Cartier’s watch – A “crashing” success

Did it melt, like the watches in Salvador Dali’s 1931 surrealist masterpiece, The Persistence of Memory? Or was it run over, preferably by a sleek black Daimler Princess limousine on Jermyn Street? Or was it, indeed, the result of a traffic accident, a crash, and somehow returned to its maker for warranty repairs, as a sardonic gesture, which, in turn, inspired a master designer who imagined a working mechanism out of this distorted wreckage?

There are more myths than realities to what is surely one of the oddest wrist watches in production by any company, much less Cartier. Called the Crash Watch, it was designed in 1965 by Rupert Emerson, a staff designer who spent more than four decades with Cartier in London. Based upon a damaged watch (and not – despite the obvious similarities – upon the celebrated Dali image of the melting watch), it took two years to perfect its no less unconventional mechanical movement.

Originally issued in a limited edition of 12 watches in 1967, and available in recent years only on special order, it is now being reissued in a limited edition of 400 for the world. The two watches allotted to Canada have already been sold (for $19,500 each, including GST); but a few still remain in Paris, from where it can be special ordered. For the really special customer, including Elton John, who got one as a gift from Cartiers to celebrate his 45th birthday, a jewelry version of the Crash Watch can also be special ordered, its surreal shape adorned with 139 diamonds, and priced at about $41,000.

Another Cartier watch that boldly struts its stuff with a gaudy air of extravagance is the new Pasha 3 Time-Zones watch. The latest addition to the Pasha line of Cartier watches, it takes its name from an earlier era – well before Timex made waterproof watches for every Mixmaster in the land.

In 1933, the Pasha of Marrakech wanted a waterproof watch to wear while swimming in his pool. He took his order to Louis Cartier, who created a one-of-a-kind gold waterproof watch.

In 1985, the present proprietors created a new family of watches, each waterproof to 30 metres. Inspired by a 1943 model, the new design evokes post-Art Deco Modernism, with its over-sized bezel surrounding a round face, typically with more than one dial. Its assertive complexity and bulk makes the Pasha Cartier’s answer to the busy, traditionally macho watch styles of Rolex.

With more to look at than most TV shows, the Pasha 3 includes two additional watch faces for the extra two time zones, and a third dial for telling the calendar date, plus a black oblong area that shows the phases of the moon.

All this technology comes in one of the world’s largest wrist watch packages. Calculated to make your average chunky Rolex look downright demure and petit, the Pasha 3 weighs in at nearly 150 grams, with a diameter of 38 millimetres and a thickness of seven millimetres. Sadly, I should add, it is all made possible by a quartz movement; but I, for one, would have liked to hear this beast ticking.

For all of its features and bulk, the visual design of the Pasha 3 Time Zone is surprisingly delicate-looking, with its grainy silver dial, Roman numerals, a blue sapphire cabochon on its winding stem, and two push buttons to control the second and third time zones, one with a yellow sapphire cabochon and the other with a grey chalcedony cabochon. The price, including GST, is $33,000.

The Crash Watch and the Pasha 3 Time Zones watch are available at Les Must de Cartier, 102 Bloor St. W., Toronto.

Shoe collection no footling pursuit

Collecting shoes came naturally to Sonja Bata.

As a young bride, she shopped diligently, buying scores of shoes that she then handed out to designers at Bata factories all over the world as aids for developing new lines.

As Mrs. Bata became more knowledgeable about different kinds of footwear, the leap from buying to collecting was a natural progression.

“Shoes tell you more about people and their history than any other artifact,” says Mrs. Bata, whose collection, started after her 1946 marriage to shoemaker Thomas J. Bata, has grown to some 8,000 pairs of shoes.

There are wooden Egyptian sandals with big toe-knobs made in 2,500 B.C. There are 17th-century leather cavalier boots. There are straw boots from the Ukraine, embroidered animal hide boots from Afghanistan, brass shoes from Korea and workingmen’s clogs from 19th-century Europe.

There are celebrity shoes for bunions: a pair of black satin boots worn by Queen Victoria, garish sequined platform boots worn by Elton John, pink ballet slippers worn by Karen Kain, hand-tooled cowboy boots worn by Robert Redford. There is also a Terry Fox running shoe.

There are shoes worn by Venetian courtesans, by Japanese geishas, by U.S. infantry soldiers. There are pairs of the grotesquely tiny shoes worn by Chinese women whose feet were bound to make them more attractive.

