Terry Slack – Experiences of a Fraser River North Arm Gill Netter

by Terry Slack 2014

The Puff

the 36 foot gill netter Aquatic Star which had been abandoned and then rebuilt by Terry Slack, moored at the B.C. Packers small boat yard in Celtic Slough on the North Arm of the Fraser River. (Photo from the Sharon Slack collection.)

Yes, I sure do remember the Eva from Finn Slough! Each little British Columbia Packers fish camp up and down the Fraser River had an Eva in their fleet, but most of them just ended up getting cut up or sunk in a back slough!

The Puff

The Puff in 1958 with Terry Slack at the helm and with friends on board and the dog Lassie pointing the way on the bow. ["Yes, its my dog on the Bow Wow, nose always pointed up River and the Easthope’s exhaust puffing out perfect smoke rings, love it! The nets down, look out for a corker coming soon to the Slack Gas Station Drift! Stoke up the steam box fire drum, with the skin and ribs of the Old Puff and do all this before the cold river fog comes rolling in to the B.C.P Goat Ranch Shipyard!" from "The North Arm of the Fraser River"](Photo from the Sharon Slack collection.)

I gill netted beside the Eva on the Gilmore Island Drift in the main part of the Fraser River. Later on in life, I noticed her owner had kind of walked away from the all wood stuff, when he had an aluminum net drum and rollers installed, all this happening near the end of her fishing life! Not sure if she was powered by a two cylinder Easthope Engine or a four cylinder Gray Marine gas engine. Yep that Grey engine was the future pattern for many G.M. diesel engines, bet you did not know that?!

Yep I sure miss my old wooden gill netter the Puff, with her 1 cylinder 5.6 horse power, make–and–break Easthope engine with an Armstrong flywheel ‘crank and pray’ starter and a 6 volt Model T Ford spark coil that buzzed all day and flashed all night! That’s why I got a little pain in my shoulder now, from swinging her 100 pound flywheel over from top dead center and waiting for her first Puff! Oh loved her first puff and the following carbon monoxide smoke in the cabin. Wow what a electrifying buzz!

My 5.6hp is in an Easthope museum somewhere in Steveston where she was built! She started, I think, in 1941 and she was #42 off the production line! How did I get her, well a ‘freebie’ from a wreck, buried in the mud off the booming grounds! She was a bugger to start in cold weather and had to be encouraged with a squirt of ether down her pit cock ... not too much now, as the cabin roof might pop up with the first bang! Lots of great stories and plenty of everlasting bruises, buggering around with my Puff the Magic Dragon and her one lung 5.6 Last Hope , Easthope marine engine! Being an old River Muskrat Poet, I did a little swearing poem about my love, that being my Easthope Engine, and you will have to grab me by my dead head, goose neck exhaust pipe, for me to pass it on! Hey what the hell is going on in the wheelhouse. I’m not telling!

The Puff

Terry Slack fishing the North Arm in The Puff on what was called the "1927 Shell Oil Marine Gas Station Drift" with gill net out and the full chip scows in the background. (Photo from the Sharon Slack collection.)

The Puff! She was typical old flat bottom shallow draft Fraser River North Arm salmon gill netter, that was built by my father Alf Slack at the Iona Island Jetty, where we all lived in the early 1950s in log and scow houses! All the boat lumber was hand split, hand planed and made into 24 inch wide, 15 foot long Red Cedar boat planking! The Oak for the frames came from abandoned Second World War gun boxes that washed ashore on the salt water side of the Jetty! The Puff always bashed through the nasty July westerlies when on the salmon drift. Some times the wave suction pulled out her bottom planking cement and cotton caulking – and then back to the dock I would go, where she leaked like a sieve!

My dad passed her on to me in 1955. Yeah, he was laughing, I got mad and I fixed her forever leaking bottom! The B.C. Packers small boat yard located at the south foot of Blenheim Street, on what we called the Blenheim Flats in Vancouver had lots of worn out sad looking gill netters in the yard and the Puff joined them, growing blackberries out of their hatches.

I retired the Puff in 1960 and gave the one lung Easthope 5.6hp engine back to where she was built in Steveston. The Puff’s cedar planking was taken off and used to fire up the boat yard steam box to repair another old fish boat boat up on the shore! Now that was real recycling! It took me two and a half years to rebuild a ‘new to me’ rotten old gill netter called the Aquatic Star built in 1950 of not–seasoned lumber. Her sagging lovely wooden boat lines looked to me as if she were like a beautiful women and I fell completely in love with her! The 32 foot Aquatic Star, with her keel reaching down to the land, she was to me a wooden ‘fixer up her’.

I took numerous looks at her on dry land, and I thought "yes she is mine and deserves to be back in the river once again." I was scared when I bought her! The old cedar planking off the Puff made the steam in the steam box that bent the oak frames and cedar planks for the rebuilding of my beautiful ‘lady of the river’. I gill netted every season with her until 1998, when old age and and creaky joints made me say good–bye to her. Yes it was very hard thing for me to do, saying goodbye. I am on shore now, trying to win the lottery to buy just one more wonderful wooden boat.

Editor’s Note: Terry Slack is a retired gill netter from the North Arm of the Fraser River, and – he says, an "old River Muskrat Poet".



To quote from this article please cite:

Slack, Terry (2014) Terry Slack – Experiences of a Fraser River North Arm Gill Netter. Nauticapedia.ca 2014. http://nauticapedia.ca/Gallery/Slack_Terry.php

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