It is April 1st and in my home town it might as well have been a national holiday. One year the local paper printed its front page in reverse image. Another year it reported the permanent closing of US 31 to make a 150 wide walking path. One year it reported the name of the paper had changed from the Kokomo Tribune to the Kokomo Caller, they would henceforth call subscribers on the telephone each day with the news. It really went on and on and I for one always looked forward to the annual April Fools edition.
Well except the year I was involved. It seemed the paper was going to report that all the sewers in Kokomo were found full of man eating fish and alligators, now not some sewers, all sewers. The fellow at the plant found a picture of two men standing beside a 10 foot alligator captured in FL and someone photo shopped a pair of legs in his mouth. It reported this poor soul had been engulfed while taking a shower. There were the numerous eye witnesses, the calls for city assistance, the calls for someone, somewhere, somehow to do something. A reputed big game hunter offered to search out the offending alligators if he could raise a “party of brave men” to accompany him into the sewer. I think that part of the story was where the real trouble began, then me. They asked and with the Mayor’s permission I said that yes alligators had been a big problem for years and they were stopping up the sewer in large numbers and really we did not have good ways of ridding ourselves of the plague. After all the man eating fish and alligators were so numerous we were afraid to allow people to go into even the larges sewers to kill the offenders.
I went on to tell of the great alligator hunt of 1913 and the fact that almost 200 were harvested then thus ridding our community of the beasts except of course some got away and over the years had repopulated the system. I spoke of ideal conditions and of the unfortunate accident of the fellow who had been half eaten while in his shower and on and on.
Well after thinking things through the local paper decided to run a different April Fool’s joke story, one not involving me and I for one was delighted. Sure I loved the local April Fool joke but being the center of it was a little close to home. In fact one might think that was the end of the story. Oh how wrong you’d be.
See it turns out the picture was dramatic enough that someone gave or sold it to The Onion. Now I know The Onion is satirical little newspaper and I know when I see a story in it to laugh. I am sure who ever gave it to The Onion did so in a ha ha isn’t this funny sort of way. When pointed out to me I myself laughed. No one from The Onion called to let us know it was going to run this picture or parts of the news story with the names changed of course, but I suppose when you make up news checking on it is not that big a deal. I mean, if I were to make things up for fun I would not call the city involved and say hey guess what, we are going to make fun of you. Also in fairness this was completely absurd who in the right mind thinks someone is taking a shower and is attacked by a 10 foot long alligator that happened to crawl up a 6” pipe and come out of a 4” drain? Yeah I mean come on. It was funny. Sort of.
The Onion was foreign to most people in my city, since most had never spent a day in college or for that matter many days outside Howard County Indiana. When the paper hit the local plant it got photocopied, hopefully not by the engineer types who presumably did go to college, and it swept through the plant like a California wild fire being fanned by a pacific wind. The problem was of course the picture. The two men who found this alligator were local plant workers and they had their picture associated with that story. Well of course people knew these men, or knew of them more likely and within one days’ time. I had a serious piranha and alligator problem.
The calls started up in an unsuspecting manner, it was a lazy late April day and suddenly at 2:15 the phones started ringing off the hook about alligator sightings at various houses all over the community. About 60% of them were tamed by explaining it was a bad April Fool’s joke picked up by a satirical newspaper in that faraway place Madison WI, and not to worry there were no alligators or piranha in the sewers. About 20% were the regular goof balls who for whatever reason always had some conspiracy theory going and then there were the rest.
The rest included the entire population of Indian Heights, an early planned housing development gone totally amok that still had about 700 houses and the education level of a one of the alligators. It was not in the city limits, but the city had sewers out there and so that made it my special problem. It was there that people often shot first and asked questions later where the search party was formed.
10 men more or less in camouflage decided to do what had to be done. They opened the sewer and descended in to hunt big game. With flashlights in hand and steely eyed determination they closed the manhole grate and away they went.
Now there were some things about this sewer. First it was not and never had been a sanitary sewer. In the sewer business there are sanitary sewers and storm sewers. Storm sewers are big and connected to storm grates in the street. Sanitary sewers are relatively small and connected to the sewage treatment plant. In this case the City oversaw the Sanitary but not the storm sewers. Anyway they found themselves in a storm sewer and like all big game hunters they turned down stream and proceeded to track their pry. Flashlights in hand and in this case about 15 feet underground.
It was by all accounts a difficult search and after an arduous journey of maybe 30 minutes the men’s minds start to wonder. What if someone flushed? What if they walked under a shower with a less than clothed person taking a shower? What if they spotted a child in that shower, would they be sex predators? These things of course enter the mind of a man who is where he is not supposed to be, doing something he is not supposed to do. Frankly, I believe it scared them.
Now what never entered their mind was something far more critical. That was of course that it started to rain. By rain, I mean rain hard. By hard I mean really hard. On the surface 15 feet above this is of little consequence. In a storm sewer, it is a big deal. Think of all the surface water that is dispersed on top, being concentrated in a few thousand feet of storm sewer below. Even minor rains produce well large volume even in large 96” pipes below. True to form this hard rain produced a large volume below and the pipe filled rapidly. Every possible inlet was flooding soon there was no way they could withstand the water and man, gun and yes flashlight were swept to the local creek. It was not known who busted out the grate covering the inlet to the sewer. It was a flap gate, so I suspect whoever it was had a pretty rough ride.
Now the local creek was normally a slow moving affair. It was less a creek and more a ditch. And these big game hunters had no doubt tracked pry (IE.. Deer) in this area before, but in the dead of night with no lights and no guns, they went down the ditch like a giant slip and slide. Ending eventually after all was said and done clinging to the banks of the local river which was a river. Separated, confused and whether or not they knew it, they were in mortal danger. This river was no place to be anytime, let alone in a heavy rain.
When light came some passerby’s found them beside the road and each told the tale of their big game hunt to the local sheriff. Who promptly put them in lock up and let them have one call. Eventually the trespassing charges were dropped, the men released and a new story made the rounds at the local plant. This time not an April Fools joke, rather a bigger tale of how these men we nearly drowned when the city found them hunting alligator in the sewer. In this version he City flooded the sewer to run the men off so as to suppress such news worthy events. After all my city did have a reputation to protect and free roaming alligators was not good for business. Indeed many things were not good for business. However the men failed to realize alligators were the least of our concerns.