickering in the morning. This whole event is going to be televised. It’s going to made into an episode. … We wanted to give everybody a piece of our time,” Bennett says, adding that attendees should bring their wares. “You can bring cattle if you want [to dicker with], just bring a shovel.”
He adds they’re looking for more vendors. Anyone interested can call 890-9720 or the speedway at 539-8865, rental space is $10. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. is the Show It Off car, motorcycle and snowmobiles show, and best in show will be judged by the trio. There’s a $5 display fee.
At noon is the Chili and Barbecue Challenge. Bennett says contestants are still welcome for the cook off and it’s free to enter. Those wishing to try the entries can pay $10 for a bracelet and sample each cook’s masterpiece. The money will go toward the prize for the contest and the rest will be donated to Duke’s favorite dog charities, or charities, in the state of Maine, Bennett says.
The grandstand opens at noon, and admission is $12 or $15 for the pits. At 2 p.m., there will be spectator drags, burnout/smoke show contest, truck tug of war and a demolition derby at the main track. There’s live music throughout the day and the meet and greet with Bennett, Cordwell and Duke is from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. After 6 p.m., the party will continue with more music and fireworks and there’s free camping all weekend. The rain date is Sunday, Sept. 21.
“Duke will be there throughout the day to meet people as well,” Bennett says. “He’s definitely the star of the show.”
Bennett says he and Cordwell don’t want any birthday presents, but those wishing to give Duke a treat for his birthday can.
As far as landing a spot on the show, Bennett says film crews with the History Channel were in the area shooting and he called up his buddy to make a video of him. The footage he sent in featured Duke and his grandkids, along with Bennett canoeing, four-wheeling and burning rubber on the tires of his truck.
“The chase has been on ever since,” he says.
Bennett says “Down East Dickering” centers around the weekly publication Uncle Henry’s Swap or Sell It Guide, which he and the other stars of the show call “the Bible.”
“We all read the Bible and then the chase is on from whatever we find in there,” he says. “I’ve been reading Uncle Henry’s since I learned how to read, since the mid-’70s. I’ve been chasing stuff out of it all of my life.”
Bennett grew up two houses from the Bethel dump and used to ride his bike there as a kid, calling himself a “dump picker.” He’d watch and observe everyone at the dump, seeing what the antique and junk dealers would come and look for and watch people search for parts for lawn mowers, motorcycles and the like.
“I ended up doing it all and here I am 30 years later,” he says, adding he picks and dickers at yard sales and flea markets, too. “I can’t drive by a yard sale and flea market. I have to go look. Unless it’s all kids clothes, [then] I’ll drive on.”
What he’s searching for while on the hunt is anything and everything that could be of value. It ranges from antiques to fishing and recreational equipment, from to round top boat motors to Harley Davidson and Indian motorcycles, parts and pieces of anything mechanical to rear-end snowmobiles. And the list goes on.
A recent development for Bennett and Codwell—who are cousins and have been dickering together on and off for 20 years and steady for the past five years—is instruments. Bennett says things have changed over the last two decades in the dickering and trading world with more people entering into the game and one has to adapt to survive. A recent swap, which will be featured in the upcoming season, involved an instrument, but he couldn’t divulge more details about the deal, except that it’s a niche they’re happy to develop.
“We’re going to do more of it. There’s money in it, it’s something people ain’t doing yet,” Bennett says, adding that people will jump on board when they figure out they can make money trading in instruments.
Bennett credits his mother for teaching him how to dicker, who now lives in Maine two months out of the year and resides in Florida for the rest.
“She’s a wheeler and dealer to this day. … She’s a pack rat from hell that’s where I got the disease from,” he says. “I have no rhyme or reason. I will collect any goddamn thing if it’s cheap enough, I will drag it home if it’s free.”
As a kid, Bennett remembers his mother supplementing her income by dickering during the week as a way to put food in the fridge. For those who think “Down East Dickering” isn’t a way of life for Bennett and the other members of the cast, he says think again. He’s never worked a set schedule except one summer when he was 15.
“It’s pretty much all I know. I punched one time clock in my entire life,” he says, adding it was when he worked at Story Land in Glen, N.H., just across the Maine border. “The day before we closed [for the season] they told me if I didn’t have my hair cut, I’d be fired. Of course, I didn’t cut my hair and I got fired and I’ve never punched a time clock since.”
Bennett, Codwell and Duke have been filming for the past three months and have finished shooting five or so episodes of the upcoming season. Bennett estimates it takes them four months to shoot eight episodes, with about 120 hours going into each, which is whittled down to about nine minutes of footage per episode. He says the crew constantly keep the cameras rolling to get all the shots they need for the show, including legitimate reactions while filming.
“You can always redo it but you can never get that same shot the second time. It’s never going to be as pure as the first time,” Bennett says about capturing reactions on video. “So they film the hell out of us to get that nine minutes.”
He adds that most people don’t realize the commitment it takes to shoot the show and, for the most part, his family has been supportive. Bennett says he hasn’t had a day off in three months and even when they’re not shooting they’re setting up deals and preparing for the next time the cameras will roll.
For more information on the birthday bash, visit www.oxfordplains.com/.