Thursday, November 15, 2012

Martin Skrivanich

This is an oral history prepared by Mary Mead in May, 1990. I find Martin’s history very interesting because I live in the house that his uncle and step-father purchased in 1909. 

The house was originally built by Joseph Dorotich when he and John Novak platted Millville in 1888. George M. Sprague purchased the property on January 10, 1889 for $360. I have been unable to find any information on Mr. Sprague; is he the Sprague that Sprague Avenue in Tacoma is named for?  George Savage is shown as owner on December 27, 1890 and I was told by an old-timer that George Savage was a notary public, and that the house was used as an office for the lumber mill in Millville.  Again I have not been able to find any documentation on those facts. Mrs. M. K. Anderson bought the property on July 12, 1897, and she sold it to Dominick Skrivanich in 1909 for $900. Martin’s mother was Godenta Johanna Morin Skrivanich. His brother, born before his mother married Dominick Skrivanich, was Gaspero.

But let’s get on with Martin’s interview with Mary Mead...

“Martin was seven years old when he arrived in Gig Harbor. Martin’s father had died and his uncle hearing that his brother’s widow and children were starving sent for them to come to America. They arrived in New York on the 25th of August 1909. The ship that carried them to the new world was the Argentina. From there, they traveled to Tacoma by train. Martin’s mother and uncle married in Tacoma in 1909.

“Martin’s father had fished the Columbia River in the 1890-1900s. They fished for salmon in large row boats 'powered by big 200 pound bruisers with 16 foot oars.' They would fish in the spring for early Chinook salmon, Steelhead late in winter, and in the summer Chinook salmon. On a good day you would catch three to four big salmon, after which the men would go to shore and celebrate. 'That was what life was all about then.' These men would also have tug boats tow them up to fish in the San Juan Islands. Martin remembers sleeping in Lizzy Larson’s cave in the San Juans.
Fishing boat "Aeroplane"
“In 1918, Martin’s stepfather bought a boat and named it Aeroplane. Martin, who was 16 years old, was chief engineer. The Aeroplane was a seiner where the nets had to be pulled by hand. Nineteen eighteen proved to be a poor year for fishing. Many boats did not make enough to pay for the food. Martin remembers making 20 cents after they took out the money he owed for boots. However, he remembers 1919 being a good year as they went into partnership on the St. Mary and the Freedom.  However, too many partners made it difficult to run the company smoothly. In 1929, Martin went to California to buy the Fort Bragg.  It was time for him to run his own boat. The new boat was 62 feet long with a 15 foot beam, a boat big enough to live on while fishing instead of living on shore. It also was a purse seiner with a gas engine.

“1930 was a good year for fishing but the Depression hit and they had to dump five to six thousand fish overboard because no one would pay anything for the fish. Martin remembers catching 13,000 fish a day but only getting 5 cents a piece. In 1935, they sold the Fort Bragg because they couldn’t maintain the boat on 5 cents a fish.  Martin continued to fish running a company boat.
Fort Bragg

“In 1940, he had a gillnetter built named the Mary Lee.  He fished with this boat three to four years, fishing the [Salmon Banks] outside of the San Juan Islands. In 1942 to '44 he fished on a purse seiner named the Oregonian. These were fair years for fishing. In 1940, fishermen became upset because they wanted to sell fish by the pound not the piece. As with everything, it was a struggle in the beginning. Now the buyer wouldn’t have it any other way. Martin remembers a big year around 1942-44 where they were getting $1 a piece for Sockeye salmon. All of a sudden, the cannery dropped the price to 50 cents because they saw a large school of fish moving into the straits. Nothing to do but 'cuss and spit.' Some men chose to go out and fish anyway and the price ended up at 40 cents. They continued to fish on the Oregonian 12 to 14 years, eventually installing a D-1300 diesel engine to give them more power. Now, they went dragging in Alaska. They would drag the net on the bottom fishing for sole, line cod, and rock cod. They also fished for dog fish, keeping only the liver which was used for oil. Martin remembers the boat being stacked high with dog fish three different times in a day. The problem was when you throw too many fish overboard at one time the bottom gets sour and the fish will not come back to that spot.

“In 1945 to 47 he went to Alaska salmon fishing. Martin’s son David continued to fish in the Bering Sea. The Oregonian was sold and burned in Alaska taking the life of the new owner.”


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