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Thread: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

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    Default The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Last edited by holzbt; 01-21-2011 at 05:32 PM.

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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)








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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)








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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Thanks for that, Roger. Those were some good days.

    I put together a pair of tongs last year to do some digging off the catboat. A set of heads I found in a yard sale and a pair of handles that I made from some Doug-Fir stair tread. Eighteen footers to get to the deep shell beds off Patchogue. Guy tells me that I could get fined for using them. Crazy, I mean, I only want to get fifty or so, how many can you eat and give away?

    Lucky are the ones who get sent to sailing school and provided with Beetle cats at a young age, though I never met any. Those old tong boats were my first view into a world fast fading, though I didn't realize it at the time. A different school entirely.

    Guy named Mickey first took me out tonging around the time of this film. He had an old bay boat, named Traveller, built by Weeks in Patchogue in the Twenties. Worked with another guy on his boat, the Far Fookin' Out, a composite sort of boat, the bow of oneboat fastened to the stern of another and kept afloat by the liberal application of roofing tar. Being young we'd be out in these leaky boats all winter and not think a thing of it.

    Here's a picture of my first boat, the houseboat. The tonging garvey was my second build. This picture was taken on the beach across from East Quogue.


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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    That video is great!!!


    That reminds me....
    There was a documentary on PBS or WLIW about a decade ago on the baymen of Great South Bay. I thought it was very well done. Always wanted to see it again, but I don't even know the name of it.
    Do any of you know what I am talking about?

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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    The BAYMEN video was done by cablevision/news12. It was very good but I've no idea where to find it.

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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)


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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    I never met a "bayman", well, maybe Louie Duffy, but he wasn't the kind of baymen that they preferred down at the Suffolk Marine Museum. They love a "bayman" over there , but look down their noses at clammers, not that any of them actually dug any clams, but they love the idea of a respectable bayman and if they thought you wuz one they'd record your bull**** for the future generations of dentists to believe. Louis Duffy lived with all the other Duffys in a run-down house on Swan River. There's only Flo Duffy left now, all the others having succumbed to the same kind of cancer. Flo was a phenomenal treader, ten to fifteen bags was not an unusual day for her, big stuff mostly, like treaders tend to get, but that's a lot of clams. Louie didn't have too many teeth, and the ones he did have were none too good on account of all the soda he liked to drink. He had a great loud voice that you could hear clearly a hundred yards away on a windy day, usually laughing at some joke he made while he put up two for your one. One time we're selling clams on the dock and Louie says to me "Wanna rabbit?" and opens his trunk and it's full, FULL, of rabbits he's shot.

    Edited to add...Flo Duffy is actually Flo Sharkey mentioned in the video in the above post.


    Here's a nice shot, scanned, of the bay in the morning with some snow on top of the skim ice from inside a tongboat cabin.

    Last edited by Jim Ledger; 01-22-2011 at 07:27 AM.

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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    I grew up on the North Shore so the tonging that partly put me through college was from a 12' dink that I rowed out into the creek. Up here, the tong clammers use big home-made skiffs - more like home slapped up - plywood flatties about 24' long, about 8'-10' at the transom with but the slightest curve and about no flare to the sides and a workboard a bit ahead of amidships. Great ugly plywood brutes. I'll have to get a picture.

    Anyway, point is I envy those bay clam boats.

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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    There were a couple of winters in the late Seventies that were colder than any I've seen since. The bay froze up completely for about six weeks. These pictures were taken in 1979. This is an old VW that we used to drive out on the ice...



    ...with a younger, fitter, stupider version of my own self.



    And this...is what we drove two miles out on the ice to do...remember the stupid part...chainsaw holes through the foot-thick ice and tong up the clams, using ranges we knew to get on spots where there might actually be some.



    Here you can see the shore, just, that's in the middle of the bay off Blue Point.

