I found the lead ad as I was scanning through a bunch of old magazines the other day and it brought back grand memories from my childhood. One of my dreams as a young aspiring bass angler was to obtain as much fishing tackle as I could. My other dream was to place all that tackle in the box shown here in this 1975 ad – the UMCO Possum Belly.
Over the years I have come to believe that UMCO is an Indian word from some tribe in Minnesota. What I believe it translates to is, “Need Forklift.” If you go through the dimensions with me, you’ll understand why I say that.
The box featured in the ad, the 3500 UPB, was fitted with 84 “plastic bait-proof” compartments spread over 10 trays. Measurements were 21-1/2 inches x 12-1/2 inches x 19 inches. I’m not sure if that was the box itself or with the possum belly. The UMCO Possum Belly not only had room for your tackle, but it could also accommodate your lunch and even keep a 6-pack of your favorite beverage cold in the 1,000 cubic-inch possum belly. Empty the box “weighed only 11 1/2 lbs!”
Boy, am I glad I didn’t have the money back then.
For one thing, the 11-1/2-pound dry weight alone would have wreaked havoc on me as I tried to balance the box on the handlebars of my bike on the way to the park. Then, just imagine what it would have weighed filled with tackle, a few soft drinks and a sammich or two.
Next, envision it all, broken box and tackle splayed out on a busy road after losing my grip. I’m sure a few tears would have been shed.
What gets me is the box was designed in a day when a big boat was 16-feet long. Bass boats were still in what I’d call the “concept” stage and although most boats of the time had deck or floor space to place the box, few had ample room to open a box of this size up completely. In fact, about the only type of boat that could accommodate the box would have been a 14- to 16-foot skiff like Jason Lucas used. You can find a picture of what I’m talking about here.
The boxes of the mid- to late-70s left a lot to be desired. Companies were still in the mindset that a single box should hold everything. That train of thought made sense when skiffs were the primary platform of the bass angler. But, as boats morphed into having casting decks with limited storage, room for the big hip-roof boxes faded away. The angler needed to find a more efficient way to store and keep tackle organized. That’s when you see the introduction of the drawer-style box emerge in the mid-70s. We’ll get into that genre of tackle storage in another look back at tackle storage.
Let’s get back to the UMCO Possum Belly.
As stated at the beginning, the lead-in ad at the top of this article was from 1975. Being it was in black and white, I wanted to share some color ads – just to really take you back to the time. So, I got out my trusty 1976 and 1978 Bass Pro Shops catalogs and started scanning. What we see in these ads is an evolution in GIANT tackle boxes. As the consumer is looking for smaller more efficient boxes, UMCO seems to be headed in the opposite direction.
The 1975 ad stated that the 3500 UPB was the “Biggest Box on Earth!” Well, let’s look to 1976, just one year later.
In the 1976 Bass Pro Shops Catalog, the first page for UMCO presented three different models for the 3500. The 3500U, which was just the box, the 3500UPB, which was the standard possum belly, and then a 3500UDPBI, which had two possum belly bottoms, one insulated one not. My question above regarding the overall dimensions was answered here. The box itself had dimensions of 21-1/2 inches (L) x 12-1/2 inches (W) x 12-3/4 inches (H). Add the possum belly and you’re up to 19 inches in height.
There appears to be a change from 1975 to ’76 in that the 75 version is stated to have 84 compartments where the 1976 description states 89. I’m not sure if this is a typo or a what. Also, the introduction of the UDPBI with two possum bellies gives you more options. I see there appears to be a spinnerbait rack in the non-insulated possum belly which allows for more spinnerbait storage. There is no stated dry weight of the box
The next page of 1976 UMCO Possum Bellies shows two smaller models. The 3060UPB had six trays, 44 compartments and measured 21-1/2 inches (L) x 12-1/2 inches (W) x 16-3/4 inches (H). The 2000UPB had nine trays, 76 compartments and measured 19 inches x 10 inches x 16-1/2 inches. Again, no dry weight was given for either box.
Now let’s go to 1978.
The first possum belly box in the 1978 lineup is the 4080UPB. This box had eight trays, 76 compartments and measured out at 21-1/2 inches (L) x 12-1/2 inches (W) x 17-3/4 inches (H). The have the dry weight stated at 15-1/4 pounds. This is a bit curious because this box is dimensionally smaller than the 3500UPB but weighs 3-3/4 pounds heavier. I’m not sure if they beefed up the plastic or the hardware to gain the extra weight but that’s a significant weight increase.
The next page lists the 4500UPB – the largest tackle box made. It’s listed as having 10 trays, 96 compartments and has measurements of 21-1/2 inches (L) x 12-1/2 inches (W) x 19 inches (H). These are the same dimensions and tray count as the 3500UPB. The only different is the number of compartments, 96 instead of 89, and weight, 15-1/4 pounds compared to 11-1/2 pounds.
The next page in the ’78 Bass Pro Shops catalog presents the “new” UMCO 1060UPBI. The 1060UPBI had six trays, 50 compartments and measured 19 inches x 10 inches x 15-1/2 inches. This box was very similar to the 2000UPB box from the 1976 catalog. Again, no dry weight was given for this box.
The last possum belly box in the 1978 catalog was the 2080UPB. This box featured eight trays, 70 compartments and had the same dimensions as the 2000UPB from 1976. It’s has become apparent that UMCO was using the same box but changing the tray and compartment configurations from year to year.
Tackle box design and function wouldn’t change until the introduction of the soft tackle bag in the mid-80s, and bass boat companies started designing below-deck storage. That is when anglers figured out the modular style boxes, like the Plano 3700 series boxes, were the most efficient. That spelled the demise of both the hip roof and drawer styles boxes for good.
Although I stated I’m glad I didn’t buy one back in the 70s, I secretly wish I had. These boxes have become collector’s items in the last 10 years and to find one that’s in good condition will cost you over $75 plus shipping. I’m sure one could be found at a garage sale for much less, maybe even filled with vintage tackle. It’d be cool just to have the thing, fill it up with vintage baits and admire it. Plus, you’d be the only angler around that could store your grape Jelly Worms with your Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich.
Ha! You think that piddlin’ little box would be a hassle on the bike? From 12 to 15 years old or thereabouts, I used to strap a saltwater rod to the frame of my bike (and sometimes a pitchfork to dig sandworms too) and what I still believe was the world’s largest 7.5 horse outboard motor across the handlebars, carrying my tackle (such as it was) in a newspaper boy’s bag across my shoulder. and ride to the mile or so to the harbor to rent a skiff. These days, I’m pretty sure a 12 year old kid with an outboard strapped to his handlebars or not, would get tossed out of the marina if he wanted to rent a boat. But this was in the 50s, when things were different.
LOL. Rich, that’s a great story. Okay, you got me beat by a mile. But I did end up taking my 737S and my three rods with me along with a bucket and crap in that. Not as heavy as the World’s Largest 7.5 horse outboard but still a trick to juggle. I did end up making a trailer for all my gear that would attach to the seat post. That made things a bit easier and safer.
Tackle boxes are like boats. You have a 12-footer, you fill it with stuff and then can hardly get forward to drop the anchor. You upgrade to 14 footer; filled again. You get an 18-foot glass and it no time you’re kicking around jackets, life vests or an over-sized hip roof. I had what was probably a knock-off Umco, anodized silver, black plastic trays. And that’s when I knew I had reached my limit…when I couldn’t afford to put a lure in every tray.
Yes they are George. And if they made a 30-foot bass boat, you know there’d be folks that would buy them. I need to look for an UMCO knockoff in my magazines.