"Always Hoe Out Your Row"

hoeing

By: Jerry Moll
The frost glistened in the moonlight illuminating the green winter wheat as I stepped over the last woven wire fence into the field, now within a quarter mile of her. She had been treed for quite a while and was sounding more convincing with each step I took. The long walk had finally eliminated the chills I had accumulated from waiting while she worked the cold feed track out of the creek bottom and up onto the oak ridge. It was getting up into the morning somewhere after 2:00 am, but the night sky was bright as noon. I believe you could have sat down and read the wall street journal with no additional light. As I looked out over the landscape I took note there was not a cloud in the sky and not a noise to be heard but the rhythmic ringing chop of my hound off in the distance. Immediately I paused and gave thanks to our God for providing such scenery, such an opportunity to be one with nature, just me and my hound.
As far as December nights go, the young gyp and I had started out the evening pretty well, treeing two coons early on before things started to backslide. The afternoon had been overcast and the coons seemed to move right at dark, if not before. Directly after our short lived success the skies began to clear showing a spectacular full moon, followed by the temperature dropping quickly into the low teens. As I continued on my trek toward her I pondered how this next event of our night would set the stage for the next several hours. Would I wind up in bed all warm and cozy like “normal” people, or would we be out here for the duration trying to end the hunt on a good note? I had been working steadily on this female for treeing wrong and depending on what she had to show me in this tree of hers, we could be in for a long night. The idea of leashing her up and heading for the truck regardless of what she had did cross my mind. It was cold and I was tired and boy did that nice warm bed sound good to me. But as the tree line came into sight I could hear Dad’s voice in the back of my head, “always hoe out your row son”, “always hoe out your row”.
What in the world does hoeing rows have to do with coonhunting you might ask? Well, I had somewhat of a unique childhood, growing up on a small Indiana farm the youngest in the family with twelve brothers and sisters. No, this is not a misprint; there were actually thirteen children in our family, six boys and seven girls. The trips to the grocery store much less anywhere else away from the farm were very infrequent. For the most part everything Mom prepared for the breakfast, lunch and dinner table came from what was grown or raised within a few hundred yards of the house. In my younger years Dad always worked two jobs away from home along with farming in his “spare time”, all to keep all the bills paid. It was our responsibility to make sure things were taken care of at home.
One of the joys and huge undertakings of our family was the enormous garden planted each spring and harvested throughout the summer and early fall. We grew a lot of the usual corn, beans, onions, maters’ and taters’. The annual potato crop sticks in my head the most due to the constant care and effort it required from planting time to harvest. I have to laugh when I see those little quarter bushel wooden potato bins for sale in the stores. Our potato bin in the cellar was four foot wide, ten feet long and five feet deep. Many years I can recall that bin overflowing to the point we had to sell or give away the excess. That gives you a rough idea how many taters’ we planted.
As a young boy I spent many hours with the family in that garden hoeing and hilling those taters’. At times I would be bored, tired, hot or thirsty and wanting to throw down my hoe and head for the house. “Always hoe out your row son you don’t know what tomorrow will bring”, would be the immediate response. If Dad was at work Mom or one of my older siblings were happy to fill in and ensure the chore was completed. There were times I really hated to hear that statement coming from anyone, especially Dad because you always knew that was the end of the short discussion. Later on in life I came to realize that simple statement, “always hoe out your row” had much more meaning than a hilling a row of potatoes. I can’t tell you how many times in my life when things got tough or unpleasant and I really wanted to give up, those words urged me on to find a solution to a problem or to just knuckle down and complete the task at hand.
Depending on your situation in life and your audience at the time “always hoeing out your row” may not be the most popular thing to do at the time. This day and age an attitude of “stick to it” is sometimes viewed as being stubborn, obstinate or even inflexible. In other circumstances and in other circles such as the coonhound world these same traits may take on a positive flair and be described as persistent, tenacious and persevering. As we walk through a life of daily commitments, deadlines and responsibilities we find the easy way out is a constant nagging temptation, a slippery path that will quickly intersect with the road to failure. For sure, when in the process of breeding and/or training coonhounds there is no shortcut, no easy way out. Here in lies the key difference between a trainer and a great trainer, between a coonhound breeder and a successful coonhound breeder.
As I entered the small woodlot approaching her tree I roughly scanned each limb via the bright moonlight. I tied her up to a small sapling and used my spotlight to search each and every limb, looking through the nooks and crannies carefully, not wanting to make a mistake. The second time around the tree confirmed my fears; yes this was indeed another blank tree. As I peeled off a green switch from a nearby hickory tree I started to untie my dog and those visions of the family garden came back into mind. After a brief heart-to-heart discussion she and I walked a little ways toward the next creek bottom to recast. As I unsnapped her, clipped the lead together and slid it over my shoulder I smiled to myself, “guess I can get plenty of sleep when I’m dead, yep always hoe out your row son, always hoe out your row”.

