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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Bone Guy


The Bone Guy

   I been thinking about starting up a hobby I had long years ago when I was still in school. It may not be as easy as it was back then. I am not able to wander the woods like I used to and I don't trap anymore. Trapping and Mr Delso are what got me started the first time I did this but it only took a couple of times before I realized that It was interesting and I really enjoyed it. Gathering bones is the hobby.

   The thing that got me going was Mr. Delso asking if I could get the skull of a coon for him. Since he asked during hunting season I didn't see any problem and sure enough I had one for him the next week. He didn't tell me why he wanted it or what he was going to do with it so I just cut the head off one after I had skinned it, dropped it in a paper sack and took it to school with me. I found out after dumping it out on his desk that it wasn't exactly what he had in mind. Seems that he just wanted the skull, no flesh. I didn't really know how to do that so he took some time explaining it to me.

   The next time I caught a coon I took the head home and boiled it till the flesh got soft enough to fall off then all I had to do was take a knife and scrape it off the skull. I'm glad he wanted a coon skull to start with because I found the hardest thing to do was to get the brain out. Since it was a fairly large skull I was able to insert a knife into the base od the skull and just cut everything up and dig it out. I was pretty proud of myself over that first one so I decided to get one for myself and while I was at it, I'd make me a skull collection of all the animals I caught during trapping season.

   By the end of that first season I had at least one skull of every kind of animal I had caught. I thought they were neat, Grandma on the other hand, didn't seem nearly as impressed with them as I was. One thing I will say about her, she didn't care for the final product and she didn't know why in the world I wanted to collect them but she never said a word about me using the stove to boil them. I did have to take them outside to clean them which I figured was fair. By the end of the following summer I had added bats, birds, squirrels and snakes and was thinking about moving on to something else.

   My first attempt at a full skeleton was a possom. The plan (which seemed like such a good one at the time) was to boil the whole body just like I had done the heads then clean all the flesh off and put the skeleton back together. Let me tell you, that's a whole lot harder than it sounds! Not only is it a royal pain in the butt trying to clean all the flesh off an entire animal but boiling does strange things to the smaller bones. Since no one else around was weird to even think of something like this I had no one to ask for a better idea so I was stuck trying to figure out how to do it on my own. I tried a few more times that winter but never did figure out how to make it work right. I started working on the feet because that was the area I had the most problems with. I was finally able, after about 20 trys to get all the bones from a coons foot cleaned. The problem was the bones themselves. Since I had boiled them they were soft when I started cleaning them and when they dried out they would change shape and start bending. I got them cleaned and laid out but by then they looked like a deformed foot instead on the one I had started with. I kept trying that winter but I was never able to figure out how to keep the bones correct while they were drying.

   My next great plan came to me that summer while I was out squirrel hunting. I was sitting down by the creek taking a break when I noticed some ants dragging a big grasshopper back to their nest. They got him to their ant hill but he as too big to fit down the hole. It took them about a minute to use their jaws to cut him into smaller pieces and down the hole he went. I wonder?? I cleaned one of my squirrels taking all the meat I off I could and lay him next to the ant hill. I figured they would strip all the meat and leave the bones. I didn't think that first attempt all the way through because when I came back the next day to check on it, my squirrel was gone. The second time I carefully lay a good size rock on top of the squirrel to try and keep anything else from taking it. I put a couple of smaller rocks under the big one so the ants would have room to crawl over it and the big rock wouldn't crush the bones. It took the ants almost a week to strip it but at least it worked, kind of. I gathered all the bones up  at the end of that week and took them home to finish cleaning them. I lay them out as I cleaned them (I still didn't have a clue of how to connect them) and that's when I found that's it had almost worked. I was missing most of the small bones, mostly toes. I figure they must have been small enough for the ants to take them into their nest. One more squirrel, one more try, this time I wrapped the squirrel in fine mess wire, big enough for the ants to get through but small enough to keep them from dragging any bones away. I found an ant hill closer to the house that time, so I could keep a better eye on them. I left the squirrel for almost two weeks, turning it every few days to make sure the ants got everything.

   Finally got a complete skeleton, now what do I do with it. My plan was to put it back together and make it look like the ones you see in museums, the problem was that I had no idea of how they do that. I tried just gluing them all together but they just kept falling apart. Next I tried running wires through the main bones, spine, skull, legs etc and bending them to get some kind of a pose, that kind of worked with the big bones but the only way I could figure to attach the bibs and smaller bones was with clue, still didn't work. The next shot was to drill holes in the end of the bones, insert a small piece of wire and add a little glue. FINALLY I got something that was starting to look like it was supposed to!

   It took me two more summers to get to the main thing I'd wanted to do from the start. That summer I was able to re-assemble the complete skeleton of a rattle snake. By using the wires in drilled holes not only did I get it put together but I was able to get it coiled with the head raised so it looked like it was getting ready to strike. That was my last one. I gave most of my skulls to my Mom who was at a total lost as of what to do with them, she ended up donating them to the high school science department in Chandler. They took them but I doubt they knew what to do with them either. As for the snake skeleton. Maybe some of the folks from home will know what I'm talking about, most won't. There was a guy that lived over the drug store in Henryetta that had a weird fascination with rattlesnakes. I had sold him live snakes before and when I showed him the rattler skeleton he just had to have it so I sold it to him. The last time I ever saw him was in 74 or so and he still had it sitting on a shelf right by the front door.

   As for me, I worked my butt off figuring out how to do it and true to my short attention span brain, as soon as I did figure it out, I lost interest and moved on to other things.