Rats and Rat Riddance

Ratssss From Edward Howe Forbush's Rats And Rat Riddance (1914):
At the Farm and Trade School on Thompson's Island, where the boy pupils are taught to kill rats, as all boys should be, there is a henhouse built with a cement foundation, but it has an earth floor and no foundation wall on the south side; therefore it is not rat-proof. The wooden floor of the main house is raised about three feet above the earth, leaving a space below it for a shelter for geese. Here the rats have burrowed in the earth, and as it was considered unsafe to use carbon bisulphide there on account of the fire danger, water was suggested. Two lines of common garden hose were attached to a near-by hydrant, the ends inserted into rat holes and the water turned on. All rat holes leading from the henpens to the outer world were closed with earth, and several boys were provided with sticks, to the end of each of which a piece of hose two feet long had been attached. A fox terrier was introduced into the henpens, and in about half an hour the rat war began. As the half-drowned rats came out of their holes somewhat dazed they were struck by side swings of the hose sticks, which knocked them off their feet, to be killed by other blows. If one escaped into the henpens, boy or dog killed it. This operation was repeated later from time to time. Four successive battles several weeks apart yielded 152 rats from under and about this henhouse, and no doubt many young rats were drowned in their nests.
"Rats And Rat Riddance" (Google Books, via Weird Universe)


  1. I read it in Javier Bardem’s voice in Skyfall.

    And then I realized this account would probably have made a much better script.

  2. All that story does is indicate to me how much I take modern hygiene for granted. 

    100 years ago cleaning out the rat infestation was something you did twice a month. Today? People in the first world tend to only see rats in a pet store.

  3. A long time ago I read a book about rats which detailed their cunning egg burglary techniques.  Here’s an illustration of how they reportedly take eggs back to their nest…

  4. I had a summer job in a grain elevator when I was about 16. When I started I was given an air pistol and air rifle (this is the uk) and told there was a bonus for every rat tail I turned in at the end of the day.

    Everyone who worked walked around with their air pistol to take snap shots if you spotted a rat. If you had some quiet time you sat quietly with your rifle picking off any rats that wandered by your favourite spot.

    I remember several scenes straight out of a Tom and Jerry cartoon with two or three guys chasing a rat around with shovels trying to hit it.

    It made a very dull job a bit more interesting

    1. I remember several scenes straight out of a Tom and Jerry cartoon with two or three guys chasing a rat around with shovels trying to hit it.

      I killed a huge rat in my kitchen in SF with a shovel. It had moved into the broiler and torn out the oven insulation to use as nesting material.

  5. In the mid 60’s, my family would visit my grandfather every summer.  Out on his field, he had troubles with ground squirrels, so he would plug up all the holes except two, put a water hose in one, then station me and my brothers with golf clubs on the other.  Good times…

  6. I grew up in a rural area, and there was always some farm work to be had.  Clearing a rat infestation was the most fun.  The farmer would tow the henhouse a few yards and flood the nest like the article describes, and we kids would start whamming and chopping with spades and hoes. 

    The simple joys of youth. 

  7. Calling all rat haters!

    I like to think of myself as an animal lover, but as someone who lived on the lower east side of New York in the early 80’s, I felt the need to reclassify rats.  That experience established a special place in my heart for rats. In my World Order, rats do not qualify as members of the animal kingdom by virtue of a very large asterisk.  That conveniently allows me to love animals, but hate rats.

  8. Turns out this kind of slaughter doesn’t really reduce rat populations.   The rats being killed are the ones closest to the food source (chicken feed in this story), but there are others that live outside that territory.  When we kill the conspicuous rats, others simply move in—and increase their reproductive rate to take advantage of the increased food supply.

    Reducing the availability of food, perhaps by storing it in a rat-proof container, would actually accomplish something.

  9. The apartment complex next door has a outdoor rat problem. They live under hedge-like plantings, and feed off of stuff in garbage bags that get thrown at but missed dumpsters.

    My dog can smell the rats, and sometimes hear them. If she’s especially persistent I’ll see one scramble out of the hedge that she is patrolling and make for another planting.

    The management has put out those black plastic poison stations, but they don’t seem to help much. Really, they need to convince people to aim better. Frigging slobs.

  10. There’s a really special short about killing rats on one of the Something Weird DVDs.  Close ups of rats seizing and bleeding out.  It was paired up with a short about getting rid of flies by proper garbage disposal and getting rid of outhouses.  Comedy gold.

  11. Nothing like animals perceived as disposable to bring out human sadism. When I worked for a rodent breeder people took delight in mistreating the tame rats in the building. I caught people putting a baby rat where it would fall, spinning a rat around by it’s tail, slapping a rat on the head, and inserting an already captured rat into a trip. And that’s not even touching on all the deaths from negligent care by starvation, infection from being in wet dirty cages, and both dehydration and drowning due to the faulty watering system.  Yet the site manager insisted the animals received excellent care.

    It was like punching in to Hell every day.

  12. There’s a world of difference between domestic rats (which I love) and wild rats (which I don’t). I keep my stuff inaccessible to rats, so they don’t bother me, and I don’t bother them. Pigeons however…

  13. We had a dog house for our German Shepherd near a bank of fill dirt.  Well rats moved into the embankment and would eat his food.  Being a German Shepherd, he wouldn’t hurt a rat, he probably made sure they all took turns eating his food.  So one day dad comes home with a pint of magnesium shavings and packs it down a rat hole with some sort of electrical ingniter he hooks to a car battery.  White flame shot out of the rat holes, and they were never seen again.

    There’s also photos of my folks as teens when they would shoot rats on the farm with the .22 rifle.

  14. I guess since boys were being taught to hunt rats in rural areas all the rats moved to the cities.  Maybe a rat massacre would give urban gangs something useful to do.

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