By Victor Sullivan © 2015 RATS
(This chapter is not suitable reading for the squeamish!)
Johnnie's early rat-kills were achieved with a stick or with his slingshot. Consequently word spread that he was a useful rat-catcher. He disliked the term and he disliked going into someone else's farm to kill rats. The slingshot was not accurate and the customer expected to see a row of dead rats arranged for inspection. With luck, he might kill one or two. It was not a rewarding enterprise. Rat-traps would be far more reliable and would not require him to spend hours waiting for a rat to put in an appearance.
He had seen rat traps of the gin-trap type but construction of such things were beyond his capacity. He could make cage traps.
His prototype consisted of a wood box with a door at one end, hinged at the top, with a heavy weight to close it when the trip mechanism carrying the bait was released by the visiting rat. It worked but it had a drawback. Unless the captive rat was detected and dispatched by dog or by drowning very promptly, a desperate rat had no difficulty in gnawing its way through the wooden side and escaping, leaving behind a useless wooden trap with an escape hole in its side.
Johnnie's improved design consisted of a strong wire cage that proved to be less prone to escapes. It still had a disadvantage. Once it had caught one rat it ceased to catch any more until its contents had been killed and removed and the trap re-baited and reset.
The next major development of Johnnie's traps was his creation of the 'everlasting' Lobster-Pot Rat Trap. Some of these may still survive, forgotten and hidden high in the roof-timbers of sheds and out-houses. Based on the traditional design of a lobster-pot, Johnnie's 'everlasting' trap had a similar entry tunnel with bait tied at the far end. Beyond the entry tunnel was a large interior space. Unlike a lobster-pot, a lightly balanced trap-door at the end of the tunnel dropped the exploring rat into the spacious holding zone and the trap-door instantly reset itself in readiness for the next visiting rodent. This type of trap was made from strong fencing wire and a thin metal plate formed the tipping trapdoor.
Improvements followed, the most notable one being a hook set at the end of a long pole with which the door-catch at the end of the trap could be released efficiently, in the presence of one or two efficient terriers, without any personal risk. The hooked pole could be used to transport the cage of live rats to a suitable stream or water-butt for terminal submersion. The cage-traps worked but Johnnie did not promote their sale. They took a long time to make and customers were less willing to pay a fair price for rat catching equipment than they were for chairs or fishing tackle.