(Front page feature Sept. 16 Fairfield Sun newspaper)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.
Fairfield, CT – He’s a true native son, no doubt about it. A lifelong resident of Fairfield, Joseph “Bud” Sambrook has seen this town change from a farm-oriented community to the thriving hive of activity and culture that it has become, and is a living record of local lore.
Nicknamed at birth by an uncle who thought he looked like a little bud, Sambrook, 74, recently interviewed at his Oldfield Road home, grew up in the area off Easton Turnpike near General Electric’s headquarters. His father, Joseph, was a tool and die maker at the Underwood Elliott Fisher Typewriter Co. Mom Eleanor was a stay-at-home mom then legal secretary when Sambrook and his elder sister, Joan, were grown.
Sambrook was educated at Stratfield and Lincoln Elementary schools and then Roger Ludlowe, which is now Tomlinson Middle School. “It was a rural community for sure back then,” he recalls. “If you missed the school bus, it was a long hike from home. I would pass five working farms just on my route.”
As a boy during World War II, he clearly remembers the phone ringing at the family home and a friend reporting, “The Japanese just bombed Pearl Harbor!” He confesses he didn’t know who the Japanese were or Pearl Harbor, but he knew it was bad. “I remember a little inset on the front page of the paper each day showing our troop positions. And we listened to Walter Winchell at 7p.m. every Sunday night to get the latest reports.”
He also recalls the local blackout and air raid warden. “He would come out with his whistle and helmet and tell you to pull down your shades. And car headlights were painted halfway down.” Among the most exciting moments for him during this period was to watch “the Corsairs and P-38s fly very low over the house. They built in Stratford and would test fly them from there.”
An early work experience was at Colonese’s Farm. “I picked vegetables and slopped hogs. I even learned to drive there… tractors at first, then a ’36 Chevy pickup truck.” Later, in high school, he worked at a market at Dolan’s Corner on Black Rock Turnpike. “I would stock shelves, fill orders and deliver groceries to people’s houses.”
He recalls that, near where Old Navy is located today, “there was a spring called Rock Pohaten and they used to bottle water there. This was before bottled water became all the rage!”
After high school, Sambrook went into the air force, “probably because I fell in love with all the airplanes going over the house!” He served a term of eight years – four active and four reserve – and was initially stationed in Amarillo, Texas. Discharged as a staff sergeant, Sambrook caught the very tail end of the Korean War and the beginning of the Vietnam War. His name is included in Fairfield’s honor roll for both conflicts. He was an instructor, teaching engine and aircraft mechanics. “Every so often, they would let us go on a ‘prisoner chase’ to break up the monotony, transporting prisoners from one facility to another,” he remarked.
The period after his discharge was tough as the nation was experiencing a recession. Needing a job, he reported to Poster Hardware, where he ended up working for a few years. Come 1964, though, he realized that he’d never really completed his education and didn’t have a trade. The health benefits and pay offered by the Fairfield Police Department were attractive. Little did he realize then that the force would be his employer for the next 42 ½ years!
“I went from patrolman to chief,” says Sambrook. “When I first joined, Fairfield was a sleepy little community. In the late 60s, we started experiencing the drug culture, and things seemed to take a turn for the worse. During my 14 years as chief of detectives, Fairfield had its share of bank robberies, assaults and even some homicides.”
He related a particularly notable case that occurred in the mid-80s during his tenure with the detective bureau. “A newborn baby was murdered. There was a lot of investigation and a realization that there was a Santeria (a religion of Caribbean origin) connection. We thought we knew who the perpetrator was, but we weren’t able to get him. The case created a nationwide – even international – buzz. It was tremendously involved.”
In his early days on the force, he met his now ex-wife, Shirley, a court stenographer. They were married in 1969 and had one daughter, Michelle, now a mother of four. Bud and Shirley bought a house on Shoreham Village Drive off the Post Road near the Fairfield Motor Inn. She retained the home after their divorce in 1980, and he soon happened upon his current residence – a unique bachelor pad indeed!
“I bought my present home from the man next door, who lived there as a kid,” says Sambrook. “It was originally 16’x20’ – a Sears and Roebuck catalog kit house, assembled on the lot in 1916. A single-story bungalow. It was affordable, I saw the potential and I liked that it was set back from the road 200 feet. It provided privacy, and had a marsh at the back, too.”
