How to build a better mousetrap

Randy Hodel didn’t grow up thinking he was one day going to design and patent not one but three types of mouse traps, but then again, most of us don’t really know where life will lead us when we are young.

No, Randy was ambling along just fine in life until one night, “a mouse ran up my long johns when I was sleeping,” he said.

Eeeek!

That’s a unique and unpleasant way to awake from a deep slumber.

So, over the next four years, Randy tinkered with mouse traps, and along the way, he learned a lot about the mechanical devices.

“I discovered that a lot of mouse traps don’t work that well,” he said. “When a trap sits there day in and day out, the tension gets stiff, and the trap is hard to spring.

“Really what I discovered is that there are three kinds of mouse traps. There’s the ones that don’t work at all. Some are hit and miss; They spring, but there isn’t always a mouse in them after they have sprung. And then there are the traps that catch the leg of a mouse who flees, pulling the trap along until they can’t go any further.”

No matter how clever the mouse, this patented drawing shows how difficult it will be for even an Einstein mouse to get food from the trap without being caught.  Staff photo/Brian Larsen

No matter how clever the mouse, this patented drawing shows how difficult it will be for even an Einstein mouse to get food from the trap without being caught. Staff photo/Brian Larsen

That third type of mousetrap is the kind you find when a dead mouse smells and it’s behind the refrigerator, or stove, or under a couch.

One of the ways to avoid a trap from getting stiff was to put an adjustable tension screw on the device, said Randy. And instead of placing the food on the bottom of the trap where a fleet-footed mouse might be able to sneak in and grab a bite to eat before the trap springs, Randy put the food on a pedestal that causes the mouse to stand on its hind legs and reach for a tasty morsel.

His mousetraps worked so well, he said, “I even caught shrews. They don’t make a mechanical trap for shrews because they are so light they don’t spring the traps, but as I like to say, my traps are shrewder than a shrewd shrew,” he said with a laugh.

When it came time to patent his mousetraps, Randy found the process to be somewhat daunting. It took over a year to get the patented office to okay bumps on his traps because that was similar to an idea patented over 100 years ago. And not only is getting a patent hard, but it’s also expensive.

Overall, it cost Randy $12,000 to work with a patent lawyer and years of tinkering, trial and error, and designing traps to achieve his patents.

With a machine shop background, Randy understands what he would take to make a better mousetrap, but he would prefer someone else use his designs to build those traps.

“It would be nice if this could be done locally. If someone started a company to build these mousetraps, there would be jobs that could pay well. Jobs with benefits. I would really like to see that.”

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