Laugh Tracks in the Dust
By Milo Yield
As it turns out, I really did a lot of “play” activities when I wuz a kid in the 1940s and 1950s. Either that or my feeble mind is playing tricks on me. I’m pretty sure it’s the former, not the latter.
Last week I continued with the insects, amphibians, and reptiles that ended up as playthings. So, this week let me tell you how my friends and I used turtles as playthings.
My most vivid memory of using turtles wuz one spring when there was an absolute onslaught of painted land terrapins, or box turtles, if you will, everywhere you went. And, you usually found them two at a time because it wuz obviously turtle mating season. That wuz clearly a play opportunity.
So, one of my buddies and I collected a scad of box turtles and put them in a 2×6 board “corral.” Our first object wuz to see who could find the most turtles. Quickly, after we found so many, at least 50-60, our fertile minds went to turtle races. Turns out, turtle races, while interesting, are not too exciting. Sometimes the turtle just clams up and refuses to race.
So, then our minds conjured up turtle “pulling contests,” patterned after the horse pulling contests that were popular in rural communities at the time.
My friend found a small hand-operated drill and a tiny bit that fit it.
We would each select what appeared to be a lively turtle from our “turtle remuda” in our turtle corral and, using the drill and bit, carefully drill a hole in the rear rim of each turtle’s shell. I assure you, it did not hurt the turtle — except it might have been embarrassing in turtle social circles.
We then tied one end of a feed-sack string to a small wire hook and hooked the string to the hole in the turtle’s shell and the other to some kind of weight — as I recall usually a stick or small rock.
Then we “matched” our selected turtles to see which one would pull the most weight. That wuz fun, but we fretted and argued that it wuz an inexact outcome because we didn’t know the actual weight each turtle pulled.
So, we found a solution. My friend remembered his dad had a gram weight balance-beam scale. I have no idea what he used the scale for, but it had a whole series of exact cylindrical weights in grams. I don’t recall the low number, but the heaviest wuz 500 grams. Each weight had a bronze hook to attach the weight to the gram scale beam. The weights were perfect solutions to our pulling contest.
We simply switched the contests to whose turtle could lift the heaviest gram weight. Somewhere we found a tiny pulley and attached it to a clothes line. Then we ran the pulling string through the pulley and hooked one end to our turtle’s shell and the other end to one of the gram weights.
I can’t recall how much weight a box turtle can hoist or how many times my turtle won the contest. But I do remember how much we hooted and hollered at our turtles to encourage them to pull or lift more so we could boast about having the “champion” turtle.
As kids we hated snapping turtles becuz they were ugly, mean, and eagerly ate up our stringers of fish if you gave them a chance. Snapping turtles were “the enemy” and we found a way of “revenge” that we thought of as fun, when actually it wuz rather heartless.
When we were riding horses along the Marmaton River, we carried our 22-rifles in scabbards. In the summer as we were riding, when we came to a deep hole of water with the sun shining on it, it wuz easy to spy the big snapping turtles basking on the surface of the water or on logs.
It wuz pretty easy target practice at first, but the snapping turtles were smart enuf to head to the bottom of the river after a few shots into the water.
Another way we “played” with snapping turtles wuz in the early spring in April or May when the water wuz still cool enough that the snappers were lethargic in the water. But, it wuz still the time of year when the snappers migrated overland from pond to pond or stream to stream.
Often when riding our horses, we’d come to a shallow limestone stream with several big snappers lounging on the bottom of the stream. The water wuz never more than thigh deep.
Our fun then took on what we determined wuz a “dangerous” bent. We kids would strip off our jeans or overalls and wade barefooted into the cold water in our underwear and very carefully sneak up behind a lounging snapper, grab it by its tail and heave it onto the bank without getting bit. We never did get bit, but sometimes it wuz close enuf to scare the bejebbers out of us. It just seemed natural to us to dispatch the “fish killers.” Looking back from an old age vantage-point, I have a different perspective of our “fun,” although I still carry a pistol when I go fishing and will kill a fish-thieving snapping turtle.
Now a story about reptiles: A cowboy was trying to buy a health insurance policy. The insurance agent was going down the list of standard questions. “Ever have an accident?” “Nope, nary a one.” “None? You’ve never had any accidents.” “Nope. Ain’t never had one. Never.” “Well, you said on this form you were bit by a snake once. Wouldn’t you consider that an accident?” “Heck, no. That dang varmint bit me on purpose.”
Have a good ‘un.
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