Nordic Heritage Museum Vanishing Generation Interview with Arnold Reinholdtsen

  • By Lynn Moen
  • Posted 9/22/2004
  • Essay 5759

Lynn Moen interviewed and Morris Moen videotaped Arnold Reinholdtsen (b. 1928) on July 17, 2000 for the Nordic Heritage Museum Vanishing Generation Oral History Project. Arnold, of Norwegian heritage, is an impressive story-teller who describes his life in the fishing industry and recounts many humorous vignettes of Norwegian Ballard. His father-in-law came to Seattle with three other Norwegians in a Model T carrying a claw-foot bathtub on the roof. The brakes went out and, with no money for repairs, three of them would get out and let the car down hills slowly with a rope ...

This is Monday, July 17th, 2000. The narrator is Arnold Reinholdtsen. The interviewer is Lynn Moen. I am Morris Moen, and I am recording Mr. Reinholdtsen on this audio recorder and also on a video camcorder at the same time. Because his home is being refurnished, the interview is taking place at our home at 3125 Northwest 91st Street

Now, tell me about your parents. Where did they come from?

Well, my parents met in Norway. They were engaged in Norway. And my mother was, I don't know, sent, I guess, up to the northern part of Norway, you know, up to the Lofoten Islands to where my dad lived, his family. My mother was -- came from Nordfjord. Leikanger in Nordfjord.

Okay, can you start again? It didn't pick up the tape. Okay.

Everything is set up now. Okay.

Yeah, hopefully.

Okay. My dad -- my dad's name was Leif Gordon Reinholdtsen. And my mother's name was Emma Marie Rasmusen Leikanger Reinholdtsen. And they were engaged in Norway. My mother was -- went up to the northern part of Norway, up in Lofoten Islands to work as a housekeeper, I guess, for my father's family. Now, I guess that was the style in those days that they sent the girls, young girls to a different part of the country to find the boys, I guess.

But my dad came to this country around 1920 -- I think it would be probably 1923. And he worked for a couple of years until he got enough money to get my mother over. And I think she came over in 1925. And they -- we lived over in what they call the Latona district now. And we lived with my -- when they first came over, they lived with my dad's uncle, Severin Reinholdtsen, who worked for the Norwegian paper. I think it was called The Washington Post. And it went -- that paper went bankrupt during the Depression. Then he went to work for The Swedish Tribunal. Okay, it was called The Norska Tribunal, the first one he worked for.

My sister was born in 1926, and I was born in 1928. And I was born in the Norwegian Hospital that they had in Seattle. Not very many people know about that.

Where was it?

The Norwegians, they started up -- the Swedes had a hospital, so the Norwegians decided they better have one, too. So they started one. And it was located down on -- in Fremont District of Seattle, on about 35th and Woodlawn Avenue. And of course, it went bankrupt during the Depression, too.

The Depression was hard on the immigrants in those days. They had a depression -- before my dad came to this country, they had a depression in Norway, and he -- it was so bad that he -- that's when most of them decided they better get out of there. And they came to this country and got a foothold, and then the Depression came here. My parents, and lots of parents -- lots of people lost their homes because of the Depression.

I remember we lost ours. And we had to move in with my dad's uncle. We lived there until we finally -- my dad finally accumulated enough money to buy a home in Ballard. My mother didn't want to move to Ballard because she didn't want to live with all those Norwegians, but my dad says, "You want a house, you're going to have to move to Ballard." And so we've been living in Ballard since I was about 11 years old. I believe we moved in 1939.

And I remember my dad fishing 12 months out of the year. In the summertime he went halibut fishing, and in the wintertime he went down to San Francisco on a -- we called it sardine fishing, but actually it was on pilchards. It was big sardines. They used it for fertilizer.

But it was a good time because in the late '30s, we would move to San Francisco in the wintertime, and there was a whole bunch -- not a whole bunch, but a number of Norwegian families would live in apartment down there. And we were welcome because it was -- they were good tenants. And so we were kind of a click down -- we lived on Van Ness, above the Fisherman's Dock. And we'd hang out down in the Fisherman's Dock when the sardine boats came in.

And then, in the summertime, which was a good -- we'd move back up to Seattle, and my dad would go halibut fishing. Well, in those days they had a lay-up between halibut trips of ten days. So it was kind of like a ritual or a welcome, you might say. They went out for -- it took 21 days to make a trip, and then they were in for ten days. And we would go on picnics and have a good time when my dad was home.

And I remember canning, canning halibut in the summertime when my dad came in. They -- one day they spent a day just canning halibut. And my job was to run around the neighborhood with hunks of halibut and gave to the neighbors, you know. And then, of course, the cats in the neighborhood, they had a feast.

