The Red Ball Truck Stop on old Hwy 36 West was one busy place growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. Some of our readers may recall that behind the Red Ball was a big pond with an island in the middle. It was built to be a “pay to fish” place originally. By the time I was old enough to ride my bike there, it was just a fishing hole open to everyone for free.
The only problem was the fish in the pond were mostly Buffalo, a close kin and brother to the Carp. They would not bite on earth worms or dough bait; we had to snag them with a big treble hook---at least that was what we thought at the time. Being snake infested, we would hardly ever swim in his pond. From time to time, the Grand River would flood the bottoms and would “restock” the pond and bring in more variety. Then we were able to catch some fish that would bite on bait. Buffalo fish or not, It was a kid’s paradise.
I remember my buddies and I built a raft to get to the island. Since it was the first time we had ever built one they always sank until we finally got it right. The gallon jugs we used were not enough to make it float, so we had to find bigger and more effective flotation devices. What we could find for free, we used. Our makeshift raft could only carry one of us at a time, so we found a piece of rope and rigged it up like a ferry.
Later on, the owner (Donaldson’s manufacturing) started dumping sheet metal scrapes into it so as to fill it in. These jagged scraps were usually in the shape of half-moons and circles, perfect flying saucers for boys. We would have wars with them, a very dangerous game then and now. We would hide behind the dump piles and throw them at each other. Yes, we cut ourselves sometimes but that didn't stop us from playing every day.
Let’s get back to the ever present Buffalo fish; we figured out how to “catch” them in quantity. We searched for small glass jars with lids, Remember those tube-like Alka-Seltzer bottles? Well they were the best size for our new fishing method. Back then, I had access to carbide, it was used in miner’s lights and old style welding equipment. Trager’s Welding shop (next door to us on Leeper Street) had a carbide style welder.
We would fill the bottles half full of water, quickly drop in four or five small pieces of carbide and throw it into the water near where the fish were piping. With carbide you had to be fast because it works just like dynamite, only without a fuse! Some of our homemade grenades would explode inflight and we would hit the ground fast because of the flying glass. If we threw it at just the right time, it would explode under the water with a loud “whump” and the water would shoot up and the fish would float to the top. We even had people buy some from us as carried a wagon full of buffalo fish home. That kind of fishing is illegal now. It probably was back then as well. If our parents knew what kind of stuff we did as kids, they would have killed us. What they didn't know didn’t hurt them, or our butts.
Finally, I will tell you this one fact right now. It was not us who burnt the little building down on the island.
Mom and I