The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume III, Number 2-3, Pages 22-24
This is the third in a series of legendary recollections of the old Northwest written in 1961 by Lynn A. Hull, who had been a lumberjack for many years.
After a calm there must be a storm. The big ship deal had been over and forgotten for a few weeks and everything was serene and beautiful again - except one thing. I had lost a few bucks on our last venture in the business world. I now began to think of the many ways I had read of getting rich quick "without endangering one's savings." I'd read somewhere of all the money made in this new breed of rabbits. Their fur was very valuable and their meat was the delight of the rich; so I hunted up this advertisement, and there it was - word for word as I remembered it. The only thing I had forgotten was that it took $150.00 for a pair of them. Of course, Son, we had to have a pair - Mama and Papa, so they could have a family and we could get rich.
Well, a meeting was called that night and those in camp who cared could attend and whoever wanted to could join and we would form a company. We had lots of vacant ground - rent free. Eventually in a few years we would be big enough in business to buy our own land and have new buildings. Oh boy, what we didn't dream up and talk about before the meeting was brought to order and an election of officers was held. Well, everyone who was interested was there, all three of us. So the three of us voted Windy Jack, President, me, Treasurer (you know I'm getting a little tired of that position), and Silent Bill, General Manager, caretaker and dietician of this Company. Thus the Chinchilla Fur and Meat Company was inaugurated. The president was seated and we all had a shot out of Silent Bill's jug. Of course Windy Jack again failed to drink. (I'm beginning to think Jack is afraid that moonshine might ruin his speaking voice and that's the reason he doesn't drink.) He just waved his hand and proposed that the treasurer advance funds to acquire that wonderful pair of golden rabbits at once. While they were being shipped, work was to start on the huts to house them.
After the meeting was adjourned, I lay awake a long time thinking of this deal. I just couldn't see how anything could go wrong from any angle. If the furs hit a low market - we had meat and if the meat hit a low market - we had furs. I could hardly wait. Finally, a week later the rabbits arrived.
Nothing was too good for them. Silent Bill and Windy Jack had stolen some chicken wire and made coops for the rabbits. For once they had built something without blueprints, and for once they built something really practical. Shake roof - screen sides and screen bottoms. I asked why the screen bottom and Windy Jack says, "Well, let's put it this way. You know how animals are and as we didn't have enough stockholders in our company to elect a janitor, we thought - let it fall to the ground and our pens are always clean."
By George, you know that gave me another idea. I'd read where rabbit fertilizer was used quite a bit. I didn't know for what or by whom, but I did read it. We called a meeting and I explained my idea to the board - it went over big and another company was formed. We had another name for this company - Jack, Lynn, and Bills Pills - and the slogan was: "Pills for Garden Ills." Windy Jack made a motion from the floor which was shelved. The election of officers was the same as usual. Now all we had to do was wait for production. Meanwhile we tried selling stock in our fertilizer company. Not one sale did we make, but we received several comments.
"Kee-rist - it stinks!"
The one we heard the most was: "kee-rist - it stinks!" So we held another meeting and bought our own stock back (from the Treasurer who had the money) and we made a killing on the market. We were out financially for only the paper it was written on (and that was the logging company's paper - so no loss). Meeting adjourned with Windy Jack having to leave early as he expected to be in attendance at the birth of the little rabbits. He swore he had studied in Vienna as a boy, so he was an authority. I hoped he was. The last I heard of Windy Jack that night he was telling Silent Bill to be sure and have lots of hot water for him as he would need it before morning. In the early a.m. I heard someone running and then a pounding on the door. Windy Jack, breathing hard but still able to talk, announced we now had 11 more rabbits, two males and nine females. We'd have two little males to trade with someone and we would be able to keep our strain clear.
This Chinchilla craze was sweeping the country quite as strong as the chain letters were and there were a lot of rabbit farms everywhere.
"Just Give Me Rabbit."
Well, time went on and more pens were built. Finally we were able to start in the fur business. We slaughtered a dozen rabbits and put the pelts on boards to cure. As to the meat - the cook fried it for us and we treated the crew. We surely felt on top of the world at that dinner. Silent Bill and I had a large appetizer from his jug; then we ate and listened to the conversation at the table. "My God, this is good." "I could eat a hundred of these myself." "I hope we don't ever have to eat any more of that tough beefsteak again." "That's what I say just give me rabbit." "That's all I want." Windy Jack wasn't eating but talking about how the money was going to roll in and soon. He was on the look out for a couple of bodyguards at $500.00 a month and wished he could find those men in the logging crew. Long, long after we had all eaten, he was still talking. Well, in a few weeks - believe me, we were expanding and those rabbits reproducing every hour on the hour. We now used our pay checks to buy feed. Silent Bill had two of the moonshiner's boys helping him skin and build pens. Windy Jack was the midwife and census taker. He had a whole pocketful of pencils. I, myself, being the purchasing agent for the logging company, was able to buy all the meat the Chinchilla Company could produce, but we didn't have any idea of a rabbit's production yet.
"Those Rabbits Were Reproducing Every Hour On The Hour."