Then we -- so we had -- so in the wintertime, then we had baked halibut. It was called -- we called it -- let's see what did we -- some of these names are -- have lost me now. We called it -- but it was a halibut souffle, fiskegrateng, we called it fiskegrateng. It was with halibut and a little -- and milk, and I think she put flour, and then baked it. It had a nice, firm brown crust on the outside of it. That was the best part of it.

And of course, we had canned salmon during the hard times. My dad, for a while there, was up tendering salmon out of Port Alexander for Karl Hansen. And when they'd go into the canneries, they would get what they called the dents, the cans that had dents in them. And they would -- and we could --we'd have them in the wintertime, the canned salmon. And then we ate -- we had salted codfish. So we never were hungry. We never had a lot of money. In fact, actually, I think we didn't have any money, but we -- I never felt like we were deprived or anything. It was kind of like that movie, "Mama's Bank Account." There was always -- if we needed something, there was always a way to get it.

And I remember during the Depression, my dad made $365 in three years. That's all we lived on. And my uncle would half-sole my shoes when I was little. My uncle came to this country. My folks brought him over around 1930, and he made one fishing trip with my dad, on the same boat my dad was on, and he didn't make any money, he did it for nothing, but the crew went in the hole 17 cents. So he decided that fishing wasn't very profitable, so he went into roofing. He was a roofer for the rest of his life.

And my parent -- my parent? My mother was active in the PTA and in the choir. I remember one incident when she came home all shook up because somebody had mentioned that she sang with an accent. And she was kind of hurt about that. She had a nice voice.

Another incident was that they were going to put me in the dumb class because I -- we called it a dumb class, but it was for slow learners, I guess, because I had a heck of a time to learn how to read and spell. And my mother was kind of upset there because she knew I wasn't dumb. She went up and talked to the principal, and the principal told her what was going on, that I was behind in spelling and reading, and that I talked with an accent.

So my mother knew -- the superintendent of the school's name was Mr. Knutsen. And my mother knew him. He was a Norwegian. So my mother told the principal, "You call up Mr. Knutsen and see what he thinks about talking with an accent and all of that." And that -- so the principal called up Mr. Knutsen, and when she had hanged up the phone, she told my mother, it's fine that -- Mr. Knutsen said it was good that he -- young people know two languages. So I didn't have to go in the dumb class. They gave me glasses instead. And of course, I broke them all up.

But I think I was 70 years old when I found out I think I was delixis (phonetic). Is that what they call it?


Yeah. Because I still have problems with reading backwards and on the telephone -- dialing a telephone, I get the numbers wrong. So I think that's -- that was my problem. Because I was way ahead of my class in mathematics and history and that, but -- and my sister could -- was two years older than me, and she skipped grades because she was so smart in reading and writing.

But I think back on those years and, you know, in the fishing industry, up till just lately until this crab fishing came into vogue, we had to earn the money before we could spend it, and that's why most of the fisherman in my generation and before were self-sufficient. They took pride in not owing any money. And we had to have our -- we had to earn -- have the money available before we would spend it. And that helped a lot. It passes on to our children.

My wife -- I married a Norwegian girl. Her parents were born in Norway. And they came to this -- immigrated to this country. They came and finally ended up in Seattle. So our children are second generation, full-blooded Norwegians. But none of them there are married to Norwegians, so we're getting kind of mixed up now. It . . .

What did you do for fun while you were growing up?

What's that?

What did you do for fun while you were growing up?

Oh, fun. Well, we played baseball. We had -- we played all kinds of sports. And in the summertime I used to go up on Camano Island to Egil Hansen's grandmother's farm. And we called it -- and most of us didn't have any grandparents in this country, so Bestemor was everybody's Bestemor and Bestefar. So everybody -- all the young people adopted them. And she -- and we -- and I stayed up there in the summertime with them, and we would -- and I would help tend the cows to keep them out of the orchard when they were in the hayfields and that.

Was that the Olsens?

Yeah, Mrs. Olsens.

Yeah. That was Hazel's mother?

Yeah, Hazel's mother, yeah. There's a big clan of them up there. And their maiden names was Mathissen.

Another thing that fit -- they used to have in those days -- the men -- the families would have a little farm, say five acres, ten acres. And when the men were fishing, the women would have chickens and a cow or so and a vegetable garden, and can. It's just like they did in the old country. The Isaac's -- I remember going over to Fife and -- over by Tacoma to the Isaacson's, Anton and Ollie Isaacsons and their family. And they had a -- they had that set-up. And up around Camano Island and Stanwood, and up in through there, there was a lot of fisherman that had farms. And they had -- it was a good life.

And I remember going to picnics. The Sons of Norway had a place. Where was it? They, you know --

It was near Juanita.

(Continuing) -- a picnic place -- Norlandslaget had one on --

Near Juanita.

