Gentlemen, load your rodents …

Downtown Vacaville businesswoman Betty Lucke is, in a word, enthusiastic. The longtime business booster is perhaps best known as a founder of the downtown’s springtime Medieval Fantasy Festival which, every April, brings history, revelry and pageantry to the historic business district along Vacaville’s Main Street and nearby thoroughfares.

She was characteristically enthusiastic last month when she contacted the newspaper to propose a new contest which, she felt, would kick the old festival into high gear next year.

“We’ve got to start planning right now,” she pointed out. “The next festival is only about 44 weeks away.”


Normally I take suggestions like these, reply “Sure, sounds great!” and then transfer them to my assistant, Dan Reichl, who doesn’t work here anymore.

Betty’s enthusiasm, however, was contagious and I have to admit I was intrigued. I also have to admit that I’ve never successfully transferred a call through our new, state-of-the-art phone system. Worse, it was an e-mail, which is particularly difficult to transfer to the phone extension of a nonexistent assistant.

“What fits the medieval theme and could be a blast?” Betty asked. “Chucking rubber or plush rats with a catapult or trebuchet. Plague take the rats!”

OK, she had me hooked. The newspaper office is, arguably, one of the best-known havens for rubber rats in Vacaville, and sending them sailing through the air for no apparent reason is a regular activity here in the newsroom. Has been for years. Nobody knows why.

“Pumpkin chuckin’ has been done many times,” Betty pointed out. “It won’t work for us. It is the wrong season, it wastes food, it would hurt if it hit someone and it would be messy to clean up. Rats would be better!”

Well, duh …

In a subsequent conversation, the plucky proprietor of the Otter Nature Store pointed out that few things better symbolized the medieval period than rats and catapults.The catapult and its close cousin, the slingshot-like trebuchet, were frequently used to knock down castles and fortified towns during the Middle Ages, while rapacious rodents spread bubonic plague – the “Black Death” – far and wide.

Combine them into a modern downtown festival event and you have all the essential ingredients of a lively ratapult competition.


How far can you catapult a rubber rodent? How accurately? How quickly can you catapult that rat and reload? The possibilities are endless.

If the ratapult catches on, Betty foresees all kinds of creative possibilities – rat costume contests, ratapult vs. ratbuchet, highest-flying rodent and team competitions.

“How many times in a lifetime might you be able to hurl a rat from a trebuchet down Parker Street to the accompaniment of a cheering, raucous crowd?” Betty asked.

Hey, it doesn’t get any better than that, amigos…

Originally published June 10, 2007