DIPPING VATS AND FLUB A DUB
by: Eddie Trapp
In the late 1800's and early 1900's there were cattle drives passing northward. The traveling cattle seemed healthy but after a herd would go through, some of the local cattle died. Maybe a disease was carried in the manure of the traveling cattle. Wagons followed the herd and men were assigned to scoop up the poop. Local cattle still died. There were many ideas as to the cause but finally narrowed down to tick fever to which the South Texas cattle were immune. Other names for the disease were Texas tick fever, splenetic fever, and southern cattle fever. As the ticks dropped off the traveling cattle they infested the local ones. Tick fever is similar to flu in humans and often as many of ninety percent of cattle would die. Many things were tried to solve the problem, one of which was building narrow lanes to limit access to local cattle. At our monthly meeting of the Valley of the Caddo Archeological Society in Paris recently an expert presented a program on dipping vats.
Our government had programs that financed building concrete dipping vats over much of Texas. Vats were about thirty feet long, seven feet deep, three feet wide, and held two thousand gallons of .20 % arsenic. Cattle were driven in at one end and came out the other. Pesticides used were arsenic, sulfur, creosote, toxaphene, and later DDT. Another recipe suggested by the USDA was 24 pounds of sodium carbonate, eight pounds of arsenic trioxide, and one gallon of pine tar. Sometimes as cattle passed through the vat their heads would not "go under." Men with sticks were posted beside the vat to push their heads down and soak them. A law required a farmer/rancher to dip his cattle every so often and the charge was five cents a head. The dip was sometimes so poisonous it killed the cattle. In 1894 the first dipping vat in history was built on the King Ranch in south Texas and 25,000 cattle were dipped before they moved north. During previous years a "shotgun" quarantine limited the cattle drives northward as vigilantes forced the drives around some communities. From 1906 to 1961 our federal government required any cattle leaving Texas to be dipped in the arsenic solution. Vats were positioned so that no cattle would have to be driven over three miles to the vat. So you can see there are many vats today hidden by brush and maybe filled in with soil. For example from 1906 - 1962, 3400 of the vats were constructed in Florida.
In 1891 a law was passed establishing the Texas tick fever quarantine line. Cattle could not be driven northward across the line between January 15 and November 15 when ticks were most active. The only way cattle could be moved north during those dates was by rail or boat and they had to be slaughtered immediately upon arrival at their destination.
Human nature resisted the forced dippings in many areas and Texas was not the only state involved. In Arkansas, protestors called "kickers" participated in dynamiting vats, burning buildings of the ones using the vats, verbal threats, newspaper protests, assault, and even murder. Fifteen counties in northern Arkansas were declared free of the ticks in 1907 and obtained exemption from dipping. Tick fever was finally declared eradicated in the U. S. in 1943 but voluntary dipping continued until 1960.
Although the disease is gone, the pollution from the vats remains but many people simply ignore the problem. Some folks say they swam in the old vats when they were kids. A vat in downtown Pottsville, Arkansas was built in 1915 and later filled in with dirt when dippings were no longer needed. Years later, city employees dug out the dirt and made it a centerpiece in their historic downtown park. Old dipping vats have been discovered in playgrounds, under high schools, nursing homes, and shopping center parking lots. Many land owners know of old dipping vats on their land but understandably don't want anyone coming in and tearing up the place to decontaminate the soil. Many of the vats were used as trash dumps and filled with old bottles and other household items, making them prime areas for archeologists to dig. Our government has tried to get the word out that the soil could be highly contaminated. There are many documented dipping vat sites over the South including Delta, Hopkins, and Lamar Counties. Use caution when piddling around these old vats.
Howdy Doody was a puppet on television from 1947 - 1960 and his "owner" was Buffalo Bob. The show was so popular that by 1948 stores had Howdy Doody dolls and toys. The first puppet has been called the "ugliest puppet imaginable" and finally had to have plastic surgery (the kids were told.) A "prettier" freckle faced Howdy was created with forty eight freckles, one for each state (at that time.) Howdy had several friends on the show. One was the mysterious puppet, Flub a Dub, with body parts from eight animals. He had a duck bill, cat whiskers, dog ears, giraffe neck, dachshund body, seal flippers, pig tail, and elephant memory. Now that is a great trivia question! Name the eight animal parts on Flub a Dub.
Another character, this one a "live" clown, was Clarabell the Clown, played by Bob Keeshan until 1952 when he quit over a salary dispute and went on to become Captain Kangaroo. The original Howdy Doody puppet now lives in the Detroit Institute of Arts. Howdy Doody was one of my first television memories along with Hopalong Cassidy, Lone Ranger, and Gunga Din.
January 3 - 4 there will be a meteor shower with about forty per hour. The best viewing time will be after midnight as our part of the Earth turns to meet the meteors.
A couple got a new cat that insisted on "sharpening his claws" on the back of a good chair. The wife fussed about it and the husband said he would solve the problem. He would punish the cat by putting it outside each time it scratched on the chair. For the next sixteen years any time the cat wanted to go outside it would scratch on the back of the chair. Happy New Year!