Uncle Fred decided to come down to Gloucester for a visit this summer when there was some question by the local game warden in Marshfield, Vermont about the big deer that disappeared one night from my Dad’s alfalfa field. “Out of sight, out of mind” seemed to be the thought process by all of my relatives when they chipped in to send him south.
Knowing that Uncle Fred really liked night time activities involving outdoor pursuits, I thought it would be a natural to take him fishing for stripers out at the end of Plum Island. I have never seen a fellow introduced to a new environment that took to it so naturally. Before the evening was over he had walked the entire beach, quizzed everyone on how they approached catching stripers, examined their equipment and had decided that the way we do things on the North Shore was limited by our small minds. There must be a way to automate the process, get a commercial license and reap big profits.
As we drove home I knew I was in danger when I saw his eyes take on the far away look and his body start to energize like he had just been infused from the feet up with a bolt of lightning. He started speaking in incomplete sentences, waving his arms in front of him like he was drawing out some complex set of plans and talking faster than one of those salesmen reading the fine print at the end of a commercial.
The next day he couldn’t wait to get started on the new design he had conjured up. I drove him over to the junk yard and left him. When I got back to the yard two hours later, he was sitting in an old pick up truck that had no fenders or bed but was running pretty smoothly. On the frame he had tied a big box that was so full of assorted parts that, if I hadn’t already had some history with him, I might have guessed he had purchased a junk yard starter kit.
I followed him to my house and he started to work. Within thirty minutes he had every tool I owned out on the grass. He was a whirling dervish... drilling, welding, sawing, hammering...seemingly at every end of the truck at the same time.
Starting just behind the cab, he welded two bars across the frame. To those he used four large bolts to attached a big electric winch. The wires for the power were run under the body and up to the battery. He then changed the gears in the winch so that it would wind up at a furious rate when activated.
Now came the ingenious (according to Uncle Fred every thought he has ever had has been ingenious) part. To the winch he attached an arm that had a hole through the outward end. When in neutral the arm was straight up, but when pulled forward it would engage the motor.
At the back of the frame he welded another piece of metal from side to side. To that he attached one of those half pipes you see on the back of a cement truck. You know, the ones that hinge in the middle when not in use, but extend rigidly way out from the back when lowered down. With a simple lever device he could drop it down when he was in position to use it.
He then wound around the winch barrel 500 feet of 100 lb. test line. After that he took the terminal end of the line and ran it up through the hole at the end of the winch handle. He measured out about four feet of line and attached a hard rubber ball with a hole through the middle. He slipped the line through the hole and tied a big knot so the line wouldn’t slip through the rubber ball.
Uncle Fred did the turn off test by having me hold the handle up while he ran out about a hundred feet of line. Telling me to let go, he pulled sharply down on the line. The handle dropped forward and the winch spun like crazy winding in the line. When the rubber ball hit the hole in the handle, the arm automatically came up to neutral and shut down the winch. To the end of the line he now hitched a big hook. A sixteen ounce round sinker was attached about two feet up the line just ahead of the stopping ball. He was now ready.
That night we drove out onto the beach and backed the rig down toward the surf. The waves were just rolling in and the dark, moonless night was just perfect for fishing for some big linesiders. With an ease belying his excitement, he motioned me to dig a big clam out of the bucket and bring along the dog ball thrower. Uncle Fred hauled a lot of line off the winch while I held onto the lever. We then walked carefully down to the shoreline so that we didn’t accidentally set off his invention. Threading on the clam, he put the hook, bait and sinker all in the cup of the ball thrower, reared back and launched the whole mess out into the surf. It arced out there like a Teddy Ballgame home run and landed ever so gently into the curling waves.
We then went back up to the truck and hauled out some lawn chairs, a couple of cups and a little jug of Seldon Smith’s hard apple cider that had been in the barrel for 2 1/2 years. It was as clear as water and really good for your sinuses. We waited and drank a bit. Then we drank a bit and waited. It wasn’t long before the late evening and the inevitable result of that sipping cider took ahold of us.
The next thing I know I was rudely awakened by some ear shattering screaming going on in the back of the truck. It was related to us later, at a rather high volume and in a tone too indignant for my taste I might add, what had happened. While Uncle Fred and I were in repose, it seems that Corrado Letendre had been fishing with Ralph Brophy and decided to walk down the shoreline casting as he went. In the dark he didn’t see our line, got his feet all caught up, took two steps forward and fell into the surf.
Apparently his forward motion was all that was needed to set a very unfortunate number of actions into motion. The line tightened and jerked down the handle on the winch which engaged the motor. The line started to spin onto the barrel at a furious rate. It was observed by some startled bystanders that Corrado went flying up the dunes feet first like some fellow in the Olympic Luge event, sliding along the beach so fast that his whole undercarriage was glowing in the dark from the friction of the sand, struck the end of the cement mixer tube, bounced just a little, slid up the chute and then was deposited neatly into the back of the truck. It was only good luck that the line didn’t break and the rubber ball actually lifted the lever and parked the winch in neutral.
Uncle Fred did remark some days later when he called me from home that he thought the fishermen on the North Shore were a little bit harsh in their comments. After all, with any new invention it takes a while to work out the kinks.