Yeah, there was one over by Juanita on Lake Washington. I think that was Norlandslaget. We used to go there. And then we used to go into Vasa Park and have picnics. Another thing I remember, I remember going -- at the Vasa Park picnics, they used to have rowboat races. But they had to give that up because these fisherman were out there racing in rowboats and they were breaking too many oars, so they -- every race somebody would break an oar or something, you know. So they had to quit that because the campground wouldn't furnish any more oars for them. They couldn't afford that. And those were good times.

We had -- there was always somebody who had a car. I remember one time my mother was really mortified. My relations from the prairie in Canada came over -- came across. They were immigrating -- they were moving, not immigrating, but they were migrating over toward to -- by Vancouver. So they swung down to Seattle to see their relations in Seattle.

And we were -- we saw this car drive up, and it was -- they must -- I think they had eight kids. And it was in the -- I think it was in the summertime, because the windows were down and there was nothing but bodies hanging out of this Model A Ford. And they all had their milkman coveralls on. You know, you could tell they just came from the farm.

But that wasn't the funny part about it. But on top of the Model A, they had one of those claw bathtubs tied down, and the suitcases -- and it was full of suitcases. All their belongings was in this bathtub on top of the Model A. And that's how they come across the country. And they come to visit their relations in Seattle.

My father-in-law came across the country in a Model T. There was four of them. I don't know if they were all married then, but their girlfriends were working as housekeepers in Minneapolis. And they had -- they managed to save up enough money to get this Model T, and they were going to head for Seattle and go fishing. And then they were going to bring the women over. And there was four of them. There was my father-in-law, Nils Stenvaag, and Pete Eid, and Erling Kolnes, and Ted Jacobsen.

And they started across. I think they had -- my father-in-law told me, I think they had six flat tires in one day. And when they ran out of gas, they had to push the car to the next gas station and figure out how to pay for it. And then the brakes went out. So they didn't have more money to fix the brakes. So when they went down the hill, three of them got out and held the car back with a line -- with a rope on the back end of it. And as they went down the hill, the three behind would hold it.

And when they got to -- they finally got to the Columbia River and they came to a toll bridge. They didn't have any money. And my father-in-law had a pocketknife, and he talked the toll master into letting him across the bridge if he gave him the pocketknife. And that's how they got to Seattle. They finally got here.

And he went and looked for a job. They told him if he was a cook, he could get a job. "Well, I'm a cook," he said. Well, he got fired two times. The third time they kept him, he learned enough about cooking. That's what they really were. And I know Angel Buness, he did the same thing with the well driving. He got fired three times before he finally learned enough that they would keep him. They learned how to -- well, that's what they did. They just did it.

And I know my dad had a hard time getting a fishing chance. One thing I remember during the Depression about my dad. We had a coal stoker, and I can't remember who the coal yard was, but he was a Norwegian. And my dad used to -- he had -- we had a big coal shovel. It was bigger than an ordinary shovel. And he would go down, and for $10, he would -- he could -- they would let him unload a boxcar or a railroad car full of coal. And then he'd have his $10 so he could buy whatever we needed. And that's how, you know, how they survived.

I had another friend, Chris Abelsen. He was from the same place, the old country. And he came -- when he came to Seattle he had a -- he couldn't speak English or anything, and he had a letter of recommendation from the person he worked for in Minneapolis or back East. And he gave it to -- Egil Hansen told me about this . He gave -- he gave the -- when he was looking for a job, he gave the letter of recommendation to Egil to read for him, because he couldn't read English. And it was telling he was a good man and a good person and all that, and he was a good worker, especially for hard work, it said on it, underlined. Specially that he was good especially for hard work.

Oh, yeah, another thing they used to do in Ballard -- the fishermen in Ballard in the wintertime, they worked in the sawmills. See, that was in the '40s. They worked in the sawmills. And they had -- I can't remember the name of the job was where they -- it was the first -- when the logs come out of the water and they come up. It was the hardest job there were -- there was. And that's where they put the Norwegian fishermen, on this hardest job there was in the sawmill. They were happy, they had a job. So they would -- they didn't care, they'd work it.

And the women -- the women -- my mother, I remember my mother knitted all the socks that my dad had, wore. And the fishing was a lot different than it is now.

Another story I'd like to tell is about when they -- they had no navigation equipment. When they came across the Gulf, they had -- all they had was the compass and what they called the log to tell them how fast they were going. And they knew that they had to change course three times coming from Kodiak Island and over across the Gulf. They had -- so they timed it because that was the variation on the compass as they came across the Gulf. And that's what they did.

And when they came, they started sounding by hand. They had a sounding lead. They -- it was dark or rain thick or foggy. Twenty-four hours before they were supposed to reach land, they would start sounding. And they made sure they didn't over-run their time. So they were pretty cautious.

