Beans and Blasting Caps
It was tough going for a mouse in the high desert. If you didn’t freeze to death, or starve to death, you were always living in fear of being eaten. It was enough to discourage a mouse of any age. So it was a hopeful bunch of rodents that nested the winter in relative safety in Grandpa Gray’s line shack.
A line shack is a 400-square foot wooden shack located somewhere along a rancher’s fence line. The shack on the farthest corner of Grandpa Gray’s ranch had three bunks built into the south wall, a pot belly stove against the north wall, and a table that seats six in the middle of the room. Plus shelves upon shelves to store the dry goods necessary for the spring through fall season. It was the dry goods the mice were after.
Dynamite caps, or blasting caps, were common on the ranch and were used for doing the heavy work when heavy machinery such as a backhoe wasn’t readily available. (They were also good for fishing, but that’s another story.) They have the explosive power of a quarter stick of dynamite. Terry decided in the Fall of 1941 that he’d devise a mousetrap using dynamite caps, fuse, some batteries tied together, and tinfoil. I don’t want to encourage delinquency so I’ll not give the details of the setup. Cousin Terry strategically laid several squares of tinfoil on the shelves that lined two of the walls, such that if a mouse stepped on the tinfoil, the fuse would close, the blasting cap would ignite, and the mouse would be scattered across the room. Or so Terry hoped. The device succeeded beyond his wildest expectations.
The horse trailers and trucks looked small in the distance as they grumbled down the dirt road. The road was a muddy mess, being just barely free from the last snow. Thirty mice inside the shed perked up their ears as the noise of the trucks grew closer. One by one the mice scrambled down toward the gaps in the floor or ceiling that led outside toward safety. One small mouse got turned around in the crowd, became agitated, ran the wrong way, then froze in a corner of the top shelf. He watched in horror as the front door opened.
Terry and Willis got out of the lead truck and put on their gloves. Terry’s sister, Colleen got out of the driver’s seat of the rear truck, and Mike and my dad, Jack jumped out of the back of the truck. They were about 12-years old.
“Let’s get to work!” Terry said. He opened up the horse trailer, revealing boxes and bags of canned food and flour and fence tacks and other supplies they’d need for the spring and summer. He took a box of canned goods under each arm and strode toward the shack. Willis took a box and handed it to Mike, who staggered with it toward the shed behind Terry. Willis handed Jack a 20-pound bag of flour with a “there you go, Jack!” Jack ran to catch up to Mike, who was about halfway toward the shed.
As soon as that mouse saw all six-feet-seven-inches of Terry come through the front door, he made a break for a small gap in the frame of the closest window. In between the mouse and the window, lying across the shelf, was a piece of tinfoil. Terry put his box a shelf just behind that mouse, turned, and walked back out the door. It swung shut behind him.
He made it four steps from the door.
The “BOOM!” blew the front door of the shed open and blew out one of the windows, showering glass across the field. The whole shed rocked on its concrete foundation, and smoke billowed out the open door.
“What he HELL was that!” Terry and Willis said in unison. Mike and Jack turned and ran toward the trailer. Colleen stood on the other side of the truck with a surprised look on her face. Once the smoke cleared Terry and Willis ran to the shed and looked inside. They started laughing so hard they whooped and coughed and had to sit down on the porch. As soon as they started laughing Mike and Jack put their dry goods down and ran and looked inside the door. “Holy smokes!” they said, and ran inside the door.
Beans and tomatoes and flour and rice were pasted across the shed, from floor to ceiling and all the walls and bunks and table in between. Bits of tin can and wrappers were scattered in amongst the food. On a corner of the table a piece of a mouse’s foot and a scrap of tail. The whole shed was leaning just slightly off center.
“Terry, you came about four steps from having your head stove in by a can of beans!” said Colleen. “Was this another one of your mouse killing ideas?”
“Yes, ma’am, it sure was” laughed Terry. Willis dissolved into a fit of giggling.
Colleen took off her hat and hit Willis in the head with it. “You two are something else!” she said. Just then Jack came out of the shed holding up the mouse’s foot with a scrap of tail. “Looks like I found the culprit, Terry!” he beamed. “Yeah, what’s left of him!” said Mike. Colleen just shook her head and smiled.