Interview with Robert Hudgins, 2014 July 14

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Interview with Robert Hudgins, 2014 July 14
Hudgins, Robert ( Interviewee )
Taylor, Jessica ( Interviewer )
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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Oral history interview


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Tidewater Main Street Development Project
Spatial Coverage:
United States of America -- Virginia -- Mathews


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UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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TMP 039 Robert Hudgins 7-14-2014 ( SPOHP )


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The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz Office Manager : Tamarra Jenkins 241 Pugh Hall Digital Humanities Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 35 2 846 1983 Fax The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness acc ounts of economic, social, political, religious and intellectual life in Florida and the South. In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by research scholars, students, journalists, and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, S POHP recommends that researchers refer to both the transcript and audio of an interview when conducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Suggested corrections to transcripts will be reviewed and processed on a case by case basis. Oral history int erview t ranscripts available on the UF Digital Collections may be in draft or final format. SPOHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the ori ginal oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim d ocument of it. The transcript i s written with careful attention to reflect original grammar and word choice of each interviewee; s ubjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and form at I nterviewees can also provide their own spelli ng corrections SPOHP transcribers refer to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information abo ut SPOHP, visit or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. May 2015


TMP 039 Interviewee: Robert Hudgins Interviewer: Jessica Taylor Date: July 14, 2014 recorded on the same day in sequential order. Int erruptions in recording are noted when necessary .] T: This is Jessica Taylor interviewing Mr. Hudgins on July 14, 2014 in Mathews, Virginia. Mr. Hudgins, can you please state your full name? H: Robert Roland Hudgins. T: Okay, and when were you born? H: Six, eleven, the twenty nine. T: And where were you born? H: wn in Peary, Virginia. T: H: Armstead. She married a Hudgins and he died. Then she married an Armstead again. I wish that bug w ould go somewhere why do he gotta be here now. T: H: T: Okay. H: Do you want some salt and pepper? T: So what are your earliest memories of Mathews?


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 2 H: The e arliest? Good question. I went to school here. I m ean, I worked in Mathews on the water commercial fishing, fisherman T: What do you remember about your parents? H: an, also. was thirty died in May. My uncle, he did a lot to help raise me. My mother had it pretty hard, yo u know, with four children. T: What was your uncle like? H: They were all fisherman. I grew up pound net fishing. That was in my early years, down the coast, from New Jersey to Texas. T: Tell me about New Jersey. H: New Jersey had a menhaden factory, up in Tuckerton, New Jersey, just above Deckhand, I guess you call it. They had al l type of different names for me T: Had your uncles and your father traveled far from home also? H: Fernandina Flo rida. They had a fish factory down there, and he was a captain of a menhaden boat down there. I


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 3 Same s ubject I got fifty years later, the same subject. T here may be better working conditions and things like that you know time changes. I got a le tter from him saying that we had to cut back because things were getting tight. But it T: So what did it mean to you when you found out that your father was a captain? H: Well, nothing. I knew he was a commercial fisherman. But he also in the off T: So you said you knew your grandfather. H: Oh, yeah. T: What was he like? H: Which one? [Laughter] T: You knew both of them? H: Oh, yeah. T: What were they like? H: old horse. Everybody said it needed feeding. [Laug hter] Yeah, but he was a good net fishermen I mean, pound net fishing. I could tell you all night. I could sit here and talk to you all night about what consists of pound net fishing. And now


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 4 everybo dy here in the county except those at that stage work in the shipyard, something like that. T: H: What now? T: generation. H: fly we are trying to kill. We had more modern equipment and stuff like that. Better boats, better living quarters. T: What were their living conditio ns like? What did they tell you about their childhoods? H: Well, you mean on the fish boats? T: Sure. H: six men in the crew. And then they got modern hydraulic locks that you pull the net in with, and that cut the crew in half. But everything got modernized, easier way of fishing. When I started, we had to pull the net in by hand, and I rode on what th ey call the dry boat, tackle boat That picture up there, it explains ever ything. Would that do you any good, for me to tell you about that? T: Sure, sure. So tell me how your uncles and your grandparents taught you. H: [Laughter] On the job training, everything. But that was hard work, demanding work.