But then, what was interesting was that when -- soon as daylight came or the fog lifted and they could see land, there was always someone on the boat that had fished there, so they recognized it. That's how they did it, you know. "Oh, yeah, I fished here in 1928 on the Herge," you know, or something like that. And then they knew where they were at, then they'd just go down and find Cape Spencer and down -- and down the Inside Passage.

And they didn't have the lights or buoys or anything they have now. You know, so they had to use, you know, mostly dead reckoning and listening and watching. That's the way they did it in those days.

When I started, I started in 1948 -- no, '48? No, '46. I graduated from high school in '46. Then all -- then we had a Fathometer, an old surplus Fathometer. And then he also -- the boat I was on had a direction finder, an old Intervox direction finder that they used to find the outlaw radios during the war. They had earphones on and a big dry cell battery. And that's what we used to navigate to get the light ship -- lighthouses and the signals like that.

Now, with all the sophisticated instruments, you can pinpoint yourself. You know exactly where you are anyplace in the ocean. Last time I was out in the ocean, I left thousand miles out in the ocean heading for Astoria, programmed in the buoy, sea buoy at Astoria, and we ran right to it. We never -- I never took a sight or took a bearing or anything, just ran right to it. In the old days, we had to keep checking, checking, checking to make sure that we were in the right place and watch the currents.

My dad used to tell me how to do things, like coming up the coast at night, or up the coast rather. The nighttime you steered a quarter to a half a point outside the course so you make sure you didn't get set on the beach. And then during the daytime when it was clear, then you held in till you picked up the beach again. And then, when we finally got a fathom meter, I thought to myself, man, we can go anyplace now, we got a Fathometer, we won't never have to worry.

Then the next instrument we got was a direction finder that would take -- a good direction finder. And then we got a surplus loran.

What's that?

Loran was what they used during the war. I don't know if you ever heard what they used to call it, there was a thing called the Norton bomb sight. And I could never figure out -- there was a big secret. I could never figure out what it was. And finally -- I don't know how many -- how long -- many years. It wasn't that many years ago, I finally found out what it was. It was -- there was this loran. It was a navigational aide that they could pinpoint their position. And they didn't see anything on the ground. I thought with a Norton bomb sight, you could see the object on the ground. What they did was, they just pinpointed themselves in the air over their target and dropped the bombs. And that -- the Germans didn't have that, but the Americans did.

And then they became surplus, and we used it on the fishing boat. There was eight steps we had to go through to get our position. And we had to go through it for two -- two stations. Now we just plug it in, and just latitude and longitude comes up on the screen. And you want to go someplace, you just program it in. And it tells you how far it is and the course -- and the course is a great circle. It isn't straight course; it's a great circle course.

You know, so it's -- first time -- I was 19 when I -- first time I went to navigation school down at Kildahl's. And at that time when we made out our -- when we did our problems -- or sun sights and star sights and that, and he said, if we were within five miles of our actual position, that was a good sight. Now you're within feet, you know. That was when I was 19. Five miles was -- then when in -- I think it was '55 when I went back there for a refresher to get my license, and then it was two miles -- or was it one mile? Anyway, it was because of the calculators and their formulas they then had. And now it's like down -- now they don't even use sextants and that.

When I was 19, I went to that school. After I -- when I finished the school, they went down to -- Kildahl went down to the Coast Guard to see what kind of a license he could get. Well I didn't have enough sea time. I didn't have -- I only had six months or a year sea time, whatever it was, and it wasn't enough sea time. So Kildahl asked them, "Well, couldn't he get some kind of a license?" And the Coast Guard commander, he said, "Well, I'll tell you what, we'll give him a third mate on a fishing vessel." So, when Kilgall told me that, I says, "Third mate on a fishing vessel?" I says, "We're two guys and I'm going to be a third mate." I said, "Forget it." I already was the skipper. Or I was when I was -- no, I was getting to be one. I was a skipper when I was 21.

But, you know, another thing about these fishermen.

What were you fishing?


What were you fishing?

Well, to begin with I was fishing -- dragging out of Seattle here. And that was same way as the newcomers when they came here. You had to go on the -- the greenhorn had to go on the poorest boats. So I had to go on the poorest boats in order to get a job,see, and I slowly -- my reputation, I worked my reputation up so I could go on any boat at the last. Then finally, my dad got me the job on the boat he was on. He was the high-line boat on the Pacific Coast fishing shark livers.

And which boat was that?

That was called The Seabird, with a guy by the name of Jack Cleveland. And Jack told me -- the skipper told me, after I'd been there a while, he says, "You know," he says, "the only reason I hired you because I knew your dad would -- if you couldn't hack it, your dad would pick up the slack," he said. But he says, "I found out that he didn't have to pick up any slack." Actually, my dad said I'm the only one he'd ever stand a chance for anyway, because he -- I was running around doing all the little things for him.

