Legacy of Progress
NEW! Moodus History Blog
Resorts of Moodus
A Day at Banner Lodge
Mills Along the River
The Best Fish Nets in America
The Coops Go Up in Smoke
Constant Waterman's Journals
Memories of Meat
The Last Whaler
Old Chimney Stacks
East Haddam in 1913
Ode to a River Town
Early East Haddam


Civil War Monument
Town of East Haddam
Earth Charter of Lower Valley
East Haddam Land Trust
Moodus Drum & Fife
The Moodus Noises
Moodus Town Green
Sanctuary at Shepardfields


CT Barns
CT Freedom Trail
CT Heritage Gateway
CT Historical Society
CT History Online
CT Landmarks
CT Town Greens
Eli Whitney Museum
Mark Twain House
Mashantucket Pequot Tribe
Mohegan Tribe
Mystic Seaport
Old State House


As We Tell Our Stories
Between Boston & New York
Colt: Legend & Legacy
Connecticut & the Sea
Crusaders & Criminals
East of the River
From Here to There
The Green
The Mark of Uncas
The New Pequot
The Real Bob Steele
Suburbia: The Good Life?
USS Nautilus
Working the Land


Q. So you got out of the net making business but you were still in the maritime industry.

A. Absolutely. As I mentioned earlier, the fishermen knew that we had good netting. Of course, if they caught fish they were the good fishermen, and if they didn't catch fish it was because the net wasn't any damn good!

I wanted to sell them something where they cannot deny the fact of quality, so I designed foul weather gear. Now, keep in mind in the 50’s before I would sell netting I would fish it in the Connecticut River like any other commercial fisherman and obviously I had to wear their gear, the foul weather gear and so on and I realized how important it was to have good foul weather gear – a good suit, good boots and good gloves is just as important as the net itself. And in working with it originally we had old black hard rubber, I mean, it hurt bad, it sweat and it just took the life out of you.

So when the PVC's first came out in 1957, I was one of the first to work with people from Norway. And Hellie Hanson gave me the East Coast distributorship for it because they felt it was a good thing for them and me.

In 1977, 1 began to design my own garments and had them manufactured with some people in Sweden and Portugal. For instance, the color orange was introduced by Cofish in 1977. We began to work with cotton backing materials, machine washable, forever life lasting.

The Valdez oil spill 10 years ago. We had been told that our gear lasted longer than anyone's. So I visited the major in charge of that Valdez and he said, “yes, the throwaway's didn't last a day, Hellie Hanson lasted five to seven days, but your gear -- they could do the 14-day tour, turn in their garments, we would steam clean them and give them to the next crew.” So quality has always been a factor. And a good understanding and respect for the customer was always there.

Q. Looking back on the days of Cofish and before that, the Squire Company, how would you characterize the heyday of this business and other businesses like it back in the late 19th Century?

A. It was really dependent on two things: trust of the customer and the supplier in that they got good netting and they got it on time when the fish were there and not according to production schedules. Like with the gill netting, I would go to Chesapeake Bay in June and talk to the netters and the seiners and find out what fish they were growing, what they had at that time, and then we would matriculate this into the biological growth for October, November and December fisheries and we would stock up on netting so that if we were right they had their netting overnight.

I had customers call me on Easter Sunday and said, “Ed, I tore up last night and I need some stuff in two or three days.” Guess what? He had it. So there is a tremendous amount of trust and cooperation. That is what made us in New England so important because they did pay attention. It was just a complete way of life and they were proud of what they were doing.

Q. Were there other things you tried at Cofish?

A. Yes, One of the things I investigated was the camouflage netting industry as our government knew it. And that was back in the late 50’s, early 60’s. 1 told them that they were 20 years behind time. They got upset with that number and they said they reviewed their requirements every six months but they said, “You come in and tell us where we're wrong.”

And we developed the beginning of the camouflage systems as they are now used in the free world. And it took me from 1961 to 1972 to do it along with Dow Chemical, Monsanto, Varian Associates. And what we did in that period, it was finally accepted in 1972 and there were no changes made in the free world camouflage nettings until 1985. That, I think was quite a valuable issue, improvement.

Net-making maching with twine feeds.

Q. You mentioned the parts were made here for these machines. Each of the mills had their own machine shop?

A. Indeed. We have two two motors here. One is a five-horsepower motor that runs all seven machines. The other was a 2-U2 horsepower motor that took care of our shaper, our miller, our lathe, our cutting machines, the drill press. We had four or five machines that were used to make the parts here. The castings were made someplace else but everything was machined and assembled right here.

