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  1. #1
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    Default The Life of a Clam Digger (1972, Long Island)

    Last edited by holzbt; 01-21-2011 at 06:32 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)

    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)

    Quote Originally Posted by Soundbounder View Post
    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?
    Yes - the film is Bayman by Glenn Gebard and we sell it through our web site = long island traditions.org (I'm the director).

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

    Boy.... I remember a lot of these boats....along with a lot of good memories....a way of life that will never be the same....thanks for posting.

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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)

    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 08:27 AM.

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

    You can buy it through our organization - Long Island Traditions - on our web site.

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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 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)

    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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    "Look, I don't know, but that's not funny."

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

    Quote Originally Posted by ILikeRust View Post
    Hey, at least those old VW Beetles floated.
    Not with the doors open, rust holes in the floorboards and eight bushels of clams in the back seat, they don't.

    No, it was the last ride for that little VW . Engine screaming in second...whole car invisible from shore cause of the spray we was throwing up..or so they said, anyway. Soon as we got near enough to shore we could see a little crowd on the beach...they was yelling and jumping up and down...we started yelling back, couldn't hear a thing though.

    We almost made it too and probably would have if it weren't for one small detail. You see, whenever a body of tidal water freezes solid there develops a crack around the perimeter where the tide flexes the ice, a hinge of sorts. Well, we hit that crack, which was by now more like a gap, and down she went. Off we jump as she settles in up to the bottom of the windows with only fifty feet left to go. Now it's getting dark, out come the clams, out comes the chainsaw and we start cutting a channel to shore, running that poor chain right into the bottom. The ice chunks were pushed under the solid ice and Tom backs his truck onto the edge of the parking lot over the beach. We grab a grappling hook with a hundred feet of half inch nylon from the boat, tie one end onto the trailer hitch of the truck and hook the bumper of the car with the grapple.


    Everybody stands back and the truck starts to pull the car, five, ten twenty feet, the problem is, the car's just sitting there, stuck. That truck must have stretched that line fifty feet before the two fingers of that hook straightened out.

    Tom's hanging his head out the truck window when that slingshot lets go and that bent hook goes flying straight for his head at about eighty miles an hour...

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

    I grew up on the north shore also. I was there until I was 16 then moved to Bohemia. Dug clams on both north and south shores. South shore definitely had more of a clamming industry. I clammed to supplement my tuition when I was at Dowling College in Oakdale(Class of '76) Started clamming with friends in the bay at 17 using a bushel basket inside an old inner tube. Those were the good old days. I always found that clams on the north shore were saltier than south shore clams.
    We moved upstate to Andes in Delaware county in 1977. I still miss the beach! I still saw lots of old Oakdale, Bohemia and Sayville friends when they would come into our store during deer season. I was really upset when they told me what the "red tide" did and they would bring dad and I up to speed on the clamming industry. I miss those days. My dad wasn't a bayman but he had lots of friends who were.

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

    My dad worked for Grumman. With the company's help I got my start on the south shore. I was outfitted with a clam rake made from titanium. We also had 3 eel spears that we used on frozen over creeks from Moriches to Captree in the winters poking eels in the mud. I also had a BIG smokehouse where I could smoke 300 eels at a time then sell them. Grumman supplied all the 3/4'' marine plywood from their used wiring harness boards for that. There were lots of people on the Island using stuff that Grumman supplied or threw away.

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

    one of the reasons most clam boats were painted gray,paint from Grumans

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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)

    A Long Island friend sent this link to my wife. Along with the Netflix series Revenge it sure stirred up some old and fond memories. I never clammed but my high school friend did and still does, so I got a taste of it plus sailed my first boat out of Brown's River from a charming old boat yard on the Bayport side. Can't remember the man and son's name, but the big old barn was floated in from Bay shore on a barge and this guy did just about everything himself, including building his own travel lift from some army surplus junk. Crossed the mechanical dredge's path quite often, drug bottom with the centerboard not knowing about charts or piloting or anything about the water basically. Some one from Stony Brook made a documentary film of my buddy Steve Kuhn, as he is one of the old timers now. He is the guy who came up with the Clam Power tee shirts.Went to a birthday party with him once for an old West Sayville Dutchman. It was amazing to see pictures of an old sailing sharpie, decks and cabin top lined with ducks and bushels of oysters. I came across another You Tube thing of Steve present day at 66 still raking. It is bittersweet to recall hanging out around Idle Hour, and the Hamptons, watching the sunset nearly every evening at Land's End before things got so locked up and guarded. I don't miss Long Island, but so glad to have lived there in that time.

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

    The guy that owned that boatyard was Mel Leach..don't remember his son's name, he worked at the yard + clammed also. Mel trailered my first garvey from my house in West Sayville to his yard in Bayport, a real nice guy. I know Steve, was at his house a couple of years ago while visiting the Island. You are right ...the Island is not the same but the memories are priceless, it was a great time and place to be growing up. My younger son found the 8mm film I made for my senior essay(Life of a Clam Digger) and put it on a disc and added the music and then posted it to youtube. Wooden Boat magazine contacted us a couple of yrs. ago and asked permission to post it on their site. Can't believe the response. It was a nice way of life that I thought I would be doing for the rest of my life. Thanks for writing. Tom

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

    Mr Leache's sons were Jeff and Charlie. The picture on post 463 of the black hulled tong garvey was taken at their yard. Jeff is retired and living somewhere upstate NY. Charlie Leach is running the yard. I visited him last september, he showed me the Hurricane Sandy high water mark on the wall of that old barn. Almost up to my chest. I once owned Mr Leache's old lobster/tow boat, "Wild Goose" still have the compass binnicle from her. I am going to send it to Charlie, nice memento of good times past. Good to see some new blood on this thread. I have been looking for a venue like this for years, these pictures have become world wide on the internet, just google clam boat, long island garvey, great south bay clam boat or any related subject ant the pictures from this thread pop up. Its about time. Guys, pass this info around, maybe we can get more people involved, with more collections of pictures . This was history and fortunately we were a part of it. Rich

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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 10:34 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)

    If anyone is interested in this boat PM me. The owner is a friend of mine. It needs restoration; but is currently afloat on the Patchogue River.

    BTW the story I was told about the bowsprit is that it was broken in transit before it was cut down.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Ledger View Post
    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)

    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)

    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)

    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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