But, you know, they had a lot of nicknames, Store Hans, Big Hans Sorensen, you know. And then they had Spillevinken. He used to -- when the boat was full and they put the hatch on, he'd jump up on the hatch and do a dance, like a Spillevinken. You know, that's a puppet, I think, a Spillevinken. That was his nickname.

But the best one was this guy -- this tall, skinny guy, they called him Long and Narrow. And I couldn't -- you know, when I finally saw him, I said that's why they call him Long and Narrow? My dad says, "No, that isn't why they call him Long and Narrow. He's always -- when he's baiting, and the -- the gurdy bait, he's always telling everybody to cut them long and narrow." So that -- you put the hook at one end, and then the fish could suck the -- there's this long and narrow piece of gurdy bait in the end. And that's the way that he got his nickname, you know. And then there was -- oh, there was all kinds of -- Whiskey Pete, Good Looking John, Beautiful John. There was some names I can't -- I'm not going to repeat.

And yours?

No, not mine. I don't know if I had a nickname. I know -- I remember talking on the radio to my dad. He had one boat and I had another boat. And I didn't know what to call -- I couldn't call him Leif, you know, so I called him Pop, you know. And one time, one guy says, "If you ever quit calling your dad Pop," he says, "I'm going to have to get mad at ya," he says, "because we" -- they enjoyed it out in the ocean, they would hear, "Pop, are you there?" you know, talking to your dad.

And, you know, there was -- out in the ocean when you were there, there was a camaraderie, you know, a lot of camaraderie, you know. We all know what this SOS means "save our ship," and that's a signal, the three shorts and the three longs and three shorts. That's the Morse code. And then also the other signals. And when -- if somebody come out with "mayday," everybody ran for them to help them, you know. There was I don't know how many --- how many --- we never did find anybody, but I ran for a lot maydays. But somebody always got there earlier, but you never know.

I'm trying to think of what -- well, you know, Ballard High School, when I went to school, in my annuals, you opened up the annuals, and it was just Scandinavian names in there, most of them. Ninety percent were Scandinavians. And I remember when I was in the Sea Scouts, the skipper of the Sea Scout ship said that he was a Fuller Brush man. And he said that Ballard was the worst route in the city because those little Norwegian women wouldn't buy anything unless they absolutely needed it. He said, you couldn't -- other places you could sell them something extra, but not in Ballard.

And another thing, you could always smell Ballard because of the fish meal plant down there. On the north side of the Ballard Bridge was a fish meal -- they made the -- they made the -- it was a liver plant actually, they put the --- they made the shells. What the heck do they call those things? They're made out of bone and meal, the shells that the pills go into, the liquid pills. And they rendered. And then they had the livers, which smelled terrible. And the guts of the fish they rendered doing something. And it smelled terrible. And so you could smell that smell all the way up in Ballard when you went -- when they were -- and the wind was right.

Another thing we used to have in Ballard was called the Ballard snow. And that was the sawdust from the sawmills. Below 65th, they'd have to sweep the porches every morning because the sawdust would be up -- the soot would be up on the porches. They called that Ballard snow.

I'm trying to think of what -- you know. Family life in those days were -- was a good life where the husbands were out fishing, the women were home and they would go together and with the kids. I know my wife did that with our kids, and Stan Haavik's wife's kids. And they would go on picnics and trips, and be involved in that, in the home life. Most of them didn't work either. You didn't have jobs outside. They might do a little housecleaning and that, but they were available to be with the family in those days.

And I'm trying to think of what would be interesting.

Did you go down to Mexico fishing?

Beg your pardon?

Did you go fishing in Mexico?


You never went there?

Yes, I went to Mexico. I fished in Mexico. We fished -- we were on the ocean. We fished it from Mexico to the Pribilof Islands. And when it came time, when they started out with this limited entry, I didn't have enough points. I hadn't fished any place long enough. Well, I did -- actually, I did. I was at a couple of places where I'd fished long enough to have enough points to get a limited entry permit. But at the time they came due, I was fishing in Mexico and I didn't get my application in on time, and they refused me. So I ended up with -- the only permit I could have was gillnetting on the Sound. And that was completely -- that was kaput.

So here I was. I didn't have a permit to go halibut fishing, or gillnetting in Falls Pass, or salmon trolling off -- you know, I fished from -- or salmon full from -- well, below San Francisco clean up through Kodiak Island or this side of the fair weather ground in Littleton Island. The whole coast. Wherever the fish were, we went, you know, where it was -- when we took off in the spring, we didn't know where we were going to end up. We had to go and find them. We kept going until we found fish. And it's different now. And that's the way these guys -- they roam the world, you know, fisherman, the whalers and the sealers, and the Norwegians -- the sealers and the whalers. And when they came to this country, it was the same thing. They just -- they roamed the oceans.

