Charlie Dobbins of Ohio Interview
By Trap & Trail Magazine
The Early Years:
1. What state was Charlie born in and how old was he when he started trapping?
He was born in Martins Ferry, OH May 14, 1925. He began trapping at the age of 9.
2. Was Charlie a city kid or did he grow up in the country?
He grew up in the country.
3. What did Charlie’s parents do for a living?
Grandpa farmed and worked many odd jobs.
4. What was the first animal Charlie ever trapped?
A rabbit in a box trap.
5. How did Charlie get started trapping?
He trapped rabbits for food. The early 30s were a tough time and food was gotten when it could be had.
6. What kind of trapping references were available when Charlie was growing up?
There were no references. He said the animals taught him how to catch them.
7. Did Charlie have any trapping buddies at an early age?
No, he trapped alone
The Middle Years:
1. What year did Charlie marry and tell us about his children?
Mom and dad married in 1948. I was the oldest, then two years later Christine came along, then came Melanie and lastly, Tolly.
2. What was Charlie’s favorite animal to trap?
I distinctly recall asking him that one evening when we were eating supper. He said he loved to trap muskrats.
3. What states did Charlie trap in and did he have a favorite? If so why?
I know he trapped in Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, Indiana, Colorado, Nebraska, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. He may have trapped others, but these are the ones I know about. His favorite was the state he was trapping in at the time.
4. What year did Charlie start taking Paul on the trapline with him? Did Charlie take his daughters too? Were they interested in trapping?
Dad told me he used to take me in his packbasket at a very young age. It was before my recollection of things. I never heard of my sisters going on the trapline with dad. They didn’t seem to be interested in trapping.
5. What year did Charlie start making his own lures?
I’m not sure. I was away in the Air Force for 24 years, only coming home on leave when I could. I would guess it was the mid 70s.
6. Who taught Charlie how to formulate lures?
I don’t know that any one person taught dad how to formulate lures. He gathered bits of info here and there at conventions. Later Dave Edwards, from NY, gave him some valuable information about lure formulation.
7. What year did Charlie put out his first lure, and make it available to the public? What was it?
The first lure he put on the market was Beaver 1. Today that same lure is known as Backbreaker. I’m not sure what year Beaver 1 was put on the market. Again, I’d guess in the mid 70s.
8. What year did Charlie put out his first book?
His first book was Adjustment of Leghold Traps for Greater Profit. It had a blue cover. He later came out with an updated version of this book and it had a tan cover. I don’t know the date. I checked one of the blue cover books, and there’s no publishing date in it. It was published by Spearman Publishing and Printing, Inc. It was during the time Chuck Spearman had the Trapper magazine.
9. Charlie was known in the industry for setting the standard for trap modification. Tell us about some of the trap manufacturers he was involved with.
I only know of one trap manufacturer he was involved with. That was Dean Wilson, who make the Alaskan #9. He contacted dad about how to make a wolf proof swivel, and dad helped him out. I recall dad wrote to Victor Trap Co about making changes to their traps to make them more efficient. The letter he got back said something to the effect that if the trappers want to modify their traps, they could, but Victor Trap Co could see no benefit in doing so. Dave Edward developed a round bodygrip trap back in the late 80s. Dad worked with him on it. Dave tried to sell the plans for the round bodygrip, but had no takers. So that plan of dad and Dave’s died.
10. What was your most memorable catch?
My most memorable catch was a beaver that had eluded me for 6 months. Catching that wiley rodent was the best catch I ever made. It became a challenge that I loved and hated.
11. Charlie has some of the best books ever written, what was his favorite and why? Did he have a least favorite?
I don’t recall him ever saying which one was his favorite. He enjoyed writing all of them. The Land Sets and Trapping Techniques has been his best seller over the years. It has sold over 20,000 copies. It continues to sell well because the information in that book is as valid today as the day it was first published.
12. Charlie was no doubt a longline trapper. What was his best year as far as numbers go?
No one could get that out of him. His pat answer when asked that question was, “I caught my share”. He never talked numbers.
13. What year did Charlie start making his videos? Did he like to make videos?
I don’t know when he first came out with them. I do know the first two were made with Wayne Freebersyzer. He enjoyed passing on his knowledge, whether by print or video.
14. How many years did Charlie make lures for?
I’m guessing it was around 20 years he made lures.
15. How many different types of lures did Charlie have available to the public?
Dad formulated Beaver 1 (Backbreaker), Beaver 2 (Woodchipper), Beaver Plus, Muskrat#1, Tinctured Beaver Castor, and Bait Solution.
16. Did Charlie make and bottle of his own lures? Did he have help from the family or did he ever have a business partner?
He did formulate and bottle his own lures. He did it on his own. He lived in town, so he did a lot of his formulating on a farm owned by Mark Kohler, who lived not far from Canton, OH. One time dad lost his sense of smell. So, he’d ask Mark if the lure smelled okay. The last couple years dad was alive, after he had his lung removed, he’d instruct me on how to formulate the lures in his garage when I was home. This was after I retired from the Air Force and had my Beaver Management Service.
17. Were you always a full-time lure maker and trapper, or did you have a regular job?
From 1968 to 1992, I was an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician in the USAF. After retiring in 1992, I began a Beaver Management Service contracting with timber companies to remove their problem beavers. This has been my full time job for going on 26 years, and still going strong. Dad passed away in September 1997. Mom then had the Dobbins Products business. I made and bottled the lures for her and attended the conventions with her. In late 1998, she handed the business over to me. I’ve doing it ever since. Since acquiring the Dobbins’ Product business, I’ve cut back to trapping beavers 9 months a year. I now do it from October 1st thru June 30th each year. July, August and September are when I do conventions.