    Anyway, there were three of us one morning in late February with all our gear, packed up and ready to go. The ice was getting soft during the day but freezing hard at night. It was still a foot thick, so no problem. So, out we went. It was warm that day, probably got up into the forties with the sun getting stronger. By lunch the ice was crunchy underfoot, but it was still a foot thick. By three o'clock the top two inches of the ice was Swiss cheese, and so was the bottom two inches.

    In fact the whole surface of the ice was one big puddle.

    It was time to go.

    Into the VW we loaded eight bushels of clams into the backseat. The other two guys stood on the running boards with the doors open, ready to jump. I drove. The ice was so soft I couldn't get the car out of second. I can't be sure, but I think the ice formed a bow wave in front of the car, which might further explain the lack of speed. See, when you're driving a car over thin ice, every fiber of your being says to go FASTER, you know as soon as you stop you're going down...


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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Geez Holzbt, some of the boats in the more recent photos look pretty interesting, any idea how old they are? A couple look like they might be old sail boat hulls.
    Which comes first," someone asked Ira Gershwin, "the words or the music?" "The contract," said Gershwin.



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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Quote Originally Posted by Harbormaster View Post
    Geez Holzbt, some of the boats in the more recent photos look pretty interesting, any idea how old they are? A couple look like they might be old sail boat hulls.
    This is a typical oyster sloop of around 1900. Remove the rig, add an engine, shorten the bowsprit and put a doghouse over the sliding hatch and you would have something very similar to the old style tong boats.

    A lot of the tong boats were also made from cut-down hulls, the 36' plywood landing barge being a favorite.


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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Great stuff. I didn't know the bays' clamming boats were that nice . Jim ; your clamming exploits on the ice are incredible! I visited a maritime museum on lake Superior once ,near the Apostle Islands . In the past there gill nets were set through 2 widely separated holes in the ice, somehow fishing a messenger line through to start .
    Last edited by Bill Perkins; 01-22-2011 at 09:34 AM.

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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Thanks, Bill, we never made it to shore.

    Tongers off Patchogue back before anyone here can remember. They were probably tonging oysters in this picture. The oysters were farmed, the beds cultivated and planted with seed stock and harvested with hired labor. When the oyster fishery collapsed the interest switched to clams, wild stock harvested by independent diggers.


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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    So if one were to take a day trip up to long island. where are the best old school marinas to stalk?

    -Thad
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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Quote Originally Posted by Thad Van Gilder View Post
    So if one were to take a day trip up to long island. where are the best old school marinas to stalk?

    -Thad
    There's not much left around here, Thad, and what's left is rapidly being replaced by condos and storage racks. Here's the inside of the barn at South Bay Boat Works on Patchogue River. For a hundred years they hauled boats up to eighty tons on thier marine railway. Last year the tracks were removed and rack storage put in. One day soon this barn will just be gone a troublesome memory removed, a blemish on the sod'n'CCA landscape erased.

    Meanwhile, uptown the installation of fake gas lamps and cute old-timey street signs will continue unabated.


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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    This photo is dated January 1977, in Amityville. A college buddy and I (I'm the one on the left) bought this open-decked clam boat and built a cabin on it. College was Dowling College in Oakdale, LI. We used the boat to make a little extra money. I do remember the bay freezing over. I (and many others) went out on the ice, many with cars, and worked through the ice. I didn't have a chainsaw, but used a hand saw to cut through the ice, then used a rake (instead of tongs) to work in a circualr area through the hole.


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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Here's a picture you might like, Roger, the top of Patchogue River, back in the fifties judging by the car in the foreground. You can see a couple of tong boats tied up and what must be diggers cars, the three that look like bootleggers cars. No doubt they have no backseats to make loading the clams easier.

    This scene changed little until the late Seventies, when the building on the left was turned into the bar Bonners Ferry. Now its a restaurant where you can sit on the deck with your plate of half-shells and gaze appreciatively on a half-acre of tarmac and Bayliners with Jimmy Buffett providing the soundtrack.



