September 28, 2005

  • Wednesday, 28th September, 2005

    11:28 p.m. NZ time


    Back to San Pedro


    I loved the feel of San Pedro in the 50s. It was located on the southern bluffs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, overlooking the great Los Angeles Long Beach harbor, one of the largest shipping ports in the world. In fact from my perspective, the whole world lived in San Pedro. We had everything from the big military and merchant ships to one of the largest fishing fleets in the United States, coming and going every day with all the support industries that went along with them, ship yards, and dry docks, fish canneries and automobile assembly plants. There were multiple of thousands of men and women employed in and around the San Pedro, Wilmington, Long Beach area. Every nation, every race, every skin color and religion were represented in that micro-society of America.


    With the Newbury Park Academy experience receding in the rear view mirror of my life, my mom and I drove south on Pacific Coast Highway and turned right onto Western Avenue. Heading back into San Pedro, I couldn’t help but feel excited about the great unknown adventure stretching out ahead of me. I’d lived, off and on, in San Pedro before. It seemed to be the place my mom would always head for whenever she and my step dad broke up, which had happened quite often during their six volatile years of married life.


    I thought back on the day WW2 was over, and I was standing at the soda fountain in the Pacific Electric station located at 510 Harbor St. between 5th and 6th streets, one block away from the Police station and just over the tracks from Terminal Island Ferry building. All of a sudden car horns started honking, trolley bells started clanging, and the big steam whistles on all the ships started hooting. People were going crazy, sailors were jumping off their ships into the harbor, people were running, screaming and laughing, all grabbing at each other, hugging and kissing and dancing in the street.


    I had just turned ten years old and I was thinking, “what the heck’s going on,” when someone came running through the P. E. Station shouting “It’s over, it’s over, it’s over, the Japanese have surrendered, the war is over.” I remember thinking it must be a good thing, because everybody was so happy. It wasn’t until many years later that I would learn of the horrific price the world had paid, in order to experience that one joyous moment of human history.


    But that was then and this was now, November 1949. And I was 14 years old and on that Sunday evening, driving home with my mom, life was just one big bowl of cherries.


    My mom found an apartment for us on 13th St. just north of Gaffy Ave. It was right across the street from the San Pedro Boys Club, and only a short walk up the hill to my school.  I enrolled mid-term as a student at San Pedro High school, into the graduating class of “Winter 54″. Because I came in half way through the year, most of the required subject classes were already full, so I had to take whatever was left over. As it turned out “History” was all that was available. So the classes I wound up with were, Drafting, Electric shop, History, two periods of Art, and because I played football, Physical Education was the last class of my day.


    After I got into it, I found I really liked History, although I did fail the class because I never turned in any homework assignments. When I was in class I would totally listen to what was being taught, and I got straight “A”s on all the daily tests, but I never did one lick of homework. When my school day ended at 3:05 in the afternoon, I didn’t think about school again until 8:30 the next morning when the bell rang…. Well, I was a busy kid; I had places to go, things to do, buddies to hang out with, girls to meet. There were a million girls out there and I was determined that I was going to meet and date as many of them as I possibly could.


    My three best friends in school were Fred Bique, Dick Muldoon and Bruce Froud.


    Fred Bique never had trouble with anybody, because when people saw him comin’ they’d just step aside. He was a French Canadian kid who was built like a young gorilla. He was a free-x gymnast. From a hand-stand position he would do one arm push ups, then drop down into a side flange, roll his body weight over onto his other hand, and then push back up into another one arm hand-stand.  He had perfect balance, perfect poise and nobody ever messed with Fred Bique, nobody, ever!


