Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Voices from the Past: The History of the Bomber Bait Company (1947)

I ran across this fascinating article published in the Pampa News dated 04 April 1947, and it gave some interesting early history on one of my favorite lures--the Bomber. It was able to date the origination of the Bomber, a plug invented by Texan Ralph Wham, to the fall of 1944. It also notes that by Spring 1947 they were already making 1000 bombers a day -- a significant output for a lure that had yet to see national advertising! And one also has to love the title of the article--a Texas title if there ever was one!

Texans Responsible for Most Fishing Plugs -- Good and Bad

by Jack Rutledge

Get your fishing box. Pick out your favorite plug, the one you've had the most luck with, and take a good look at it. It probably was made in Texas.

A fast growing Texas industry has followed in the wake of increased interest in fishing--the manufacture of plugs, lures, flies and various types of artificial lures.

A gentleman in San Antonio makes such attractive flies that some women fishermen wear them as ornaments on their dresses. Over in Uvalde, Art Sansom and Hub Eoff have developed an artificial lure they call the "wonder bug," made of cellophane, colored nail polish and odd lengths of wire. In Sherman, a man makes what he calls the "whopper stopper."

But the largest such factory we've seen is the Bomber Bait Company in Gainesville, owned and operated by Ike Walker, John W. Parker, and C.S. Tuberville.

They have applied for a patent for both design and name--"The Bomber"--but in the meantime produce over 1000 bombers a day and are 400 dozen behind in orders.

The original design was whittled out by Ralph Wham three and a half years ago. It has been changed and improved upon (Parker, one of the owners, is a science teacher in high school) but it's still a lot like Wham's old bomber.

It was designed to get depth, and to wiggle under water while being retrieved. Fishermen will realize the value of both.

Parker says the bomber will go down as much as six(teen) feet, "down where the fish are," and while being reeled in, will remain about ten feet under water and "wiggle like hell."

They make it in one basic design, but in three sizes and 17 colors. Each individual lure requires about 24 hand operations before it's ready for sale, and has about eight different bits of wood and metal attached.

New machinery has been invented in Gainesville to speed up the process of manufacture. But it's still mostly hand work, like the eyes, which are of two colors--yellow with a black iris. They're made or painted on with a common nail. A worked dips the head into the yellow ink, applies to the lure, then dips the other end into black ink and dabs it in the center of the yellow.

The body of the bomber is made of cedar. It's a special type and Parker won't tell where he gets it. The paint used has been tested and won't crack. It has triple hooks.

This may sound like an advertising plug, but it's not. It's just a report on a plug that, Parker says, will catch fish when others won't because it goes down deep, it wiggles, and it floats.

He admits the most of the ideas fishermen have about pet plugs are just plain superstition, but that when it comes to the bomber, it delivers.

There must be some truth to his claim, because sales of the unadvertised, unpromoted artificial bait have extended into Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, New Mexico, Arizona, and, of course, all over Texas.

-- Dr. Todd


Anonymous said...

Well, I find this article, very accurate, except for one thing, my Dad's middle initial is H, not W. John H Parker, Ike Walker, and CS (Clarence) Turbeville, did put Bomber Bait on the Map. And the rest is history... many, many men and women found employ in Gainesville, hand crafting the many lures of Bomber Bait. And, it would be impossible to thank them all for their tireless efforts, which I remember clearly, as a child, who after school hung out many afternoons, in the Bomber plant.

john g said...

Dr. Todd, This is a very interesting article on Bomber lures. I suppose the old building is tore down. I would like to see some pictures of the workers actually making the Bomber lures back in the early days. It was very nice to have Tom Parker comment also since his Dad was one of men responsible for the Bomber lure. Tom, don't you have some laying around that your Dad brought home? I collect old vintage Bomber lures, and will try to post a link to some pictures in my collection. Thanks again, John Gardner



Stewart Valentine said...

Test comment

Stewart Valentine said...

I too hung out at bomber bait back in the early seventies. Mr Turbeville took a liking to me and let me have free run of the place. I learned a lot there. I worked in the pattern shop that did A bit of work for bomber bait....we talked about all sorts of things..... I was a budding taxidermist and Mr Turbeville always
Encouraged me in my work....we had quite a few interesting conversations...I still have a picture of him holding that big bass replica in the front room.He offered it to me once. I wish I had taken it.that picture sits on my desk to this day..I owehim a big thank you for being a real influence in my life....I became a state ...national and world champion taxidermist....... I live in Pueblo west colorado now but think back on those days with fondness.... I wish I could talk to him again...I saw the building still there years ago. I dont know about now..I wish I knew how to attach that picture ....I know he is gone but I think of him most every day....thank you........719 778 6089 is my no. I would love to hear from someone about bomber.