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 5 T: What did you start out doing? H: We could be here all the night. Well, I learned good, mending nets. In those days setting the pound nets, you had to start with going in the woods and cutting down trees for the poles they put in the bottom. All of that was done by hand with an [Inaudible 8:40]. it was the same thing over and over. know, it was hard work, but it was a good living for the owners. You know those who weighed this stuff. T: Who were the owners? H: My uncle, my grandfather too old, but he was a good man with fingers, like hangin g nets. You know, he wanted to be doing [Inaudible 9:51 ] T: What was the relationship like between menhaden captains and then the workers? H: I think it was [19]53 that the unions were trying to unionize the crews and a lot of the cap tains they started hiring white people I mean, for some of the boats they did.


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 6 T: What union was that? H: T: Okay. H: I forg ot, I mean at one time. T: Can you remember any of the workers? Anything specific about them? H: le changes like, if you knew how to mend nets, you were had a cart puller, you had a ring sette r, you had a cook, and all that, and each one of those, and you had the ordinary crewman. You started out not counting the captain, now of the net menders and stuff like that, they would graduate up if they wanted to. But the pay was different than it is now, and they were paid according to what they knew. T: Why do you think the pay scale changed? H: Why what? T: Why do you think the pa y scale changed? H: Well, it changed with the cost of living. T: I meant how people are paid, sorry. H: Yeah, but we were paid by the amount of fish we caught. It was on a bonus. At the end of the season, if you concluded the season, you had a bonus. An d it


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 7 some of the captains were real rude to you. Like when I started out getting twenty two cent on the thousand, the crew members, I think, they was getting about twelve, which they liked to do it, I guess. They were good at what they did, but they did it by hand. T: Why are people no longer paid by the knowledge that they have? H: ons have a lot to do with it, with Coast Guard and stuff like that. [INTERRUPTION IN INTERVIEW] T: We were talking about why people are no longer paid by knowledge. H: same thi ng now. But an inexper ienced man gets less per month than the man way it was. T: H: Yeah. T: So it is that way now? H: Yeah. T: Okay.


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 8 H : It used to be that you come up through the knowledge rank, the e got to captain, companies most of them want pilots to have licenses. And engineers got to have licenses. Now that was going on [inaudible 15:03] And the Coast Guard. When the spotter pilots come out, the airplanes, they can spot fish and see more, about seventy five percent, than we could from the masthead before the pilots. Lik e that. Well, some people like [inaudible 15: 32] mostly got ahead, and the fish spotters had a lot to do with the bigger catches. T: Is that determined by where you fish? Is your success determined by where you fish? H: r in the fishing ground than I do [INTERRUPTION IN INTERVIEW] T: H: bonus, and all that kind of stuff, just give it to you. T: H: A good waterman? Well, I think experience has got a lot to do with it. Now, we ete, navigation and everything else. A good waterman would know when to take a chance with


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 9 weather, and not too much risk s Sometimes it can backfire, too. You can lose the men. Definitely can. A good waterman is experienced. T: H: Oh, yeah. T: Do you have any good examples of that? H: Yeah. We were paid in incentive bonus, like, if we caught fifteen million, the bonus would go up like five percent you know five cent on the thousand s. I had a very good friend ve got this, lacking few fish to get your next numb er so that your bonus will increase, this guy, Howard, would run them together. And I needed just a few to make my next number, but he had his. So the airplane pilot told him, stop and drop off to catch fish. He says, no, I think Robert is closer than I am He let me catch that catch of fish so I could get my next number. See what I mean? They helped each other like that. Some did, T: H: [Laughter] I w ould say, no respect for your fellow man or your fellow fisherman. T: school when you were growing up.