"Prepare To Win"

knight

By: Jerry Moll

There were but a few numbers remaining on the countdown of Dave’s trusty Timex Ironman™ wrist watch as the knots began building in his stomach. He and his hound Matilda had won their qualifying cast earlier in the evening by treeing the only two coons scored and were now attempting to make through the late round for a berth into the semi-finals. This second cast proved to contain much stiffer competition from both the dog and handler standpoint, but as the cast progressed Matilda had secured the deciding lead. There was just one “minor” issue that was eating at Dave and causing him to squirm in his nylon bibs and shuffle the leaves beneath his Mucks, three minutes were remaining in this cast, but only two minutes left on the stationary rule.

This severe anxiety attack of Dave’s actually stemmed from Matilda’s high point in the cast when she slammed a red hot coon by herself with the other three dogs completely out of pocket. This coon put the duo way out ahead of the pack; nothing could take away the cast win from them, well almost nothing. This one coon had Matilda so excited that she just had to return and tree some more until Dave had to re-tree her only to be handled and re-cast again. The thought of her returning the second time never even crossed Dave’s mind as he strutted through the regulation one minute walk. But return she did and it was the moment of truth, Dave had to tree her now to prevent the scratch. Could she be on a different tree? Would she leave the tree before they arrived? These two unlikely scenarios seemed to be their only possibilities at this point. But, no Matilda was locked down tight; right below the same “Mr. Ricky” that gave her such an impressive lead just moments before. Dave’s heart sank as he snapped the lead on her knowing full well a less capable hound had just won his cast and advanced toward a major title and some major bucks.

The cast members quickly congratulated the winner, signed the scorecard and scattered to the winds in search of their hounds. Meanwhile Dave and Matilda were heading back to the truck, one down in the dumps and one bouncing around as proud as a peacock, just happy to be alive. As Dave walked along he kept asking himself, “How in the world can a dog like this get beat when she’s the best out here”? Dave recounted in his mind the number of nights he hunted her, the coon they had treed, the lost sleep and sometimes the lost work over the last two years. He knew of no one who had spent more time and energy with his hound. He was bewildered thinking to himself, “What else could I have possibly done”?

It’s fair to surmise the sport of competition coonhunting is not all that different from any other competitive sporting event, amateur or professional. There are points, goals, rules, boundaries, penalties, officials, etc. Now I’ve never been a huge sports fan of any type, although growing up in Indiana and being a Purdue Grad you would expect me to be a natural “Basketball Fanatic”. I do watch a basketball game occasionally and many years ago became intrigued with then Indiana University coach, Bobby Knight. I know most people remember coach Knight “The General” as the mean chair throwing, media insulting, kid kicking, and often mean spirited individual. Although all these things made him colorful to some, they are not what interested me the man Bobby Knight.

Bob Knight, as he’s called more regularly these days spent his first season coaching at Ohio’s Cuyahoga Falls High School in 1962. He then accepted an assistant coaching position at West Point and within two years he was named Head Coach at the young age of 24. In his six seasons at West Point, Knight won an impressive 102 games. When Indiana University was seeking a new coach in 1971, they looked at Knight’s record and hired him immediately. In the years from 1971-2000 Knight’s coaching record at I.U. was 662 wins and 239 losses. On September 13, 2000, after being fired by the Indiana University management Knight said goodbye to a crowd of over 8,000 supporters. Like him or hate him, “The General” consistently produced outstanding student performance, both athletically and academically. Knight turned many good athletes into outstanding, dominating competitors and did so by maintaining very high expectations and being an exemplary teacher of the game. One of his more famous quotes is deeply motivational to any individual who has that innate gift of competitive drive, “Most people have the will to win, and few have the will to prepare to win. The will to win is important, but what's more important is the will to prepare.” I have “borrowed” this quote in various forms many times for use in my own life and while coaching others to improve themselves.

Looking at the sport of competition coonhunting in comparison to other competitive sports as it relates to preparation can be very helpful for the beginner and even the veteran who feels they have run out of luck. Take as an example the college basketball team practicing hard in the off season and every single day of the week to make a showing at those weekly televised match-ups and hopefully a shot at the magical NCAA Championship. Coaches and players alike work extremely hard on all physical aspects of the game as well as preparing mentally; understanding rule fundamentals, procedures and penalties. Similarly the hound and handler must prepare in their off season or in the hound’s amateur months, long before the team is ready to “go to town”. It’s up to you, the hound’s coach to complete the required training and to know the hound and the rules inside and out. Any given evening on ESPN a gifted college player could give up the ball by way of a simple lane violation, thereby creating an opponent’s unexpected opportunity and ultimately causing his team to loose. Let’s just say this lane violation technicality was something the student knew nothing about, is this the player’s fault or the coach’s fault?

Yes, Dave and Matilda were down, but they were certainly not out. When this duo returned to the fairgrounds there were none of the usual excuses to be heard. Sure the usual members of the “I’m Agin It Club” were sitting around primed and ready to hear that Dave got cheated or a long boring monologue about a no count judge, guide, or other handlers. All were severely disappointed, but not all that surprised. Dave’s answer to the entire lot of how did you do and what happened questions were simple and straight to the point. They lost the cast and were beaten fairly, not because of Matilda’s inability to tree coons, but due to the inability of her coach to teach her the rules and penalties. Everyone knew Matilda’s abilities and they all knew when Dave sets his mind to something it will be done come hell or high water. As Dave heads out the fairgrounds door to begin the journey home the onlooker crowd gradually turn to one another with deep concern, “Man I don’t want to draw them two next year, whew”!

