If you trust the history books, the town of Bessemer, Alabama is best known for the Bessemer steel process, a 19th century development that enabled the region to mass produce inexpensive steel.
That process was phased out about a hundred years later, so within my lifetime Bessemer’s role in the greater economy has been as a major distribution source for high-dollar balsa crankbaits – specifically the “WEC” versions made by Ed Chambers of Zoom.
I had long heard stories about the supply of WECs at Bessemer’s Simmons Sporting Goods but didn’t visit the shop until the week of the 2014 Bassmaster Classic. I arrived, saw a modest selection behind the counter, and asked the cashier if I could step closer to view them. She looked at me quizzically, and asked why I didn’t want to see “the whole room of ‘em.” A kindly employee then took me to the back of the store, through racks of rods and other inventory, and into a small space loaded to the gills with cranking goodness hand-crafted by fishing royalty.
I didn’t find myself in Birmingham again until last week, and with a few hours to kill between my final meeting and my flight home, I decided to make the pilgrimage to Bessemer once again. I really didn’t know what to expect. Chambers died earlier this year and since then the remaining stock of WEC lures have been in high demand, both by anglers and collectors. Ebay prices have skyrocketed. At worst it would be a semi-disappointing trip to a great store. At best, I might have the opportunity to see the largest single remaining assemblage of WECs.
I enlisted Todd Hammill of Wired2Fish, perhaps the only person who needs tackle less than I do, and we made the drive. After patrolling the well-stocked aisles, I found an employee at the gun counter and asked if we could see “the Zoom Room.” He looked at me warily, as if he was about to deny that it existed, and then replied, “You’ll have to talk to John or Sonny and I’m not sure if they’re here.” It was determined that Sonny was out at lunch and John was with a customer, so we waited. When John eventually became free, we approached him and he agreed to take us back there, but not before warning us that “it’s not what it used to be.”
Indeed, the selection was but a fraction of what they had four years ago, but it was still far beyond impressive – and while the prices were higher than before, they still were not astronomical. It was a lot to take in, but ultimately Todd and I selected a few and made our way to the cashier. We may not need them, but there are no more WECs coming down the pipeline, and a few days later I’m kind of wishing that I had bought more.