Sometime late last fall, as I was walking from the cattle shed back to the house, I noticed something odd on the roof of my house. It was one of the attic vent covers hanging loose. We had experienced a bit of wind recently, so I figured it may have been knocked loose.
A contractor came out a couple days later and took a look at the situation. He had a replacement vent that would fit, so he put it on and went on his way. A day or two later, the other vent came loose. I called the roofer again, and he made another appearance to check things out.
That's when we made a startling discovery. The damage was not wind-related. It was VARMINT-related! Raccoons, to be exact.
Ranger Rick and I have had an ongoing relationship for years. It has rarely been a friendly one (see “Ranger Rick and his posse”). This time, though, the Rickster was making it a bit more personal. Crawl up on my bales in the shed, my equipment and even my buggy all you want, Ranger Rick, but do not mess with my house! That's a line I won't allow you to cross without major retaliation.
Roofus the Roofer took a look around while he was on the roof. He could see tracks where Ranger Rick & Co. had been. The tracks showed that they were gaining access to the two-story-high roof without doing any gold-medal-worthy high-jump work. There were no trees anywhere nearby, so we knew they weren't climbing branches to get access to the penthouse suite. There was no equipment parked anywhere close to the house, so we knew they weren't using it as a launching pad. What we discovered was that there were lots and lots of muddy footprints on the old tower that originally held the TV antenna. It sits right next to the northwest corner of the house and pretty much screamed JUNGLE GYM! to Ranger Rick & Co.
Climbing up the tower was probably much easier than scaling a pile of bales. Since the introduction of satellite TV years ago, and the recent conversion to digital TV, a TV antenna wasn't exactly top-of-mind anymore. So after one of our many windstorms the past few years, when the antenna blew off, it was not replaced. The heavy-duty tower stayed in place, though, and serves as the mounting location for my high-speed Internet satellite receiver.
Roofus the Roofer said he needed to take a look around in my attic to see if Ranger Rick & Co. had done any damage while they were up there. Right off hand, I had to stop and think about how to get to the attic, because I'd never been up there before. It's not like the attics you see in movies with a drawbridge-style staircase. It's more like a two-foot by two-foot access door in the ceiling. Roofus and his assistant ended up getting a stepladder and lifting the lid off the tiny access hole in the upstairs ceiling to have a look while I was working on something outside. Ignorance is bliss for me.
Their report a bit later was surprising. Ranger Rick & Co. had definitely been in the attic. They had also moved a lot of insulation around while they were up there. Roofus wanted to talk over the situation with his superior to get some suggestions about how to keep this from happening again.
The solution was multi-pronged. First, we'd take a sheet of thin steel and wrap it around all three sides of the tower. Roofus suggested a sheet that was three feet wide. He felt that would keep the raccoons from climbing up the tower, because they'd have to scale a solid steel wall three feet high. I thought back to my experience in the bunker silo with Ranger Rick, and how he and his cohorts could climb corn silage in a pile with relative ease. A band of steel three feet high seemed pretty good, but if we went four feet high, I thought that would pretty well keep even the raccoon-equivalent of Carl Lewis from scaling the tower.
The four-foot-high band of steel was placed around the tower. A box trap was also hauled up to the attic to catch any remaining raccoons who may have hung around. Bait was placed in the trap to attract the vermin. Our delicacy of choice was giant marshmallows. They seem to work quite well when setting box traps outside.
Around 10:30 that night, as I was fast asleep, I suddenly woke up to a loud ruckus upstairs. It wasn't coming from the floor above me. It was coming from the attic. Sounded to me like a raccoon had maybe stumbled into a box trap and tipped it over!
I shut my bedroom door that night, fully expecting to see Ranger Rick at my breakfast table the next morning, eating my last crème horn from the bakery. Deep sleep did not come easily that night.
Roofus showed up the next day. Sadly, we did not find anything upstairs, but we did find another clue. This time, there were dirty footprints on the tower again, but they were on the inside of the band of steel. Gymnasts that they are, the coons had obviously climbed down the inside of the tower when they got to the band of steel, because they could still get their grimy little claws onto the rungs of the tower from the inside.
By coincidence, Roofus had more steel with him, because his supervisor had apparently asked him if he capped the tower, too, in addition to wrapping it. We got a couple strips of steel and put them across the top of the band of steel that wrapped around the tower. Now it was pretty much an impenetrable fortress!
