Mail order junkie


March 29, 2001|By AL KALIN, Special to this newspaper

Before I could even read or write I was a mail order junkie.

The folks always had the latest version of the Montgomery-Wards and Sears-Roebuck catalog lying on the coffee table. I would peruse the catalog pages for hours on end if my grandmother didn't take it away from me. She was a mail order junkie also.

Often, after going out to dinner, we would end up at Bud & Pete's for an ice cream cone for dessert. Besides sporting a great soda fountain, there was more than 50 solid feet of every magazine and paperback published at the time. I would spend my time looking through Field & Stream, Outdoor Life and Sports Afield while eating my ice cream cone, trying to decide which magazine I wanted the folks to buy for me.

That's where I first saw the ad for the greatest outdoor catalog ever n Herter's. A dollar was sent off and I bugged the postman for two weeks waiting for the catalog to arrive. When the 700-page monster did arrive, not only was I hooked, I was hooked solidly at only 7 years of age.


Oh, what a wonderful catalog it was. Not only did Herter's offer the most comprehensive lineup of outdoor equipment imaginable, it went into great detail explaining why its products were superior to all others and how to use the product to best advantage. Many of their goods carried the name of model superior, model perfect or model supreme.

Numerous items were unique and not carried by any other outdoor catalog available. Imagine my glee when I discovered they only had 100 Hudson Bay Kodiak Bear Traps left to sell. For 10 years I lusted for one of these enormous traps with its 24-inch jaws and gigantic catch chain big enough to anchor the Queen Mary. Oddly enough, by the time I was 18 they were still down to the last 100 traps, so with a week's worth of paycheck in hand from tractor driving, I ordered the monster trap.

It arrived two weeks later by truck, strapped to a pallet. I was ecstatic and I couldn't wait to set it. I tested it by poking the trip-pan with a 2x4. It snapped the 2x4 in half.

Ten years went by and no grizzly bears showed up to be trapped. I never even spotted any tracks. I did get mad enough at an Imperial Irrigation District zanjero to set it by a check, but he was too smart for me and never stepped in it, so in desperation I hung it above our fireplace mantel. It still hangs there today, where it receives many comments from those who see it for the first time.

I think the first item I ordered from Herter's was a Model Perfect lead sinker mold. Keith and Womack Chevrolet was just down the alley from our house and I started collecting used lead wheel weights from their tire shop. A dog food can was my melting pot and the family barbecue was where I built a roaring fire to melt down the wheel weights and pour the sinkers. A good dog food can only lasted about 30 minutes before the seams melted and the can fell apart. You had to have lots of cans on hand before the barbecue was fired up.

It was magic, just like the Herter's catalog said it would be. Before long I had 10 lifetime supplies of sinkers. My grandmother suggested I sell them, so I walked from door to door trying to pedal the sinkers. It got the same response as it would today if a 7-year-old kid showed up on your doorstep wanting to sell fishing sinkers.

It wasn't until I started knocking on the door of all the cattle buyers staying at the Planters Hotel that the sinkers began to move. I'm still puzzled why they bought them. I asked my mother about it a few years ago and she told me she was too old to remember things like that.

There wasn't anything having to do with the outdoors that Herter's didn't carry. If you needed glass eyes for the bull moose or stud field mouse you were stuffing, they had them. If you wanted to make arrows and needed the machine that trimmed the feathers, Herter's had the machine.

Hundreds of different types of hooks were listed in the catalog along with a machine that twisted wire to make your own trout spinners. I ordered one of those, too. I still have it.

It's unknown how much I spent with Herter's over the years for decoys, reloading supplies, traps, knives, sour-dough mix, duck-plucking wax, fly-tying supplies and even gun stocks before the company went out of business in the 1970s.

Last week I was surfing the Internet when I made an important discovery. Herter's is back in business. I'm checking my garage for items to list on e-bay so the funds will be available when the new catalog arrives.

Outdoor Tales columnist Al Kalin may be reached by e-mail at

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