John Self said...

Well gentlemen, the building is still there; however, it's been mostly turned into small store fronts. I truly don't have a great many of the older lures, my older brother has a few more than I. We really didn't think about hoarding them, when we were growing up, as we had a never ending supply, even after the sale to G.C. Ellis, in the late 1960's. C.S. Turbeville was very generous to any budding fisherman, and a great guy to be around. He took an interest in youth, being active in the local boy's baseball program from its humble beginnings. Ike Walker, was a gentle giant of a man, with very large hands, and critically responsible for design and construction of the simple machines that shaped so many parts to the lures.

John Self said...

I'm sorry for my name appearing as John Self... My personal Log-in wouldn't work... just realized my saved log-in was one I created for my boss. The above post IS from Tom Parker, son of John H Parker.

Sorry for any confusion...

john g said...

It's very interesting to hear Tom Parker's story, and that from Stewart Valentine, about the early days at the Bomber Bait company. Mr. Tom Parker, I collect Bomber Baits with my Grandsons, if you or your brother would ever consider getting rid of any of your Bombers, or even just like share some pictures of what you have,or any old pictures of inside the old Bomber plant. my email is johnnyrama60@twc.com
Thanks, John Gardner

Stewart Valentine said...

You know I had the chance to have a lot of the old lures in boxes and I didn't have the foresight as to what having them would mean. I did end up with some though. I loved to watch the ladies paint them in the back. A nitocellulos laquer was used. Mr turbeville gave me jars of it to use in my taxidermy. Believe it or not. I still have some. Great stuff......I once had a chance to go into business with Mickey Mantle.....I used these paints to do his fish all those years. I wish I had done it in hind sight. Just scared of failing him I guess . I still appreciated the offer. I worked in the pattern shop that did some work for bomber. I have some of the patterns somewhere that were left over. I'll try and find them and get a picture. Mr turbeville tried them in the tank and we would talk about the movement and what could be added.shape....weight ...lip size..etc.Sorry to hear it has been changed but time goes on ....I hope that by writing down some of the memories that it lives on . I miss the simple times and era of new discovery back then. I wish I had taken more pics ......

dvrslim said...

When did the plant in Gainesville close?

Bill Smith said...

I collect the model A's with the older screwtail before they started using the thin wire rear hook hanger. Does anyone have any color charts for the model A? I have over 50 different colors that aren't listed in any color charts that I have or seen. Would love to see pictures of anyone's model A collections.

Tom Parker said...

I haven't been back to this blog until today. It's nice to see the comments... I'd like to comment on a couple of points: We (the children of Turby, Ike, and my Dad) don't really have a hoard of lures for the very reason mentioned in the posts above. We never really thought they'd run out until, they did! I have just a miniscule amount of rare, early lures, but most of mine were bought from retail outlets just like anyone else. The second thing I'd like to share is Yes, in deed, Ike was the backbone behind all the mechanics of manufacturing. He was trained in Industrial Arts, and he was a true gentle giant among machinists as well as a great inventor.

Turby, (Clarence) on the other hand was a salesman/ambassador deluxe who could make a bushwacker, spin stick, or waterdog dance in the water like no one else. I went to the Dallas boat show with the Turbeville clan once. What I remember most is that it was the year 7-11 introduced the slurpee (and I had more than my fill as they were free to everyone at the show) and Turby's demonstration in the tank was outstanding. He was always a very generous man, not only in the community, but in sharing his love of fishing with any aspiring angler that walked in the door.

There are now three generations removed from these three men, all outdoors types with plenty of fisherman to carry on their heritage.

Happy New Year all!

Nana TK said...

My kids great grandfather was John Hayes who managed Bomber Bait for many years. His daughter Francis Hayes Young was my-mother-in law had a lot of the lures. She had a garage full of em, even one named Big John after her father. Her husband Roy retired and sold them behind her back. There like to have been a divorce over that one lol. Tricia Sluder Young Cason.