Jeff Manes: ‘City boy’ right at home in great outdoors
July 20, 2012 9:42AM
Ralph Rodriguez (left) of Crown Point and his hunting buddy, Jason Manes, are pictured before setting out on a recent “fishing” trip for carp with bows and arrows. | Photo provided
Updated: August 23, 2012 6:02AM
“There were droves of deer, wild hogs, foxes and wolves. At certain times of the year, its lakes, streams and marshes were almost covered with swan, wild geese, brant, cranes, herons and many varieties of wild ducks and snipe. On its uplands and in its groves could be seen flocks of prairie chickens, pheasants, quail and wild pigeon.
“It was the land of the beaver, the otter, the mink and the muskrat, and its lakes, rivers and streams furnished an abundance of bass, salmon, pike and other varieties of fish.”
— J.A. Hatch, (describing the Beaver Lake area in northern
Newton County, circa mid-1800s)
I interviewed Ralph Rodriguez at my brother’s house, across the street from Youche Country Club in Crown Point, just before the two of them left for Black Oak Bayou, just off Indiana 10 near the state line.
They were going to shoot carp with the bow and arrow.
As boys, my brother and I speared carp. Ma would have us bury a few every spring near her climbing roses. The rose bushes looked like something out of “Jack and the Beanstalk.”
Rodriguez, 53, lives in Crown Point with his wife, Joi. They have raised three adult children, one of whom is an assistant wrestling coach for Crown Point High School. Rodriguez is a supervisor at Cargill in Hammond.
“I grew up in Hammond and attended Hammond High School,” he began.
Did you play sports for Hammond High?
“Yeah, I played football, wrestled and ran track.”
Was there a particular sport in which you excelled?
“Probably football; I played tailback and cornerback. Our big rival was right across the street — Hammond Tech.”
A couple of my buddies, Jim Hilbrich and Ed Cleveland, played football for Hammond High; they’re about your age.
“Jim and Ed were a year behind me. Eddie also was on the wrestling team with me.”
What weight class?
“I ran the high and low hurdles and the mile relay. I ran the third leg, and Rudy Chapa ran the fourth leg. When Carey Pinkowski was a senior and Rudy was a junior, I was a sophomore on that team.”
What was your fastest split?
“I was clocked at 49.8 once.”
That’s flying, brother, especially considering 440 yards is farther than 400 meters. You probably can shave another second off that 49.8 by today’s standards.
How many kids in your family?
“I was the seventh of eight children; I’m the only who didn’t go to Catholic school.”
No problemo, mi amigo. You have blue eyes.
“My father is from Mexico and my mother is from Poland.”
Although you grew up a kid from the city, you always were big on hunting and fishing.
“I’ve been hunting and fishing since I was about 7 or 8. I started trapping over by Pullman Standard on 165th (Street) and Columbia Avenue (in Hammond).”
What did you trap at that locale?
“Mostly rabbits; we used box traps and snares made out of willow branches. I’d bait my traps with an apple.
“In that area, during World War II, they built a lot of military equipment. There were pillboxes back there. Do you know what a pillbox is?”
It’s like a bunker.
“They were all concrete, bigger than this living room, and, in the middle, they were hollow. There were four doorways. That’s where we’d camp out and build our bonfire. I remember when they would flood Maywood Park so we could ice skate. In the summer, we’d catch turtles; my mother would make soup out of them.”
Life after high school?
“I hired in at American Maize; I’ve been there 35 years. It’s called Cargill now. I started out a laborer in the bargaining unit, but worked my way up; I’m plant superintendent today.”
What does Cargill produce there?
“Corn syrups and corn starches.”
That place has been around for a while.
“Since 1906. It was called American Glucose Co. back then.”
How much corn do you handle per day at Cargill?
“We grind 50,000 bushels of corn per day. We do different types of corns, such as common corn, dent, waxy, amylose ... .”
“It’s a higher protein-type corn with lower starch yields. We also do co-products. The kernel of corn is broken down to all different components: the germ, which is the oil; the hull is the fiber; and the yellow-gold part, which is your protein or gluten. Everything is divided into different systems, then shipped out.”
Job-related health hazards?
“At Cargill, safety and environmental quality are ranked above production. There are always safety issues at hand because we’re working with different types of chemicals.”
Has the place changed since you hired in?
“Absolutely; it really has evolved with computerization and modernization. Most of the manual labor has been minimized.”
Do you process American-grown corn?
“Yes, from farms all over the Midwest. Cargill is a very strong company to work for; it’s worldwide and employs more than 90,000 people.”
A few of Cargill’s clients?
“Nestle, Kraft, Clabber Girl, Albanese Candy Factory on U.S. 30 ... .”
Ralph, let’s switch gears. You acquired some land in Newton County.
“Yes, about six years ago, I bought 70 acres. It’s actually in Mount Ayr, but has a Rensselaer address.
“The man I bought the land from, Jim Robbins, is deceased, but my wife and I would sit and talk to him for hours about the history of Newton County. He urged me to read ‘Ralph: The Story of Bogus Island,’ by J.A. Hatch.”
I’ve read it.
“Once I read it, I was hooked. Joi and I joined the Newton County Historical Society.”
Did you build a house on the land?
“No, but Jim told us his grandfather bought that land back in the 1800s. He told him about Indian Island, which is a high spot on the property. It was all wetlands back then. It was on that high spot where the last known full-blooded Native American lived in Newton County.”
Ralph, there is a lot of history in that area. Nearby North Star Cemetery is where the father of Newton County, Thomas Rogers Barker, and his son, the legendary wolf hunter, “Kankakee” Ned Barker, are buried.
My brother told me Rodriguez is a great cook. In April, they spent several days hunting wild turkey in southern Illinois. The menu included javelina (wild hog) that Rodriguez had cured, smoked and made into hams. Also on the bill of fare was buffalo (carp family) cured with Rock and Rye (alcoholic beverage) and smoked coho (salmon). Unfortunately, I declined the invite because I was too busy.
But it was almost like I was there.
The Manes brothers were raised in a rural area; the Rodriguez brothers were raised in an urban area.
That said, we grew up a lot alike.