The first modification he made was to tear off the roof and add attic storage. His plans grew from there. “I wanted to create a contemporary saltbox and added sections and pieces over the years.” The home is now approximately 1,400 square feet and incorporates elements that Sambrook essentially scavenged from here and there. “All the windows came from a woman down near the beach who was having new ones put in. She asked me if I knew anyone who could haul the old ones away. I loaded them in my pickup and brought them here. Then I stripped umpteen layers of paint off them, customized them and naturally stained the wood. In fact, all the wood in the house is naturally stained.”
The wide-plank pine flooring in his 9’x15’ sitting room came from another source. “A friend in the demo biz was tearing down the original Fairfield Lumber Building. These planks were an overhang that I repurposed.” As to the exposed, hand-hewn ceiling beams, he says, “I drove up to Litchfield County where an old building was being torn down. These were full of nails, filthy dirty and covered with bird doo.” He refurbished and installed the beams himself.
His carpentry talents extend all throughout the house. The front door was initially 1 ¾” thick. He covered both the front and back with a layer of pine, installed a lock set from an old house in Easton and scored the exterior with a “quilting” pattern. He dug out the basement himself and installed I-beams for support. He built a 6’x5’ Rumford fireplace with a bake oven feature from specs in a book. “Rumford was a guy that corrected fireplaces to throw heat. The bricks are highly fired, very hard. The actual firebox is shallow; the ‘cheeks’ reflect the heat out. And the hearth is not raised like in most homes now, which is a plus.”
In 1997, Sambrook became chief of the Fairfield Police Department, a post he held until 2006. He hasn’t completely retired, however, and pilots a police boat in Essex, patrolling the Connecticut River from Saybrook to Deep River every weekend. He had run the police boat in Fairfield for many years prior and has had a number of boats of his own -- both power and sail – over time. About the weekend work, he says, “It’s a nice healthy diversion. I meet some nice people. And there’s a certain fulfillment of not feeling retired and put out to pasture.”
The post is not devoid of drama and excitement either. “There was an ugly situation two years ago, with a power boat hitting a sailboat and killing a woman, a professor. This summer, a boat called the Blue Guitar was moored mid-river. It was over 100 feet long, from London, and belonged to Eric Clapton. I didn’t see him – his crew would go for supplies.”
But his main diversion has been his antique cars. At present, he owns a ’36 Ford pickup, ’37 Chevy police car, ’37 Buick Century and ’41 Chevy coupe. These are housed in a garage adjacent to his house that he has expanded over the years and dubbed “Oldfield Horseless Carriage Co. 1916.” While still head of the detective bureau, he revamped a recovered stolen Camaro that had been donated, turning it into a DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) car. “I’d drive it in the town’s annual Memorial Day parade. It had speakers on the outside and played ‘Bad Boys.’” Sambrook also refurbished the police car, obtaining “FPD” vanity plates and driving it in the parade as well. “There was a young local boy with leukemia that just loved police. We made him a uniform with sergeant stripes and dubbed him an Auxiliary Officer. He’d ride with me in the parade. Ultimately, he beat cancer and I still keep in touch with the family.”
Three cheers for Joe “Bud” Sambrook, Fairfield’s True Blue Town Treasure!
Snippets of Fairfield History
Former Fairfield Chief of Police “Bud” Sambrook, in a recent sit-down, recalled historical highlights from the town’s past.
Police Call Boxes: “There used to be call boxes all over town before two-way radios were installed in police cars. If a cop saw a light on above a box, he would call in to learn about a local incident. The first radios were only one-way – you could get a message, but couldn’t call back.”
Heritage Square: “I was still new to the department and remember when Heritage Square burned down. The structure was an old lumber company converted into a 2-level retail complex. The night was very cold and the fire was difficult to put out. I saw a fireman’s helmet with water dripping off it and immediately freezing, turning to icicles.”
South Benson Marina: “There was just a channel there that ran out and created a riptide. Several people drowned. Wendy Clark would rent rowboats. My buddy and I would go out fishing and have difficulty getting back up the channel if the tide was going out.”
Before I-95: “When I was a kid, there was no I-95. Think of all the semis going down U.S. 1. Back then, in the center of town, there was diagonal parking with parking meters.”
Corner of Reef and Post Roads: “There was a police post there, manned by a cop 16 hours a day, in four-hour shifts. If you stepped away, that would be the moment the chief showed and would say, ‘Where’s the center man?’ And you’d better have a good excuse.”