High Speed for Old Timers
By Norris Chambers
Before Clifton and I got serious about our fishing and bragged a lot when we caught real fish, we fished for crawfish. This type of fishing was only a string with a piece of meat tied on the end. The baited end was thrown into the pond or creek and when some hungry creature grabbed the bait and the line began to disappear in the water we knew we had a “bite” and some prey at the end of our line. The next step was to slowly pull the line in and when the crawfish was close enough, reach out and grab him behind the big pinchers. He then released the meat and began trying to grab our fingers. But we usually pitched him in our big bucket or sack and claimed another trophy!
We didn’t always have a crawdad at the end of the string – sometimes it was a snake, a frog, or even a turtle. Our fishing hole had two kinds of turtles; one type was a dirty brown in color and ranged in size from a few inches to almost a foot in length. The other type was smaller and had a cleaner shell. This type was not over four or five inches in length and three or four inches in width. These little fellows didn’t try to bite us like the larger turtles did. They occasionally went for a swim but lived on dry land near the water.
Clifton and I spent a large portion of our spare time playing with those terrapins in our calf pasture. The thick brush where they lived was just north of the dirt tank. We often saw several of them at the edge of the water, motionless with their eyes closed. We guessed that they were asleep. Terrapins that we caught and attempted to play with were apparently not interested in anything except sitting motionless with their heads retracted in their shells. Their beady eyes stared at us through the tiny slits where the shell opened and closed. They did get slightly upset when we each selected one and carved our initials on the top of their shells!
Clifton had suggested that we train our terrapins for the “Terrapin Derby” held at the county fair every year. For some contests the winners were awarded money prizes. Other winners received merchandise, certificates, ribbons etc.
In the contest the turtles were placed under a tub with a circle drawn around it. This circle was the finish line and when the tub was lifted the first turtle to cross the line was the winner. We had plenty of time to train our athletes and get them in tip-top condition. We didn’t know how to train them so we had some learning to do.
We found an old tub that had been discarded due to old age and hard use and placed it on a spot of level ground near the tank. We carefully placed our racers under the tub. This meant that it was time for the race to start. Clifton lifted the tub and turned to see the show. Neither racer moved. They just sat there and grinned! Talking didn’t get results so we tried punching them with sticks. This got us some mean looks from our racers but they were not interested in running. We knew such aids were not permitted in an official race but we were anxious to see some movement when the cover was removed. I had one more thing to try – it had never failed. My Model T spark coil would get some action!
When we prepared for the next attempt I brought my portable shocking device, complete with a long application rod. When the switch was closed the coil buzzed and thousands of volts of electricity was ready to jump about an inch to any grounded object. In this application the object would be a terrapin! When Clifton moved the tub and the racers remained motionless I slowly moved the tip of the rod to the back of Clifton’s turtle. When I pressed the switch the buzzer sounded its belated alarm and the turtle quickly extended its head and legs and passed the finish line in a few seconds. We tried it again on my terrapin with the same results. Again, I kept pressing the switch and producing the loud buzzing sound. My intention was to train our terrapins to fear the sound and affiliate it with that they heard with the painful spark!
Our strategy worked. When I sounded the buzzer they ran for several feet. As far as we knew there was no rule against a buzzing sound during the race. We considered our terrapins to be properly trained for the big race.
When we arrived at the fair and attempted to enter the race we discovered that it was not on the calendar of events for that year. With me carrying the terrapins in a cardboard box and Clifton with the spark coil in a gunny sack we headed for the truck. There were so many people in the path that we were practically standing still and someone was constantly bumping into us. A heavy lady stumbled over Clifton from behind and he fell forward knocking a teenager to the ground and falling on top of him. The coil switch was accidentally closed during the commotion. The boy began screaming when the high voltage hit his upper leg. While he and Clifton were trying to get up the charge continued to punish them and the teenager kept screaming. As soon as I had an opportunity I grabbed the sack and turned the switch off. With everyone’s attention on the injured boys no one seemed to notice that I disappeared with the coil and the terrapins.
I thought it was funny. Clifton disagreed with me!