There is also the most comprehensive assortment of footwear worn by North American Indians and the native peoples who inhabit the world’s circumpolar regions.

You name them, Sonja Bata has them.

Needless to say, the collection long ago outgrew the Batas’ spacious Bridle Path residence and had to be moved to the Bata headquarters in Don Mills where the shoes sit on shelves in a climate-controlled area of the basement.

But, given the historical and anthropological significance of her collection, Mrs. Bata believes it would be a shame to keep the best running shoes for plantar fasciitis under wraps, as it were.

“When you get shoes of historical interest – coronation shoes or wedding shoes of famous people – you can’t help but to dream back to that period and wonder what was it really like, what was the ceremony like, who was there, what was the whole environment like.

“So the challenge in designing the shoe museum is to put that across to the viewer. We can’t just put these historic shoes into a glass case and let people read the labels. If we did they would have great difficulties relating to them,” Mrs. Bata says. “It cannot be static. It must be exciting, people-oriented.”

So in 1979, she set up a foundation for the express purpose of establishing the first shoe museum in the Western Hemisphere. To date, her efforts to get the $6-million project off the drawing boards have been stymied – first by anti-apartheid groups critical of Bata Ltd.’s employment practices in South Africa, then by bureaucratic red tape from Toronto’s City Council.

In March, the Ontario Municipal Board approved a mid-town hotel complex that, pending the granting of building permits from City Council, will contain the Bata shoe museum. Says Mrs. Bata: “It will be a world-class museum that I feel will be popular. After all, shoes are something that everyone has to have and to which everyone can relate.”

The big windup in men’s watches

My 1937 Bulova Art Deco watch is the most elegant thing I own. It has a narrow hexagonal dial, a stepped gold case and a matching band that extends the design around the wrist. It would have been pricey when new – over $500 in today’s money – but I got in on eBay for about the cost of a new quartz Timex. I’m definitely putting on the Ritz when I wear it, but I don’t strap it on every day, because I have about a dozen other watches, most of them old mechanicals.

There are a lot of guys out there like me, some of them willing to spend as much on a watch full of moving parts as I ever would on a car. Like me, they probably started getting interested in watchesas items of adornment just as cell phones began making them obsolete.

“I have between two and four digital devices on me that can tell me what time it is,” says Stephen J. Pulvirent, the 23-year-old associate editor at Hodinkee.com, an online magazine about high-end mechanical watches. Strictly speaking, a wristwatch is “superfluous,” he says, but that’s part of the reason it has become an expensive necessity for the 300,000-odd readers who check out Hodinkee each month. Enthusiasm for old-time watchworks has driven up the total value of Swiss mechanical exports by 362 per cent since 2000, while the dollar value of exported Swiss digital watches has stagnated.

Luxury timepieces have been around since the first clocks were made, but this kind of fascination for outdated watch technology is something new. It’s part of our digital-age romance with many things from the mechanical era, but it’s also related to the drift toward everything casual in the way men dress. At a time when many a man finds a sports jacket too dressy or a tie too formal, watches, whether cheap or dear, are increasingly a focal point of style and display.

“Men don’t get to wear a lot of jewellery,” Pulvirent said. “Cuff links, maybe, and perhaps one ring.” Rolex has made itself part of the business uniform, as a symbol of success that everyone understands.

But that’s not what interests the average Hodinkee reader, who is 35 years old, has a household income of over $250,000, and is apparently eager to know the fine details of new issues from the coolest Swiss makers. The point is to express something about your knowledge and taste, Pulvirent says, not to show that you’ve made it.

Resurgent mechanical watches have reshaped the industry in Switzerland, which is to watches what Scotland is to whisky. In 2013, mechanicals accounted for only 27 per cent of exported Swisswatches, but 78 per cent of dollar value, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. The average price of a Swiss watch has doubled in the past 12 years, driven largely by high-end mechanicals.

Neckties used to be a relatively cheap way to flaunt your style, in a flash of colourful silk that offset the conformity of a sober wool suit. The watches covered by Hodinkee do the same for the casual generation, for a lot more money. Most are updates of classic watches, such as the new Tudor Heritage Ranger, a $3,000 remake of a manually-wound, military-style watch from the 1960s; or the Omega De Ville Tresor, a subtle throwback to mid-century dress style, at $14,300. The De Ville Tresor runs on a self-winding rotor, as many watches did 50 years ago, but unlike pieces from that period, it and many other retro mechanicals expose their internal workings through a sapphire crystal back.

