Ghost Shrimp and Sated Seagulls

Sep 9, 2010 | 4 comments

Willard and Edwin Espy with Jack Wiegardt, circa 1961

     Yesterday I ran across a photograph of my uncles, Willard and Edwin Espy, out on the oyster beds with an unknown man.  They were standing in front of a peculiar looking half-track vehicle and, after scanning and enlarging the picture I saw that my parents were sitting on that vehicle and, between them, I could just recognize the top of my son’s little tow-head.  I’d judge that the photo was taken in the early 1960s.
     As it happened, we were planning to go to the lecture about Japanese workers in the oyster industry which was happening last night at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum in Ilwaco.  I figured Dobby Wiegardt would be there and that he might be able to help me identify the unknown man.  He was and he did.
     “Why that’s Jack!” he said.
      He was referring to his cousin Jack Wiegardt, known for his experiments and innovations in the oyster industry.  That made perfect sense to me.  It hadn’t been too many years before the picture was taken that both Jack and I were attending Stanford University – he a graduate student and I an undergrad.  We had coffee together a time or two and talked about our only common interest – the peninsula.  During that time period, the Espy family and Jack were doing a lot of talking – the Espys in an effort to sell oyster land and Jack in an effort to continue his investigations.
     Dobby said that the half-track arrangement was one of Jack’s experiments aimed at getting rid of ghost shrimp, the scourge of the oyster industry.  (These days ghost shrimp are the target of the sometimes controversial spraying that occurs on the bay.)
     “He had that half-track pulling very heavy rollers which compacted the tideflats and caused the ghost shrimp to pop up. Then the seagulls would eat them.  In theory, he could get rid of the entire ghost shrimp problem that way.  The trouble was there were so many ghost shrimp that the seagulls got full… and that was that!” Dobby laughed.
     I love those stories!  For me, that whole process – finding the picture, asking a likely person for identifying information, and then learning more than I bargained for – is the perfect way to do research.  Thanks Dobby!


  1. David McColm

    Very cool Jack story!
    I was a frequent guest in his home, in the 80’s; Cris is the one that “dragged me” to Computer Science College in Los Angeles (1985-86). Andy was good friends with my older brother, and James was a good friend of my lil bro.
    I used to love to hear about all the different inventions Jack had tried, and even helped Cris and Andy work with his Manila Clam digging machine, with limited success!

  2. MaryBeth Kelly

    I like that someone was there with a camera.

  3. Brigid

    Such fun, rich history. And having it written down now, so many will be able to enjoy it. Thanks, Sydney (Seems the roller would have eventually done the job, doesn’t it?)

  4. Randy

    Thanks for the neat story. Jack was my Grandfather, so it is really cool to see this. It’s funny, I knew right away who he was. He looks exactly like my dad.


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