My First “Job” – Trapper

I was recently catching up on some videos I have long wanted
to watch.  One of them was the Friday Keynote speech as
the 2014 Roots Tech conference.  In the speech, Judy G. Russell, JD, CGSM , CGLSM ,
spoke about many of the day-to-day things that we don’t know about our
ancestors. She reminded us that unless our ancestors proactively left stories about their lives, any such information is lost in three
generations.  She also reminded us that
our stories will be important for our great-grand children and later
generations and that those stories will be lost unless we pass them on, in an
intentional and accurate way, to future generations. A day or two later I was speaking with my
wife and told her a story of my youth that I hadn’t told her before and
probably haven’t thought of in decades. 
I then realized it was the kind of story that future generations might
like to know about.  It is a story that
I’m certain neither of my sons know about, let alone my grandchildren or my
great-grandchildren.

Fridley House abt 1958
From personal photo archives.
When I was nine or ten years old, we lived in Fridley,
Minnesota, in a tiny little house on Northeast 2nd Street. The house
was a 480 square foot, one bedroom house that still stands today. It did have a
large closet in the bedroom. That closet acted as my bedroom. There was just enough space for a single bed and a small dresser.  The actual bedroom is where my mom and
grandmother slept.  I had to walk through
it to get to my “bedroom.”

My mom was a “single mom” and the sole support for
herself, my grandmother, and me. Needless to say, a woman working in 1959-60
America didn’t earn much. We certainly
had enough food, were warm in the winter, and the times were good, but there
just wasn’t much money.  Certainly, not
enough for me to have an allowance or a way to buy Christmas presents or
birthday gifts for either of them.

Gopher Mounds
Photo Courtesy: Minnesota
Wild Animal Management

Across the street from us was an empty lot, beyond that was
Main Street.  As a developing suburb,
Fridley had a problem with gophers.  Although Minnesota is nicknamed the “Gopher
State,” gophers are not particularly loved and are destructive
varmints. It is the mounds that pocket gophers create that are the biggest
problem.  They are typically much larger
than molehills and destroy lawns.  Also,
in fields where cutting machines try to manage growth, which was done in
Fridley to reduce fire threats, the cutters would hit mounds and be damaged or
at least dulled. As such, the City of
Fridley put a bounty on gophers.  Bring
the right hind foot of a gopher to City Hall, about a mile away, and they would
pay 15 cents per foot.

In those days there was nothing build west of Main Street
all the way to the railroad tracks. The area was several blocks wide and many
blocks long of nothing but scrub grasses and sand burrs, which we called “Fridley Strawberries.” To earn money I took up trapping gophers. At first, I
trapped across the street and a few neighbor’s yards and just a few traps. Then I expanded to the
large field across Main Street and used my earnings to purchase more and more traps. To trap a pocket gopher, first you find a fresh mound. Then use a probe to find
the tunnel near that fresh mound and dig out the area to access those tunnels; there
are two tunnels at each mound.  Then, you place
the traps into the tunnels one in each each direction so that when the gopher crosses
over the trap and presses the pressure plate when they come along that tunnel. Stake the
trap so it won’t move if you get a poor hit or if a dog or raccoon tries to take away your catch.  Cover the mound back so it
is dark again. Come back the next day, or
two at the most, and pull out the dead critter. Sometimes, you’d even get two, one in each
trap in each of the tunnels.
Gopher Trap
Courtesy: Garden
Web Forum

At my peak of trapping I had about 35 traps and during the
summer I spent many hours tending my them, gathering the feet, and about once
a week going to City Hall to collect my bounty. 

One summer the man who counted gopher feet and paid the
bounty went on vacation.  While he was gone,
a woman was supposed to count the feet and pay the bounty.  I don’t think she like being tasked with the
job and apparently she didn’t know the right hind foot from the left front foot.
One of the other kid trappers figured out that she didn’t know the difference
and would pay for each foot brought to her. So instead of getting 15 cents per
gopher, you could get 60 cent’s per gopher. 
It didn’t take long for all the kids trapping to learn of it. Kids were
stealing other kids traps, raiding traps for the bounty and doing all kinds of
things to exploit the poor woman’s lack of knowledge.  Today, I feel guilty about exploiting her and the
bounty system.  I know it was wrong, but
at the time, I felt everyone was doing it so it was okay.  I know better now.
In relating this story to my wife, I recognized that
trapping gophers was the first work I did where someone other than a family
member paid me. It dawned on me that is the definition of a job and
I then realized trapping was my first job.
The following year, I got my first (of many) paper route and
gave up trapping. 
We lived in the Fridley house longer than anywhere else when
I was growing up – about 2-1/2 years. 
All of third grade, all of fourth grade, and about half of fifth grade.
The next house we lived in was in Spring Lake Park. Another one bedroom. My
bedroom was an unheated “breezeway” but that is another story….
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