A Beaver Story…
Calm yourselves boys, it’s not that kind of beaver story.
I used to do quite a bit of trapping, and a staple of the trapping industry in Alaska is the beaver. Most of my skins I sold raw or sent off to a tannery before selling them. It always nagged at me that I had to ‘send them off’. First, it took ‘forever’ to get them back. Often six months or more. And, I didn’t always like what I got back. AND most importantly, I like doing ‘things’ myself if I can. So, one day after bringing five beaver home, I decided it was time to do a little ‘home tanning’.
Being an aquatic mammal, beaver not only have a great fur, they also have a layer of subcutaneous fat. You cannot separate that fat from the skin as you skin the beaver. Even if you could – and you can’t – the skin is still very greasy. In order for the tan to ‘take’, you must degrease the skin. Taxidermy supply houses sell ‘degreasing agents’ but they’re kinda spendy, and difficult to get through the mail. More importantly, the commonly used ‘degreaser’ was just plain ol' white gas (AKA Coleman fuel in the US). Now that, I could get easily and cheaply. I went to the local hardware store and got a 5-gallon can of it. The hides were well-scraped, and I was ready to tan.
What I haven’t mentioned so far is that this is all taking place in the Interior of Alaska… in February. I decided I would have to do it “inside”.
I waited ‘til my wife had gone to bed so as not to “disturb her” and tip-toed down to the basement. (I figured what she didn't know wouldn't hurt her, and I'd be done before morning anyway, so she'd never find out.) Didn't quite work out that way...
I put half of the can of white gas in each of two 5-gal buckets and dropped the skins in. After a while I checked them and did as I had read; I wrung them out and put them in my deep-sink to "wash with warm soapy water". After rinsing them and wringing them out, they were still quite greasy so back into the gas-filled buckets they went. I did this three more times.
The fourth time I was rinsing them I caught myself watching a little too long as the little soap ‘swirlies’ went down the drain. Bent over the buckets and the sink and wringing the gassed skins out and then washing them by hand, and then wringing them out again... I was high as a kite!
Just about the time I realized this, my wife comes storming down the basement stairs and she was just a little perturbed. She started out with something like “What in the blue blazes are you doing?” She had been awakened by the vapors two floors up! I, on the other hand, had been down in the midst of it for a couple of hours. Fortunately for me I was so stoned that I was positively goofy, and so stupid it was funny. At least to her.
We opened all the doors and windows and didn’t switch on any lights that weren’t already on. It’s a good thing she knew what she was getting into when she married me, or she would likely have scalped me, and rightly so. Whooeee! I used a lot of ‘marital currency’ up that night, but you know what...
The skins came out of the tan very nice.