Day the Mules Went Crazy
by Jim Foreman
GET RICH RAISING LABORATORY MICE
At least that's what the advertisement in the Grit Newspaper said. According to the ad, all that you had to do to get rich in almost not time at all was to order a breeding pair of white mice for only $5.00, let them do what mice do naturally and then sell the results to laboratories which were just waiting to give up to $1.00 each for white mice for research. Not only that, but they gave you a double-your-money-back Guarantee of Results. There was no way that we could fail to make big money.
I had tried selling Cloverine Salve to get a 22 rifle. I never did sell enough to get the rifle, but we still had at least two dozen cans of the stuff that my dad had to pay for. I tried selling magazines but never sold a single one. I might have been able to sell a subscription to my aunt, but my cousin was trying to sell them too and she had to buy from him. I even tried selling garden seed, but found that you could buy the same stuff at the hardware store for half the price. The trouble had always been that during the depression no one had any money to buy much of anything, especially what I was selling. This was different, those big research laboratories had lots of money and were anxious to buy every single mouse we could produce.
My cousin and I scrounged up and sold deposit pop bottles, scrap iron and feed sacks for nearly a week before we finally accumulated the required five dollars. We rushed down to the post office to get the money order and send off for our breeding pair of white mice. Then there was that long, agonizing wait for them to come in at the depot. In those days, everything alive that needed to get somewhere in a hurry, like baby chicks, baby pigs and bees was shipped by railroad express. As soon as we got out of school each day, we rushed down to the depot to see if they had come in. Then we would go home and build mouse cages to house our budding enterprise.
One day it arrived, all the way from Kokomo, Indiana, the little box containing our pair of breeding white mice. It was a small box, about the size of a brick, with several holes punched in it to let in air for our mice to breath. We shook the box and heard them scamper around inside of it. We carried our package home and released our mice into the cage that we had built for them. At first, all they did was sit there, blinking their beady little eyes. We must have watched them for four hours as they huddled in a corner. We began to wonder if they were ever going to do anything in the way of making little mice.
Since the mice didn't seem to be doing anything interesting, we spent our time reading the little book of instructions on feeding and caring for the mice. The book also had the names and addresses of half a dozen research laboratories which bought mice for research. There was also a copy of the Guarantee of Results or double-our-money-back, printed on parchment paper with a gold scroll around the edge. It was a beautiful thing; looked like it should be framed and hung on a wall.
The next day, they were eating grain, drinking water and scampering around the cage when we came in from school. Two weeks later, one of them began to look like she was going to have little mice and a week after that, she gave birth to six tiny, pink babies. As soon as those six were large enough to sell for two dollars each, we would have our money back and a seven dollar profit. We were in the laboratory mouse business.
Well, not really just yet. The instruction book said that to get the maximum return on our investment, we should keep all of the offspring during the first six to nine months to build up a large breeding stock. We spent the next eight months carrying grain, pouring water, building cages and watching our breeding stock get so large that we couldn't count them all.
Now was the time for us to cash in on our investment by selling a couple hundred of our mice. We had already picked out the bicycles, radios, rifles, and camping gear in the Sears Roebuck catalog that we were going to buy just as soon as the money started rolling in. We carefully wrote letters to all the laboratories listed in the book and mailed them. In no time at all, orders would start pouring in and we would be rich. Three of the letters were returned undelivered because the places were no longer in business or unknown. One sent a post card saying that they did not buy mice and there was no reply from the other two.
I took the Guarantee of Results or double-our-money-back to my dad to read. Since it was obvious that we could not sell the mice, we wanted to at least get double our five dollar investment back. My dad read the guarantee carefully and said, "They guarantee that the mice that they sent will breed and produce more mice, not that you will be able to sell any of them. Looks like you boys have been cheated out of your five dollars and have a whole bunch of white mice on your hands."
We thought about our business reversal for a while and decided to dump the whole thing--and that is just what we did. We opened the cages and turned about a thousand mice loose. My dad didn't consider our method of going out of business to be the smartest thing that we had ever done, especially since every time he went to the barn, white mice were swarming everywhere. The white mice mated with the regular mice and soon, half-breed mice spread all over town. It took several years for every cat in town working overtime to finally bring the mouse population back to a reasonable level.