The Legendary Fish Cleaner

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Published on: Dec. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

fish bone stuck in their throat or teeth.

Even the leavings for the family cat, Miss Tisdale, were pared, skinned and delivered in pretty little chunks.

Fred worked hard at his profession; no job was too small, too large or too rank. With Amanda and his growing family in tow, he followed the peak runs of fish throughout the state.

Expertly, quickly, incisively, he chopped heads from walleye in Springfield, scratched scales from rock bass in St. Louis, deboned suckers in Hannibal, stripped skin from catfish in Columbia.

His slashing blade brought him great fame. Soon, restauranteers, fish market owners and lucky anglers were bidding for his talents. In those days, if you could clean fish, you could name your own price. Fred's dream had finally been realized. Fred Carper was a fish cleanin' man.

And then came the day the Automatic Fish Cleaning Machine was delivered to town.

The fish sellers immediately fell in love with it. It was an ungainly monster and plenty noisy, but all it ate was electricity, and it never considered joining a union.

Fred, sensing his occupation and his way of life threatened, proposed a contest: Himself versus the Automatic Fish Cleaning Machine. To the victor would go the spoils.

People from miles away got whiff of the competition and flocked to town via carts, buggies andjalopies to witness it firsthand. Banners flourished, bands trumpeted and emcees announced, as Fred and the machine toiled away.

Among the crowd, money, pride and reputations were staked. Some bet that Fred would be faster; others wagered the machine would clean the gills off Fred.

For hour after hour, the Automatic Fish Cleaning Machine chugged along with nary a belch, spitting out perfectly scaled and dressed fish one after another. But Fred had a big heart beating inside him and, despite a thumb raw from scratching bloodlines from the backbones of bluegills, he was ahead by four walleye, two pickerel and a sheepshead.

It looked good for human fish cleaners everywhere, but the gut pile finally dashed all Fred's chances. That growing mountain of heads, fins, entrails and backbones loomed larger and larger behind him as Fred boned, gilled and gutted thousands upon thousands of fish.

Soon the scraps he threw behind him were trickling down the pile and building up around his knees, his hips, his shoulders...

The last anyone saw of Fred Carper was the tip of his knife blade poking out of the pile, carving, incidentally, a perfect butterfly fillet out of a small striper. No doubt, Fred is pulling Y bones from northern pike in heaven now, but his legend lives on to inspire us all. For Fred Carper was truly a fish cleanin' man

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