In Charlotte County fishing is certainly a way of life and I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with two of the oldest county's oldest living fisherman, Randall Leeman and Arnold Hawkins.
Arnold Hawkins and Randall Leeman. Old and seasoned men of the sea.
Randall Leeman is 91 years old and lives in Mascrene. He has spent most of his life on the water. "I was 11 when I went with my father first and I could nail the brush sticks, them weirs are mostly brush bottoms, only about 15 feet of water some of them. When I was 16 I started scaling a little. The first scale factory started in 1928 and in '29 my father rigged me up the boat for scaling and we had to put them in salt sacks in the boat. Now their ain't too many can tell that story. But that's what we put em in was salt sacks and then the next year we got baskets and them leaked so bad they couldn't hold nothin!"
Arnold Hawkins in 93 and lives in Beaver Harbour where he can still look out and see the fishing boats going by. "I started when I was 16, I was out of school and started in that spring and I didn't do too much that year, but I helped haulin' on the seines a little bit, not building weirs but hauling in on the drag seines. I stayed on the beach and kept haulin' them in as they were takin' the fish out. That was my first."
Randall ran a scaling boat for all of his time on the water. He had run of three different boats in those years. "I had three pumps, the first one I had was a special, I didn't own her but the fellar that owned her never had her I had her all the time. He was just aboard her once and I had her for 10 years."
"Arnold and I are the only two who can talk fishing" says Randall "the rest are all dead!" "We're the only two left," says Arnold and one can hear the sadness in his voice.
Since I am a landlubber myself I had to ask exactly how a pumper worked. A scale boat, also known as a pump boat, would collect the scales off of the herring by pumping the herring out of their weir and as the fish went over the top half inch screen some of their scales would be loosened and drop through onto the second finer screen. Under this there was a trap door that you could pull and the scales would drop into the basket below. Randall's last boat held 25 baskets. The fish went over the screen and into the herring carrier on their way to the factory for processing.
Fish scales were used for all kinds of things such as pens, jewelry, nail polish and even car paint. Randall has a serving tray that he proudly displays made entirely of fish scales. There were five scale companies buying scales - four in Eastport and one in Lubec, Maine.
When asked how many scales they would get from a hogshead of herring Arnold replies, "It depends on who was weighing them." When they began they were paid three cents a pound for their scales and the amount of water in the scales heavily affected the weight. Randall speaks of getting fifty to ninety pounds a basket. "You were lucky to get twenty pounds usually," says Arnold. Randall recalls getting 140 baskets of scales weighing 8000 pounds. He still carries his last pay slip in his wallet: 5400 pounds of scales for twenty cents a pound.
"In '33 we got in with the Merll Corporation, they bought that last boat for me. I paid for it but they bought it for me." says Randall. "I scaled 106 different weirs over the years."
Arnold's last boat was called the Miss Hawkins, bought in 1971. Randall and Arnold use to meet up on their way in and out of Eastport and wave to each other. Randall installed a double switch for his batteries. "We would charge one when we were goin' in to Eastport and the other on the way out just by flippin' the switch."
Arnold finished grade 8 and went to business college in Saint John in 1929. "I got about half way through and I got disgusted! I tell ya why, some of the boys that were doing the same thing I was quit school and took jobs for $7 a week! And I said I can go home and dig clams for more money than that! And that's what I did, I am not sorry either. I wouldn't have learned anything anyways!"
When I asked the gentlemen if they missed being on the water, they had mixed feelings. Arnold says, "You miss it when it's nice and fine," and adds "It's in the blood - and always will be." "We missed it when we makin' money," says Randall.
Randall spent 52 years on the water in all and went over board 7 times, and lived to tell the story even though he couldn't swim!" I was always in a hurry and I went to turn around quick and I caught my boot under the pin on the scow and went head first. I caught on the boat and Haze was back to and I got back on the scow and he said "you keep on friggin' around you're going to be overboard!" I said, "Where do you think I've been!" On one occasion Randall ran onto a rock and sank his father's boat. "I was below puttin' some grease in the grease cup and she swung with the tide." It is a testament to the incredible skill of these fisherman that they had so few accident. Randall's second and last accident was only a mild scrape on the hull that caused no damage.
Randall would come in off the water in the fall and take a job working as a mechanic or working on heavy machinery. He was always back on the water running his scale boat come spring.
Randall has not been on the water since he last stepped foot off his boat the Miss Holly in 1980.
Arnold spent 57 years on the water and stopped fishing in 1980. He stopped lobster fishing in 1981.
Together over a hundred years of service in the fishing industry from two men who seem as hale and hearty today as when they were young. Such men deserve our respect and gratitude for the example they provide.
SOURCE: Homeport News (August 20, 2004 (Issue ?, Volume 1) - written by permission.