Another thing, too, also, the -- you know, I mentioned about the way they worked. The Italians and the Portuguese in California, they just hated the Norwegians. Before the Norwegians came down there and started fishing, they didn't work on the weekend. They didn't fish on the weekends. They didn't fish at night. They had a good life. And then these Norwegians came down there. And they couldn't see any reason why, if you could catch fish at nig ht, why you didn't fish all night. And if you fished on the weekends, what's the difference, you know. And like my dad says, the Norwegians ruined every fishing they got into because they had to -- they go to work so hard. Of course, naturally, they were the ones that figured out these crab lights at night so they could run gear all -- in Alaska, you know, the nights are so long. Well, they figured out they could get -- if they had these big bright lights, they could fish all night when it was dark. And that's how that came about.

Before that they only fished the daylight hours, which was a decent life. And of course, when they started on the crab fishing, they only -- they started out with 35 pots. Well, they ended up now, at the last they were fishing with 600 pots. You know, the more pots the more fish, you know. And you could run at night, and you could run 24 hours a day. You know, it wasn't -- I used to figure that when we got four hours sleep, that was a beauty sleep, you know. Well, now, if you get four hours sleep, you're a loafer.

Well, I found out as I grew older, I found out it paid to rest the crew. I used to try and get them at least six to eight hours off every night. Most tried to get eight hours off, because your production went up. Your efficiency: you could haul faster, you didn't make as many mistakes, people didn't get hurt so fast, easy, you know. So it made sense. But it takes -- you know, you got to learn that. And safety -- the safety comes first. That's what I was taught.

Now it's the money, you see. When I was young, there was one boat for one man -- or one owner, one boat or a couple owners. Now, an owner will have two, three, four boats. And these -- this crab fishing. And these investors would come in. The dentists and the doctors and the lawyers so they could get a tax dodge. Well, they weren't interested in the safety of the vessel; all they were interested in whether they made money or not. You could always buy -- if you had it insured, if you sank the boat, well, you could get another one. The insurance company paid for that.

Well, they don't pay for the lives that were lost. But I rolled at my dad. That generation, their safety came first, you know. Otherwise, they wouldn't have survived.

Another story is that when I finally got mechanical bilge pumps on the engine, the bilge pumps run off the engine, my dad wouldn't use them. He insisted to still go out on deck and pump by hand and count the strokes. And I says, "Well, you got the pump in the engine room, I could pump with that." He says, "Oh, yeah," but he says, "why, if you count the strokes, you know if you're taking on water or not." You see, you always counted the strokes, how many strokes there was and so -- on your watch and at the end of every watch, you pumped the boat. And that's -- you know, it's things like that you do.

Now they got alarms. We didn't have any alarms in those days. No bilge alarms, no water -- high water alarms, no low water alarms. No engine oil alarms, pressure or water heat alarms or fire alarms. We stood watches. When you were on watch -- my dad used to come in the wheelhouse with his boots on. I said, "You don't have to wear boots in the wheelhouse." He says, "I was taught to wear boots all the time in case something happens on deck, I don't have to go look for my boots, I got them on." See.

And another thing, too, in those days we had cotton gloves. They only lasted about a day. But he told me, "You put a spare pair of gloves in your back pocket." And he says, "If you're going to smoke" -- I started smoking -- he says, "you put a pack of cigarettes -- an extra pack of cigarettes in your pocket so you don't waste time running down to the fo'c'sle for a cigarette. And make sure you got matches, because you don't want to lose any time running down to get matches and stuff," he says, "you've got it with you. You don't stop the gurdy." That was a cardinal sin to stop that gurdy.

Oh, we got The Alrita, Jangaard's boat. He says -- he always stopped to eat. He says -- but he says, "Eight and one-half minutes is long enough. That's how long you've got to eat." But if you didn't -- if you didn't, most of the time you didn't stop to eat. But the gurdy kept going. So, when you got through eating, everybody just shoveled the food down to get on deck again so that the gurdy wouldn't get so far ahead, you had to catch up. You know, you never stopped. But I finally wised up and stopped after that.

Would you explain this gurdy to me?


What is the gurdy and what does it do?

The gurdy is the thing that -- well, that's a winch -- well, it's a shev, actually, on deck. A mechanical shev that hauled the gear in, the halibut gear in. That was the gurdy. And they'd put the gear on the gurdy, and a guy stood there and coiled the gear. And one man stood at the roller and gaffed the fish as they came aboard and it cleared what they called the gagnions, cleared the hooks. And then he had a couple of guys back on the stern baiting. And one guy in the checker dressing the fish. And then when you ran between sets -- the set and stuff, then everybody jumped down in the fish hole and iced the fish.

Okay. Let's start at the beginning and explain to me what halibut fishing was like.

Well, you have to look in the -- they got a good video on -- "Good Ol' Long Liners," it's called. It explains about long-line fishing. But there's different ways to fish. You've got a long line and you've got the trolling and you have the net fishing. And the net fishing, you have seine and gillnetting.