“The Will To Win Is Not Nearly As Important As The Will To Prepare To Win”

“What You Breed Is What You Get”

litter

By: Jerry Moll

It was an exceptional winter evening to be out in the woods, late January and thirty-five degrees with a soft westerly breeze keeping the tree branches busily smacking each other overhead. Remaining patches of snow lay deep on the north face of each ridge while the south hillsides were thawing and slick from the day’s warming sun. A slab rock creek at the far end of the hollow below produced a continuous roaring sound as the water rushed within its banks from the vast acres of snow melting by the minute. The sky was alive with millions of stars seemingly at arms length and a beautiful crescent moon reminiscent of that huge grin on Alice’s Cheshire Cat.

Being outside in the night air was a welcome change for Harry and Larry and they were enjoying it as well as each other’s company for the first time in several weeks. Old Man Winter had settled in on their corner of Indiana and the two had been confined to their respective homes for quite a while. It had not been fit outside for man nor beast with the daily temperatures bouncing around in the lower teens on the good days and in to the single digits or negative numbers on most nights. But, tonight the duo’s expectations were extremely high with the change in weather and the prospect of running one of those late winter love sick boar coons seemed almost a certainty. As the pair sat on the remains of an old poplar log their two females Flossie and Fannie seemed to be taking turns giving tongue as they struggled on an old track below, working it back and forth over the hillsides about a quarter mile to their east. The gyps could run the track well on the south banks but would stall out and run in circles or back track on the frozen north sides. It seemed they were taking two steps forward and three steps back as the wait on the log grew longer and longer.

Both Harry and Larry had bought these females of “good” lineage with the intention of breeding and raising some nice puppies from them. Their theory was to keep and train the ones they could not sell off the teat and make themselves some extra spending money, maybe even enough to run a few nite hunts in the area. As was the usual case when these two friends got together the discussion soon turned to the philosophical aspects of coonhound breeding. “Ya know Ol’ Flossie ain’t too bright, maybe I’ll just breed her to one of them studs with the dew claws and glass eyes, they say them dogs have the “good stuff” in their background and they are smart enough to set the table”, offered Larry. About that time Flossie was heard about three hollows over as she rolled up on a tree with a few screams and settled in to a steady chop. Larry jumped up, grabbed the old single shot from against the nearby oak tree and made an attempt at motivating his partner, “come on let’s go, we’ll see this one for sure”, he said confidently. It was a busy fifteen minutes of steady walking as they crossed the snow piles and the muddy banks trying to maintain their footing before finally reaching the tree. Both out of breath they frantically searched and searched, but to no avail. “No gettin’ around it Harry, aint nuthin’ there”, Larry mumbled half under his breath as he unleashed Flossie and sent her in the direction of Fannie with a little extra assistance from the leather strap.

After walking half way toward the gyps Harry found an old woven wire fence in which to lean on while they took a needed breather and to listen for awhile. Harry could tell that Larry was somewhat let down, so he thought he would turn the tables a little. “Larry, you know Ol’ Fannie does way too much trailing for me. I’ve been wondering about that hot stud dog down south, his youngins’ sure have won a ton and they say he throws way too much tree in his pups. Maybe him & Fannie would average out and I would get me a good pup that-a-way.” “Speaking of too much tree, Flossie trees a lot and many times wrong, maybe I should breed her to one of them truck winning dogs that have won so much over the years. I heard they can really do some trailing”, said Larry. “Ya know I’ve been reading in the Cooner ads month after month, if ya want a good pup, it has got to be from one of them All Grand crosses. Seems to make sense if all their ancestors were top notch dogs the pups sure ought to be too, don’t cha think?” queried Harry.

As with any endeavor that sometimes appears more of an art form than a perfected science, there are many myths and Old Wives’ Tails about hound breeding, some with an element of truth in them, some not. Over the years I’ve had the normal successes and failures with hound breeding and have concluded a few things along the way. Some of these conclusions I’ve settled on could very well be wrong, but these are just my opinions based on first hand experiences, both good and bad. Hound bloodlines, traits and styles just don’t mix like stirring cocoa in your milk to make hot chocolate. When you breed two dogs together you don’t normally get a blending of the two, you’ll more than likely get some similar to one parent and some like the other parent, it’s more like attempting to mix grease and water. This is especially true if one parent has the prepotency to mark their pups with certain traits across several studs or bitches. In my opinion you are more likely to get a blending of these dog’s traits as grandparents in subsequent generations, but not in the first go around. Many times in a planned breeding the obvious traits demonstrated by the sire or dam are naturally expected in the offspring, but as the pups mature these traits remain completely invisible. What you see is not always what you get in the first generation and that can be very confusing. This is true of both positive and negative traits and many times these hidden attributes will show themselves in a well pronounced manner one or more generations down the line. If you want to learn about the technical side of breeding there is plenty to be researched as to the expression of genotype, phenotype, DNA links and the scientific progress that has been made toward assembling the canine genome, but I won’t get into those technical issues here.