The box trap was monitored for some time after that. We switched to more heavy-duty bait than marshmallows, just to make sure we could lure any raccoon that may not get a whiff of Sta-Puff across the attic. This time, we went with sardines. I discovered that when I went to make supper that night and opened up my refrigerator door. Right there on the bottom shelf was the other half of the can that Roofus didn't use.
"I figured we could just leave 'em here in your fridge so I didn't have to remember to bring 'em out when I check the trap each day," he told me the next day.
Sure. I mean, obviously, why not keep them in my fridge? And why not leave them open, too?
Not to get all Modern Marvels on ya here, Roofus, but let me run a high-tech concept past ya.
Ziploc. Look into it.
Sadly, for the next week or two, we never caught anything in the box trap for me to exact any revenge upon. We did make one serious home improvement discovery, though. Roofus has been in a few attics over the course of his career. He thought he'd pretty much seen it all. "I mean, I've seen Cool-Whip containers, and ice cream pails that catch leaks in the roof, and maybe a five-gallon pail once in a great while, but yours blows 'em all away. You've got a (multiple expletives) COW TANK up there!"
(I'll skip all of the expletives from the description given to me, because you'll get lost trying to read it with all the #@%^& in the next couple of lines.)
"I'm serious! It's a cow tank! And it's a big one. Not some little 50-gallon job. I mean, this thing is probably 250 to 500 gallons! I don't know how they ever got it up there."
That's when I remembered one of my all-time favorite landlords and the stories he used to tell me when I'd stop by to visit him. He'd be about 103 or so today, and has only been gone for about five years. According to my landlord/historian, the place where I live was originally built by moonshiners. He said they did an excellent job of building the house, and didn't scrimp on anything, but most of their revenue for the project did not come from the farm. It came from a still.
And how would you build a halfway decent-sized house back then if you were just an average farmer? With the proceeds from a big still, of course! And a big still takes a big tank to run it! Ask any banker. They will tell you that you need a revenue stream for success, not a revenue trickle. So as you and your crew begin building your house-of-questionable-repute, you may just fashion a way to get a giant horse tank up in the attic as the structure of the house goes up around it, thereby keeping the cash flow coming in from your industrial-sized enterprise while still keeping it secret from the neighbors. It takes tiny containers for a revenue trickle. A revenue stream takes a 500-gallon tank.
Speaking of streams, one night recently there was a knock at my door. I went to the front door and found a guy of about 25, dressed in camouflage, with what looked like a flashlight strapped to his head.
Interesting. The Avon Militia, perhaps?
"Uh, hi. Our dogs have been trailing a coon from Cardinal Marsh and they've got it cornered in your shed. Would it be okay if we went after it?" the visitor inquired.
Hmmmmm . . . philosophical story problem time. A well-equipped, heavily armed, warrior type wants to inflict serious personal harm upon Ranger Rick within the confines of my personal corner of the world, but he needs an okay from me or else Ranger Rick walks away totally unharmed.
In my best Montgomery Burns impersonation, I told him to "unleash the hounds!" and have at it. Then I pointed at the barn and suggested once they finished in the shed, they could feel free to climb up in the haymow and go nuts in there, too.
A short time later, I stuck my head out the door to see how things were going. It wasn't exactly crickets that I heard. It was more like Hill Street Blues with a special guest appearance by Ted Nugent.
Twenty minutes later, there was another knock at my door. This time I was greeted by three guys in camo with headgear illumination. The one closest to the door, who looked to be in his 50s, did the talking as soon as I asked how it went.
"We got three of 'em! Ya know, we trailed 'em from the marsh. They crossed the river and they came up here and figured they could hide in your shed, but the dogs stayed on 'em. There's one really big one. I mean, REALLY big, and we shot him several times, but he just didn't seem to want to drop. I mean, he just, well, he kinda crawled up on top of your chopper and, and . . . well, there's probably gonna be a lot of blood out there tomorrow, I just want you to know that."
Ranger Rick goes down gangland-style?
I don't have any grisly crime scene photos to add to the story. Let's just say that the ledger between me and Ranger Rick has a few more offsets to it now than it had before. The balance is headed in the right direction. Feel free to push your luck on the balance again, Rick. I now have anonymous assassin goons who will swoop in out of nowhere and walk several miles in the dead of winter, Special Forces-style, to hunt you down for an Accounting 101 refresher.
Guy No. 2