Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Muncie Boyhood-Erector Sets & Mousetraps

Toys. Every boy needs his toys. That fact hasn’t changed in….well,…ever. It also doesn’t change as a boy becomes a man, but that’s a different discussion.

In a previous post, I discussed my boyhood Christmas experiences and some of the toys I was excited to receive on Christmas morning. I got the popgun. I got the drum set. I got the Hot Wheels racetrack. I even got a cool Tinker Toy set with its little, round wooden sticks and wooden wheels and stuff. Stick this stick in that hole in that wheel and connect that doo-dad to that thing-a-ma-gig and you can make your very own….

Weird doo-dad thingy.

I had fun with it. It was creatively interesting. However, I wanted a couple of things my cousins had. It always seemed that my cousins had the cool stuff and I had the….creatively interesting stuff. You know how that goes. Childhood envy.

They had a set of Lincoln Logs. I mean WOW. You could build your very own log cabin or log castle or any other kind of log stuff. How cool is that?

I never got one. I never got one and I’m still resenting my parents for that deficiency to this day. So if you are a parent and you’re debating as to whether or not you should get your little boy a Lincoln Log set….DO IT! Buy it. I promise the little guy will love you forever. And, if you don’t, you may one day end up explaining your poor parenting choices on some TV talk show.

My cousins also got an Erector Set. Oh, man!!! That thing even put the Lincoln Logs to shame! Not only could you build all kinds of interesting gadgets, but you could make them crank and turn and buzz and, and, and be all mechanical and stuff. Coolness upon coolness!

I did finally get one of those. It was Christmas, sometime early in my high school years before my nerdiness began to wear off some. (My nerdiness never completely wore off….just look at me now.) I was still into science fiction and monsters, and not yet fully engrossed into girls. I couldn’t believe it! Finally! I could build a,... a,... a….well, I didn’t have a clue what to build with it. It was just a box of little metal plates, strips, screws, nuts, rods, wheels, and other assorted mechanical things.

I had no idea what to make with this stuff. After all, I was a TV and book nerd into werewolves and Klingons, not a mechanically inclined nerd. I fidgeted with the pieces and mocked up various ridiculous contraptions without making anything memorable for a few weeks, and eventually the set began to lose its appeal. It was in danger of becoming just another one my interesting collection of items that I used to think was cool because someone else had it first.

Then, an interesting opportunity arose…or, should I say scurried up?

I was sitting in my family’s basement one night, probably avoiding the cigarette smoke clogging the air upstairs, and looking at the hodgepodge of odd items that my dad stored on the shelves between his workbench and the cabinet where he kept his good tools. I can’t really remember anything that was there anymore. It was just an assortment of various things that weren’t all that useful anymore, but they were kept around just in case they might come in handy again someday. (Come to think of it, I have a similar assortment of stuff sitting out on some shelves in my garage right now. Hmmm.) Anyway, I was sitting there looking at the stuff when a little mouse scurried out from behind one of the various items, darted back and forth, and looked at me like I was somehow invading his personal space.

Now, I thought this was sort of exciting. Here was a wild animal living in my folks’ house, right under our noses, and I got to watch him in his natural habitat. It was as if Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom had come to my basement. So, I just sat there and watched him do his thing, which of course included pooping all over the shelving. I watched him and he watched me.

I told my mom about it.

Telling a woman about mice in her basement, which is also connected to her kitchen and her bedroom, is almost always going to spur a reaction. Soon, we were talking D-Con and mousetraps. That’s when it occurred to me.

I could build a mousetrap with my Erector Set!

I finally had a purpose for my mechanical junk set!

So, I did. I built a better mousetrap. (Look at the picture for the basic design. I don’t mind sharing.) I created a little rectangular box with a trapdoor on one end. I tied fishing line to the top of the door and strung it over a wheel on the back and through one of the holes in the back panel. Then I tied a piece of dog food to the fishing line inside the box for bait.  Tension on the line kept the door open.  Finally, I set it up on the shelf to see what would happen.

Sometime in the night, along came Mr. Mouse. He crawled into the box to the dog food and nibbled away until the fishing line was released. The door dropped. He was trapped.

I found him the next morning. I was so excited! My trap had worked. Awesome!

The thing was that I didn’t have time to do anything with him. I had to leave for school, so I figured I’d deal with it when I got home in the afternoon. I left him there for the day.

I’d never really considered what I was going to do with him if I caught him. I mean, if you use one of those spring traps, the mouse is normally dead when you find him and you throw it in the garbage. However, with my little invention, he’s sitting inside the box just staring at you through all those little Erector Set holes. As I thought about it during the day, I sort of decided I’d be humane and take him out in the alley behind our house and release him. Maybe he’d end up in a neighbor’s house, but at least he’d have a chance at life.

Morning became afternoon, and finally I was released from that scholastic trap called Southside High School, so I came home to deal with my mouse issue. I came in the backdoor, trundled down the stairs, and found my dad piddling with stuff down there.

He looked at me and began to cuss.

Apparently, he had come downstairs and looked in my trap also. He saw the mouse. He decided he’d take care of the little furry vermin himself, so he reached out and grabbed the little metal box, lifted it up, and discovered that I hadn’t considered far enough ahead in my design to put a bottom panel on the trap…as he watched the mouse dart off behind the cabinets.


I fixed that problem that night. The bottom panel was installed.

I’ve got to say, that little trap worked better than any other mousetrap I’ve ever seen. We caught mouse after mouse after mouse. We had a pretty good infestation before we’d discovered them, but my little Erector Set trap did the trick.

My dad nixed my plan for the humane catch and release. He would have none of me simply releasing them into the wilds of South Hackley Street, so they all met their demise. Mostly, I caught them and he killed them, but I did kill a few of my own.

There were too key lessons I learned from my Erector Set mousetrap experience:

1. Always put a bottom in your mousetrap. (Is there a moral there?)
2. Mice are dirty, nasty animals.

I had to throw away the Erector Set pieces out of which I had made the trap. They were nasty and disgusting, corroded from contact with the mice. Eventually, the rest of the set followed because I never created anything else useful from that kit.

Finally, if you have any mice issues, feel free to utilize my design. It is very effective…if you don’t mind doing the killing yourself.

Until next time......

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