“If you’re paying for a mechanical watch, you want to see that movement,” Pulvirent said. An exposed movement lets the wearer into one of the open secrets of Swiss watchmaking, he says, which is that makers traditionally fussed over the finish of their movements “not for the wearer to appreciate, but for other watchmakers.” It’s a gear-head’s dream, also expressed by the “skeleton” faces of watches that show the works from the front.

“A man’s watch is a miniature expression of his gadget-loving personality,” says Mitch Greenblatt, co-founder of Watchismo.com, a watch store and blog that might be described as Hodinkee’s wilder, more penny-wise cousin. The status-flashing conservatism of a Rolex, Greenblatt says, “makes my skin crawl.” Watchismo caters to more adventurous tastes, with unusual digital watches whose time displays may be so novel that practice is needed to read them.

The Devon Tread 2 is an outsized mechanical that tells time using two perpendicular “time belts” that run on sprockets like film.

“When you wear that watch and go to a party, you become a rock star,” Greenblatt says.

The striking digital designs at Watchismo are the descendants of the Swatch watches of the 1980s, which successfully put forth the idea that a boring interior – the minimal, interchangeable works of a digital watch – could have a fun and exciting wrapper. Ironically, many of the watches jockeying to prove their distinction in the luxury mechanicals market are using movements sourced from a single supplier: ETA, which is owned by Swatch Group. That situation has provoked a new fetish for movements built entirely in-house – something staid old Rolex has been doing for decades.

One thing I’m not in tune with about many of the new watches is their size. Perhaps because so much stylistic weight is being displaced to the wrist, even retro designs today are noticeably bigger than the originals. Watchismo carries one oversized Sisu model that weighs a full pound – just the thing with which to thump your chest as you roar out your masculinity.

My 1937 Bulova is tiny in comparison; when I first wore it, a woman I know even asked whether I was comfortable with something so borderline feminine. I told her that a lot of men who bought that model when it was new also signed up to fight Hitler.

Both Pulvirent and Greenblatt predict smaller sizes ahead, though they also know that the Asian market may have other ideas – and the Asian market absorbs more than half of Swiss watch production. I’m happy in any case to stay just where I seem to be: near the forward edge of the retro watch frontier.

Swatch proves timely for watch industry

The phenomenal success of Swatch, the trendy plastic Swiss-made watch that comes in a wild variety of colors, has been heralded for reviving Switzerland’s struggling watch industry. But its influence has been international.

Major watchmakers such as Timex Corp. of Middlebury, Conn., and Hattori Seiko Co. Ltd. of Japan immediately scrambled to get their own plastic timepieces on the market and benefit from this new demand.

Sales increases are estimated at anywhere from 6 to 15 per cent, mostly as a result of the sudden urban demand for fashion accessories that also happened to tell the time.

“It has basically revitalized quite a traditional, quiet industry,” said Andrew Menceles, president of Cosmoda Design Inc. of Toronto, which distributes the Swatch line in Canada.

The watches, which are made by Swatch SA of Switzerland, were largely responsible for the big jump in exports of Swiss watches last year: a 41 per cent increase to 25.1 million units.

Timex does a quarterly survey of 4,000 Canadian households to gauge the watch market. It estimates that industry sales totalled $260-million in 1985, up about 6 per cent in both retail and unit sales.

“I think the Swatch and all those types of watches have contributed to that little bump,” said Patrick Morris, president of TMX Canada Inc. of Markham, Ont., which distributes Timex watches in Canada.

Watchmakers are, of course, asking how long this sales phenomenon can be sustained. Swatch is credited with starting the trend, but most other companies have had their own products on the market for 18 months. Sales are expected to remain strong for at least one more year.

Mr. Menceles is reluctant to say how many Swatches were sold in Canada last year because he does not want retailers to discover what percentage of the total Canadian supply they received.

But he did say that Cosmoda’s quota has increased three times from the 1984 levels and it can sell every watch it can get. International production levels have reached about 1.5 million watches a month.

“Basically, it generated additional watch business for everyone,” said Rodney Smith, president of SC Time Inc. of Toronto, which distributes Seiko, Pulsar, Lorus and Lassale watches in Canada.

Virtually all of the major watchmakers jumped on the bandwagon, selling their own colorful plastic timepieces for between $30 and $50. Not since the arrival of the digital watch almost 10 years ago had the market seen such a sudden jump in consumer demand.

