Harvesting the River
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  Mussel Fishing

Cooking Out
Cooking Out, 1918.
Photograph courtesy of E. E. Van Fossen., Virden, Illinois
Zoom in on Cooking Out
Clammers set up makeshift encampments each summer. They spent the mornings dragging the riverbed for shells.

Musselers, or 'clammers' as they sometimes called themselves, made 'crowfoot' hooks Go to image of 'crow foot' hooks using simple kits they constructed. The crowfoot bar Go to image of a crowfoot bar was an invention of the inland waterways. Crowfoot hooks were attached with chains to a 10-to-14-foot crowfoot bar that was lowered into the water. It took up to 150 crowfoot hooks to outfit a single crowfoot bar. Most boats were equipped with two bars. After lowering the bars, the clammer lowered a 'mule.' Go to image of a 'mule' The river current filled this underwater sail and moved the johnboat Go to image of johnboat sideways downstream, over the mussel beds. The crowfoot hooks dragged the bottom of the river, snagging mussels, which faced upstream with their shells slightly open to catch food. The dull barbs would prompt the mussels to clamp down and be dragged along on the hooks. The bar was periodically lifted and the mussels removed.

For collecting mussels where there was no current, gatherers used dip nets Go to image of a dip net . Diving with underwater scopes and wading with a glass-bottomed bucket were two other common methods of finding and picking mussels. A single worker is said to have hauled in five hundred pounds of shells in one day in 1909; such heavy harvesting contributed to the rapid depletion of mussels.

During the Depression, in one of his many schemes to earn money and stay off relief, George Hillyer, a Havana boat builder, used a tow boat from which to gather mussels. He mounted a large scoop, like a steam shovel, onto the bow. He and his crew lowered the scoop on a boom into the water to the bottom and scooped up mussels. A cutter bar scraped the mussels off the scoop into a very large dip net, which dumped the mussels into a barge tied up alongside.

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