Rattlesnakes and Calf-pullers

Earlier this week we were spreading leaf mulch in our flower beds.  Before dumping a wheelbarrow of crushed leaves into a particular bed, I wanted to pull a few weeds.  I had pulled two and was stepping toward another when I realized my next step would be onto the head of a snake.  And not just any snake.  This was a rattlesnake.


Lucky for me it was stretched out and not coiled.  I yelled for Jenni, who was on the other side of the house, to bring a shovel. This is why I work on my hand/eye coordination.  One strike with the shovel and the head was off.


The morning of this backyard drama happened to be the one-year anniversary of my father’s death.  Wow, did it bring back some memories.


My dad was a small town, country veterinarian.  When I was growing up, he probably did 60% of his business on the road.  He practiced out of a Chevrolet car.  The model didn’t matter as long as it had a large trunk to hold all his veterinary gear.  It also needed to be white, hold a family of six, and NOT have air conditioning! AM radio was acceptable.


In that trunk was always a large wooden box as wide as the trunk allowed.  It had slots they held various bottles of medicine. In front of the medicine box was his stainless-steel bucket, an assortment of ropes, and his calf puller.  His calf puller consisted of a U-shaped piece that pressed up against the cow, a cranking mechanism with a hook, and a long pipe that connected those two pieces together.  This was used when a cow needed assistance to deliver her calf.  However, the pipe had an alternative use.


I recall many times we would be traveling down a country road to or from a client.  (I was along to open gates and keep swishing tails from slapping him in the face.)  If my dad saw a rattlesnake in the road, he went into warrior mode.  First, he would use his car to stun it if possible.  He would quickly pull over, open the trunk, and grab the calf-puller pipe. Then, with deadly aim, he would flatten the snake’s head. He’d pull out his Case pocketknife and snip off the rattles because those got pinned to the bulletin board in his examination room back at the clinic. If there had been a prolonged drought, he would often hang the snake on a nearby barb wire fence because everyone knew if it rolled to belly-side up we were due for a rain shower.


Back to my snake story.  Once the head was off and safely buried 8 inches underground, I then took the rattles off (because that’s how I was raised.)  We’ve had plenty of rain so I didn’t need the belly rain prediction; the body was tossed far down the trail as a lucky surprise for the fox I heard barking last night or maybe the bear if he comes back soon.  Speaking of luck, I’m counting my lucky stars for having seen the rattlesnake before it was too late.


I wonder if there’s room for a calf-puller in our van Wanda?

1 comment

  • You are an excellent story teller, David. I’m sure the visits you shared with your dad on his rounds enriched your life and added adventures for future story telling.

    Helen Ammons

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