More Rachelwood Memories


       Saturdays during the fall and winter were hunt days at Rachelwood and they took on something of a festival atmosphere for those of us who lived in the preserve.  Dad would wake up before dawn to make all the final preparations

for the Mellons and their guests who would usually arrive before 9:00 A.M.  All of the adults who lived on the preserve, the research staff and students and all the hired men worked in some way.   Even the wives pitched in and helped either with the research staff or with housekeeping and cooking for the Mellons.  There were several teenagers living in the preserve and myself, but we weren't expected to help.  The teens had no interest in the goings on, but I wouldn't miss it for anything.  Mom and Dad would leave me to wake up on my own on these days, which while later than they got up, was still pretty early.  I'd wolf down a bowl of cereal or some such quick breakfast and head for the action.  Usually that meant I'd be in the area set up for research outside the building that housed the walk-in refrigerator and freezer. 
       As soon as all the guests had arrived, Dad and one or two other men would load them up into specially outfitted open Chevy Blazers and Jeeps and drop them off one at a time along a chosen road.  Then at Dad's signal the hired men who were already in place uphill from the hunters would begin walking through the woods toward the hunters yelling, beating sticks together and generally creating a racket that would send any deer, elk or sheep running away from them and toward the hunters.  Every hunter would get a kill and some of them would get 2 or 3.  Once the drive was over, the hunters would be picked up and taken back to Stonington Cottage for a snack and to draw lots for position during the next outing.  In the meantime,  another crew of men who had been waiting with pick-up trucks would move in and load all the kills.  Some were very easy to find, others were marked by florescent orange tape tied to a branch above it.  These would then be delivered to the research staff where each animal would be thoroughly examined inside and out and all the data recorded.  More men helped out here with moving the carcasses onto and off of necropsy tables, cleaning them, emptying gut barrels, hanging them in the cooler, etc. 
       The research area tended to look like what I imagined a field hospital during the Civil War would have been like.....except that it was for animals and they were all dead.  The work was always done outside, but often under a large canopy to give some protection from the weather.  There would be 4-6 tables set up to put the animals on as well as tables for equipment and saved specimens.  Each animal was numbered and every bit of data was written down.  The research staff was very thorough and very intense.  It was not unusual to see Dr. Wolfe up on a table with his arms buried in an animal.  Animals that hadn't been processed yet were piled on the ground waiting.  There was blood everywhere and barrels full of guts that would have to be loaded into a truck and taken to a pit dug in the woods just for that purpose.  It wasn't a place for the squeamish and more than once we had a person pass out or lose their most recent meal.  This is where I chose to spend the majority of the day.  I absolutely loved all the scientific stuff that went on and I usually had my nose right in there with the research staff's.  They were wonderful about it, answering every question I threw at them, pointing out things of interest, etc.  They never told me they were too busy and always stopped and treated me with respect even though I was just a little kid.  I helped out as much as I could by handing them things, running errands or whatever was needed and they always let me know I was appreciated.   They were great about tossing some part in a jar for me to take to school, too. (I was a gross kid, what can I say?)  Those men and women were my heroes back then.  I wanted to be just like them.
       Don't think I ignored the rest of what went on.  Oh no, far from it!  I often rode along with the men who picked up the kills or the ones driving the game.  I was never allowed to go out with the beaters until after the shooting had stopped, but then I would help tag the kills or be allowed to radio for pick-up.  I rode along to the pit when the gut barrels were emptied (there's a stench I will never forget).  Now and then I would even ride along with Dad and the Mellons.  Mrs. Burrell, who had been a Mellon and owned the place, took a special interest in me and sent me to the same private school her grandchildren went to.  She was always glad to see me and hear about school.  Sometimes the grandchildren came and I would talk to them.
       The whole pattern of the hunt and then the research would be repeated 4 or 5 times in a day and the average number of animals killed was usually around 80.  To an outsider this may seem excessive and cruel, but these hunt days would take place once or twice a month and were vital to controlling the herd population in the preserve.  There was no natural ground cover outside of the pasture areas because the forest floor had been stripped clean and the animals gave it no chance to grow back.  The animals had to be grain fed or they would starve.  So, you can see it was important to control the population.
       The hunting would be long done and the Mellons and their guests gone home and the research staff would still be hard at work.  Dad and the other men would pitch in once the guests were gone.  It was something to see all those people buzzing around, all knowing just what to do.  When the last animal was done and hung in the cooler the clean up began.  Mostly it consisted of hosing all the tables and equipment, then the ground.  If we'd had to move inside because of the weather it also meant shoveling "stuff" into the gut barrels.  Everything had to be hauled back to where it belonged, strings of lights had to come down, as did the canopy.  When it was all finally finished it'd be getting close to 10:00 P.M. and the hired men would head home.  The entire research staff, students and any of the on-site families that wanted to would come to our house and everyone would pitch in to make a big meal......usually spaghetti, but sometimes steak and salad.  The conversation would flow and it was just great.  These people were my family and I would mourn any time one of the students' time was up and they had to return to school.  Usually things would start to wind down well past midnight when everyone was full and the dishes were washed and people would start slipping out till everyone was gone.  Then it was showers for all of us (a definite must after a day like that) and off to bed where we'd collapse exhausted, but happy.