And then -- well, actually, long line is called hook and line. And you use that on a hook -- and you have a hook on a line. And then they use that for tuna fishing, too, on the bait fishing for tuna fishing. And of course, trolling is a type of hook and line, because you have, you know, a hook on the end of a leader, or hanging onto another line coming down to the bottom. Anyway, that's trolling. And then you move slowly with the gear in the water, you know.

And -- but on hook and line, or long lining, is where you set the gear, and you have a flagpole and a buoy on the surface. You throw that over first. That's the first end. And then you throw the buoy line out, and that has to be more line than what the depth is. Probably on long line we used to figure a third more or a quarter more line than the depth. Then you had an anchor that held the gear there.

And then you had a slipshod. And the gear ran from the anchor -- that anchor, to how long -- how many skates or how many -- how much gear you wanted. And then, on the other end you had another anchor you dropped at the end with a buoy line and a flagpole coming up. But that's all -- you can get all that -- they got all kinds of videotapes and that on fishing gear, that's interesting.

(Side B, Tape 1)

But the main -- the one thing you -- that you -- it takes time to learn is seamanship. And seamanship is just common sense in relation to the ocean, you know. That is -- you hear people say, "You got common sense." Well, good seamanship is common sense. And another thing I -- story I like to tell or relate to is, one time we came into Coos Bay, Oregon, and my dad was -- my dad -- after my dad had more or less retired and sold his boat, so he was fishing with me. And we came in with a full load -- a big load of fish, of albacore -- trolled for albacore.

And we went out for dinner that night, and another young guy was with us, and he said, "I don't understand it," he says. "You guys talk like talk about getting 500 fish a day like it's nothing to it." He says, "I've never had 500 fish in a day. Not 500 fish in a day, but you guys -- you get -- you talk like you get them all the time. How do you do it?"

I says, well, I told him, I says, "It's like this. My dad was a fisherman, his dad was a fisherman, and his dad was a fisherman." I said, "It's just like breeding horses, something's got to get through." He laughed at that.

But you pass it on, you know. It's like the farmers. They pass on the farming techniques on through their sons, and so on. Which isn't going on now days. They send the kids out to a nursery, daycare and all that. But it is -- another thing, too ...

How do you know where the fish are?

Well, it's all trial and error. I figured if you make more than 50 percent good judgment, good choices or good decisions during the season, you'll have a successful season. The good season is when you make more than that. It depends on how lucky you are.

And the main thing on fishing is keeping track. Where did you get the fish today? Where did we get the fish yesterday? Where had we got them this morning? You know. And try and figure -- and try and find the pattern -- especially on albacore, try and find a pattern, where they -- you know, the fish in cold water -- on the edges of cold water, different temperatures, and that you have to just keep track.

And then when we got our direction finders, I used to take bearings on all the boats. And then you had to try and keep track of where they're at. You couldn't keep track of all the boats, but you'd have a certain number of people you knew were compatible to your fishing, and you kept track of them, so you could have some kind of an idea what was going on in that area, see.

And when you didn't hear anything from that area, then you better get there. Nobody ever calls you when they're pulling fish. When the fish are aboard the boat, then they might say -- tell you that they caught fish. But the main thing is to listen, and when you don't hear anything, then go. And then, when nobody's getting any fish, I used to try and figure out where there wasn't any boats, because that's the only place that wasn't any -- where there wasn't any boats, nobody knows what was going on. There might be fish there. So that was, you know, that was one of the techniques, you know.

But the main thing is to keep track of not only yourself, but other boats also. When Iver was with me, we figured we could recognize every boat on the West Coast. If we could see them on the horizon, we could recognize that boat. It was just like a photographic memory. He knew all the northern boats, the halibut boats and those boats. And I knew all the southern boats. I could recognize them. Between the two of us, we figured we could -- you know, we could, you know, recognize maybe 90 percent or better of the every -- any boat we see on the ocean. All the little characteristics. You know, the mast is a little heavier or a little longer. Things like that. Or the pilothouse, the windows are a little different. And it registers when you get used to it.

Was this the story he told us before?

Mr. Moen: Yeah.

How long is this going to go on?

Mr. Moen: Another eight minutes or so.

Okay. And you told us the story about fishing in Mexico, and you had a load and you couldn't get it all in your boat?

Oh, yeah. Well, that's fun. That's the best time when you can't get all the fish in the boat.

Yeah, and you saw a Mexican boat, and you were going share the load with him?

Oh, yeah. That -- well, that's kind of a long story, but we used to be able to take deck loads. You know, the last day, we would fill the boat up, and then whatever fish we caught on the way in, we would keep on deck. But at the last, they frowned on that because of the botulism and bacterias -- you know, that. But most of, you know, those deck boats would only be -- be less than 24 hours old. But that's when it was fun.

