So you got out of the net making business but you were still in the
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.
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.
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.
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
belts and gears drove Cofish's machines.
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
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.
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."
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.
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
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