    I really liked hangin’ out with Fred, because when I was with him, nobody ever messed with me either. He was also a fantastic artist. I actually met him and his friend Dick Muldoon in one of our art classes, and the three of us became cartoonists for the school paper as well as life long friends. We used to strap 12 foot long solid redwood surfboards on the roof of my 41 Ford sedan and off we’d go at four in the morning looking for some big waves. We surfed and snorkeled our way from Huntington to Zuma. Sunset, The Palos Verdes cove, Manhattan, Redondo, were the beaches we loved the best. Our dream was to someday sail and surf our way through all the islands of the South Pacific. Living here in New Zealand, I often think about Fred and Dick, and how for me, our teenage dream came true.


    Early in the spring of ’50 I met Bruce Froud playing football. His dad owned and operated al live bait boat, the “O & K”. It worked the L.A. harbor from San Pedro to Newport. One day Bruce asked me if I’d like to come working on the boat with him and his dad, and without a second thought I jumped at the chance. I couldn’t believe it, me, Barry McGuire, working on a real live fishing boat, how cool was that. It was hard, hard work but I felt like I was in an old movie with Lionel Barrymore and Spencer Tracy.


    Paul had two boats, the “O & K” and the “Irene II”. the Irene was a twenty footer that we used to set the lights that were scattered out all around the harbor. “The lights” as we called them, were ten foot skiffs with a one cylinder diesel engine in them that powered an electric generator.


    The generators were connected to four powerful light bulbs that swung out over the water. The bulbs were covered with deep lamp shades that directed their beam of light straight down into the water, and at night, tons of anchovies and sardines would school up under the lights.


    Round about 10: or 11: o-clock the “O & K” would come out to where the skiffs had been anchored and drop off a crewman into it. The crewman would carefully pull the anchor and then using his oars he would hold the skiff right where it was so it wouldn’t drift off downstream with the tide. While he was doing that, the “O&K” would run upwind a few hundred yards or so, and “drop the cork.”


    “The cork” was a 5 foot long shaft, threaded through 10 or 12 big cork  doughnuts. On one end was a bright red light, and on the other end was a lead weight. The cork was attached to the tip of the left wing of our pursing net. The net itself was about a quarter of a mile long and it would be carefully stacked on the fantail of the boat after each set, ready to be used again.


    When the cork hit the water, we’d play out the left wing of the net, as the boat made a wide circle around the skiff that was still holding the anchovies in place with its bright light. Half way around the big circle we’d “dump the sack.” The “sack” was a huge quarter inch mesh scoop that would purse up under all the schooling fish. Then continuing on, we’d play out the right wing of the net as the boat, being guided by the bright red light, made its way back up to the cork.


    Once having retrieved the cork, the real work began. Firstly we’d drop the anchor to hold the bow of the boat into the wind. With the anchor line, we could also control the downstream drift as we pulled the net in. Pulling the net took four men, two on each wing. One man on each side would pull the cork line, while the other man pulled the lead line.


    The net itself was designed like a giant curtain. It ran about fifty feet deep, by fifteen hundred feet long. The tip of the wings started with a four inch mesh that graduated down in size to a one inch mesh that was attached to the quarter inch sack. All along its top, the net was attached to a line that was laced through hundreds of large doughnut shaped corks. They kept the net from sinking. All along its bottom, the net was attached to a line that was laced through lead weights, about the size of a walnut. The lead line would drag the bottom of the net down deep into the water so the fish couldn’t swim under it.


    Pulling the cork line was easy. Pulling the lead line was hard. So of course the older guys on the boat always handled the corks, while the new guys, like me, always worked the lead line. But I was 15 years old, I was young and strong and I loved the feel of life rushing through my arms, legs and back as I put my muscles to work, dragging living treasure from the bottom of the sea.


    I could easily write an entire book about my life on the “O&K,” but all the words in the world could never describe the feeling of the experience, you’d just had to have been there.


    Without a doubt, those were the most wonderful years of my teenage life and I want to thank you Bruce for introducing me into your world. Your Dad and them men of the “O&K” will live within me for as long as I last, and I believe that’s going to be a good long time.


    That’s it for now.  Next posting comes 1951 when I’m 16 years old and I join the U.S. Navy. What a trip!