Editor’s note: Longtime Del Norte County resident Chuck Blackburn’s column appears every four weeks.
One of the things that has kept me in Del Norte County has been its people and the lasting friendships that were initiated over the years.
Three such friends are Ed Hughes, Jack “The Swede” Husberg and Larry Amos. We were the four musketeers who guided together on the Klamath River in late summer and early fall. My buddy, Larry Amos, teacher-coach and, athletic director, is still alive and kicking as am I.
This story is a tribute to Ed Hughes, who was born in 1906 in Crescent City. His father, Edward C. Hughes, ran a mill on Requa Road where Panther Creek Lodge used to be but was destroyed in the 1964 flood.
Ed started commercial fishing in 1922 and then guiding salmon fishermen on the Klamath and Smith rivers after that time. Ed’s dad was involved along with Ed in the commercial gillnetting operation with the Klamath Packing Association Cannery located below Requa Inn. This all came to a halt in 1934 when gillnetting was abolished on the Klamath.
R.D. Hume had the first cannery and had his own small hatchery to help replenish fish stocks. Hume also had a similar operation on the Smith River. There was no limit to tourists fishing salmon during the commercial season, but when the commercial season terminated, a limit of five fish per day was imposed on the sports fishermen.
Ed spent some of the time commercial fishing in the ocean, but was also involved in the construction of the current Highway 101 to Klamath. The construction camp was at Big Tree Park, just south of Trees of Mystery. A construction camp had cabins and a cookhouse provided by the contractor, J.E. Johnson, from 1928-1931. Klamath (Bears) Bridge was damaged in the 1955 flood and breached in the big flood of 1964.
Ed shared a great story about driving a truck for this job. They drove Sterling dump trucks from 1928 through 1930 that had solid rubber tires and chain drive to the rear wheels. The company bought new Sterlings the next year in 1931 that had pneumatic tires (air-filled tubes) and modern transmissions. Ed was elated to be able to drive these great vehicles, but after looking at the dynamics of their work, they took out the front windshields so that when they had to back up to dump a load, they would climb onto the hood and put their feet through the opening, reach the pedals and steer the very upright steering wheel. They found this to be effective and fun.
After leaving Del Norte for a few years, he returned home and guided until his death. Guides earned $10 a day in the 1930s, $20 a day in the 1940s and $25 a day in the 1950s.
Ed, Jack, Larry and I all guided together out of Alvin and Juanita Larson’s Requa Resort for years. Ed and Jack also fished out of Ship Ashore Resort in the fall and winter. Some of the celebrities that Ed guided were Fred MacMurray, Leo Gorcey, Earl Hamner, Bill and Carmen Clothier, Nick “The Greek” and Dave Hammond, along with Amos of “Amos and Andy.”
Each June before the summer season started, I would pick up Ed, Larry and Jack and go “look at the river.” There were the early fishermen who came up to the Klamath in June to get set up for the summer and get out of the heat of Southern California and Arizona.
We would go down every week to have breakfast with Alvin Larson and our fellow Yurok guides. We were all fighting the fishing bug waiting for the first guiding parties and the opportunity to really catch fish and let out various Klamath yells. Ed and Larry were motor boat guides and Jack and I were rowboat guides. All were great successes in their styles of fishing.
It was difficult for Ed to name any singular highlight in his life because he had so “damned many.” Ed’s largest salmon caught over his years of fishing was a 52-pounder. When it was rumored that Ed might still be gillnetting during the twilight hours (illegal), game warden Jack McKeller said, “Hughes, I’m going to make you an honorary game warden to keep you straight.”
Ed attributed his good health and vitality to Del Norte County weather, clean air, lots of exercise, lots of fish, garden vegetables and an occasional “horn,” and in his younger days a visit to the famous “Hughes Willer Patch.” I always looked at Ed as the “salt of the Earth.” Larry Amos and I were always greeted by a low monotone voice from Ed, “Hello, lad.”
Ed passed away sitting at his table having a “horn” on Christmas night. Larry Amos received a call from Ed earlier that evening about his nice Christmas with family in 1997. What a wonderful way to go for our dear friend. I was honored to give a eulogy with Ed Jr. and Denis, his wife, at the Hughes’ home off Old Mill Road. Many friends attended.
Over the years since Ed’s passing, I know I have heard a muffled voice saying, “Hello, lad.”
Chuck Blackburn can be reached at 954-7121.