Mice on the Run

What’ll They Think Up Next?, Herculaneum, Missouri

On a dark and moonless evening, I unsuccessfully tried to pursue a mouse trail to Amvets Post #42 in Herculaneum, Missouri. At the intersection of Highway 61-67 and Riverview Plaza Drive, I saw a police car pull into the Buchheit parking lot and followed it. Officer Tary saw my confused expression after he gave me directions and took upon himself to escort me. These are the kind of Life Nuggets I find in rural communities where residents haven’t forgotten courtesy and caring, where the pace is not so rat-race, where it isn’t embarrassing or a sign of weakness to go the extra mile for someone else, where bitterness has not replaced empathy. Thank you, Officer Tary, I wouldn’t have found it without you.

As I watched the taillights of the police car disappear into the darkness, I pulled into the Amvets lot, which was packed with cars and trucks. Following the jovial voices, I located an entry door around the back of the building. Paramedic Nathan Allen welcomed me. He gave me a short run-down of the activities that evening and set me loose to learn.

Greeting me from across the room was the center of attention – a long plastic encased box draped in front with a large sign “Gateway Downs Mouse Racing”. So the newspaper ad was true – “Mouse Races”.  I didn’t believe it meant actual mice, but there they were, to the right of the set-up – six occupied cages and six mice exercising on their wheels.

The Track

I had to admire this entrepreneurial endeavor complete with a sound system and lots of spare mice. Excitedly curious, I asked a lot of questions of the owner, Mike Turner. The tiny rodents utilized are called “fancy mice”, deliberately bred to be multi-colored. And Mouse Racing is mostly a “winter sport” with a break at Christmastime. These mice are maintained, fed and watered and no mice are harmed in the pursuit of this activity.

Warming Up

As a child, I had pet mice, so my view is a bit more sympathetic than most people might feel toward them. I was relieved to learn all of the mice in this collection are male. I had envisioned dozen of babies being trampled by the squad, but not to worry.

The current owner’s grandfather was about the first person in the Midwest to introduce this activity in 1988. They now perform for non-profit group fund-raisers such as children’s soccer teams, cancer patients, kidney transplant patients and more at locations like this Amvet Post, Knights of Columbus halls and other private clubs.

There was an atmosphere of carnival in the air as adults engaged in this unusual pastime with child-like enjoyment. Attendees lined up to purchase “Mouse Money”, even exchange, $1.00 U. S. American for $1.00 of Mouse Money. The program comes complete with a “stats” sheet and video screens displaying the odds on each runner by heat number. Just as in horse racing, the odds are arrived at by the amount of money bet on each runner. That is, the amount collected divided by the number of bets on that mouse determines his standing (or his odds) in that race. The most money bet on a mouse makes him the “favorite”, the least money makes that one the “long shot”. If the long shot wins, the pay out is larger. Gateway Downs Mouse Racing has a computer program that tallies these figures automatically. (My! How times have changed!) For instance, pay out for race #3 was $6 for each $2 bet. Of the evening’s take on bets, seventy-five percent is paid back to the people.

Mouse Money

The Official Program is called the Racing Daily News. This is a stat sheet with whimsically cute remarks like:  Pistol Pete is a Speeding Bullet, Hot Pants is On Fire and Dolly is Stacked. There are “Track Picks” for each race and mouse times range from 18.8 seconds to 35.8 seconds. Of course, this is all said in the spirit of fun and good will. The mice picked for a race are simply part of the “herd” and chosen randomly.

Each race was announced with a loud replay of “The Call to the Post”, the traditional start of the race music. That was a cute touch and drew the participants to the “track”. Excitement built and cheering voices were raised. Each mouse was announced and placed in the “gate”. When all were loaded, the gate was opened. Encouraging whoops and yells filled the air. Brags were exchanged, “My mouse is gonna beat your mouse.” Wishing for a win, all eyes were on the mice.