Swatch has spent heavily to market its product in major Canadian centres, urging trend setters to “Swatch yourself” by wearing several watches. And it is keeping a high profile among younger consumers by sponsoring events such as freestyle skiing and concerts by the Thompson Twins.

But because Cosmoda’s quota of Swatch watches has limited the supply in Canada, many sales have gone to competitors. Mr. Menceles believes consumers buy the other watches only because they cannot get a Swatch, but he said people will also wait until they can buy the brand name.

Judging by sales jumps at other companies, however, not everyone is concerned about sporting one brand name over another.

To maintain sales, Swatch has embarked on an extensive merchandising plan that involvesmanufacturing clothing that bears the Swatch trademark, along with sunglasses and umbrellas. Cosmoda has also sponsored a Canadian student design competition and will make and distribute the winning products in Canada.

His competitors agree that the demand for fashion watches will continue for another year. They also predict that the market will shift away from an emphasis on bright colors toward the design of the watch. Ultimately, watchmakers expect the Swatch revolution to end.

“The president and the chairman of the board will put them back in the drawer and go back to their Rolexes and Piagets,” said Paul Sagar, director of marketing at TMX Canada.

The increase in fashion watch sales has not been to the detriment of traditional, more expensive watches. Most of these watches are purchased as gifts to mark occasions such as birthdays and graduations. Demand has remained stable for Seiko watches, Mr. Smith of SC Time said.

TMX Canada thinks there is enough strength in the Canadian market to begin distribution of the Tissot line of Swiss watches this fall. They will sell for between $100 and $3,000.

Time for vintage watches

Los Angeles as time goes by, vintage watches seem to be looking better and better. There is a demand today for watches with personality and character. As a result, interest in classic wristwatches has been booming – and for as many different reasons as there are collectors.

Voice instructor Florence Heller says her interest in classic timepieces is sentimental. Her husband recently gave her a 1953 Evans with red and white rhinestones in place of the numbers on the face. “I like it because it puts me in touch with my past,” she says. “It reminds me of when I was going to high school. It’s a man’s watch but I have great fun wearing it. It looks good and it makes me feel good. It’s also a great conversation piece, something people always seem to notice.”

Eric Schwartz, a manufacturing executive, says nothing pleases him more than getting dressed up and putting on one of the 22 vintage watches he has collected over the last six years. “I like watches that are straightforward,” he says. “I look for ones that are sleekly styled and elegantly understated.” His collection runs the gamut from a 1920s Elgin to a 1940s Hamilton.

Juraj Miklas, head chef at a trendy Beverly Hills restaurant, says he collects wristwatches for the unique pleasure they give him. “I appreciate the work that went into making these watches,” he says. “I like to touch them, to wind them, to study their shapes.” Among his collection of 60 watches are a 1917 stainless steel Patek Philippe and a 9-karat gold Rolex from the 1920s.

Ken Jacobs is a clinical psychologist who turned his hobby of collecting vintage watches into a thriving business. A few years ago, he began selling off extras by maintaining a display case at a small shop on Melrose Avenue. A few months ago, he opened his own store on that street. It’s called Wanna Buy A Watch? and has been jampacked during the Christmas shopping season.

“Nobody buys one of my watches for the purpose of telling time,” says Mr. Jacobs. “People buy them because of the thrill they get from putting them on.” Mr. Jacobs, who seeks out watches that are strong in visual appeal and exquisite in styling, says he is fascinated by a watch’s detailing and history. He also goes to great lengths to have them restored to their original splendor. Among his favorites is a 1930s Gruen “wristsider.” Also called a “driver’s watch,” it’s worn at the side of the wrist, which, “made it easier for a guy tooling around in his roadster to tell the time.”

Among his women’s styles, priced from $100 to $400, are a number of delightful art deco designs. Some have enameled motifs, others sparkle with precious stones. Many have faceted crystals. For men, in prices ranging from $100 to $300, there are oversized timepieces from the early 1900s that resemble scaled-down pocket watches.

While Ken Jacobs deals mostly in one-of-a-kind styles, Lance Thomas deals in volume. He is proprietor of Village Clockworks in Santa Monica, and his comprehensive collection of 2,000 watches even includes some that have never been worn and can still be purchased with their original cases. Among his most popular styles are rectangular “tank” style watches from the 1930s and 1940s. Other vintage timepieces bear the status names of Bulova, Rolex, Elgin, Waltham, Longine and Hamilton. Gold-plated and gold- filled versions for both men and women start about $100. The same brands in solid gold bring $300 and up. And for the customer in search of something truly unique, there are hundreds of unrestored watches that can be put together in any variation of colors and styles.

