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You never know where things will take you

April 6, 2014
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

This week's column started out one way and took a couple twists and turns before it was completed. Funny how it works that way sometimes. During the process, it became one of those where I chased around leads and in the end, I used everything from old newspaper archives to the internet search engines to gather the information. And in the end, I found I had too much info for just one column.

It all began with a couple of newspaper accounts in the Reinbeck Courier. The first was in the July 24, 1958 edition. The title caught my eye "Live Snakes Wanted, Call Bill Boswell." Now, many of you know my love of snakes as I have written about snakes numerous times over the years.

The gist of the article was that State Conservation Commission Officer Bill Boswell was looking for specimens to exhibit at the Iowa State Fair coming in just a few weeks from then. It seems that the previous year's exhibit contained many snakes borrowed from adjoining states. Boswell thought this was unnecessary as Iowa had plenty of snakes to choose from. It ended with the instructions to place the snakes in a corrugated cardboard box with air holes in it or in a grain sack and contact Boswell.

I should interject at this point that I have heard people talk about the Game Warden that lived in this area. For the most part they have been very positive accounts of the man and his work. I am sure there are people reading this column who have memories of Bill Boswell. Which brings me to the second newspaper account that I discovered.

This second account was found in the October 18, 1956 edition and the title that caught my eye: "Dean Snow Finds 18 inch Albino Snake." Why wouldn't that catch my eye given my love of snakes? And Dean Snow I know Dean Snow. The article relates the story of Dean Snow, then 18 years old, traversing the family farm. What he thought was a white stick instead turned out to be a pure white garter snake. He boxed it up and called Conservation Officer, Bill Boswell, who placed the snake in a burlap bag that then went into Boswell's car. When Boswell arrived home in Reinbeck, he found that the snake had escaped through the bag and was somewhere loose in the car. The article ended with the word that at the printing of the paper the snake was still loose and might not come out of hiding until spring.

I found the articles so interesting because just last summer, I received a request from the IDNR for snakes to be exhibited at the Iowa State Fair. And my column written May 26, 2013 was about a rare red garter snake that I had received and added to the displays at the museum.

But even more interesting to me was the experience with the escaped snake. It brought back all sorts of memories from a very similar experience that I had back in about 2006 or so. In my case, I was answering a "rattlesnake" call in Wellsburg. It was the 4th of July weekend and a resident had discovered a snake in his garage. The dispatcher said that the snake was reportedly striking, hissing and rattling its tail.

Knowledge and experience has taught me that there was a slim to none chance of it being a rattlesnake, but I never say never anymore. When I arrived at the residence, I was greeted by the owner and a deputy, both whom were standing outside the garage. I entered the garage and found the snake right where the owner said it would be. It was very nonvenomous fox snake but it was rather irritated. Acting just like rather irritated snakes will do, it was vibrating the end of its tail simulating the rattling noise in the papers surrounding it. The instinctive action will many times cause predators to turn away.

I gathered this 18 inch snake up in my hands and used the moment as a teaching moment for the several people gathered outside the garage. I also told them that I was in need of a fox snake for the museum displays and that I would take the snake along.

The only bag that I had along in the truck was a burlap sack. I placed the snake in the bag and secured the end with a wire. Onto the floorboards it went and I was off to home and finally the completion of my shift. I left the snake bag for the night. As I headed up to work the next day, I discovered that the snake had wiggled and worked the loosely knit strands of the burlap bag open and escaped through the resulting hole. This was just like Boswell's experience and likewise, it too was somewhere in the vehicle.

Upon reaching Morrison, I did a quick snake search around and under seats, dash, etc. with no luck. Then I hit on the idea to lure it out with a mouse. Now, I will say that I like the idea of snakes loose in my vehicle a whole lot better than a mouse loose in there. So, I fashioned a quick wire mesh cage and put the mouse in the vehicle. Every hour or so I would make a snake run out to the truck and check. About the third trip, I had a snake wrapped around the box looking for a way into the cage and the tasty mouse snack inside. It had worked! The snake became a museum display rather than the unwelcome rider in my truck.

Now I find myself way over my word restriction for the column (sorry editors) so I'll end here and wait until next week to finish my whole twist and turns part of things that I eluded to at the beginning.

It involves wolverines so don't miss it!



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