He was an unusual archeologist, but he was well-equipped for a dig. Those sharp front claws made him the leading backhoe of the small mammals that frequented the farm from time to time.

He chose the site of his excavation well. It was under a concrete floor that was poured in the barn more than 125 years ago.

He began his excavation in a square opening in the concrete where a wooden beam once stood. It had been removed long ago when an addition was added to the barn. The hole where the beam once stood was filled with dirt.

When I went in the barn to remove a mower one day I found the large mound of dirt that had been removed and deposited on the concrete floor.

The ground hog had left his tracks behind in the dirt. When I reported to Sue there was a new boarder in the barn, a ground hog, her reaction was typical to what you could expect when a landlord had been notified of a non-rent paying boarder.

“He can’t stay,” she said.

There were a few negative things about allowing the ground hog to stay. If he, and I’m not certain it was a he, stayed, he would undoubtedly dig a longer tunnel under the floor. He would also dig more dens. Ground hogs like to have more than one home.

They also like to visit gardens. Our guest was soon removing tomatoes from the vines and dined on a large, nearly ripe, cantaloupe that had survived the dry weather.

He was a fine looking young animal, nearly full grown with a glossy coat. He enjoyed strolling near the barn, and then running inside through the opening under the door when someone interfered with his activities. The door was left up a bit on the barn so the stray cat that visited occasionally could find shelter.

One day when the ground hog was otherwise occupied, I filled in his den and put a piece of plywood over it. The next day I discovered he had already made another home under a stack of barn beams and lumber where his digging was not hampered by concrete.

The new den was also closer to the garden, so his food supply was nearby. There was still a card to play. I closed the barn door so he couldn’t get inside.

The morning after the barn was closed to him, he was sunning himself in front of the garage. When I approached him, he sauntered away in a leisurely manner heading east. I followed him until he headed north, toward the old railroad right-of-way.

That was the last we saw of him.

In the dirt he had removed from under the concrete floor were a few bits of hand-fired brick that were evidently used as fill before the floor was poured. There also was a small Ohio Oil Co. oil can with the marathon runner on front. The tin had evidently fallen into the opening many decades ago where the beam once stood and had been covered with dirt.

His next stop was most likely the abandoned rail right-of-way that dated back to the late 1860s. He would find plenty of spots to excavate there. A four legged archeologist uncovering bits of the past.

Donald Richter’s column appears every other week in the Commercial-News. He is a member of the Vermilion County Museum Board.

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