One of my all-time favorite people is my Kentucky neighbor John Caldwell. John is always in a good mood and more than willing to share his extensive knowledge, so I was thrilled at the 2010 Knoxville Nationals when he took the time to tell me about the hand-made lures crafted by his grandfather John A. McCollum, Sr. I'm always fascinated by the subject of folk art baits, and these are some really, really neat ones. I'll let John explain the background to these great lures:
My grandfather John A. McCollum Sr. (1892-1977) was born in 1892 at Climax in Rockcastle County, Kentucky. He lived as a small boy at Redbird in Clay County, Kentucky where his father operated a general store. They moved to northern Georgia after his family supposedly became involved in one of the infamous Kentucky family feuds, the Baker-Howard Feud. I know he lived in Crandall, Georgia for a while as that was where my mother was born. I remember he told me he worked for the railroad while they lived in Crandall. While my mother was still a baby they moved to Conasauga, Tennessee just north of the Georgia state line where he worked for the Conasauga Lumber Company. A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit Conasauga as I was taking my mother to visit her older sister in northern Georgia. The house they lived in is still standing and the Conasauga Lumber company is still in business. My mother said she remembered my grandfather catching rattlesnakes and keeping them in cages hung from a tree in their yard. She thought he did it because he enjoyed watching them but my uncle tells me he sold them to carnivals when they came through town. She said he spend a great amount of time fishing the Conasauga and Jacks rivers in the Southern Tennessee and Northern Georgia Mountains.
In the mid '20s he moved his family to Berea, Kentucky where he was employed as a carpenter. He was one of the founding members of Local 1270 of the Carpenters Union. He and his wife Rossie Bates McCollum raised seven children, and two of them are still living, Lowell McCollum and Lois Ann Haddix. My uncle thinks he made the lures about the time he retired, approximately 1960. I got part of the lures when I bought his old tackle box at his estate sale. After acquiring the tackle box I remembered that he gave me some lures when I first started fishing. I went to my parents house and found my old tackle box and a number of these lures were in it.
After storing the lures and tackle box in a closet for a couple of years, I got them out to look at and this started me into collecting old fishing tackle. He was extremely accomplished at making things. I can remember a toy machine gun he made me that had a small crank on it and when you turned the crank it made the sounds of a machine gun. I also have a Chinese checker board he made along with a small stair step bookcase. I am sure there are other items he handmade that are still in the family. Unfortunately his skills in making things were not inherited by me. His oldest son John Jr. was a carpenter, my father was a carpenter and my Uncle Lowell is an accomplished wood worker. I cannot even drive a nail straight.
My grandfather died in 1977 in Berea, Kentucky. Several folk art collectors have wanted to buy these lures but I see them as part of my family's heritage. I will pass them on to someone in my family's next generation and hopefully they will feel the same way.
That's the thing about folk art bait--in many ways they are priceless. These are incredible lures with a wonderful story behind them, and I thank John for sharing them with all of us.
-- Dr. Todd