I believe the best advice anyone could give a rookie hound breeder would be to honestly analyze and evaluate their breeding stock first hand before moving forward. Do not make serious trait based breeding decisions from anecdotal hearsay found at the local coon club, in the magazines or on the internet message boards. You sure won’t obtain much useful information about making quality breeding decisions by reading stud dog ads either. Get your information about specific dog traits by hunting with the dogs and some of their offspring in person. Again, if you are unhappy with one of the prospective parents of a potential breeding, simply DO NOT make the cross. Sure, you’ll have some critics stand up and say they have seen many a top notch hound produced by sorry no-count brood females that lacked even the basic ability to tree a coon. To these folks I would say, I agree and have seen the same phenomenon, it happens all the time. Keep in mind though every genetic trait, be it good or bad, be it seen or unseen in this generation will rear its ugly head sooner or later. When a top winning hound surfaces you can bet competitive houndsmen will want pups from this winner even if he or she was produced from sub-par parents and these hidden sub-par traits will be introduced back in the gene pool. It takes just one cross to introduce these negative attributes into the breed, but in the best case scenario many generations to weed the negative back out.

These days you see a great deal of discussion concerning the “All Grand” pedigrees and many times I get the question as to what I think of them. In my opinion “All Grand” pedigrees are neither good nor bad in relationship to pedigrees that are not “All Grand”. Similarly, a registered dog is no better or worse than a non-registered dog. It’s all about the dog itself, the ancestors and their traits, not about the titles and the pedigree. Am I saying that titles and pedigrees aren’t important? Absolutely not, they are very important, but secondary to observable performance and traits. If you intend to breed to or buy pups from a hound based entirely upon titles and pedigree, having never hunted with the dog or any of his ancestors, you are taking blind pot shots in the dark. How did this “All Grand” dog and his ancestors obtain their titles, nobly or not so above board? What hunting styles did they display, lazy, close, medium or wide? What type of mouth did they have bawl, squall, chop, squeal, chirp, yodel, or rumbling gobble? How about their mouth on the ground, a babbler, opened too much, did not open enough, semi-silent or silent? What kind of tree dog, accurate, slick treedog, stay put, did they chew or jump? Were they mean, or candy hearted around the tree, capable of treeing layups, and did they possess other good or bad tree habits? As you can see, when you attempt to make breeding decisions without the advantage of first hand experience the questions are almost endless and the answers always nonexistent.

Larry and Harry both abruptly ended their breeding discussion to listen as both Flossie and Fannie began to locate convincingly on an oak ridge to the north and across Mr. Radikin’s pasture fields. The long bawls and screams soon turned into steady chops as the partners started that way, both hoping the girls hadn’t talked each other into this one prematurely. Forty minutes seemed like forty hours as they moved trough the snow and mud navigating the various overflowing creek banks and barb wire fencing. Within a few hundred yards of the tree as if they could wait no longer Harry and Larry started to scan the treetops with their lights as they walked in hopes of being the first to catch a reflecting eye or a bulk. As they reached the tree, both were initially disappointed it was a den until they discovered a split in the side of the tree large enough to reveal the coon. Larry tapped on the side of the tree just enough to get the coon stirring around and Harry pointed out that it was a large sow coon they were looking at. Both hunters gave the dogs a good round of praising for a job well done and lead them away with the satisfaction of knowing they had just left a future litter of unborn raccoons in the den to be chased and enjoyed the following summer and fall. As they reached the truck, tired out and ready to call it a night Larry turned to Harry and said, “call me tomorrow night, we’ll go down to Johnson’s creek and give it another go. These gyps need to be showing us a little more in several departments before I’m convinced they should be bred”. Reluctantly agreeing, Harry said, “I hear ya man, if you’re gonna’ build something to be proud of that will withstand the tests of adversity and time you need to take a long hard look at your foundation before you start adding any bricks”.

“The Good Ol’ Days"

rockwell 

 By: Jerry Moll

The cigarette smoke obstructed Dale’s vision like an early morning fog as he opened the rusty steel door and stepped in to the Greenbow County Coonhunters Club. He concluded he must be the first one back from the Nite Hunt as the usual guys were still sitting around playing cards or warming themselves by the old pot belly stove. The club cook Henry Petri hollered over from one of the card tables, “Sonny, a man sure hates ta’ get up when he’s a-winnin’, if’n ya need anything from the kitchen, jus’ help yourself and leave the money right there on the counter”. That advice sounded pretty darn good to Dale as he was cold from the night air and getting a might hungry to boot. Taking Henry up on his offer, he stepped back into the kitchen to find a big slow cooker full of chili soup, you know the kind with lots a meat, maters’, plump macaroni, bits of green and red peppers along with several different kinds of beans. Dale filled up a bowl to the brim, poured a styrofoam cup of steaming hot coffee, grabbed some saltine crackers and laid $2.75 on the counter. This night hasn’t turned out half bad after all, he thought to himself as he found a perfect spot to sit down next to the wood stove to warm up and wade into that bowl of beef & bean chili.

