Andrew Emile “Punky” Kure, Jr. – Part 3
By Elaine Henson
Punky in 1957 with a plane he flew fish spotting near Empire, Louisiana
After Punky and Jean were married in Kure Memorial Lutheran Church in 1952, they settled into a garage apartment his parents owned on K Avenue. It was behind where Bud & Joes is now. During Hurricane Hazel in October of 1954, there were whitecaps in the apartment’s washtub with a storm surge of 17-18 feet.
In 1957, Punky was working at Babcock & Wilcox as a welder making $100-125 a week. His cousin Hall Waters told him that a company in Louisiana was looking for a pilot to work as a fish spotter. That job paid $1,000 a week, plus a fish bonus, so Punky left for Empire, Louisiana and got the job.
Empire was on the Mississippi River about 50 miles south of New Orleans. It was a rough and tough little town full of men working on the fishing boats, oil rigs, two fish factories and a Sulfur factory. He flew over the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico during the fishing season from May to September, weather permitting.
He would leave at daylight and often land after dark. The planes generally had 2 standard 18-gallon fuel tanks, which meant he had to refuel sometime during the day.
As a fish spotter he worked with a 150-foot big boat and two 40-foot purse boats that were attached much like lifeboats. He would fly 10 to 12 miles offshore to find the fish in water about 40-50 feet deep.
After locating a school of menhaden, he directed the captain of the big boat to the fish by radio. Then the captain would get the crews and himself into the two smaller purse boats. Punky would radio them directions to the fish. Once the boats were there, he directed them and the nets around the school of fish.
The purse nets could be the size of one and a half football fields. Then they dropped the 800-pound Tom weight which closed the net at the bottom. Once the fish were in the nets, the big boat would come to the purse boats and pump the fish from the net into the hold.
The Singing River alongside its two purse boats, 1959
The menhaden, very oily and not good for eating, were processed at two fish factories in Empire. First, they would press the fish to capture the oil which would be later used in the manufacturing of goods such as paint, varnish, lubricants, margarine and lipstick. Next the fish were cooked and ground into meal used in chicken feed, dog food, cat food, fertilizer, et
Louisiana was scorching hot with green head horse flies that would eat you alive. Even so, Jean and their daughter Linda went down and stayed about a month that first summer. The next year he bought a little trailer for them to use which they did for a couple more summers.
After that Jean stayed at the beach running the cottages and Kure Motel behind where Jack Mackerels is now. He continued working there for eleven years before relocating to fishing the Chesapeake Bay area.
Next Month: Part IV