Chapter 37


Rats, too, are always with us. I have detailed the way rats were kept out of corn for animals and at the same time small grain for the family, by clever design of the granary used in and before my grandfather’s time. This section concerns some observations in my own lifetime.

Dad enjoyed keeping chickens. Eggs sold well on the milk route, and they are an enterprise the small farmer could put into a very small space to make a little extra money. He had a chicken house that had been taken down before I could remember. There were only two hewn beams from the old barn across the run for a bridge, and the concrete floor of the buildings slowly sank into the ground in my lifetime so that I was able to mow over them at the end.

He tried it again when I was in the upper grades or junior high, building an elongated shed roof building behind the house, facing east. I had the job of feeding the chickens in the evening. The feed was kept in a 55 gallon steel barrel, with a tin square on top to keep rats and birds out.

The floor was concrete and rats lived in burrows under the concrete, coming out to steal from the chicken feeders when no one was around. The chickens had no interest in the rats, and we had to use additional feed to compensate for what was lost. Of course the rats breed without limit. Once in a while the tin would get knocked aside on the barrel and the rats would get into the feed. I have seen as many as twenty in the barrel when I went in to feed. I would hit a stick on the side and they would run around and up the side to where they could jump over the edge, just like a motorcycle in a cyclodrome. It is hard to believe an animal could do this, but I saw it several times.

Eventually the returns did not justify cost and chickens were abandoned again. At least a few rats and mice are always around houses and barns. They come in from the fields in the winter. You have to keep the available food supply as low as possible, and use poison to reduce the population further. The old phosphorus poison was not very tasty, and rats soon learned to avoid it. Our modern warfarin (and related compounds) is much more effective, a blessing most people don’t recognize. It ties up vitamin E, needed for blood coagulation. They usually go outside for water when they die, solving the removal problem.

Aside One argument in cattle management I have with my ancestors is where they put gates between fields. I always put them in corners, if possible, where they always put them in the middle of a line of fence. It is much easier to drive the cattle out a corner, than the middle of a side. The only reason I can imagine for putting gates in the side is to save setting two extra brace posts.

Aside Jim Stutler remembers Leman Maxwell’s cattle drives from Melitus to Leman’s farm on what is now Hidden Valley Road, between Duck Creek and Route 19, long after trucks came into use. These typically had about 200 head of cattle in them. A man would start out carrying a small sack of grain from the farm at Melitus in Doddridge County. After about fifty got on the road, another man would be started between the first bunch and the second with another sack of grain, and after fifty more another man with a sack of grain. Several men would go along at the beginning and end to close off roads and fields that were open, directing the cattle where they should go.

When they left Melitus they would go over into Harrison County and down Coburn Fork to Jarvisville, then over what is now County Route 31 to Buffalo and down to Jim’s Dad’s farm. Leman previously arranged to let them stay overnight on Jim’s Dad’s place. He always wanted a field with lots of grass and water, Jim says.

Next morning they would start Down Buffalo to the route over the hill that is now designated 32/2 onto Isaac’s Creek, down to Good Hope, over the river on Route 19. A few hundred yards beyond the river they would turn left, then a quarter mile beyond that turn right up the hill on what is now County Route 19/17 and finally onto 19/20, now called “Hidden Valley Road” to his farm near the West Fork River.

This was a drive of 23 or 24 miles, accomplished in two days. Jim says there was no grass left in the field where the animals stayed overnight, and a lot of manure.

Leman owned a thousand acres at the farm near the West Fork, and it was notoriously dry. Early in life the author met a man who had worked for the Maxwells who said he had spent many a day, all day, pumping water by hand with a pitcher pump. When he got up the next day it would be the same thing over again.

Copyright © 1998, 2006, 2008, 2011 S. Tom Bond (stombond at