To point that out even further, when I first married into the Shea family in 1950 we lived in a company house next door. Obviously, we didn't have air conditioning, so the windows were open in the building and I would sit down to the dining room table to have dinner and I'd say, “Virginia, I got to go because the Number Four machine's tension isn't right.” That's how dedicated we were to the machines.

Yeah. I could hear the machines and I could tell by the sound of the machine whether it was Number One, Three, Four or Five because of the loads that they were carrying. And once you heard that machine, you'd say, wait a minute, that tension isn't right, and you go over and reset the tension with the girl.

Ceiling-mounted belts and gears drove Cofish's machines.

Q. You have these machines setup side-by-side, three in a row. Why is that?

A. The big reason is quality. When we would introduce a woman to a machine, it would take her three to five years to get the privilege of running a machine here. She would start out as a bobbin winder, then she would help fill the shuttles with the bobbins. She would learn how to mend the netting a little bit and then she would learn how to fill in the machine with another operator.

When she was ready to graduate to a fulltime machine operator she was put between the two machines and she'd run the middle machine and the experienced girls on each side of her would monitor her activities to make sure that the nettings were made properly, and it worked out quite well.

Q. So these machines were invented and patented here?

A. They were invented here but they were never patented because in order to get a patent there has to be full disclosure of technical procedures. We choose not to do that because nobody else in the world knew how we were doing it. As a matter of fact in the 1950's there were two or three delegations of Japanese that came here to see my father-in-law so that they could buy a machine from him or get patent rights and have him patent it and have them take it overseas. And he absolutely refused to let them come through that door where it said "Employees Only."

Q. Exactly what did these machines do that hadn't been done before?

A. They did two things. They were much more viable than other machines as far as changing mesh sizes and depths to make a new type of netting. We could do it in just a few hours where the other would take a day to do it sometimes because they have to take the whole gears apart.

We were able to change just one knob and change the mesh size and to change the depth it would take five minutes just cutting the threads back or adding some threads through the loops to make the depths different.

Another view of a Cofish net-making machine.

The first knob here is a tension adjuster. Just raise and lower it if you change the angle of attack of the twine coming down through and that is your first source of adjustment. If you look to the left and down you will see the springs and the hooks in there. Those silver hooks that are there, depending on the amount of twist we put on them -- one, two or three -- we, again add or decrease the resistance of the twine going through into the machine. And from those hooks then it goes to the springs which is your final point of tension.

And the fact that we could tie 3,000 knots per minute -- there was no other machine on Earth that could duplicate that. That's why I'm so proud to be able to stand here and be part of that history and hope that it can be propagated. We would like to see this a museum some day.

Q. What are we looking at here?

A. This is what we call a web of netting. This is probably around 20 meshes deep and because the roll is 150 meshes wide, we will have several webs. There's one, two, there's a hole there, three, maybe five webs. Now, it's not just the number of pieces of twine going through but it's the size of the mesh that determines the drag for tension as well. So it's a combination of the number of meshes you're making, the size of the mesh and the size of the twine that determine the amount of capacity per machine.

Q. How often did these machines break down?

A. Well, we had preventive maintenance all the time. Every two years each one of these machines was stripped to its frame and everything was replaced or rebuilt. So as far as breakdowns go, it usually came in the place of making adjustments on the hooks, the spring, the tension or the foot; we had a foot that twists the twine inside the machine and it makes the formation for the knot. Those were the wearing parts and they could wear out, oh, at any time whether it's a month, two months, three months, You couldn't predict it.

And the shuttles that are used in the machine, they would get like little whiskers on the edges and we would have to take sandpaper and file these down every two or three months at best.

Now, this here is what we call a rocker arm. That will either lift what we call the upper lock up, it'll lift up when the shuttles are in it and then it goes down when the loops have been made underneath the shuttles and then it comes  down through a new loop, actually, and into the lower lock and released by these two screws right here. Those are release mechanisms for the locks.

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A Moodus Mill Tour

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Red Mill Dam
Water power for the mills.

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A Tour of the MIlls
Once 12 mills, now only one. 

The fisherman's helper.

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Neptune Twine
1898 Check
Paying for power.

A Mill Sales Tool

The world's best twine.




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