Now, mice don’t run in straight lines on purpose. They are not trained competitors. Some wander a bit, even turn back and go the other way. So there is a lot of hope that turns into sure defeat. But, no! Now the backward roamer redirects himself and passes the mouse in the lead. The people cheer more loudly. Finally, one gets a head on and moves steadily to the finish line. People are jumping by now. Then, YAY! There is a Winner!

Jack Boyd, a Paramedic at Joachim-Plattin Ambulance was kind enough to fill me in on just how the mouse races benefit the community. This evening’s event raised money for the J-P Ambulance Union #2665 – not for their personal use – but so they can finance events like Bar-B-Ques, Chili Cook-Offs, and golf tournaments to benefit burn camps, Christmas baskets valued at $100 and other help to the needy.

Besides mouse bets, entry fees at the door and tickets purchased to win baskets of wine and other donated items raised money toward tonight’s goal. In addition to the wine, some of the donated items were a massage coupon from Massage Clinic, an oil change at Dobbs and eighteen holes of golf at the Ste. Genevieve course.

One of the Raffle Baskets

Attendees tonight were members of Dunklin Fire Department, Joachim-Plattin Ambulance, Herculaneum Fire Department and Festus Fire Department as well as other past emergency workers. The types of people who occupy these positions are service-minded individuals. It pleases them to help others in their critical times of need. Service members also support one another and with the same objective – to give more of themselves.

These types of events take place all over this country while most of the population goes about their daily lives. These are the men and women who sacrifice for others – on the job and in their spare time. They spend their hard-earned dollars donating to suffering people. Sometimes they directly choose a family or children they come in contact with on a particularly heart-wrenching call.

That is the key word you should think of when you encounter one of these angels in blue – heart. It is their heart which motivates them to serve you and your loved ones.

Take the time to participate in their fund-raising events. Help advertise their activities. Go out of your way to show your gratefulness to them. Be aware these people are part of your community and emulate their pay-it-forward ethic. You will be glad you did because you will discover self-sacrifice carries its own reward. And while you’re at it, you may have a little fun, too.

NOTICE:  Contact your local Fire Department and Ambulance Services and ask about their future events. Go to their Facebook pages for information. Tell others and plan to attend. Watch my Events page above for updates. Those are just a few ways you can add your support.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Brian
    Sep 29, 2011 @ 09:06:07

    Brilliantly absurd! I can only imagine this happens only in MO. Racing mice as a fundraiser for the small rural commmunities has got to be a heck of a good. This is the type of “feel good” story news organizations should show. I actually watched the local news last night (which I never, never do), before hitting the sack with Kelly. The first six stories were all bad news (shooting in church parking lot, DWI’s, murder trials, etc)….I was so frustrated with the station spewing this cr@p, I told Kelly to turn it off. Where are the stories of people helping others, of the high school students who made the top 10%, of the police catching a burglar? Keep up the good work….Brian


    • annettecrey
      Sep 30, 2011 @ 03:24:07

      Thanks, Brian, for the kind comments. I am trying to inform the general populace that caring citizens are in their communities and are their neighbors. Bonding begins in our own communities and that makes each member stronger and, as a unit, our nation, as well. We drive to and fro – when was the last time we participated in and supported something in our own district? Let’s get to know our local Fire, Police and Ambulance personnel; businesses and average citizens. Doing so will add positive and uplifting contributions to our own lives. Take the kids along. These doors are open. Teach them they are welcome. Build.


  2. abbyplambeck
    Sep 30, 2011 @ 22:01:50

    I had no idea mouse racing existed! What a fun article to read, and what a wonderful purpose for it. Great reporting!


    • annettecrey
      Oct 02, 2011 @ 23:43:10

      Yes, Abby, it is quite unusual and ingenious. I’m grateful I can get the word out in my area. You might see if there is such a thing in your region. Thanks for commenting.


  3. Sharon Mc Rey Icenhour
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 13:49:38

    Being from MO, Twain’s ‘Jumping Frogs’ contest kept hopping into my mind as I read your article.!
    Congratulations on it! Saw your brother here in San Antonio last month and he proudly told us that you were writing! Brian has this posted to his FB page.


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