Chester McFarland, the coon club’s resident old-timer, was sittin’ there by the stove and noticed Dale at the table eatin’ his chili. Chester says, “hey youngun’ looks like you must not have done to good tonight since your back so early, huh?” Dale, not really wanting to talk about his night, begrudgingly answered, “yeah, I had the big end of two blanks and the other dogs had scored on a coon and felt my chances were pretty darn slim, so I hollered “uncle” and went to the truck.” Chester chuckled a little and said, “yep, them tree dogs are a dime a dozen these days, but a good track dog that’ll have a coon when its treed is scarcer then hens teeth, I tell ya.” Dale grumbled a little as he crushed the remainder of his saltines to spread over his bowl and looked at Chester and said, “you outta’ get ya’ some of this here chili, sure is good”, trying his best to change the subject. Chester not being one to give in that easily, said “I can remember them ol' runnin' dogs Bubba Baker use to raise over on Hoot Owl Flats. Every once in a while one would fall out of the pack and start to treein’, if you’d latch on to one of them, man you had somethin’.

Dale polished off his chili, picked up his mess and headed toward the corner trash can. As curiosity got the best of him he walked back over by Chester, sat down and wrapped his hands around the coffee cup and took a slow warming slurp. “I figure you’ve got lots of stories to tell about your huntin’ experiences and I‘ve got plenty of time to kill cause my buddy Jason is still out on a cast and I sure can’t leave without him. So, how about telling me how the hunting dogs were like back in them Good Ol’ Days”, Dale said. Chester, now grinnin’ like a possum eatin’ a persimmon took a deep breath as if to build up enough oxygen so he wouldn’t have to take a break for awhile. “First off dogs weren’t the only thing different back in my day; you youngins’ don’t know how good you’ve got it with the nylon clothing, boots with chaps and high voltage lights. We had to wear whatever we had on our backs at the time and clothes without holes in them were only a dream to most of us. We had carbide lights that were sometimes a chore in themselves, you had to pack carbide and water along just to keep them running. Sometimes it would take over an hour to find a coon in a tree and quite often we would chop that tree down to get to the coon, so you sure didn’t want a lying dog back then or you’d chopping all the trees down for nothin’. I guess the only good about the carbide lights was they made a little noise which could made a coon look at ya and you could always use them to help make your nightly fire when you gettin’ cold.” Dale wanted to know why they would have to start a fire. He asked Chester, “you mean you had to start a fire, why would you be standing somewhere that long that you would get that cold”? Of course Chester was quick in his reply, “well like I said before son, back in them days we had running dogs, and it wouldn’t be uncommon for them to run a track for two or three hours before they would put an end to it. Why, back then if we treed more than one coon in a week of huntin’ we went to town and told everybody”.

As Dale was deep in thought about Chester’s words of wisdom from the past, his hunting buddy Jason Stevens came flying through the door with a huge grin on his face. “Man O Man, what a hunt we had, scored on four singe coon and a den tree”, Jason blurted out unable to contain his enthusiasm. Jason continues, “trying not to brag, but my Maggie gyp had 675+ and the closest dog to me had 350+, man she looked awesome tonight”. Dale had hunted many times with Maggie and her littermates and knew the entire litter was making top hounds. As he thought about these young dogs and their progress it made him even more curious about where he and Chester had left off. Once again making eye contact with Chester, Dale started in, “tell us a little more about these hounds of your day, especially the pups and young dogs”. Chester stood up from his seat by the stove as if the subject was so important it required standing. “Well boys, we raised a bunch of pups back in those days too, but it was rare to get more than one or two out of a litter that would tree. Now some of these pups were dang neared three years old before they would tree and many times you would have to hurry to that tree before they left. I’ve done some studyin’ on the subject and I believe when we had a goodn’ back then it was what they call a hybrid. From what I can tell this also explains why we couldn’t get a good pup by crossing two good hounds, hybrids can’t produce their like kind in the first generation. Many times our duds that wouldn’t tree still took a likein’ to fast game and eventually made good fox and deer dogs.”

Within a few minutes all the cast had returned to the club and Jason collected his first place slip and the boys were ready to hit the road stopping by to shake Chester’s hand and to thank him for the lively discussion. As Dale and Jason were making their hour drive home Dale explained Chester’s thoughts and Ideas to Jason as they kicked around the pros and cons of current day coonhunting Vs the “Good Ol’ Days”. Both agreed quickly they appreciated their nylon bibs, 20v lights, tracking systems, four wheel drive trucks and their e-collars for training. Most of all they were both quite appreciative of what coonhound breeders had accomplished over the last forty years or so. They talked about Maggie and her littermates, how they trailed and treed naturally at a very your age and how they mentally matured so quickly they seemed like old dogs already. Dale and Jason came to the conclusion they really like Chester and his hunting stories, but they did not want to go back “there”, in his day for love nor money.