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 10 H: About what? T: School. H: to we had a little three room school down here with seven classes. [Laughter] We used to have a game called Fox and Hound. You ever heard of it? Well, one the woods and of course, the hound would chase the fox. A lot of them went t up to the tenth grade, quit. T: What was the point that you decided H: What now? T: What was the point that you decided you were done? H: What, with fishing? T: In school. Why did you decide to quit then? H: My worked also. I went in the service; I got out by hardship discharge to go back to T: Do you want to tell that story? H: Well, I divided with her a lot a portion of my


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 11 fifteen or sixteen, made thirty when you divide it, you know? [Laughter] T: Tell me about the house you grew up in. H: My father died before it was paid for, and then my uncle s they kind of took over the to another old man up there; he bought the house. He was a carpenter. [Inaudible 23:00 ] It was a nice house at the time. T: Did you and your new stepfather get along? H: Oh, yeah. Yeah. He was the one that started me in the menhaden business. He was a pou nd fisherman in his day, but his son was a very good fisherman. And he talked me into going stop pound netting and going on a menhaden boat. T: H: Yeah. T: Is there anything unique about the house that you gre other houses? H: No. T: No? H: I mean, one carpenter probably built half of them down there.


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 12 T: What does it mean to be a landowner in Mathews? H: I never had a lot, but this was our home in Mathews. [Inaudible] A lot of people got land round here now. Mathews was very close, and then industries or what, but some of them want to change everything, but th e local people that look li ke maybe they T: H: s gone, to a point. The ones that stay in it, thing. Crab netting, that was a prosperous thing here in the wintertime. Sorry my voice is doing this. They cut out what they call th e crab dredging this is another hooks. The people in Delaware, they come down here to get me to make it, these nets. T: Do you want to tell me about how you do that? H: I hooks and T: How do you use them?


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 13 H: They trying to find a picture. They used to be, say, five feet long. Then t hey kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger until they got up to eight foot long. You made. shop up the road the other way. The powerful Mr. Delaware got to show you. T: Okay. [INTERRUPTION IN INTERVIEW] H: [On early pound fishing, referencing pictures.] You take the boat, but the chair into it and them things out. woods and cut them and all that kind of stuff. T: Wow. H: condition too quick. This here has set the menhaden about two million were in This is my old step father. T: What was it like fishing in Texas?


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 14 H: We were over there and caught fish and brought them back to the factory in set. T: Wow. H: [Inaudible 28:40] T: When did you first see a big fish factory? H: T: What was that like? H: would have been in Louisiana. This was in Lewes, Delaware. Th is was in Reidsville. This was in Louisiana. T: You were in Cameron for thirty years. H: I was, yeah, during the season. That was what they called dry boats. All those guys from Tangiers about three of us living You c an see the difference. We used to have to they had engines in the first T: Beach Haven ? H: tic City, about


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 15 T: H: All those. T: Wow. H: trip over that. T: Nope. H: Very slippery net. This is one of the fish boats loaded coming into the cabin. These are old pictures, this is the boat I retired on. I had the best crew. I picked all my own men. [Laughter] These are old oyster boats. They were oyster boats down in Norfolk and Portsmouth, I think. This over the lighthouse. They are reconstructing it with rocks and things to preserve it. There used to be this house. T: When did the house wash away? H: They called it the Thirty Three Storm, but it was a hurricane. That is a fish meal. After you cook your fish, it goes through all kinds of preparations. We used have to do this by hand. This in New Point. All this was New Point. A friend of mine was a ship captain; his home had just been auctioned. They had a sale. He made all that and I bought it. T: Those are diff erent knots, right? H: Yeah.


