My dad, Rayburn Frizzell was a jack-of-all trades during my early childhood. When I was very young he worked at a panelply factory but soon decided to try to make his fortune on his own. He started a successful car-hop restaraunt The Hut in Lexington, Tn where we lived but he was never satisfied. He became quite the entrepreneur, running everthing from package beer stores, to dairy bars to bbq pits. At one time in the early 70s he owned a convenience store, a package store and worked as a commercial fisherman, selling his fish out of his own fishmarket. About this time there was a boom in the fur trade, with european furs becoming scarce. Dad tried his hand at trapping and while looking for the best place to sell furs he heard about a man in Camden, Tn named James Peach. James changed my dad's life forever.
     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.
This is my dad, Rayburn 'Big Frizz' Frizzell about the time he started mussel diving.

1/17/2015 04:47:55 pm

Wow! I just stumbled on this blog. I tended boat for a Decatur county diver as a teenager in the 80's. We were constantly in the Big Sandy shop. I was friends with one of Mr Lantendresse's daughters (hopefully I still am.) This is amazing stuff! Very fun to read. Thank you.

paul mckee
4/13/2019 09:21:25 am

i was a shell diver in the late 60's in white river in Arkansas. we usually got about 3 tons a week of number 1 shells. ===ggerheads, 3 ridge,mapleleafs, no 2 shells like elephant ears, cucumbers and the like. i was 17 and every day was an adventure. we used a 4cyl referidgerant compressure with mineral oil for lubricant so as to avoid oil fumes, it was driven by an 8 hp Cushman engine and was very dependable. i had to quit because i got drafted in '69 and never went back. lots of good memories tho. 405-201-8919


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