Three years ago, Oak Bluffs writer Thomas Dresser built a shelf to display his books. He built it with space for 12 books, a way to show his wife Joyce that he would soon slow down with the writing.

But Mr. Dresser didn’t slow down, and his bookshelf has become quite cluttered. He has now written 15 local history books in as many years, with two more planned (one a collaboration with Mrs. Dresser), in addition to two novels, several New England history pamphlets and two Vineyard tour books.

“I find it easier to write than to talk, really,” said Mr. Dresser, in a Gazette interview following the publication of his newest book, Martha’s Vineyard in the Roaring Twenties. “People call me a historian, but really it’s more like just I’m doing what I like doing.”

Writing has long been a passion of Mr. Dresser’s, going back to a childhood newspaper he started in his hometown of Holden.

“My brothers were forced reporters,” he said of the Springdale News, which he ran for three years before passing it on to his brother. By the time it was shuttered, he said, it was the oldest newspaper in town.

Mr. Dresser’s other passion, teaching, was discovered by accident.

“I went through the conscientious objector thing for Vietnam and I knew teaching was one of the things you could get assigned too,” he explained.

He spent the next decade teaching third grade before moving to nursing home management.

It wasn’t until 1995 that Mr. Dresser came to the Vineyard. At a school reunion, he reconnected with a classmate, the future Joyce Dresser, and relocated to the Island where she taught eighth grade. Soon after joining her on a field trip here, Mr. Dresser’s love of education was rekindled and he decided to become a school bus driver.  

“I did that for 13 years, so I started with some kids who were in kindergarten and finished when they graduated high school,” he said.

The bus driving gig left Mr. Dresser with a few free months each summer and he found himself getting roped in to driving an Island tour bus.

Mr. Dresser had already dipped his toes into local history tours with Dogtown: A Village Lost in Time, a booklet on a region of Cape Ann. It was the town’s first guidebook since 1896, he said, and sold more than 7,000 copies.

But driving the tour bus forced him level up his explanatory skills.

“You have to time it so that you’re talking about the historic building before you get to it rather than after. And that’s a real trick...And you have to be able to do it forward or backwards,” he said.

That experience inspired another booklet, Tommy’s Tour of the Vineyard.

During his bus driver years, Mr. Dresser also enrolled himself in a few Island writing groups, with the goal of becoming a fiction writer. After two self-published novels, however, notable Island author Cynthia Riggs suggested he switch genres.

“Cynthia told me, ‘You’re not functioning as a fiction writer. You’re kind of a good writer, but you shouldn’t do fiction,’” Mr. Dresser said.

Ms. Riggs connected him with the History Press, a company looking for Vineyard local history authors, and suggested that he look into a story she heard of a “beautiful young actress” murdered in the 1940s.

“Well, as it turned out, she wasn’t young. She was 70 years old and had rollers in her hair,” Mr. Dresser said.

Her murder became the basis of his first full history book, Mystery on the Vineyard, which culminated in the trial and acquittal of a man who Mr. Dresser believes was falsely accused because he was homosexual.

With World War II heating up, the investigation faltered, but Mr. Dresser believes he was able to retroactively find the culprit, a small-time crook from Kentucky.

“He was on the run from the police so he went to the library and he found the most remote place in America,” Mr. Dresser said. “And it was Martha’s Vineyard...Then he got upset at this old lady and murdered her.”

Mr. Dresser has since written 14 books on Island history, on topics ranging from Island Ghosts to the Wampanoag tribe to whaling history. Some of the topics were his idea, some his publisher’s and all were edited by his wife.

“I take her edits, even if I don’t like them,” he said. “She is better with detail.”

Each new topic, he said, builds on the last and he now finds himself citing his old works in newer ones. Now 76 years old, Mr. Dresser is still writing, full steam ahead.

“I just love to share history,” he said. “This is the best way to do it.”