“Vintage watches have a certain mystique that seems to attrack people for very personal reasons,” says Mr. Thomas. “I don’t want to sound silly, but I realy believe that a watch that has been stared at by past generations retains some kind of psychic energy that is very alluring and magnetic.”

Rats on the run: a patrol defends Alberta against furry rodents from the east

The pest control officers drove along gravel roads, past fields colored dull gold with the stubble of last year’s wheat crop. It was early in May, and the snow was off Alberta’s rolling prairie farmland. So the officers had no time to waste. The Norway rats, those varmints from the east that snuck across the Saskatchewan border last fall to take up winter residence in Alberta hay bales and grain bins, would soon be dispersing their young. The officers were armed with shotguns and .22-calibre rifles and converging on a farm near the town of Bodo, 230 km southeast of Edmonton. It was there, just across the road from Saskatchewan, that farmer Blaine Wandler’s 11-year-old son had found a rat under a woodpile a week earlier. A subsequent inspection of the site uncovered a veritable infestation. “If they disperse, if we miss any today,” said Don Dallyn, one of three full-time and three part-time officers who maintain a vigil along the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, “we probably won’t find them until next spring.” By then, he said, a pair of rats ensconced in a nice, roomy grain bin could produce 400 to 1,000 offspring.

Norway rats–one of the most destructive rodents known to mankind–first arrived on the east coast of North America by ship from Europe about 1775. They advanced inexorably westward, by as much as 15 km a year, eating and contaminating crops, chewing up walls, undermining buildings and sewers, and spreading disease. But in 1950, when the rats crossed into Alberta, provincial officials drew a line in the prairie soil. They established a cordon sanitaire that now stretches 25 km wide and 500 km long, from Cold Lake in the north to the U.S. border in the south. Ever since, pest control officers have patrolled that buffer zone–baiting, poisoning, shooting or gassing every last rat that has put its furry paws on the Alberta side of the border. “One way or another,” says Michael Dolinski, head of Alberta Agriculture’s rat control program, “every rat that ends up in the province, ends up dead.”

The Alberta government spends $250,000 a year on rat control, even at a time when Premier Ralph Klein’s Conservative government has made deep spending cuts in other departments. Dolinski argues that the program is well worth it. If rats were to infest Alberta, he maintains, they could cause $25 million a year in damage to crops and buildings. In fact, experts estimate that, worldwide, rats consume or contaminate one-fifth of all field crops. And in neighboring Saskatchewan, where rats invaded in the 1930s, the provincial government, rural municipalities and the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool spend more than $700,000 a year in rural areas alone on home pest control. Most of that money goes towards controlling the rat population–although officials have little hope of ever eradicating them.

The border patrol is a point of pride among Albertans. But outsiders often scoff at the province’s claim to be one of the only inhabited regions on earth that is free of Norway rats. “You proclaim something like that, everyone’s on your case,” says Dallyn. But he says that rats multiply so quickly, it would be impossible not to notice if even a single pregnant female had penetrated into the Alberta interior. “It would be a matter of a year or two,” he says, “and everybody would know about it.”

The success of the Alberta rat control program relies on a simple fact of rodent life. For all their resilience, for all their ability to propagate, the rats have a critical weakness: they cannot survive the harsh prairie winter without the shelter and food they find where humans live. In order for rats to invade new territory, human settlements cannot be farther apart than the distance the rats can travel in a year. Along Alberta’s southern border with Montana, where farms are few and widely dispersed, the rats have never established a foothold. Nor can they advance across the uninhabited forests in northern Alberta, or the mountains along the western border with British Columbia. The central part of the border with Saskatchewan, thick with grain and cattle farms, is the rats’ primary point of penetration.

Just a few kilometres from that frontier, in their pretty white farmhouse near Chauvin, Alta., live Don and Bette Dallyn. Parents of five grown children and grandparents 11 times over, the Dallyns are the first husband-and-wife team in the history of Alberta rat control. “And you’ll find us a bit zealous,” said Don Dallyn, 59, who took over rat control in the Wainwright municipal district 18 years ago when the couple gave up dairy farming. Bette, 56, began working the Provost area, just south of Don’s district, six years later. “We had kids young,” explained Don. “When our kids grew up, Bette wanted to do something different.”

