Old Timer’s Big Snake Tale
By Norris Chambers
When Clifton and I were kids snakes were about as plentiful as bugs. You could expect to find one or more under a dead log, brush pile, sweet potato vine or chicken coop. They also liked to linger in and under outside buildings and sometimes even dwellings. Most of these snakes were not poisonous but sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between those that were dangerous and those that just scared us. We only had three poisonous species; rattlesnakes, copper heads and water moccasins.
Probably the scariest of the harmless snakes was one called “spreading adder” or “puff adder”. This scary snake, when fully matured, was three or four feet long. When one felt like danger was approaching it stretched almost half its full length and flattened its head and neck to resemble a cobra, a very dangerous snake. We didn’t have any cobras but the spreading adder with its striking and hissing was close enough for us. Ordinarily we left them alone and they left us alone. Although we had been told that they were harmless we performed an oral examination on a dead one and confirmed the information. The spreading adder did not have fangs!
With Halloween approaching we were trying to think of a simple way to use the adder in a nice trick. Treats were unheard of in our part of the country and the day and night holiday was celebrated with a scary trick.
My brother operated a garage and service station in the small town of Cross Cut and he believed it was necessary for him, or someone, to watch the station Halloween night. Watching the station was a good practice since there were several gremlin groups diligently searching for a suitable trick target. I casually mentioned to him that Clifton and I would watch the station for him during the night. He seemed to be a little surprised at the offer but agreed that we could do it. He told us that we would have to be alert and watch for any trickery outside the building.
We had found and captured the big spreading adder snake and began to make plans for the trick. Tom was busy in the garage section of the building so we seated ourselves on the loafing bench outside and began planning our trick. A small table by the front door served as a desk. There was one attached drawer beneath the top that pulled outward to open. He kept a bound notebook inside that he used to list the few credit accounts he permitted and a muffin tin with coins in the several round baking holes to provide change for cash purchases. He put the bills and coins in a small cloth sack at closing time and brought it back the next morning. This was a simple precaution because there were those in the area that would break into the building to steal a little cash!
We thought about putting the snake in the cash drawer but decided it didn’t have enough room for a large snake. It was too late to hunt a smaller one so we decided to think of something else. Clifton recalled that one of the first things Tom did when opening the station was to get the key for the two outside pumps and open them for business. He kept some shop keys in the telephone that was on the north side of the front door about five feet above the floor. The front side of these phones was hinged and by loosening two screws would easily swing wide open. The only thing inside was the call generator with the crank on the side of the phone, a large voltage transformer and two large dry cell batteries. These batteries were usually referred to as”phone batteries” Tom had installed spring latches and the phone could be opened by pulling it
forward. It was an excellent place to hide small objects. We decided that we could put the snake in the phone. It would be a close fit but it would work.
On the big trick night Clifton and I prepared for an all-night watch as Tom made plans to go home. We carried two chairs to the outside drive and alternated sitting and watching and an occasional trip around the station. We saw a few tricksters but they stayed away from the garage and nearby areas. The night passed without incident and just before dawn we transferred our snake from his sack home to the telephone. We both grinned when we thought about Tom opening the phone for the key and finding the big snake. The phone box was barely large enough for the snake but Clifton said it was OK since it wouldn’t be there long.
Tom came in and began getting ready for the day’s work. While he was getting things in order in his table drawer he said, “Clifton, will you get the key out of the phone and open the pumps?” Clifton started for the phone and I moved to get between him and Tom. I hoped he could get the key without Tom seeing the snake. Clifton saw what I was doing and slowly pulled the phone case open. There was a loud “plop” as the snake fell out of the box and onto Clifton’s feet. Tom was laughing when he said, “I heard you planning the trick to scare me. Somehow, it backfired!”
Clifton didn’t think it was funny