Traditions. British playwright W. Somerset Maugham tried to remind us that a tradition “…is a guide and not a jailer.”

Yet, we find ourselves bound by established principles set long ago for reasons either outdated or long-forgotten.

They exist in government function, family gatherings and even in church formalities. They, along with memory, “…frame our responses” despite technological and social advances.

Rick Mansfield

They even invade such sacred pursuits as gigging! For example, though the equipment being used has evolved much even in my lifetime, some courses of preparation have stayed the same.

Final adjustments are met hours, if not moments, prior to the ritual being begun. Old fuel is replaced in the tank; a new mix prepared. A leaky gas hose replaced; better — wrapped in duct tape and the motor operator reminded not to smoke.

In my early years, the outboard was affixed to the boat only after getting to the river. This made it easier to hammer any leaking rivets when the launch took place (welded seams by Blazer Boats has changed all that).

Then the motor — typically a 9.8 HP Mercury — was mounted on the back. The hose was hooked up, with or without the duct tape. The motor was started. Maybe.

If not, spark plugs were removed and cleaned and the ground electrode sanded a bit. For the very few that ran 9.9 Chrysler outboards with the electric start option, battery cables had to be hooked up and checked.

Loose terminals were addressed by driving a couple of nails between the posts and the cable terminal. We all carried nails, as will be covered shortly.

If the battery was dead, a common oversight, the battery was taken from whatever tow vehicle had transported us all to the river. Meanwhile, our gigs had been placed in the edge of the river so that the wooden poles would swell and the gigs would stay on when the clock and the overhead sun signaled the start of season. Brass screws came along later, at least in our part of the Ozarks.

Finally, we set out. It was now noon, season was open and we began gigging. Ran downstream a mile or so and began gigging back up. Until we sheared a pin in the lower unit.

Hence everyone carrying eight-penny nails. Far cheaper than factory shear-pins and much easier to drive down beside old battery posts. A volunteer to get wet, a nail driven in and bent; the sport resumed. For a while.

About mid-afternoon two important occurrences took place. First, the changing angle of the sun made visibility and subsequently gigging more difficult. The inevitable setting of the sun would soon make it impossible.

Now — we worked on the lights! My first challenge was an old McCulloch Mite-E-Lite. A gas guzzler to be sure, but so efficient the lights would start to flicker when you pulled the starter-rope.

Halogen bulbs had to be checked and replaced, this in the years after we had moved on from automotive bulbs mounted behind a sheet of barn tin. The generator might have to be choked and beaten (often the needle valve got stuck — thumping the outside of the carburetor a time-proven fix).

Generations before mine spent this time collecting pine knots and filling a washtub with gravel to house the onboard fire.

Now, here in modern times when this younger generation no longer honors such traditions — boats are kept in running condition throughout the year.

Final readiness already being addressed. No respect for what made the “season opening” a great event.

(Rick Mansfield is a seasoned storyteller and writer, and is always looking for new audiences. He can be reached at


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