Yes, time has a way of clouding and blurring our “fond memories” of the past, but many of my personal memories of these hounds of yesteryear were really not all that fond. I can distinctly remember entire litters of these old time lines that would run something at an early age, but only one or two would make dependable, stay put tree dogs. I can remember serious coonhunters hunting “pups” well past the age of two waiting for them to “flip the switch” and start treeing. I can remember the hunters who had the decent tree dogs had to continue knocking out coon after coon to keep them focused on treeing. I can remember lots of fox and deer chases from dogs that “naturally” liked to run. I can remember lots of local hunters carrying matches so they could start their nightly fire and wait till their dogs finished the track they were running. I can even remember many of these dogs I hunted with in those days to be near 100% accurate, but they rarely made a tree. No I don’t miss those “Good Ol’ Days” and those old lines of dogs, nope, not at all…

“Back Home Again”

homestead

By: Jerry Moll
A huge cloud of grey filled the air behind school bus #16 as it bounced along the rarely traveled dirt road past Herb Miller’s field of hand tied corn shocks. Now about half way home on my hour long bus ride, I was getting impatient and anxious to get the trip over with. Trying to pass the time away, I crossed my arms on the back of the seat in front of me for a place to rest my head while making a halfhearted attempt at taking a nap. The nap idea was proving to be quite unsuccessful as the remaining kids on the bus were making quite a commotion. Bob, our bus driver flipped back and forth from Cincinnati radio stations W-L-W and W-S-A-I trying to find something more to his liking. I perked up a little as he caught the end of “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, but after a few more channel selections he seemed to settle on the news. Great! Just what I wanted to hear, more political analysis of President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation a few months prior and his recent unconditional pardon granted by current President, Gerald R. Ford. Luckily Bob switched back over to W-S-A-I just in time for John Denver’s "Back Home Again”, now that was soothing to the ears and I finally started to relax.
It was Friday, November 8th 1974; the opening of coon season here in Indiana and not much else really mattered to me at the time. I truly believe I did not hear a single word spoken to me by a teacher or fellow student this entire day as my mind was 100% focused upon turning my hound loose once it got dark. I had been working hard trying to save money for a hound since the previous winter. Mom and Dad were a little unhappy with me considering the work needing done on the farm; they didn’t want me wasting valuable time and money on an ol’ hound dog. Since I had worked and saved the money on my own, they reluctantly said it was my decision, but I could tell they sure didn’t like it much. Dad reminded me several times that year, “Son if your chores get to slippin’ on account of that dog, he’s gonna’ have to go, that’s all there is to it”. Up to this point everything had been going along smoothly along those lines as I made absolutely sure nothing was left undone. The more I thought about it, I was admittedly unsure how I was going to keep all my chore responsibilities covered and still spend all the time I wanted to in the woods.
I kept my savings folded up in one of those old Prince Albert tobacco tins; you know the red ones that were flat and shaped to fit into your pocket. The “bank” was hidden in the attic, my secret place and even though I always knew exactly how much money it contained, I couldn’t resist emptying it out and recounting it all each time I had a dollar or two to add. Selling furs was about the only way I had to earn money in the winter months. I sold hides to a local fur buyer about six miles or so from the house, muskrats brought me around $6.00 and coons could average about $15 back then. Each morning after chores I would run my trap line and try to get back in time for the school bus. I intentionally made my trap sets as close to the county roads or dirt farm roads as possible so that I would not have to walk far from my bicycle. There were a few mornings I cut it right down to the wire and had to wear the old clothes I had on to school that day. Back then it wasn’t uncommon for some of my classmates to come to school with the smell of hogs or cattle on their clothes, so it really wasn’t that big of a deal to anyone, like I’m sure it would be this day and age.
In the spring and summer months work was much more plentiful for me and my brothers. We had four local farmers within walking or bike riding distance that were always needing help with hay, fencing or other odd jobs. If we wanted to, we could work at one farm or another most every day of our summer vacations. This past summer I had ventured out taking a new job for a couple of months with a seed corn company detasseling corn. In order to produce hybrid seed corn they would grow six rows of one variety, then two of another, then six of the first again and so on alternating throughout the width of the fields. The six “female” rows were to be detassled so their ear silks could only be pollinated by the two “male” rows via some help from the wind. The seed corn company was located about twenty miles from home, so I had to get up early to meet a bus in town at 5:30 am. It was good to see a few of my friends from school when I arrived, because most of the workers were from another town and unfamiliar to me. I sure wasn’t used to being that far from home and working for someone I didn’t know, but the money was good at $3.00 an hour, so I stuck with it until the end of the summer season.
