James Peach was another entrepreneur on a larger scale than my dad. Not only did he buy furs, he also dealt in ginseng and introduced my dad to another market; mussel shells. James told my dad that there was a lake in Oklahoma that had just been discovered to hold shells. He also told my dad that he would pay for his trip out there if he was interested in diving for him. When my dad heard that guys were making $150 and more a day he had to give it a try. That was a lot of money in 1975! Well the story turned out to be true and my dad Rayburn soon became one of the best mussel divers on the lake. He was averaging between $150 and $200 dollars a day and only getting $7 dollars for a five gallon bucket of shells. That averages out to about 14 cents a pound so he was getting between a half ton and a ton a of shells a day.
The next summer dad took me out to Wagner, OK to boat tend for him. I was 13 years old and it was the summer between seventh and eighth grade. Dad was diving out of a wooden barge at the time which was an old flat homemade boat with no sides. It was like a large raft with a motor on it. There was a winch with a boom and it would lower a steel barrel into the water. The barrel was cut in half side-ways and had holes drilled in it so it would sink. The divers would fill the barrel with a couple hundred pounds of shells and then winch it into the boat. Towards the end of the summer, my dad asked if I wanted to try diving and I said sure. He rigged me up a weight belt and tightened the mask to fit my head and gave me some quick instructions. I still remember jumping over the side of the boat for the first time, it is a little weird and scary learning to breathe through your mouth exclusively. But I was having trouble staying on the bottom so I came back up. Dad told me later that he was worried that I didn't like it, but he laughed when I spit my regulator out and said, "I need more weight, I can't stay on the bottom." I've been diving ever since.