Loeffen trades mail for Makos
By Barbie Porter
Editor, Frazee-Vergas Forum
From the shores of South Padre Island in Texas, Barb Loeffen shot a bait bullet about 75 yards into the Gulf of Mexico. Within a half an hour her rod bent; the fight was on.
While she didn’t know what fish had hooked itself, the former rural route post office carrier for New York Mills knew how to handle big fish.
“They hook themselves when they swim away,” she said. “That is when the pole bends. I usually make sure the line is extra taut, then give it a jerk to make sure the hook is in there good.”
The monster fish on the end of her 50-pound braided line gave her a constant pull as it fought to head into the ocean.
“What I do is walk backwards about 10 feet, then as I walk forward I start reeling it in,” she said, adding she estimated the battle took about 20 minutes. “It was back and forth; back and forth. When I got it to more shallow water and it hit the sand, that was when I had to be extra careful not to break the line. I’ve done that before.”
In the shallow water, Loeffen saw she had caught a fine tooth sand shark. The shark is known for hanging out in shallow water and migrating toward warm coastal waters. The shark has needle-like teeth, is known for snapping vigorously when captured and can grow to about 6 feet.
“I got it up on shore, took a quick pic of it and my husband Tom took a long pliers and got the hook out,” she said. “Then he literally grabbed it by the tail and pulled it into the water. He likes to tell everyone he has officially hung onto and swung a shark now.”
It was Loeffen’s heroic husband who also created a bait blaster that allows them to fish from the beach without wading from sand bar to sandbar. She said the concept is similar to the more well-known potato guns.
“He made one that is about 5-or-6 feet long out of PVC pipe,” she said. “We make bait bullets with a mix of octopus, mullet and shrimp. We put that on a hook and then put the hook and leader down in a tube, pour water over it and freeze it.”
When the concoction is properly frozen in place the two head to the beach. There they dip the PVC pipe in the ocean so the “ice bait bullet” slides out. The hook and leader are connected to the fishing line and the bait bullet is slid into a homemade potato gun. The gun uses air pressure up to 100 pounds to shoot the bait bullet into the ocean.
“Once the line is out there, you put the rod in the holder, which is about 6-feet tall so the line is held up over the waves,” she said. “Then you wait for the pole to bend; It’s hard work.”
Loeffen may have been joking about waiting for a fish to bite from the shore while sun tanning being hard work, but she does know what it means to put in time reeling in a trophy fish. She shared a few weeks before catching the shark she and her husband ventured onto the bay for a fishing excursion. When a fish took her line, she fought for a half hour and didn’t see much progress.
“I reeled in a bit and the line went zooooooo,” she said. “It went through six of us and took almost two hours to reel in a 200-pound stingray. It was way too big and dangerous to bring onto the boat, so the captain tightened the drag until the line broke on its own.”
The Loeffens said they are enjoying spending the winter months in the retirement community where every day is an adventure, golf cart parades add fun to the holidays and they can feel like wise teenagers painting the town red.
Former NY Mills
families along route
Loeffen grew up in Frazee, while her husband was raised in Perham.
“Most people there would remember my family by the Spruce Grove Night Club that my parents owned,” she said, noting her parents were Jim and Norma Draack.
“I went to Frazee school and my graduating class was 1975,” she said. “I loved going to school there. My class was friends with everyone and I have nothing but good memories of those times.”
Those good memories roll into the city as well. She recalled taking friends to the Largest Turkey, swimming at Town Lake and enjoying the annual city-wide celebration, Turkey Days. It was during one of those three day weekends packed with fun things to do that her future husband asked her on an official date.
After high school Tom headed to the Navy, and she decided to drive cross country with a friend to visit for an extended stay.
“He was stationed in Florida,” she said. “I bought an old Dodge van with paneling and carpet. My girl friend and I had $150 cash in our pockets and we got in the van and took off. We weren’t real hicks, but we knew nothing of the world.”
She recalled landing in Alabama on their way. She asked people at the campground if there was a roller rink nearby. They told her one was located a few blocks away, then advised against going as it was predominately black people that used it. The idea of segregation was repulsive, so she and her friend went, had a great time and received plenty of high fives.
The two made it to Florida and landed a job working the graveyard shift at Little Tommy Hamburger.
“We wanted the graveyard shift so we could lay on the beach and suntan during the day,” she said. “We stayed there a few months, at least over the winter; likely gave our parent’s heart attacks.”
Loeffen returned to her old stomping grounds and when the love of her life followed after concluding his service, the two married. She earned an accounting degree and took on several accounting jobs, as well as odd jobs like dealing blackjack at a nearby casino. During that time, she saw an ad for a civic service test.
“I thought that would be good to have under my belt, so I took it,” she said. “I then got a call from the post office and started subbing for them. I did that maybe 12 years until I went full-time.”
She spent a decade driving rural routes of New York Mills, covering 107 miles and more than 400 mail boxes.
“I had to shovel myself out many times, but the mail must go through,” she said. “I don’t miss the weather, but I do miss the people along the route. You see their kids grow up and know all their dogs by name.
In addition to living a fruitful work life, the Loeffens had two sons and now have five grandchildren.
When they retired the two sold their 80-acre hobby ranch near Evergreen, opting for warmer digs in the winter. In the summer they now live near Grand Rapids, Minn. where warmer Midwest months can be spent with their two children and five grandkids.