Along about the end of August I started getting real nervous because I had not yet found the coonhound I had been saving for. I didn’t know many coonhunters and the ones I spoke with didn’t know of any good hounds for sale in the area. One Sunday after church a friend of mine told me about a Bluetick owned by a man named Ben Cassens over near the little town of Milan, Indiana. The prospect of finally having a dog of my very own tied up behind the barn sounded pretty cool to me, so I offered my brother Mike some gas money to carry me over there to take a look at this hound. As we pulled in Mr. Cassens’ driveway with the truck windows down we heard a loud booming hound voice coming from behind the house and I sure hoped it was him. It sure enough was him and he was a big, good looking sucker too. A very striking hound, probably seventy pounds with very dark bluetick color, lots of black and tan trim and he was a registered dog to boot. Mr. Cassens was friendly enough, but he seemed to expect I would buy his dog on the spot. After talking for awhile, he reluctantly agreed to take me hunting with the dog the following night.
Boy, I couldn’t wait to see that big beautiful hound in the woods and that day seemed to go by slower than molasses in January. Finally as the evening drew near my friend Jake and I were heading down the road to Mr. Cassens’ house in his 1964 Dodge pickup. Mr. Cassens appeared to be all ready to go, standing in his garage with his hunting clothes on and the dog loaded up. We jumped out of Jake’s truck expecting to head straight for the woods, but Mr. Cassens seemed to prefer standing around talking for awhile first. A few minutes had passed when another truck pulled into the driveway and a man stepped out saying he had heard someone around there had a Blue Dog for sale, wondering if he had stopped in the right place. Mr. Cassens spoke up, “Well sir you have come to the right place, but a little late because this young man here is about to buy my Blue Dog“. The stranger eased around the front of his pick up and said, “Well now, if that’s him there in the truck, get him out and we’ll have a look at him anyway”. Mr. Cassens pulled open his tailgate and Ol’ Blue jumped down wagged his tail and belted out a big ol’ houndy bawl. “Man that dog has the looks and mouth I’m lookin’ fer’, I’ll just take him right now”, said the stranger. “Now wait just a darn minute, this boy has first chance at this here Blue Dog and you can’t just up and buy him out from under his nose, at least give him a chance”, Mr. Cassens insisted. This did not diminish the strangers determination one bit, he walked up to me and in a challenging voice said, “Well boy, what’s it gonna be, you want the dog, er’ not”? Well, I was just a little flustered not knowing what to say or what to do; I had never been in such a predicament before. I finally blurted out, “Heck yes I want him that’s what I’m here for”, and the next thing I knew they were loadin’ Ol’ Blue in Jake’s truck and Mr. Cassens was handing me the registration papers with one hand while holding out the other hand to collect his $300. The stranger appeared mighty disappointed and Mr. Cassens mighty happy, but the two of them just stood there and watched while Jake, Blue and I drove off into the darkness.
Jake couldn’t believe I had just bought a dog without trying it out first, but said he understood I needed to do something fast or loose out completely. I was young and gullible and it never dawned on me until later that I had been snookered by the oldest con game in the book. I simply didn’t know any better at the time and looking back it was probably a cheap education by today’s standards. The most important thing to me at that particular moment was that we were driving down the road with a Coonhound of my very own in the truck. I spent most of that trip home studying Blue’s registration papers with my flashlight trying to understand what it all meant, I had never seen anything like that before. His papered name was “Midnight Blue Blaze”, so from that point on I called him Midnight, which everyone thought was a strange name for a coonhound. As soon as we pulled in my driveway I took Midnight back behind the barn, tied him up and gave him fresh water and some food. I probably went out and checked on him twenty times that night, wanting to make sure he was ok. Mom and Dad thought I was obsessed and were not very happy when my new buddy went to howling in the middle of the night.
Over the next few months Midnight and I became inseparable and very close friends. I spent a little time with him each morning before school and on the evenings and weekends we ventured out exploring and getting to know the surrounding landscape so we would both be ready when the big night came. We had not been out after dark yet, but we knew every woods, field, creek and fence within several miles of my home and could not wait until coon season. My skinning knife was sharp enough to split hairs and I had been practicing a good bit with Dad’s Remington #522 to the point I could hit eight out of ten walnuts even on the windy days. My sister carried me up to Gamble’s General Store where I picked up some knee high rubber boots, coveralls and several boxes of .22 hollow points. We stopped by Woody’s Auto Supply and I picked up a silver colored 12v spotlight, a 12v motorcycle battery and two alligator clips. Dad helped me make a shoulder strap and a wooden box to carry the motorcycle battery in and I cleaned up the old kerosene lantern that was hanging in the tool shed. I was now finally ready for opening night; everything I needed was sitting on the back porch or tied up behind the barn just waiting for darkness. The one thing I had not figured on was that my Prince Albert can, previously over stuffed from a year’s worth of hard work, was looking mighty empty now with the exception of a few measly dollars and some loose change.
I must have dozed off or gotten completely caught up in daydreaming about night things when I was startled and nearly jumped out of my skin hearing a few kids on the bus holler out, “Jerry it’s your stop, hey Jerry hurry up”! Bob the bus driver just grinned and said, “See ya Monday” as I stumbled out the door and ran up the road bank into our front yard. I hurried through the kitchen door, threw my books down and was heading upstairs to change clothes when Mom hollered, “Where’s the fire, what’s your hurry”? I didn’t have time to stop and explain, having figured by the time I finished the nightly chores and ate supper it would be time to get in the woods. During supper everyone wanted to know why I was all fidgety and had this huge grin on my face, so my brother Mike enlightened them all to my plans for the evening. Mike was heading out on a movie date and had agreed to drop Midnight and I off down on Salt Creek and pick me up at 11:30 at my cousin’s house several miles down stream. After Mike picked me up I had hoped he could drop us off again down at the old Laker farm between Oldenburg and St. Mary’s and I could hunt another five miles or so back to the house.
