Block Number: 110


By Ginger Todd and Nora Worthen

Jim and Willie Williams, both native to McDowell County, are the hosts of quilt block No. 110 they call “Ecuador.” Willie’s interest in hosting a block was generated by her daughter-in-law Janet Williams, who has been a member of the McDowell Quilt Trail committee from its inception. However, after searching through countless quilt patterns and not finding anything to her liking, their son Aaron created a design that would both please his mother and honor his father. Jim and Willie decided it would be an appropriate gift to each other in celebration of their upcoming 66th wedding anniversary.

The quilt block represents an American tuna boat named Ecuador, the first tuna boat on which Jim worked as Chief Engineer for approximately 15 years out of San Diego, California. His job was to keep the engines running, keep the temperature at an appropriate level in the big freezers where the tuna were stored, and to keep the boat and crew safe while at sea, making sure the boat returned to port with its precious cargo.

The tuna industry was a booming industry in San Diego that supplied most of the U.S. with canned tuna during the 1960s and 1970s. Prior to the process of netting tuna, the boats were equipped with big poles and hooks, and while sitting over a school of tuna, men would hook the tuna and throw them into the boat.

While her husband was at sea from two to four months at a time, Willie worked at home where she developed her skills at sewing, gardening, and decorating. Today, Willie expresses her creativity through fused glass, making, among other things, dishes, bowls, and has made some glass quilt blocks, which can be found in the MACA gift shop. Willie remembers during her early days in Marion being employed at Hensley’s Hosiery Mill.
Jim served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, two of those years being spent with the 6th Marine Division formed in Guadalcanal in September of 1944 and disbanded in April 1946. Although short lived, this elite division, known as the “Raiders,” was highly decorated and participated in the combat action against the Japanese at Okinawa. This is the only Marine Division that, as an entire unit, holds the distinction of never spending as much as one day in the Continental United States.

During World War II, for his service in action in the Pacific, Jim was awarded the honor of the Purple Heart. The Purple Heart award, with a history going back to the American Revolution, is given to those servicemen and servicewomen who were killed or wounded in combat, risking their lives fighting for the United States of America. Jim believes he may be one of the last surviving members of the 6th Marine Division.

The Ecuador was among an elite group of boat and ships that carried supplies to the allies in the Pacific Islands during World War II. They were refrigerated, therefore, could carry the kind of provisions that were needed.
The “Ecuador,” a 3’x3’ quilt block, located at 810 Old N.C. 226- S, was installed on the north-facing wall of the Williams home on February 7, 2012 by Mike Lucas and assisted by Jack Raker. As always, the Certificate of Authenticity was presented to Jim and Willie Williams by Jill Lucas, Chairperson of the quilt trail committee.

The boat that is depicted in the quilt block represents an American tuna boat, which is a thing of the past out of San Diego, ranging in size from 250 to 300 feet long. These boats brought in 40 to 60 tons of tuna, fishing with a large heavy net, called purse saner, that could be extremely dangerous, especially in the unpredictable seas.

The Ecuador is depicted in the quilt block as a white tuna boat with the cabin detailed in navy blue, showing the engine smoke stack in red. The radio/radar tower is in black atop the upper decks. An American flag, that was always flown, is in full wave, attached to the crow’s nest, which is the tallest part of the boat. At the rear of the boat, the winch holds a full purse of tuna, which looks like a black bowling ball, as it extends out over the skiff that is depicted in red.

Jim related the process of netting tuna as follows: Upon the call from the man in the crow’s nest that a school of tuna is spotted, the netting and the skiff are dropped into the water. The net that is hooked to both the tuna boat and the skiff drops down to forms a wall in the water. These two boats turn in opposite directions encircling the tuna and capturing them inside the net. The Chief Engineer then starts the winch, which hauls the net up out of the water, with the top acting like a drawstring, drawing the net up into a purse – thus the name purse saner - holding tons and tons of tuna. The winch rolls the tuna up into the back of the boat where men begin dumping the fish down slides that lead to refrigerated holding wells in the bottom of the boat. The temperature in these holding wells is dropped instantly to freeze the tuna. This procedure is repeated until the boat is filled and it then returns to port.

Shown on the quilt block are the waves and wake of the ocean that are represented in white, and colors of a light blue and ocean blue. Overhead are the requisite sea gulls on the sky blue background, with eight yellow stars in the sky representing each member of the Williams family: Jim and Willie, son Aaron and wife Janet, daughter Ann and husband Dave, and granddaughter Shannon and husband Bill.

The quilt block “Ecuador” relates yet another interesting story about the lives and history of residents of McDowell County, an American tuna industry, and also historical events during the World War II era.

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