One time we -- we almost were full, and we were running up the coast. And I told my dad, "You go lay down now for you'll have the first watch when we get through tonight, we're going to run all night." So he went down and went to bed.

And it was the other -- it was the cook and I were on -- back on the stern and we hit fish. And we started pulling fish, and it was -- and finally the cook turns to me and he says, "You better call your dad up. You better call your dad, because if you -- if we fill this boat up and he isn't here, he's going to be mad."

So we had enough -- I think we had enough fish on board the boat to fill it, see, and we had to get it down, we didn't want to take more than we could handle. So I went down and I called my dad. I says, "Come on, fish." And he comes tearing out of the fo'c'sle, up on deck, and all the lines were full of fish. And he tears off of the stern and starts pulling. I says, "No, no, no." I couldn't get him to stop pulling. I says, "We got to put them down first before we can pull any more." And so they got busy and put the fish down.

And we would troll along, and my dad would say, "We need one more or two more." And I'd go back and I'd pull in those fish. They were still behind the boat. And finally, we had no more room. We had to pull the gear in. Well, the gear -- I wasn't too excited because the gear was never full of fish all the way. We'd always have a couple on -- couple, three on. But when they hauled the gear in, the ones that didn't have fish on, the hooks would be chewed off. There was no hooks on them. So you could imagine how much fish was there behind the boat. And we couldn't take it. We got to get a bigger boat. But that's when fishing is fun.

And then, when you come into the dock, and you've got the boat full of fish, you know that you had caught those fish and you had worked to get them. Nobody had given them to you. That's a good feeling, also, you know.

And my boys started going out with me when they were 10, 11 years old. So they knew what their dad was. I knew what my dad -- what my dad was a hard -- you know, what my dad was. Nowadays it's hard for young people to know what their dads are because they never see them, they never go to work. But my sons know what their dad is. And I've got to get -- well, we used to say, up until the time they're 14 years old, their dads are the greatest, see. But then, when they started to get 14, 16, like that, then their dads aren't so smart . They're smarter than their dads. And then when they get -- we used to say when they get to be 21, they're amazed how much their dad has learned in those years. That used to be the story.

An another one of my dad's sayings was that --" Are you going to rot in the bunk?" I'd want to take a nap. I'd get tired. He says, "You're got to train yourself to go without sleep. You can sleep all you want after they bury you, you know."

And the only compliment I ever got from my dad was the first time I went out fishing. And the trip was over, and we were coming in. And we had the boat all washed out, and he was showing me what you're supposed to do with your oilskins, how to wash them down and store them away. So we're out there, just the two of us on deck. And he says, "You know, I shouldn't tell you this, he says, you might get swell-headed," he says. He says, "But you did better than I thought you would." That was a compliment. That was the biggest compliment I ever had.

Tell me again about Sonja and your fishing clothes.

Oh, yeah. Well, you know, another thing too, was -- it's a good thing that women, they understood us. Nowadays, everything has to be so clean aboard a boat. The fish holds are watertight. But in the old days, we used to get -- the fish slime would go down to the bilge shaft alley, and the fish oil would run forward. And then it would mix in with the lube oil that was dripping off the old heavy-duty engines. Between the fish oil, fish slime and diesel oil and lube oil, it stunk to heaven, you know. We didn't smell it on the boat, but it went into the clothes and everything.

We'd come home, and my -- when I first started, I went down to the basement one time where the washing machine was. And my sister was down there picking my clothes up with a stick. She wouldn't touch it, and into the washing machine. They stink, I'm not going to touch it."

Well, anyway, when my daughter was big enough to help wash clothes, she'd come up from the basement. She was using a stick, too, to throw the clothes in the washing machine. She'd come and told her mother, she says, "Daddy's clothes smell." And Sonja says, "Don't worry about it, just wash them, that's money smell." So they had to be that kind of -- yeah.

They were glad to see spring come. They said the spring was the worse for the fishermens' wives. First of all, income tax came due. And then we had to outfit the boats. Of course, we never had enough money to do what we wanted to do on the boats in the spring -- to get them ready. So it was always just -- and then we're antsy. And I remember Sonja and Doris used to talk about it , "We were so glad when they leave." And then my mother was the same way. And then three days after he left, my mother used to say, "Oh, I wish Daddy was home." You know, just stuff like that.

I think that's it. It's an hour.

Well, we're here now, we might as well make the best of it. That's what the old timers used to say out in the middle of the ocean.

Mr. Moen: Yeah, I think it's out of tape, so . . .

You only have the one tape, don't you?

Mr. Moen: No, I have five tapes.

I hope none of my friends see this, because they'll say, "Oh, that's -- he's full of B.S. It wasn't that way."


Audio cassette and video tape interview by Lynn Moen, dated July 17, 2000, Nordic Heritage Museum, Seattle.

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