We had no dog box, so Midnight and I road in the back of Mike’s 1967 Ford pickup as he headed for Salt Creek. We were a little cold, but didn’t mind at all as we would be warming up real soon with all the walkin’, shootin’ and coon skinnin’ I was planning on. When he stopped the truck I hurried to get the dog, lantern and gun out and ready before Mike sped off toward Batesville. I didn’t have a leash, so I just spoke to Midnight and he followed me to the edge of the creek and started out away from me. About the time I got the old lantern lit and trimmed down he struck down on the water with that big booming bawl I loved to hear. I just set back against a big sycamore tree and soaked up the beautiful night. It was somewhat overcast with a light wind blowing the clouds just enough the moon would peek in and out. At that point it all seemed like a fuzzy dream, an entire year of planning and preparation had finally come down to this point, sitting on a creek bank waiting for my hound to tree our first raccoon together. In between Midnight’s frequent bawls I could hear yard dogs barking and a few chop mouthed hounds treeing far off in the distance.
By 11:00 I was sitting on the well curb at my cousin’s house resting and watching down the road hoping to get a glimpse of Mike’s Ford headlights as they popped up over the hill. My feet were a little sore and my side ached from the motorcycle battery riding up on it. We had completed the first leg of our opening night hunt and were very anxious to get the second leg underway. Mike couldn’t help but rub it in a little that I had been out there in the dark for nearly five hours and still did not have one coon to show for it. He was convinced his activities this evening made a lot more sense than whatever I was trying to accomplish out here in the woods. He had spent his time at the Gibson Theater in the company of a young lady laughing until their sides hurt at Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle and Teri Garr in “Young Frankenstein”. After he had finished giving me a hard time, we headed down the road to Laker’s bridge. As I sat in the back of the truck and rubbed Midnight’s ears, I wondered what the heck we could be doing wrong. I thought we had done everything right, I had the coonhound and all the equipment needed, why weren’t we catching coons? Midnight was striking tracks and running tracks, sometimes a short ways, sometimes a long ways, but he had not treed yet, always coming back as if to tell me about it. I was convinced on this next turn out I would follow him step for step and find out what the deal was.
As Mike revved his Ford’s straight six to pull off the bridge, he hollered, “Good luck, I’m goin’ to bed, see ya later” and on he went toward Loop Road. It wasn’t long before Midnight was running a track again, but this time I was right there with him. He stopped and looked at me a few times as if he wondered what I wanted, but I would coax him right back on the track. He finally caught something, so I ran up to investigate, a darn possum! I spoke to him and he left it alone and went on hunting leaving me at least one clue of what he may have been up to earlier in the evening. The sky was beginning to darken and I was starting to hear a little rumbling in the west as Midnight struck another track and boy was it a doozy! He worked and worked this track for what seemed like hours and before he finished it the clouds opened up and man did we get a downpour. It was raining so hard that I couldn’t see much in front of me with that old lantern and I was thankful this track had taken us much further south toward home. I didn’t have a dry stitch of clothing on me as Midnight came in and we stepped out onto the road. I was pleasantly surprised, realizing I was standing on Sawmill Road just a half mile from the house. Up to this point I had not been to sure where we were due to the constant rain in my face. I leaned the gun up against a fence post, removed the sling to use as a leash and called Midnight over to hook him up. I doubted anyone would be on the road that time of night, but didn’t want to take a chance, so we started down the road toward the house.
As I look back on that year and that opening night it still amazes me how excited I was simply to be out in the woods, just me and my dog. The facts that we were not catching coons and that I was tired, cold and very wet seemed completely irrelevant at the time. They say ignorance is bliss and I guess in my case that was very true. I could not have been happier even though I was completely clueless about coonhounds and coonhunting. Thirty plus years of experience later I really miss those days of wonder and naive innocence. In some ways it seems I have been cursed by the good hounds I’ve been fortunate enough to follow through the last three decades. These days my expectations of coonhounds and coonhunting are extremely high, maybe too high and I always want to breed and hunt a better dog than I did before. When I’m out hunting these days I am more easily annoyed at a dog or the weather if either is not cooperating and sometimes I wish maybe I didn’t take these things quite so seriously.
My thoughts and feelings as Midnight and I walked down Sawmill Road together that magical opening night so long ago remain so vividly etched in my memory that it seems like only yesterday. Cold and soaked to the bone, I was no doubt a little discouraged and disappointed with the night’s events, but as the familiar security light near our barn came into view it brought a warming smile to my cold and frowning face. These warm feelings transported me back to the daydreams I had earlier in the day while trying to relax on the school bus. Somehow seeing the lights of home translated to a little extra spring in my tired step and before long I found myself humming that soothing melody Bob had found on his bus radio, “Hey it’s good to be back home again, sometimes this old farm feels like a long-lost friend, oh yes it’s good to be back home again…”