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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    This boat belonged to a friend of mine.. This picture was taken after he sold the boat. Unfortunately, the new owner could see no reason to keep the bowsprit so long so he lopped two feet of the end, ruining the whole boat.

    The boat is a type locally known as either a "Maryland boat", or a "Virginia boat", because that's where it was built. The boat shows typical Chesapeake workboat construction, hard chined, cross-planked vee bottom, yellow pine, galvanized fastened. However, it was purpose-built for this bay, as the Chesapeake tong boats have a forward cabin, narrow side decks and a large open cockpit with an engine box.


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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Cool thread, this brings back memories. I still have my grandpa's oyster tong. Thanks for sharing a bit of this nostalgia.

    WBF=DNC

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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Here's another old photo of a boat that I'm sure is long gone by now, taken in 1980, an old sloop named Prowler.

    Which comes first," someone asked Ira Gershwin, "the words or the music?" "The contract," said Gershwin.



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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    I'm reminded of the puchline of an old joke: "lookit whatcha durn yo ma clayumdiggrr".

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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Whatta great thread. Thanks for sharing.

    and about no flare to the sides and a workboard a bit ahead of amidships
    Yup, the vertical topsides makes it easier to work right up against the side of the boat.

    Kevin
    There are two kinds of boaters: those who have run aground, and those who lie about it.

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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Meanwhile, uptown the installation of fake gas lamps and cute old-timey street signs will continue unabated.
    One day a few years ago, I was eating lunch on my truck, parked in front of a deli on the main road. My freind, Timmy Hermus, a digger, pulled up with his boat on a trailer. Stacked in the the boat was his "sled", bushels of clams, the culling board, rakes, etc. Every car that passed while we chatted slowed down and eyeballed us. Finally Timmy said: " Dincha know? I'm local color now."

    Kevin
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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Quote Originally Posted by Breakaway View Post
    One day a few years ago, I was eating lunch on my truck, parked in front of a deli on the main road. My freind, Timmy Hermus, a digger, pulled up with his boat on a trailer. Stacked in the the boat was his "sled", bushels of clams, the culling board, rakes, etc. Every car that passed while we chatted slowed down and eyeballed us. Finally Timmy said: " Dincha know? I'm local color now."

    Kevin

    Tracey remembers Timmy Hermus.

    People like a little local color, but not too much. If you've had a pound net running off the beach for decades new folks will move in and want you out of there. A gang of shouting men on the beach catching stripers with a haul seine and surf dory, driving a flatbed with a (unmentionable)winch mounted on the back will soon find themselves looking for alternative employment once their activities are viewed through plate glass.

    I saw my old friend John Donahue last week. He told me the story (umpteenth time) of the time he and Mickey Ritchie realized that some new fishing regulations had a loophole. The rules attempted to list every kind of method by which fish couldn't be taken, stern trawl, otter trawl, beam trawl..."THEY FORGOT TO SAY PAIR TRAWL"..and off they went, scraping bushels of fluke off the bottom, dragging a trawl between two tong boats. Needless to say that the officers who arrested them failed to appreciate the nuance, the subtle differences in the equipment.


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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Great thread guys, Jim remember the ECO's painting orange lines on the ice back in the 70's to mark the legal areas? I remember a friend of mine in the summer of 80 or 81 betting his mud rake stuck swam down and realized it was caught on the bumper of a VW that went through the ice.

    The south shore of Long Island was a great place to grow up. I had my first garvey before my first car.

    14 years old making 50 - 100 $ a day cash, we were in hog heaven.

    15' garvey, 35hp 1953 gale outboard, two tomato sandwiches for lunch. Selling the clams at the town dock in patchogue, or at Vigilotta's in east mroiches.

    I really miss those days.

