I’m holding an almost antique in my hand, a technological relict as outdated as typewriters and mechanical calculators. But it is one of those things that is packed so full of memories that it might as well be a water balloon in that last moment before bursting. And when I look at it a flood of stories does indeed spill out.
As you can see from the pictures, it is a brass propeller. This one happens to be sized for a 50 horsepower Mercury engine. Most people, now, will not remember the way it was fishing crawfish in the swamp 31 years ago, in 1975. What you had to do and how you had to accommodate the conditions was a good bit different than now. Of course there was always a boat and a motor, but the boats, many of them, were wooden skiffs – although aluminum was becoming dominant as the better material. My boat was wooden and you learn quickly how fast a cypress knee can come up through the bottom. The engine on most of these boats was no more than 50 horsepower; of course, much bigger motors are used these days. But then, a 50 seemed adequate for a 14 foot boat and one or two people, although some even considered it too big - but its back-up power was what you really needed. You couldn't make much time if you couldn't stop quickly at each trap by reversing the motor and have it stop the boat immediately. On a smaller motor the wheel was too small to catch enough water and the boat would just drift right on past the trap - very aggravating!
The business end of this whole operation was the propeller/prop/wheel that was on the motor. It was not as easy to provide yourself with the right wheel back then as it is now. There have always been aluminum props, and they have always been worse than useless. Worse because a novice would take a motor out with one on and hit something and break a blade and suddenly you look for paddles. They provided nothing but false security. Most people replace them with stainless steel props now; you just go and order the wheel you want and that’s all there is to it. But in 1975 you couldn’t do that, there were no stainless steel props back then. There was aluminum and there was brass. Now brass wheels were more substantial, and not as fragile as aluminum, but the blades were still so thin that you hit one stump kind of hard and the blade would curl over like a taco shell. You could, however, do something with brass that you couldn’t (or we didn’t) do with aluminum; you could have it strengthened considerably. We would buy a new brass wheel and take it to Toup’s propeller works in Abbeville. They would add brass to the blades of the wheel, especially around the base. They would increase the thickness of the blades at least double and I think more likely triple and the base of the remade blade where it contacts the hub was ½ inch thick or more. You can see the marks at the base of the blade on the picture at right. Now, why was this necessary? It is hard to explain swamp crawfishing to someone who hasn’t done it simply because it’s hard to believe you do the things you do with/to a boat and motor. If you have 300 traps (a modest number by today’s standards), and they are in thick swamp, on each run you will probably hit at least 150 things with the motor, and jump over maybe 20 logs . Some runs would have more than this, some less. Each of these things tries to ruin the prop or break the shaft or strip the slip clutch (picture at left shows this ribbed device in the middle of the prop). The brass wheel from Toups would usually stand up to this abuse. The one I have did. When I stopped fishing in 1979 I sold everything I had that was connected to commercial fishing except this wheel. It sits at the side of the fireplace on the hearth now, and reminds me of those times 31 years ago. I took it to Toups in 1990 and had them stamp it.
The river is at 9.6 on the Butte La Rose gauge, going to 7.5 by Friday. The Mississippi and Ohio are both rising slightly in response to the rain they are having up there, and that may be enough to hold what water we have left, but probably not much more than that.
Rise and Shine, Jim