Kids raised down on the “avenue” were poor. They were mainly Irish Catholics who worked when and wherever to make a few bucks to get through another tough depression era week. And this sweltering humid mid-west July afternoon saw a typical gathering at the firehouse onWabash Avenue. The firehouse was small but big enough to house a hook-and-ladder truck and keep four firemen on duty around the clock.
A few times a week, it was common to see two card tables and eight guys sweating over pinochle decks and lemonade. The visitors were usually the same, Murphy, McGuire, Ryan and Shaugnessy; you usually didn’t see one without the other three. Sometimes guys would stop in, watch the card games, share some lemonade, tea and baseball talk, and try to get some of the breeze the big fan in the corner provided.
One day, the visitor watching was old “crazy Kenny” who wouldn’t shut up bragging about his prize rat terrier. It wasn’t the first time they had heard these wild stories about little ‘Feisty’ and his speed and ratting ability at Crazy Kenny’s small farm. He had brought Feisty by one time and there were arguments about Feisty’s breeding. None of the fellows thought he was a real rat terrier, just a small, 10 pounds soaking wet, little snippy runt that yapped constantly…and oh so ugly.
However, that day Crazy Kenny was on his high horse bragging about Feisty. He wanted to make a bet. He told the eight pinochle players that he would trap a rat and bring Feisty to the firehouse. They would go to the gutter where he would release the rat and give the rat a ½ block lead. He’d then release Feisty and he bet money that he’d catch the rat before the end of the block. He would take quarter bets from all eight of them.
It only took a few seconds for all to take the bet. Crazy Kenny said he would be back at 9am the next morning with the caged rat and Feisty.
By 9am, the temperature and humidity were even at 85 and the four firemen, the four Irish buddies, Crazy Kenny, Feisty and a fat rat in a cage were gathered in front of the fire station on Wabash Avenue. Last minute rules and distance markers were discussed and after another viewing of this weird and ugly little dog, the bets were raised to 50 cents. In 1933, three pennies were equal in value to our present day dollar, so 50 cents was a huge bet.
As this bickering was going on, no one paid much attention to the huge farm wagon slowly moving up the street a few blocks away. Two big draft horses with black eye flaps were slowly pulling the wagon. A lone farmer sat high up on the seat with the reins drooping in front of him and his hat slouched down over his eyes. Under the wagon, keeping the same slow gait as the horses was a giant dog. Mostly St. Bernard mix, he stayed in the shade of the wagon while his master headed to the grain elevator.
When Crazy Kenny released the rat, the horse-drawn wagon was a block away. The rat raced along the gutter curbing at full speed. The fellows watched the rat approaching the designated ‘release Feisty’ point and their voices echoed down the avenue together, “wait… wait”, and the voices grew louder, “Wait…NOW”! Crazy Kenny released Feisty and he tore after the rat at breakneck speed. He was gaining as the rat neared the end of the block and suddenly the rat veered to the left and ran between the two horses. Feisty was right behind. The giant draft horses never changed their slow stride as the rat and the dog ran between them. Then, the rat darted to the right just as Feisty, at full bore, reached the huge St. Bernard. The dog opened his mouth and it was as if Feisty jumped right into his mouth. The giant dog gave a swallow, shook his head slowly and continued on.
Nine guys were stuck dumb. They had just witnessed an unbelievable happening. Crazy Kenny cried like a baby and the eight agreed that Feisty was going to catch the rat so they placed four dollars in Kenny’s shirt pocket as he sadly walked away.