John Kelly and Eva's Fish Cannery

Nell Morisette
NewsTribune Special Columnist

I know of another venture that John Kelly and another Eva man, Tilford "Tip" Pafford, were together on, but I am too young to remember the details. So I asked Louise Pafford, Tip's widow, to write about that.

Eva's Fish Canning Venture
By Louise Pafford

Soon after after John Kelly and his wife Elsa moved to Eva, he met and became a close friend of Tilford "Tip" Pafford. Kelly, having lived on large bodies of water since he was 17 years of age (at which time he had joined the navy), continued to spend most of his time on Kentucky Lake. He fished and caught and sold turtles.

Kelly taught Tip how to make nets and catch fish. They spent many happy hours in work and conversation.

At the time Kentucky Lake was first flooded, there came to be an overabundance of carp fish in the lake. Carp are very body and not much fit to fry and eat as other fish. People just complained about them, saying they were not good for anything.

This was during the nightmare time of food rationing, and food at the grocery stores was very scarce. Meat of any kind was not to be found in stores.

One day one of the ladies in Eva stood looking at a large bunch of carp someone in the family had brought in and said to someone that those ought to be fixed some way so they could be eaten. At this time, pressure cookers and canners were very new addition to a few families' homes, so they said, "Let's try canning these fish like we do pork chops and other meat from our hog killings." This she did, and succeeded in getting the whole community excited by the success of her venture.

The carp canned into nice-looking pink and white meat, very mild in taste, that could be used in many ways, not being as strong and fish-tasting as salmon or tuna.

Tip and Mr. Kelly were immediately interested in the tale of carp-canning, and both being business-minded, began to talk of how this could be a money-making adventure if they could find how to go about it.

The decision was made, and they first went to the office of the County Agent, then to the office of the Home Demonstration Agent. Next was a trip to Nashville to find out about licenses to process food for human consumption. Many pamphlets and books came flooding in from Washington, DC.

The next question to come up was where to find a place to do this fish canning. The project was to be a two-man operation, so they didn't think they would need a very large place.

At this time, Tip and his wife Louise ran a huge old general store in Eva that stocked almost anything a person would need at any time. Out behind the store was a small building that the two men began to examine and repair to begin their store was a small building that the two men began to examine and repair to begin their planned operation.

Kelly and Pafford found they had to have some large and expensive equipment, which made them a little uneasy, not knowing even where to go to find it. Eventually they learned they would have to go tot New Orleans. This they did, buying two large vats for washing an preparing the fish, a large canner that would hold many cans of carp, and gas store the canner fit upon, sealers for sealing the cans when filled, and very important indeed, many, many boxes of specially lined cans in which the fish had to be canned to be safe to eat.

Then began the decision and the planning of the labels for the cans. One day, everything was set up and complete. Mr. Kelly and Tip were in business.

The two began to think of how to go about getting orders and sales for their product. They loaded up a large number of cases of their canned product and back to New Orleans they started, selling in stores along the way. They found the store would take all the cases the men would let them have, gaining them large orders as well.

To say Mr. Kelly and Tip were excited was putting it mildly. They came home so happy, their feet scarcely touched ground. They were "in business".

The first year, the men cleared $200 apiece, which was a lot of money considering the expense of setting up their business. I don't remember how long they continued to can the fish, but time went on and the carp in the lake began to disappear and finally became scarce, the canning factory was placed out of business and now lives in the memory of only a few people still living in Eva.

(I would like to say thanks, Louise, for sharing this with me and the readers of the NewsTribune.)


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