Clam Weekend in Oysterville

Apr 24, 2011 | 2 comments

Clamming in the Good Old Days

     Like everywhere else on the peninsula, Oysterville fills up during clam tides.  On a spring Saturday (and Easter weekend, to boot!) with the sun shining, the thermometer kissing the 70° mark and a run of morning tides in the offing, Oysterville is a-bustle.  The good will and excitement and spirit of adventure are palpable.  It’s the Oysterville I remember as a kid in the 1940s when every house had full-time residents and every low tide was a clam tide.  And, of course, every day was sunny and warm – in my memory, anyway!
     In those days, if the tide was good, we could dig.  There were no “seasons” and there were no licenses.  There were limits, though.  If memory serves, we could dig 36 clams.  Or was it 24?  And you kept the large ones – under four inches and we threw them back.  Broken ones were also discarded.  Conservation in today’s terms was unknown.  Like ducks and geese and deer and elk, razor clams seemed a God-given staple that would never run out.
     We dug with clam shovels if we were big enough, though I remember, even as a teen, reverting to dropping to my knees and digging with my hands by the second hole.  I don’t remember ever stomping to get clams to show.  The holes were everywhere.  I don’t even remember people digging in the surf, although I suppose they did.
     Commercial diggers fashioned the first clam shovels from ordinary garden shovels – sides cut off and tapered with the shank bent so that the handle came out at an angle.  They claimed that such a tool allowed them to work comfortably just by bending over.  Today, of course, there is a running argument between those who prefer shovels and those who swear by clam guns – the long tube that cuts “effortlessly” through the sand, say proponents.
     I don’t really remember seeing commercial diggers; I was too intent on my own efforts, no doubt.  But I know that Wiegardt’s cannery in Ocean Park used to throw boxes out along the beach so that diggers could pick their spots and get to work.   Portable weigh stations were set up where the clams were weighed and paid for on the spot.  An experienced clam digger could dig 500 pounds of razor clams on a tide.
     My grandfather dug commercially back in the teens, working up by the Point, according to my grandmother’s letters to her daughter Medora.  Times were tough and it was one of the few paying jobs. Eddie Freshley used to talk about digging commercially in the 1940s, filling the bed of his pickup on a tide.
     I guess that would still be possible on days like Saturday when people came back from the beach all smiles.  “Limited in fifteen minutes!” was the word all over town.  Smiles and more smiles and clams for dinner!  Couldn’t be better.


  1. Stephanie Frieze

    It WAS a lovely day and everyone seemed all smiles yesterday. Good to know that it extended up the Peninsula to Oysterville. We were otherwise employed, but intend to enjoy some clams at 42nd St. next weekend! I think they are truly my very favorite food.

  2. April Michael

    It was a superb day and the energy was sublime with all of the families coming up for the weekend here in Oysterville. I was just thinking that this is how it must have felt like in the old days when people lived here full time. Thank you for sharing!


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