Early electric current also gets the worm
By STEVE LANG
Finding a quote about nightcrawlers proved far more difficult than unearthing a poem about refrigerator repair.
On the Samurai Appliance Repairman’s website, under “Haikus You Can Use,” I found:
“Beer is getting warm.
Compressor hums then clicks off.
Replace start relay.”
I found no Haiku concerning nightcrawlers, which are large earthworms also known as “Nature’s Roto-tillers.” I did garner information on a band and a movie by the same name, though, along with advice on worm control offered by a North Dakota State University Extension Service horticulturist.
And while I still lack a quote about nightcrawlers, I can offer a sanitized riddle about their smaller cousins, tubular in shape and possessing no distinguishable facial characteristics:
How do you find the nose on an earthworm?
Roll it in flour and wait until it sneezes.
I note that refrigerator repair and nightcrawlers share a point of reference, however: electrical current.
Years ago, as a less-seasoned reporter, I met a man who had devised a method of coaxing nightcrawlers to the surface. He plugged in a pair of metal rods with plastic handles connected by electrical wire. The rods were pushed into the ground and vibrations from the electrical current prompted the crawlers to push their way to the surface.
By adding some art of the “Worm Master” under construction, details seasoned with a quote or two, and a feature story emerged. In that part of the country, most of the time between the last blizzard and the county fair were slow news days. Off-the-beaten-path innovations like this were welcome relief from a diet of giant cucumber photos.
(On the other hand, decisions of what constitutes news remain in question today, particularly after viewing a Youtube posting of a kitten caught in a pickle jar on the USA Today website.)
Admittedly, waiting for ‘crawlers to inch up to the surface resembled watching paint dry or Woolite-ing sweaters, but walleye fishing was good that summer and nightcrawlers were a buck a dozen at the bait shop.
After investing five bucks for the device, I would come home at noon, plug in the rods, enjoy lunch and spend at least half an hour harvesting nightcrawlers. The backyard bird population swelled that summer, and I imagined I was cursed in both Robin and Sparrow when I walked into the yard and interrupted the banquet.
Worm Master and its creator received some TV time later that summer as a wandering freelancer stopped for an interview. This occurred on another slow news day, as I photographed the cameraman producing the telecast.
When hunting season arrived, the Worm Master went by the wayside, and the captured worms were returned to nature. Fall walleye bait switched to frogs or minnows.
I do not recall the overall retail success of the Worm Master. I learned much later that some hazards caused by similar devices came under scrutiny of the Consumer Product Safety Commission a decade or so later. The CPSC reported that worm probes could electrocute users who touched exposed metal or stood on wet soil while using them, actions not unlike standing under a tree in a lightning storm. More than 30 deaths were reported over a two-decade span, resulting in a massive recall of some brands.
Once, I errantly touched a metal clothesline pole with one of the rods and the ensuing shock did curb my enthusiasm for a time. However, brief encounters with electric fences in my youth produced more lasting sensations.
Despite the recalls, worm probes of one design or another have prevailed. A redneck repairman video even demonstrated the plug-in process, and a subsequent comment included the following non-OSHA instructions:
“one easy way hook jumper cables to your car. attach the other ends each on metal rods stick the rods in the ground./in the ground. ( note place rods in ground before connecting cables to them.. wait for your worms. when done disconect from battery first.”
And, according to the just-opened Office of Samurai Safety:
Wear rubber footgear
Stand apart from muddy ground
Avoid shocking results
Finally, for the ultimate non-threatening experience:
Visit nearby bait shop
Open cooler door and wallet
Price will not stun you.
Unless your transaction is interrupted by a robbery, that is.
Steve Lang wonders what rhymes with “Oligochaeta.”
He is a transplanted Minnesotan who is often lost in time and stuck in space. He serves as director of News and Publications at Sul Ross State University. He is a native of Erdahl, MN, a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Morris, and received a Master’s degree from Sul Ross. He has spent most of the last 45 years in various journalistic endeavors, including community newspapers in Minnesota and South Dakota and news bureaus at four universities in Minnesota, South Dakota and Texas. He came to Sul Ross in 1998 and lives in Alpine with his wife, Clarissa Kaiser, four cats and two dogs.
Story filed under: Big Bend Blog