Everyone was busy, more rabbits, more feed, more meat, and more hides to stowaway. But the rabbit raising craze was sweeping the country, and the market had really dropped in furs. So it was hard to find a buyer who would take any of our fur at all. Not even for a nickel a hide. In fact one wanted us to pay him 10 cents a hide for taking them off our hands. Weeks went by - more rabbits, more feed to buy. Silent Bill's helpers quit. They were walking 4 miles each way everyday and being paid in rabbit meat. I found out later that they had rabbits at home all over the place. They had got tired of all that walking. So they just brought home a few live rabbits and raised their own. Well, we went back and called a meeting. That morning a committee from the logging crew had met with me and gave their final word after I had heard them 3 or 4 times before. "No Rabbit, no more." "We leave camp next time rabbit on table," and "Tonight we want beef steak and lots of it." Then I told Windy Jack and Silent Bill that the books showed a loss of $28.00. Maybe we could save the skins for awhile and sell them, but all that manure and the meat were a total loss. So we voted our company bankrupt and in the morning we three got up early and killed off our stock - big, little, old and young. Along about sundown we had the hides salted and the meat buried and some boxes of manure to show for 9 months of our time. We eventually gave the hides away for $35.00. This gave us a profit, and so everybody was happy.
About 3 months later we were three pretty dang mad men when we saw some of those non-rabbit eaters, the same ones who would have lynched us if we ever mentioned the word rabbit, happy as a lark to be able to buy fresh rabbit meat from those thieving moonshiners. Those men were taking rabbits home for their Sunday dinner. I hope they like those short tailed cats. I guess I was never meant to be rich and happy.
Every winter when camp shut down, I had got into a set routine while in town. I'd go to the same boarding house where I would pay in advance for 3 months room and board, and it was very nice to get up in the morning without a worry about what might happen that day. Meals of course were at stated hours, but being a real gentleman and one who paid in advance, I had certain liberties that the other roomers didn't have. I could raid the kitchen at any hour for food and as I always washed and put away whatever dishes I used, I was welcome by Minnie who owned and operated the place. She was closer to being an angel both in temperament and age than any other woman I knew. She was almost 90 years of age and still very active not so much physically, but in ordering her help.
It was good living there, but like all good things that happen to me, this wasn't much on the permanent side. It, too, came to an end. Even there Windy Jack would come a few times each week and ask my advice on how to keep Silent Bill in line. But whatever I told him, Windy Jack would go ahead and do as he wanted to. The two of them had a big house to stay in when in town - rent free, utilities free, and a husky Polish girl to clean the house from top to bottom 2 days a week. All this was taken care of by the owner of the logging camp. I kind of envied them in a way even if I did have a wonderful place of my own, but I guess I missed that eternal racket and commotion that always was going on when Windy Jack and Silent Bill were around. So it didn't take too much urging when they asked me to stay with them when we went to town one winter. Each of us had our own duties to perform. They had posted many rules and regulations and penalties, and woe to the one who failed. Windy Jack was the chief cook (and he was good). Silent Bill was the chief bottle washer and pot scrubber (and he was good). I - being the newest and not knowing a damn thing, according to Windy Jack - I was voted the person to go get groceries whenever the Chief Cook required them (and that was every morning). I was given a list and an order to hurry it up and don't forget the morning paper.
"It was good living in town."
I was out the door at 9:00 a.m., but one thing that Windy Jack and Silent Bill conveniently persisted in forgetting was to give me money to pay for the groceries. So I shopped at wherever I could get anything that sounded like a bargain, and so my mornings were well taken care of.
Everything was in order at all times and everything - the house, Windy Jack, Silent Bill, and myself got along quietly and peacefully. But knowing Windy Jack and Silent Bill, I just sat back and waited to see what those two would get into. I only had to wait til the middle of the second week. One night at around one o'clock, I was awakened by a lot of thumping of doors and loud talking by Windy Jack on the evils of drink and the place where all bootleggers should be sent.
"All Hell broke loose outside."
So I got up to see the cause of all this, and of course there was Windy Jack dragging, pushing, and heaving poor old Silent Bill into his bedroom. Either Bill had overestimated his capacity for liquor or he had been drinking a bad run of moonshine. (Knowing Silent Bill I'll go along on the bad run.) There must have been quite a batch made of this rotgut as the next few nights Silent Bill had to be helped home by Windy Jack. But even in their lack of rest and sleep, both were up early every morning and did their chores habit which is a queer thing which I hope I never acquire. That last night that Silent Bill staggered in we had a delegation of our neighbors call on us and give us merry old hell about that drunken Indian arousing the whole neighborhood with his noise. All this criticism was made in the presence of Silent Bill, who remained silent. Windy Jack gave quite a speech on how he would in the future "see that pore old Bill gave up his fondness for likker and jined the same church as he belonged to." (All a big lie, since if he had gone to church he would have had to listen to someone else, and he just couldn't do that.) Well, anyway the delegation left firmly believing that everything would be calm and everybody would get a good night's sleep in the future. But they forgot one thing, Silent Bill had made no promises, in fact he had said not a word while they were there. So passed the day, Windy Jack preparing supper and afterwards Silent Bill cleaning up and in a little hurry too, I noticed. Then Windy Jack left for the depot as the 7:45 would be rolling in an hour later and Silent Bill went off for his favorite pastime. So I had a premonition of what was to come, and at about 1:30 a.m. all hell broke loose outside. I climbed into my pants, put on my slippers and opened the door just as Windy Jack came from his room and joined me to see what it was all about. Our one and only washtub and a short section of water pipe was in the hands of Silent Bill, who was rubbing the bottom of the tub with the pipe and then beating it as hard as he could, all the while doing a little Indian war dance around the house. All the neighbors lights were on and every window was full of faces. Then Silent Bill placed the tub back on the porch and went in the house, but as he passed, I heard him say, "Me Indian make big war dance - how you like it?" That crazy Irishman kept up his war dance for a few more nights and finally quit when the neighbors gave up complaining.