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 16 T: Okay. H: Yeah, knots. Yep. T: Do you want to go back and sit down? H: Let me put this back there. [Moves dredge nets.] T: Can you tell me anything about your family, maybe that your grandparents told you or that your parent s told you? H: About what? T: About ghosts? H: T: No? H: [ Inaudible 33:56 [Inaudible 34:03 ] Something else I wanted to show you. Watch that. T: have to move it. H: My children g [INTERRUPTION IN INTERVIEW] H: Got another one over there just like it. I had a man out when I was first mate, ca ptain. We took him to watch those boats. [Inaudib le 34:49]. I had a man that cu t his finger off, and we were laying at the dock that weekend. The Coast Guard


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 17 come out to the boat and carried him to the doctor. That weekend, we were at the dock talking, you know shooting the bull, and here come this guy a t the dock. He come over there and he said nothing wrong, just statistics for the Coast rotten? [Inaudible 35:56 ] ex pected all of them to be tied up. T: You said that one was shot up? H: her; nobody could find her. The last I heard she might be in Texas. T: Is that the Mary or the Thomas ? H: T: Oh, okay. So now that I have the recorder out, can you tell me again about this? H: T: Miss Catherine Lee. H: A friend of mine, he likes models. His uncle bought this boat when he was a boy. He won it at a poker game Won it in the early [19]20s or maybe later. I dated a naudible 37:15 ]. So we got in touch with him, and I had a out. I found this sitting here on my work bench. So I had a guy clean it up and paint it that color, and I put all the rigging on it like the ori ginal of that year,


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 18 without the modern equipment. The dry boat. I put all the rigging on it myself. The way it supposed to be. T: What do you know about how it was made? H: Most of them were hewn out of one block of wood. A bl ack guy [inaudible] tells me he died and this boy, a friend of mine that he played with, he was ten years anted it. He was gonna pay big money for a lot for it. His s Cathy Lee. H is mother we used to go together a lot. She painted it, T: How did you start dating your wife? H: Grade school. She was born in Tarb oro, North Carolina. Excuse my voice. Well, we went to school all our lives together, and we got kind of apart for a while I like is liquor but I liked it and drank it somet imes on weekends. [Inaudible 39:35]. We got a good life. Sixty one years. You get used to each other. [Laughter] T: Are there any other stories you want to tell? H: T: What was the worst day crab bing you ever had? H: Worst day crabbing? Ha! catch any. I know one time the crab dredging


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 19 nature. Take them over here all kinds of rules and cycles. Did that answer y our question? [Laughter] T: Mm hm. Do you know A.J.? H: T: He said that people used to play pranks H: He told me you were coming down here, and I thought he was joking! He comes down here and helps me sometimes with the nets. T: Really? H: T: He told me you guys used to play pranks on each other. H: Oh, yeah. T: Is that true? H: Sometimes we played tricks. T: Were you mean? H: Me? T: Yeah.


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 20 H: out up in Perth Amboy, and we used to go in there in bad weather. The men would go up to the bar and, you know, drink a little bit. We never did get what you call out of the way. Everything had closed up, so we went to one place that was open and we asked for a drink, you know? And the fellow behind the bar, boy, he looked like he was this wide and his head was bigger than a big rascal. I thoug He got to to go home. I said, all we wanted was drink, you know? All of a sudden, A.J. says, you do jumped down off a stool: he was a midget. About that tall, that wide. A.J. picked him up in his arms about as easy as [inaudible, laughter]. We ha d some experiences. T: What was your handle on the C.B. radio? H: T: H: t. I had C.B., but not the handle. A lot of them did, though. T: How did you communicate? You just listen ed? H: names. Something I will tell you about A.J.: I was in Atlantic City on the boat, and he was in Delaware. In bad weather, some of the boats will come up and tie up in


TMP 039, Hudgins; Page 21 Atlan tic City. On this particular weekend, we were going to come home, but he had his car in Delaware. When we caught a ride with one of the drunks or something going to Delaware, we got to Delaware and he realized he left his keys on the boat in Atlantic City. the top out enough to get our hand down there so we could open the door and come home. That weekend he wrecked that car, and my daughter Nanc y was Yep. We we re coming home flying, boy. I said, A.J. [Inaudible 44: 50 mo [ End of interview ] Transcribed by: Jessica Taylor, July 2014 Audio edited by: Maria Fuentes, October 14, 2014 Final edited by: Jessica Taylor

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