The Original Pack-Rat?

Stock photo.of unidentified origin, frequently used on the internet and too cute not to!

Adorable, widely-used stock photo of unidentified origin.

My Placitas, NM client and I had spent hours cleaning out her garage, which was largely full of recyclables. We packed them into her pick-up truck, covered them with a tarp, and tied them down. All set to go to the recycle center! Except… the truck wouldn’t start. She fiddled around for a minute and then said, “I wonder if I have pack-rats?” Huh?

Sure enough, under the hood we found an engine compartment stuffed with leaves, sticks and rocks…and a nice little nest. A couple of hoses and wires had been chewed through. That truck wasn’t going anywhere.


Placitas truck

All loaded up and ready to go…? (There was another load of recyclables and items for donation later.)


Many of my clients refer to themselves as pack-rats (I usually refrain from calling my clients names), but this was my first experience with the little furry rodent variety. I got curious as to which was actually the “original” and consulted the internet for word origin and history:

Pack-rat common name for the N.Amer. bushytailed woodrat (Neotoma cinerea) is attested from 1885, from pack (v.), from the rodent’s habit of dragging objects off to their holes. Used figuratively or allusively of persons who won’t discard anything from c.1850, which means either the rat’s name is older than that or the human sense is the original one.


packrat nest sm

Pack-rat nest

I noticed, when my client was calling around for someone to fix her truck, that no one asked her to explain what she meant when she said she “had pack-rats”. Apparently it is very common in Placitas, and other rural parts of New Mexico, for them to stake their claim inside engine compartments that are seldom used and left outdoors. For the record, this truck had been used several weeks before, in a Fourth of July parade. Also, for the record, the repairs cost $500. Ouch!

Ironically, one of the reasons my client had wanted to organize her garage in the first place (besides the ones I already knew about) was to clear enough space that she could park the truck inside…where it would be less accessible to pack-rats!


Copyright 2013 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Janet Barclay on October 19, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Thank you for this interesting lesson in etymology with a little biology mixed in!

  2. Tami Miller on August 22, 2020 at 7:03 pm

    That’s why campers leave the hood up…

    • Hazel Thornton on August 31, 2020 at 8:18 am

      Interesting! I’ve never seen that, so guess I’ve never been camping in a place known for pack rats. But I Googled it and found all sorts of references.

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