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The Shepherdsville Times: Using A Chicken Hook

Jerry Selby delves into old magazines to discover more of the history of the Indiana county in which he lives.

Thanks to the kindness of Barbara Gray, I have an almost complete set of the old Boone Magazine, which is a real treasure of Boone related history.

Ralph Stark, the originator and guiding spirit of the whole enterprise, wrote many of the stories. Residents and former residents, with either first-hand knowledge or oral history from people they knew contributed others.

The Lebanon Public Library has most or all of these magazines, too.

The November, 1979 issue contains an article by Mr. Stark, headed "The Eddie B. Shore Reminiscent Letters" which includes stories of things Mr. Shore recalls from his boyhood. He recalls that when West Main was paved from Lafayette Road west, he was an active 'superintendent' and one of those who got sick from chewing pieces of the 'pitch' from between the bricks.

He says they used to hold the 'Horse Show' on West Washington, between Lebanon and West Streets, but that year they had goat cart races over on Main.

"Grace Hardin, daughter of Earl the telegrapher, had a very fine billy goat and cart," Mr. Shore, commonly known as 'Burdock' in those days, continues. "We practiced hard for this event. At the finish we ran out to urge the old goat to victory. My feet became entangled with the goat's, and I fell, striking my head on the hard pavement. "I was unconscious for a time with a bad concussion."

Using a chicken hook

Browsing through this same magazine, I noticed someone talking about catching chickens with a chicken hook. And the fun of getting to ride along with your uncle on his huckster route. Did you ever see anyone catching chickens with a chicken hook? Back in the days when all chickens were 'free range' birds, scratching around the chicken yard, or maybe the whole farmstead, looking for bugs, worms, seeds, or other small tidbits, if you wanted to catch one, it wasn't easy. But a chicken hook certainly helped.

It was a homemade tool, with a handle made from a deceased mop or broom. Using a long piece of heavy wire, you bent a hook, maybe six inches deep, and with a throat of an inch-and-a-half or so wide. Most of the wire was then attached to the broom handle with small staples or bent nails, then secured with a few wraps of wire.

To catch a chicken you slid the hook end along, just about ankle height for your target. Then, with a quick movement, you pull the hook back until you have snared your bird, pull I toward you, sweep up with the hooked leg, and wrap your other hand around her body, pinioning her wings. With a little practice you can sweep her up smoothly, without getting pecked or flogged. It's a little like bulldogging a calf.

Harder than it looks, but challenging enough to be fun, when you’re an eleven-year-old.

The Huckster route

If you're under fifty, especially if you never lived in a rural area, you may not be familiar with this technical term. Not all that many years ago, when most country roads were gravel, at best, and farming was a full time job for the whole family, people didn't go to the store as often. But in many cases the store came to them.

The huckster was a fixture in the American market chain, almost from the beginning. There are still vestiges of this marketing method left. The ladies with the pink Cadillac's, the people who sell insurance, or replacement windows, or carpeting, or frozen foods, and come right to your door as a convenience to you.

In the days before cheap and easy telephone communication, paved roads, automobiles, supermarkets, and farm wives who mostly worked away from home, hucksters were an important link in the marketing chain.

There were many kinds of house-to-house or farm-to-farm sales and service people. But in this neck of the woods, when you said 'huckster' you meant what was more formally known as a 'rolling store.'

The huckster, often a neighbor or friend, drove a team or a truck that was fitted out very much like a convenience store. He sold staple foods, spices, condiments, candy, and likely some patent medicines, for man or beast. He had a stock of needles, pins, and other sewing 'notions.'

Often he was affiliated with a grocer, butcher or poultry buyer, or even a livestock buyer, and thus equipped to buy eggs, perhaps chickens, live or dressed, and make bids on other livestock. He commonly took small items such as butter and eggs in trade. He was usually a welcome source of neighborhood news and gossip.

When I was born, my Dad worked with my Mother's uncle, who ran a fish market, wholesale and retail, in Bloomington. Dad made a trip, once or twice a week, selling fish, kept on ice, to small town rural grocers, restaurants, hotels, sororities and fraternities and sometimes individual seafood lovers in several counties. Drove a Dodge panel truck. There were few paved rural roads in Southern Indiana in 1927. And even fewer repair garages or filling stations. A man with a perishable load of fish had to be his own mechanic, and a good and resourceful driver.

Life at the Coon Café

One night last week I counted six raccoons all in the Café at once. My old friend Tillie, her daughter, (I call her Daughter), and four of this year's crop of youngsters. A little earlier I had seen old Spike, the aging albino opossum, with two of his young coon buddies, and even earlier Tillie was there by herself, making sure she got a good meal before those large, obstreperous two-year-olds showed up to elbow her away from the food bowls. There is another younger, and much smaller possum who shows up sometimes, but it doesn't seem to hang out with Spike, and definitely not with his Coonie associates.


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