Caged up

Allow me to introduce you to Myron.

Myron is the number-two guy at Ketcham Trap, the New Bedford fishing supply business we buy our oyster cages from. The number-one guy is Bob Ketcham, and both Bob’s wife Mona and Myron’s wife Michelle work alongside them in the office. The four of them, essentially, are Ketcham Trap. (I should note that, technically, the business is called Ketcham Supply Corp., but we’ve been calling it Ketcham Trap too long to stop. Is that OK, Bob?)

Myron is the person we deal with most, and we like him for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it’s impossible to be in a bad mood around him. This is particularly true when Michelle is with him, but when she’s off doing other things, he’s capable of doing the mood elevating solo. He has an irrepressible, off-color, gleeful good nature. He thinks everything is funny, or maybe stupid. He is smart and irreverent and good at what he does.

We’d ordered 150 oyster cages, each four feet by three, and six inches deep. Myron could have had them delivered to us, but we figured that, now that we have a big hairy truck and trailer, we could save the delivery charge by picking them up ourselves. We weren’t quite sure they would all fit, but Myron assured us that a full-size pick-up with trailer could handle the load.

So, yesterday we hooked up the landscape trailer to the big hairy truck and headed out to New Bedford.

To look at it, you probably wouldn’t know that Ketcham Trap is a thriving business. It’s in an old three-story brick building that looks like a warehouse but was, for many years, an elementary school. “It was my elementary school,” Myron says with a grin. “And all the teachers told me that, if I didn’t shut up, I’d never get out of here.” That he now makes a very good living in that very building, and still doesn’t shut up, is a bit of irony that Myron clearly relishes.

The building is in a gritty part of town, and the signs on it are hand-lettered and irregular. The lot is piled with lobster pots, oyster cages, and giant spools of rope. The office has bare floors, haphazard furniture, and surfaces covered with gloves, boots, and jackets. But Ketcham supplies a wide range of fishermen, lobstermen, and oyster farmers, in a part of the world that has a lot of all of them. I don’t have access to their books, but I know Myron takes way better vacations than we do.

We pulled into the yard, and parked next to our order, which was stacked on pallets. The stacks seemed awfully high, and it looked like, contrary to what we’d been told, we wouldn’t be able to get everything loaded. When Myron came out, that’s what said to him. “Well, you didn’t tell me you had this little toy trailer,” he said. That’s the kind of thing Myron says all the time.

“We won’t get it all, but we’ll get most of it,” he went on, and called a couple of young guys who worked there over to help.

It wasn’t Myron’s job to load our truck. We were doing the pick-up, and were fully prepared to do the loading. But Myron knows he’s loaded more trucks with more oyster cages than, possibly, anyone on the planet, and he’s better at it than we are.

When you’re trucking items that are relatively large, but light, using diesel fuel that’s expensive, packing the truck as full as possible is the name of the game, and Myron packed our truck in a way I never would have thought of. He piled one stack of trays in the bed until it came up to the top of the bed walls, and then he piled two stacks on top of that, balancing on the single stack and the walls of the bed, with the edges sticking out about a foot.

Then, a single tray on top, over the seam between the two stacks, and a bunch of rope tied tightly and strategically. We got 52 trays on the truck, and another 60, stacked the same way, on the trailer.

I’ll admit that I was a little skeptical. It looked a bit precarious to me. But Myron assured us he’d loaded lots of trucks that way, with only the occasional mishap. He told us he used to pack even more aggressively, and he once, in his youth, seriously overloaded his delivery truck with lobster pots. He wasn’t halfway to his destination when he saw the flashing lights behind him, and a cop pulled him over.

The cop walked around the truck looking at the tower of traps, and then came to the driver’s side window. “Son,” the cop said, “Just where you goin’ with all them chicken coops?”

Since then, he’s learned to walk the fine line of just enough overloading to avoid the scrutiny of law enforcement. And he does it well. We got home without incident and at least one police officer passed us without paying us any special attention.

Other than the boat, the cages are our biggest expense, and it’s good to know that, with this order, we have a full complement. They have at least a five-year lifespan (if all goes well), so we won’t have to do this again any time soon. Which means that, next time we’re in a bad mood, we’ll have to find something else to buy at Ketcham Trap.