(Editorial Note: Part 197 of a series of further development in the early days that impacted Franklin County. Sources: Preston Citizen, spring, 1946; Wikipedia)
The tale of the Pied Piper became more than a fairy tale in the spring of 1946 in Cache Valley.
Cache county and Franklin county residents were experiencing an unprecedented growth in the rat populations. It was a threat to all, in both health and economics. This territory was largely agricultural at the time and the rats were affecting businesses as well as homes and families.
The last of February county agent offices were receiving reports that rats were increasing at an alarming rate. “One farmer west of Preston reported killing 97 rats in a small chicken coop during the past week. The farmer further reported these rats were eating large amounts of poultry feeds which are extremely expensive at the present time. Rats cause extremely heavy losses when they are able to get into a brooder house by killing young chicks. These losses can be prevented by keeping rats out (of the coops) and destroying them by poisoning or trapping them.”
Residents knew that rats were a menace to public health. When the Bubonic Plague had swept through Europe, rats with their fleas and lice had been the chief carriers of the disease. They carried the dreaded typhus fever to humans. Rats could easily contaminate food supplies.
All that separated Cache from Franklin county was that imaginary state borderline and the rodents were increasing all over the valley. The county organizations wasted no time planning a valley-wide program to solve the problem. By the beginning of March a control program was in place to be carried out under the direction of the county agents. Towns and villages were asked to cooperate in any way possible.
“Weston village had already agreed to purchase all of the rat poisoning that farmers and residents would need in the campaign for Franklin County. Other community governments would be asked to provide the same for their respective needs in this campaign. The rat poisoning was being made up in two-pound packages at Logan and the local campaign would be conducted in conjunction with the same effort being put forth in Cache county, Utah, for the same objectives.“
The plan in Franklin County was to have a “Rat Drive,” a war of extermination on the rodents. The poison being prepared was known as red squill. It was not poisonous to humans, cats, dogs, or livestock. It would be effective because rodents, such as rats and mice, could not vomit, and this would result in the deaths of the creatures.
Veterinarian, Dr. N. S. Howells was chairman and was assisted in Franklin county by Lyle Shipley, Don Elwell, Floyd Diderickson, John Webber, and Daniel Roberts, the Franklin county agent.
Bait would be given to any adult who wanted to cooperate in the drive and it would be distributed at the following places throughout the county: “ Franklin, Bill’s Market; Fairview, Fairview store; Weston, Archie Lott’s confectionery; Dayton, Waddoups store; Preston, county agent’s office. The bait was free but would be given to adults only. Weston, Franklin, Fairview and Preston village and municipal governments were providing the bait for the drive.”
C. P. Maughan, the state sanitarian, wanted people to be aware of the seriousness of this pestilence. He published that each rat was capable of destroying many hundred of dollars of property in a year’s time. “The extent of propagation already reached in the county made them a menace.”
One plan of Preston city was to segregate wet and dry garbage as it was picked up so that it wouldn’t be placed on the city dump site providing a feeding station for the rodents. Households who were throwing out garbage regularly and not using the city services were alerted to not let that garbage stand too long and attract the rats. Hopefully, if that current campaign was successful and any new litters of rats killed before the weather warmed and permitted their escape into nearby field,s it would be a big step in “whipping this problem.”
Across the top of one page of the March 21 issue of The Preston Citizen was this announcement in large print. “Hey Kids! Who’s Going To Be The Pied Piper? Help Rid Franklin County of Rats — Join the Rat Control Drive – Start today – Save tails for this Big Contest – Entertainment and Prizes – Contest sponsored by Preston Jaycees.”
The drive got underway. The climax for the kids was a big matinee Saturday, March 30, when admission would be one rat tail. Prizes offered were a bridle for the boy with the most rat tails, second place prize was a hunting knife. For girls, first place was a nylon hair brush and second was personal stationery. J. C. Penney’s store window displayed the prizes, further enticing the kids to participate in the drive.
After a week it was reported that “one hundred ninety persons obtained 246 pounds of Red Squill rat bait at the county agent’s office in Preston.” There was still more bait available for anyone interested.
The first week of April, giving two weeks of time for the eradication efforts, it was deemed a successful effort. The Pied Pipers were Conan Foster with 36 tails and Joe Taylor with 28 and they won their prizes. Venice Taylor was named a winner for the girl’s division, with no mention of how many tails she had gathered.
Foster who still lives in Whitney recalls the campaign and his intention to win. “I worked to getting them, daylight til school, then as soon as I was out of school, I was back out looking for them,” he said. He figures he was about an eighth grader then. Foster found a lot of the rats under his neighbor Charles Swainston’s chicken coop. In addition to the red squill, he used rat traps — larger versions of the good old-fashioned mouse trap.
Foster remembers the rats “just running everywhere,” the fun he had in the hunt, and how even the rat tails scared his sisters. He used that bridle “ for a long time, then my boys have been using it,” he said.
The last mention of the rat campaign in The Preston Citizen stated that there was still some red squill left for anyone needing it at the county agents offices, and still free. Of course, rats still existed in Cache Valley but the threat had been met and conquered.