MUDFLATS

By Staff
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I was doing a weekend of salt water fishing last summer down in
my old home place on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. A cousin from
South Carolina had come up, and when he is there fishing is the
order of the day, for he really loves it. We fished the better part
of three days and when the fish ran low we explored some of the
numerous muddy inlets and creeks, frequently getting stuck on the
mud flats.

All of this seemed just like reliving many happy hours spent as
a boy doing the same thing along the same creeks and catching the
same kind of fish about the same size. White perch, spot, hog fish
and salt water trout ranging in size up to 10 inches are what may
be expected in the inland waters of this area, though further out
bonita and red drum fishing is excellent. One can also expect to
land a small dog shark or two which is considered excellent eating
by many in that area. Actually, on our best day we caught nearly a
bushel of white perch and a few trout in a little over an hour.
Frequently one would pull in a fish on both hooks. The size was
small, eight inches or less, and bait was peeler crab.

My lifelong love of motors caused me to reflect during our
cruising around upon the great increases in reliability,
flexability and portability which have been accomplished in small
boat power. When as a boy I finally was allowed to use a motor-boat
instead of pulling oars to get out of the creek, it was a great
thrill. The motorboat belonged to two local gentlemen who were
granted permission to keep it at our dock and use our creek for
access to the fishing grounds. My numerous questions about the
motor and general interest in it finally persuaded them to allow me
to borrow the boat, with the help of a colored fellow, to take out
a fishing party of my relatives who always spent their summer
vacations down at the old family place.

On the agreed morning I went over to the owner’s home to
obtain the necessary boating equipment. This consisted of oars,
detachable rudder, bailing scoop and a box containing a hot shot
battery and the special combination coil and spark plug. This
latter item I have never seen since. It consisted of a spark plug
shell the same as that foe a Model T except it was of bronze.
However, in place of the porcelain a large circular coil was built
with sturdy external covering and on top was a small round box
containing the vibrator points. The top of this box was knurled and
when rotated adjusted the point gap during operation if needed. It
carried a commercial name plate and a couple of binding posts for
the battery wires. This unit was obviously for marine use due to
the all bronze and brass construction, and was screwed directly
into the spark plug hole of the engine.

After mixing the proper gasoline and oil mixture we assembled at
the dock and cast off. I had never started the motor before but
felt confident I could do it. The boat was an open one of about 15
feet in length, equipped with a single cylinder Gray water-cooled
2-cycle engine mounted inboard with the usual bronze shaft and
packing gland through the skeg. It gave about 4 horsepower at 500
RPM and with its huge exposed flywheel turned a sizeable bronze
propeller. A small amount of oil was mixed with the gasoline for
cylinder lubrication. Grease cups were provided on the main
bearings and a small brass container with a hand plunger pump was
mounted on the crankcase. This had to be pumped occasionally to
inject a squirt of oil on the rod bearing. A plunger type water
pump was eccentrically driven from the crankshaft as was an
ignition vibrator contact.

Well, I got the motor started all right, the procedure being to
retard spark, set throttle, squirt some gas into the priming cup,
pull the flywheel through by hand a couple times, then close the
knife switch on the battery box and heave for all you are worth on
the flywheel. After starting one must lean out the carburetor
needle for smooth running, advance the spark and then look for
water squirting out the engine exhaust pipe over side showing the
water pump to be working. Then take a turn on the main bearing
cups, a couple shots on the rod oiler and settle back to enjoy the
ride out the creek as the remains of last trip’s bait, dead
fish mixed with mud and lots of water dance around on the boat
bottom from engine vibration. But the smell of salt air and marsh
mud and the cry of gulls soon remove concern over the boat bottom
shaking loose. And then my friend and helper, though he can’t
swim a stroke, is known for always getting back in fine shape and
with fish, no matter what the local opinion regarding the season
may be.

On the way out I began to experiment with the motor by running
it up and down rapidly with spark and throttle. Naturally its
response was quite dead, even compared with a Model T engine, so I
stopped. We dropped anchor in the fishing grounds and during the
next hour caught 14 dog sharks up to 2 feet long, assorted small
fish and one sizeable sting ray which had to be cut loose. We
decided to move to another location and this is where my
experimentation caught up with me. The motor started fine and we
were cruising on out when suddenly the engine speeded up and the
shaft slowly came to a stop. Quickly killing the motor I looked in
horror at the stub end of the propeller shaft, a square shaft key
on the boat bottom and much bronze powder on the keel. My
experimentation with the motor had loosened the shaft in the motor
coupling and it merely slid down until it disengaged but not before
banging itself up considerably. With much embarrassment the fellow
and I rowed considerable distance to a small sandy area, beached
the boat and tried to drive the shaft and key back in. We had no
luck for it let go again after only a few yards under power. The
long pull home was most discouraging and so was facing the owners.
I made good by fitting a new key, tapered to wedge in, and made
from the tang of an old mill file. However, the shaft never ran
quite as true thereafter and had to be repacked frequently.

Speaking of our old home plantation, it is named
‘Brownsville’ and is just east of a place called Nassawadox
on the Eastern Shore. The home was built in 18?? and the impression
where the slave quarters existed is still visible in the yard. It
has been in the Upshur family for generations and has acres of yard
with sheep, cows, dogs, cats, chickens, etc., much to my
children’s delight when we visit. It consists of about 1,000
acres of timber, marsh and cleared fields, the latter being only
about one-third of the total. My two elderly aunts and a cousin
with three lively boys now hold forth among the antiques in an
environment rich with the nostalgia of a past era when this
southern American way of life was filled with both dignity and
grandeur.

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