The Later Years:
1. Charlie was and is still considered one of the biggest influences in the trapping world today. What did he feel his biggest accomplishment was?
I don’t recall him ever saying what he was most proud of. He never talked like that. He was all in on whatever his next idea was. The last thing he was working on was using stainless steel pop rivets to secure laminations to trap jaws and baseplates to the bottoms of traps. After he passed away, I was going through the garage looking at what all was in there. One thing that caught my eye was a Workmate with a vise attached. In the vice was a coilspring trap. I don’t recall the brand, but there was a piece of sheet metal between the jaws with a lamination butted against the piece of sheet metal and secured to the jaw with vise grips. The other jaw already had its lamination pop riveted in place. I still have that workmate with the trap still in the vise. I’ve never removed it. It’s just like he left it.
2. It’s been said, that even when Charlie was an old man, he still longlined. How many traps was he running in his later years?
I have no idea how many traps he was running. I do know that in January/February of 1997, the year he passed away, he was at my place in North Carolina with my nephew making the Mink, Muskrat and Raccoon Trapping on Streams video.
3. How many books and videos did Charlie make in all?
When he passed away he had published 9 books and 6 videos. After he passed, I found a manuscript he had been working on. It told of his trapping exploits after those depicted in the book, The Great Teachers. That Great Teachers book told of his first year of trapping at age 9. This next book told of his exploits from that point on. However, he never finished it. I had it published as is and gave it the title Trapping Through The Years. Later I put together a book comprised of articles he’d written over the years about his trapline. I had that one published and gave it the title On The Line with Charles Dobbins.
The last video he did was with me. He’d just finished up his chemo and was depressed that he couldn’t do anything. He was very short of breath. I told him to come on down and run my beaver line with me. I told him he didn’t have to do anything, just ride along. So, he did. He also brought his camera with him. On the second or third day, he decided to film me doing my beaver work. However, he couldn’t walk more than 25 feet when he’d have to stop and catch his breath. So, I said we could bring along a bucket for him to sit on. I’d carry the camera to a place where he could film me, he’d sit there for a bit to catch his breath, then he’d film me. He narrated a lot of it. This video was given the title, Summertime Beaver Control. After he passed away, I filmed a video of me on my beaver line. This one I gave the title, Beaver Sites and Sets.
4. Did Charlie have a signature set that he could call his own?
I don’t think he had a set all his own. He showed how to make a lot of variations of dirt hole and flat sets. I don’t know if you’d call those variations “his”. When he’d show a set that someone else had showed him, he’d always give credit to that person. An example of that was the mound set showed to him by James Lucero.
5. What year did Charlie teach Paul how to formulate the Dobbins Brand Lures? Are they still all made by just the Dobbins family?
After his surgery in 1995 to remove his lung, which had cancer, he wanted me to know how to make the lures. So, he started teaching me. I make all the Dobbins lures. My youngest son does a lot of the bottling for me.
Around 1984 I got my first computer. It was a Tandy 1000SX. It ran on 5.25 inch floppy disks. It wasn’t internet capable. I told dad about it and he said he wanted me to put his lure formulas on it. So I did. About every six months to a year, he call up and say he needed the formula for this lure or that. He said he couldn’t recall exactly the sequence. So, I’d print out a copy and send it to him. After he passed away, I was looking through his files and found multiple copies of the formulas I had sent him. He wasn’t forgetting about how to make them, he was checking up on me, making sure I still had the formulas. I got a kick out of that.
6. This question is for Paul…watching your father over the years Paul, at what age do you think he was at the top of his career? That point in time where you said to yourself, “Boy, I hope I’m this good someday”?
Honestly, I always thought he was at the top of his game. His success came when folks took notice of innovations he was introducing to the trapping world.
He was someone I looked up to all my life. I always aspired to be as good as he was. He was a great teacher, and I was a grateful student.
7. Did Charlie ever have a trapping business or trapping supply store that people could buy lures and trapping supplies? If so, tell us everything about it!!
No, he never did. He formulated lures in his garage, or at Marks place. He would take his goods to conventions and sell them there. Later he made up a one page sheet showing his books, videos and lures that he’d mail out.
8. Being a pioneer in the industry Charlie, I’m sure there is a vast number of people you have come to know over the years. Can you tell us about some of the lasting friendships that you’ve made over the years and who these people were?
Probably about the best friend I had through dad was Dave Edwards. He tutored me in formulating lures and gave me information that I needed. He wasn’t at all stingy with sharing his knowledge with me. Dave passed away in 2006. I have met a lot of folks I consider friends who knew dad. Gary Vair in Ravenna, Ohio, Hal Sullivan, Carl Jones, Slim (Larry) Pedersen, Joe Goodman, Keith Winkler, Tim Caven, and more that I will recall later.
Dad was inducted into the Army on August 3, 1943. He went to northern France and was with Company F 275th infantry on December 15, 1944. He was awarded the European African Middle Eastern Theater ribbon with 2 bronze battle stars for the two campaigns he fought in Northern France and Rhineland. While fighting in Northern France, his feet got frozen while in a foxhole. I believe they were frostbitten because he didn’t lose any of his appendages. He was shipped to Camp Butner Convalescent Hospital in North Carolina on May 6, 1945. He remained there until his discharge on September 6, 1945. I didn’t learn this from him, because he wouldn’t talk about the war at all. I found this through information I found in his discharge papers. I didn’t learn of the frozen feet from these papers. I learned of this because of the disability check he received every month.