Fishy Tales

From `the Blue Peril'

FOR all these many years I've neglected to tell our eager readers of the fish route I used to run to sell seafood to the highlanders.

It was in 1922 that I came into possession of my first motor vehicle, so I was 14 years old and operated illegally. The vehicle was a 1917 Model T Ford, which had no starter, no demountable wheels or rims, no storage battery, no lamps (the bulbs had burned out), and no horn. In those days we had no safety inspection stickers, either.

To obtain this equipage I swapped a good bicycle and two bushels of pickling cucumbers, so I was mercilessly cheated by a gentleman who took advantage of an unsuspecting youngster. I went to Steve Mitchell's hardward store and bought a fisherman's foghorn for 35 cents, giving me a horn which I could pick up and blow at intersections. (That's the one I blew at Tukey's Bridge one time and they lifted the draw.)

The vehicle had been a touring car, but all four mudguards were gone, the take-down top had blown off, and the rear seat had departed because the previous owner transported goats from his barn to pasture and back, a matter of seven miles. Henry Ford never thought of goats.

My father, who was a menace on the highways all his life (I've told how he almost ran down Admiral Dewey and his bride with a milk wagon), admonished me about traffic safety when I came home with this thing, and he said if I ever drove it over 25 miles an hour and didn't kill myself, he would.

So then one May as I meditated in school and waited for the teacher to catch up, the thought of a fish route came into my mind. People back from the shore love fish, and I lived in a waterfront town. I could dig clams myself, and get other things at the wharf. I could buy picked-out crab meat at Tom Moody's place for 30 cents a pound. I built a cold-box in the back-seat space and for advertising purposes painted my Ford a lovely robin's egg blue. The "Blue Peril" was created!

This turned out to be a fine idea, but I made two or three trips into the hinterland before I learned some things. Clams sold well, but were too heavy and took up space. Cod and haddock, and other groundfish, needed display room, and it took time to sell them. I gave up hauling clamshells and took shucked-out clams in pint and half-pint preserve jars. By my third trip I was down to the crab meat and shucked clams.

Gasoline was 13 cents a gallon, and my fish wagon would go 40 and 50 miles on a gallon - more when I coasted downhill. On the front seat beside me I had a weatherproof box for clothing and dry food, my pup tent and oilskins. Perishables were in my iced fish box, and I replenished ice as needed. Every town had an iceman then.

At mealtime and come evening, I'd pause to lunch or pass the night (cemeteries are great!) and as folks were not so possessive in those days, I could pause without asking. If I did ask, I was always received cordially. Many a farmer gave me sweetcorn and cukes, and even fresh milk and eggs. I came to have regular stopping places, and I knew many names. A Mr. Dalrymple once brought me three beautiful brook trout for my supper. I was tenting under his balm o' Gilead tree, so I gave him a box of crab meat.

One woman wanted some steamers, but I said I had clams only in the pint jars - ready shucked. She said "Oh, Dear," that she'd been hankering all week for steamers, and said she wouldn't know how to use shucked clams. So I wrote her my recipe for clam chowder (be sure and use the juice!), and she took a pint of clams. Next week she said she'd shared her chowder with friends, and now she had orders for five jars of clams.

There was a state policeman who always waved, and one day I had a flat tire and he took me on his motorcycle to a place that sold me a used replacement for 35 cents. That cop never asked for my license, which I didn't have yet.

I did that for two profitable and pleasant summers. Some weeks Tom Moody didn't have all the crab meat I wanted, but I could always fill my box with harbor pollock and tinker mackerel. Finally, I went to college and spent every cent I'd earned on the frivolities of culture. My first year tuition was $200, but the next year it went up to $250. That's a lot of fish.

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