An octet of Pendleton junior high school entrepreneurs in November 1967 made some serious bank with the ickiest of businesses: worms.
In a room the size of a closet at Pendleton’s John Murray Junior High School, eight students constituting the Round Up Worm Association kept busy with the main duties of their fledgling business on a blustery November day: acquiring, sorting, packaging and shipping night crawlers to a worm distributor in California. Larry Ables, Dennis Edgerly and Bruce Cable, along with five other students and adviser Bill Harris, thought up the business as a way to make money for school field trips.
Each Wednesday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., the boys bought worms from other students and the junior high teachers and staff for a half cent each. The worms were packaged in boxes of 500 worms each, cushioned by a mixture of damp peat moss, sawdust and leaf mold. On Nov. 2, 1967, the Worm Association shipped 2,500 worms to their buyer.
It was busy work. Harris said that the boys learned bookkeeping and how to apply other school subjects to their work. Edgerly drew the association’s letterhead, and designed advertisements and posters for the organization. The group also placed an article in the school newspaper seeking worms, but warned, “Do not use electric prods to get the worms and get night crawlers only. Please bring the worms in multiples of ten.”
It could also be frustrating. One boy lost the bottom out of a box of worms he was carrying into the building, scattering worms up and down the stairs.
In addition to buying worms, the boys also foraged for their own. Bruce Cable’s neighbor let him hunt for night crawlers in her yard. All you needed, he said, was a flashlight and a bucket, especially after a heavy rain. The worms crawl to the surface and are “thicker than blazes.” He collected 500 worms in one night.
“You can get that many in one hour — if they’re out good. You spot them with a flashlight, then turn off the light and grab them with your hands. I was getting three at a time,” Cable said.
Ron Hathaway, a veteran worm raiser, made a tidy sum several years prior by selling night crawlers to local fishermen.
They didn’t get many girls willing to help them in their endeavors, however — something none of the boys could understand.