Pest control is no work for the faint of heart. And when Bette Dallyn was first hired, some of the farmers in the area wondered if she was up to the job. “I was accused, being a woman, of being afraid of mice and rats,” she said. “One guy tried his darndest to get me to pick up a mouse. Finally, I picked up some babies and I said, `Ah, we’ll have these for supper.’ ” She was joking, of course. “But I proved a point that day,” said Bette, clearly pleased with herself.

Most of the rat control officers’ work involves bait: rolled oats dusted with icing sugar and laced with warfarin, an anticoagulant that makes the rats’ blood run thin and kills them in about six days. The officers distribute the bait to farmers and lay out extra bait when they suspect an infestation. They also do a visual check of every possible rat refuge–from barns to abandoned shacks. Bette checks about 700 sites annually in her 594-square-mile district, three checks a year for the sites closest to the border. Her first year on the job, she found 146 rat infestations. Last year, she was down to 10. “That does not, of course, account for all the rats who ate the rat poison and died before anyone noticed them,” she cautioned.

Blaine Wandler tipped Bette off to the infestation on his farm. Although he lives in Bette’s district, eradication is always a group effort. And so Don Dallyn and two officers from Vermilion River County to the north–Orest Popil, 39, and Glen Garton, 35–came to help. About 200 m from the gravel road that serves as the Saskatchewan-Alberta border were three red grain bins. As Don Dallyn circled them, his trained eye caught the rodents’ telltale signs: rat droppings, a worn path between the bins, a scrap of plywood with rat-tooth marks. Bette figured the rats got in there last fall. “If I’d have found them in the winter, we’d have baited them,” she said. But the snow was too deep to check the bins then. And with the coming of spring and pregnant female rats ready to move on, there was no time to play around with slow-acting poison.

The group first attacked the scrap wood piled beside the bins. Bette Dallyn, Popil and Garton stood poised, guns trained, as Don lifted a sheet of plywood and two rats came scurrying out from underneath. Bang! Cows wandering by on the other side of a barbed wire fence paused to turn curious heads.

It was slow work–one board at a time–and tough shooting, with the rats twisting and running in all directions. The officers used shotguns with very fine pellets and .22s loaded with bird shot–“No ricochets that way,” said Don Dallyn. He recounted one hair-raising incident when a farmer, eager to help, got his own rifle from the house–loaded with solid-point bullets. “Orest and I were in the granary when he shot right through it,” said Don. “That’s why we like to use our own guys.”

Clearing the rats from the woodpile took all morning. Afterwards, the officers checked a site they eradicated the previous week. They found no new sign of rodents and there were smiles and “job-well-dones” all around. Then they drove into Bodo, to the Oilmen’s Diner Restaurant for lunch. The Bodo area is mixed agricultural and oil country, with oil wells dotted around the farmers’ fields. Dressed in their bright-blue coveralls, the pest control officers were conspicuous among the farmers and oilmen at the diner. But then, they are used to standing out from a crowd. “The good thing about the job is that you’re always the life of the party,” remarked a jovial Popil. “People are always asking you, `Are you for real?’ ”

For real, yes, and in poor economic times, at least, even envied. Full-time officers make $26,000 to $31,000; part-timers are paid a prorated salary. And 60 people applied for Garton’s part-time job when he got it last summer. Garton, who also farms 600 acres, says his family has long been supportive of rat control. “My dad said that we’ve had only two rats on our farm,” he said proudly. “He killed one with a pitchfork. The other,” Garton added with a grin, “he chased back to Saskatchewan.”

After lunch, it was back to the Wandler farm and the grain bins. When bins are full, rats do not usually enter them. They burrow underneath, then chew holes in the bottom of the bins. That way, grain filters down to them all winter long. Wandler figured he had lost a few bushels of grain. “But it’s not what they eat so much,” he said. “It’s the damage they do that’s so bad–they chew up everything in sight.” He would have to repair the bins, he said. And then he would have to prop them about six inches off the ground to ward off future infestations.

The actual eradication used homespun technology. As Wandler watched, Don Dallyn attached a black rubber hose to his car’s exhaust pipe, then shoved the other end of the hose under one of the bins. The rodents would either suffocate, or come out to face a firing squad. As the car exhaust started to take effect, Bette Dallyn, Popil and Garton levelled their guns again. One pink nose came out of a hole. Bang! “Head shot,” said Garton. Bang! Bang! “Good shot, Bette,” shouted Popil. And so it went, gassing and shooting, until the four rat control officers were satisfied that they had eliminated the latest threat to Alberta’s rat-free status.

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