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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Quote Originally Posted by Larry P. View Post
    Great thread guys, Jim remember the ECO's painting orange lines on the ice back in the 70's to mark the legal areas?
    Yes I do, Larry. It takes a special kind of guy to be a clam cop. My buddy Steve once tied garbage bags on his legs and broke through the ice in Harts Cove to try to rake up a bag, over the line, at night. He, his wife and baby were eating pancakes because we hadn't been able to work for a few weeks. A few days later the ice broke up enough that we could get the boat out of Patchogue River. A cop pulls us over by the ferry dock and wouldn't let us go out because our licenses had expired two weeks before. Bastard still had some orange paint on his hands.

    Quote Originally Posted by Larry P. View Post
    I remember a friend of mine in the summer of 80 or 81 betting his mud rake stuck swam down and realized it was caught on the bumper of a VW that went through the ice.
    I swear it wasn't mine, we pulled it out, honest!

    Quote Originally Posted by Larry P. View Post
    I really miss those days.
    I know. WTF happened?


    The working end of my epoxy-coated "dude" tongs. Shore are purty, ain't they?

    Last edited by Jim Ledger; 01-23-2011 at 04:20 PM.

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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Quote Originally Posted by Larry P. View Post
    Great thread guys
    yeah this is a treat
    Simpler is better, except when complicated looks really cool.

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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Down west, around Babylon, where Roger lives, the South Bay is broken up into a lot of small areas with lots of islands and channels. The preferred tong boat is a low, flat-sheered decked-over inboard garvey like the examples shown in the beginning of this thread. Further east the bay deepens and widens out to about four miles and can get choppy. The best kind of boat there would be a longer, deeper, pointy-bowed boat with a high bow and bowsprit, like the Maryland boat.

    Out on the East End of Long Island the bays again are small and shallow. In addition, there is not enough area to support dedicated tonging boats. Tonging is often done out of trailerable skiffs which can be used for many other kinds of work. Here are a couple of pictures scanned out of the book "Mens Lives", by Peter Mathiessen. An excellent book if you can find a copy.






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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Quote Originally Posted by Harbormaster View Post
    Here's another old photo of a boat that I'm sure is long gone by now, taken in 1980, an old sloop named Prowler.

    Where was this photo taken? It looks like Islip. There used to be three similar boats, Prowler, Howler, and Growler around when I was a bit younger.

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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Driving home from work this morning I decide to take the beach route to avoid traffic. Crossing the bay bridge I could only see one boat between Islip and Lindenhurst. A far cry from 30 years ago. This is the only boat working this end of the bay these days.










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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Quote Originally Posted by holzbt View Post
    Where was this photo taken? It looks like Islip. There used to be three similar boats, Prowler, Howler, and Growler around when I was a bit younger.
    Neat, you are good. I believe it was Islip. I looked down the forward hatch and found her official number carved in the main beam and looked it up in the Merchant Vessel List - it was Prowler, but now I can't remember when she was built - I'll see if I can find an older copy.
    Which comes first," someone asked Ira Gershwin, "the words or the music?" "The contract," said Gershwin.



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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Quote Originally Posted by Harbormaster View Post
    Neat, you are good. I believe it was Islip. I looked down the forward hatch and found her official number carved in the main beam and looked it up in the Merchant Vessel List - it was Prowler, but now I can't remember when she was built - I'll see if I can find an older copy.
    That would be the creek behind Degnon Blvd., across from the Islip Middle School. I believe there was a rather unique individual living aboard there for quite a few years. I never took a pic. as it was one of those things that was always there, why would it not be there next time? Always wondered what happened to it.

    I found GROWLER in the 1894 MVUS list. Built in Bay Shore in 1885 and homeported in Patchoque. Howler and Prowler must have been built after 1893. Probably all as sloops.

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    Default Re: The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Ledger View Post
    See, when you're driving a car over thin ice, every fiber of your being says to go FASTER, you know as soon as you stop you're going down...
    Hey, at least those old VW Beetles floated.
    - Bill T.

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