‘You went to bed with a functioning vehicle. …’

Base camp at the overflow area in McDowell Mountain Regional Park, circa 2004.

Ken Layne kicks off this week’s installment of Desert Oracle Radio with a nod to a critter I know all too well — the “truck roach,” a.k.a. the wood rat.

Back when we were camped on that windscoured rockpile near Weirdcliffe in Crusty County, Colo., the deer, bears, ring-tailed cats, buzzworms, mountain lions, coyotes, and wood rats paid us regular visits. Once or twice the rats found their way into our laundry closet via the exhaust ductwork from the washer-dryer combo, which I then would have to disconnect and drag onto the deck so the furry little burglar could make his getaway.

On one memorable occasion, after we had relocated to Bibleburg, we drove back up to the Weirdcliffe place for a relaxing weekend in the boondocks. Herself dashed inside for a wee, and in short order I heard a screech worthy of a slasher film. An invading wood rat had managed to escape the laundry closet only to drown in the downstairs toilet.

But the pièce de résistance of our rodent experience centered on our 1998 Toyota Tacoma pickup, pictured above.

This outrageously expensive machine was practically brand new when one day it developed a hitch in its gitalong, an inexplicable stutter in its step. “This won’t do, not at all,” I thought, and lurched down Hardscrabble Canyon and over to the Toyota dealer in Pueblo that had sold me the thing.

The shop dudes said they’d have a quick look-see and suggested I go grab a bite of lunch. When I returned they were having themselves a huge hee, along with a haw or two or three.

Seems that when the young wrench assigned to my problem popped the hood, a giant wood rat leapt out of the engine compartment, then took a high-speed lap or two around the service bay before rocketing back into the truck somewhere.

The sonofabitch had been gnawing on the wiring harness, which explained the spastic nature of the vehicle’s operation. I got a new one of those along with some advice about various potions for discouraging peckish ratoncitos.

We never did figure out what happened to that particular wood rat, who must have been the most widely traveled member of his clan. I often thought of him holding forth to his grandchildren about the time he surfed a Toyota all the way to Pueblo and back.

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12 Responses to “‘You went to bed with a functioning vehicle. …’”

  1. khal spencer Says:

    Rats.

    One chewed up the insulating blanket under the hood of my WRX and then chewed through the wire to the air conditioner. I rewired the air conditioner but had to order the blanket. Another chewed up part of the wiring harness on my old Ford Exploder. Had to replace that harness after chugging and spazzing my way to the shop as you did.

    The pièce de résistance was the day I agreed to help move a friend from Santa Fe to Albuquerque. It was in the dead of summer. The morning was cool as I drove from Bombtown to the City Indifferent but got warm by the time we were ready to schlep the stuff to the Duke City. I turned on the A/C in the Tacoma and was met with a cloud of dust and a rattle sounding like a hundred squirrels shaking cans of nuts. And, it smelled like nuts. Well, that’s what it was. Some little critters had used my truck’s HVAC ducts as a storage for acorns. Had to drive to the Duke City and back sans AC and you know how hot that drive can be.

    Cleaning that mess out was fun. I got most of the nuts by attaching a flexible dishwasher hose to my shop vac and working it through the ductwork. Some of it had to just be taken apart.

    Oh, and there were acorns nestled in the air cleaner box, too.

    I finally put bags of moth balls all through the engine compartment. That seemed to keep them at bay. The rodents, not the moths.

  2. BruceM Says:

    Seems to be a very common problem especially for owners of hybrid vehicles. Seems to be something about what the insulation is made from. Don’t park your car outside here on the country’s left coast!

  3. canamsteve Says:

    Same thing happened to my little VW, except it was a sophisticated London rat in the Big Smoke. He(?) too made it all the way to the garage before doing a runner. I thought the repair would cost Many Pounds, but the repair guy said “Nah – perfect job for the apprentice – connect the red wire to the red wire, the green wire to the green wire… If he screws that up, we’ll just fire ‘im.”

  4. Shawn Says:

    Rats under the bonnet? Nope not me. I just whisk up the neighbor’s cat every evening and toss him into the warmth of the engine compartment with a can of tuna. Kitty cat contentment deters any rodent infiltration. But it can be a bit exciting if I forget about the cat in the morning. Start up the motor and hear this horrible howling. Oh no! Lift the hood and see the poor feline spread-eagled over the rotating serpentine belt. Have you ever seen the “I’m going to get you look” from a cat before? It took me two weeks to coax the other neighbor’s cat into my service.

    Disclaimer: Yes I’m just kidding. No cats were really kidnapped for this task. I only used the ‘other’ neighbor’s pet python one time. It worked too. Although my date the next night was disturbed when the rat exfiltrater decided to curl up around said date’s ankles. Wow, was she mad.

    But in all accuracy, squirrels are the critters of dread up in Alaska.

  5. John A Levy Says:

    My 2019 Jeep Cherokee has attracted a nasty band of packrats. They enjoy sleeping and nesting on the battery cover and washer reservoir. Banging on hood doesn’t disturb them but a broom and and lots of d-con in foil helps. At $20 for air filters it can be pricey per year. They make an awful stink when they hit the serpentine belt so daily maintenance is necessary. Hanen’t gnawed on anything just yet .

  6. Herb from Michigan Says:

    Gotta love those old Eureka tents. I had various Timberlines back in the day and they were bomber. By today’s standards heavy as hell but choice 1 for car camping. Paired with the venerable Coleman Peak 1 stove and Sigg steel cook kit you could last out there all summer.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Yeh, that Eureka was a goodie. Got a deal on it through Bear Basin Ranch up in Crusty County, as I recall. They used them for their dude-wrangling operation. A drunk howler monkey could set one up in about 30 seconds with a bear chasing him in a driving rain.

      We eBayed that rascal a while back and my go-to now is a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2. That’s a quick setup too, but a lot less stealth (orange).

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