Earth Augers and Marlin and Jim.


I was recently reminded of Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler of the famous television program Mutual of Omahas Wild Kingdom which aired from 1963 till 1988. The last three years were hosted solely by Jim Fowler due to Marlins passing in 1986. Admittedly, my vague memory of this show is only from a few re-runs I saw at a young age. However, my father used to work for a man named Bill Stuerke, and Bill liked to make allusions to Marlin and Jim. On the show, it was apparently common for Marlin to be cleanly dressed while narrating the wildlife action from a safe position. Jim on the other hand was frequently “engaged” with the wildlife subjects of the show. That is, Jim was usually in harms way, wrastl’n gators and radio collar’n caribous. I called my father a couple of nights ago to get a sense for how Bill Stuerke would mock the interactions of Marlin and Jim, and this is a paraphrased version of what he said.

“I am (Marlin) here standing before this meadow full of splendid wildflowers and timeless unfettered beauty, while Jim is confronting a rabid and thoroughly irritated badger. Be careful Jim!”

Of course the best quality image that I could find on google has Marlin casually handling a venomous lizard as Jim looks on, which is apparently an exception to the common theme of the show.


Alright, so why am I reminded of Marlin Perkins and Jim? Well, recently I returned to Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park to continue the field research for my Doctoral degree. This season, I am digging 234 holes, in which 234 five gallon (20 litre) buckets  will be placed. These will be pitfall traps for catching and sampling lizards, frogs and small mammals. To make the job of digging these 234 holes a little bit easier my PhD Advisor, Professor Bidwell approved the purchase of a Husqvarna power earth auger with a 12 inch auger (30cm)(see image above).

In the image below you can see me, digging the first hole of the season with said earth auger. I am greatful for this earth auger. Last season digging 9 pitfall traps took no less than 2 hours (often 3), 4 shovels, two rockbars, 4 people and 5 gallons of drinking water. So far this season 9 pitfall traps can be installed in 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the soil quality, and two individuals only need 2 litres of water  to complete the job.


All that being said, I must admit that this Husqvarna earth auger is a bone rattling machine. The price for digging holes with speed, is paid with lower back pain and bruised shins. As the auger bores it’s way into the earth, a series of rapid heaving lifts must be employed so that the spinning auger can fling out the loose soil and continue to make downward progress. Eventually all of the auger is beneath the ground surface, and attempting to lift with the legs poses a risk to the sensitive male anatomy. So, as most men would do, I choose to risk injuring my back when lifting.

Alright, so I just took a ridiculous digression and still have not addressed what it was that made me think about Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler, their on camera relationship, and my father’s former employer (and close friend) Bill Stuerke. Well below is the picture of my advisor with the earth auger. He has the majestic Uluru behind him. Furthermore his posture and matching grin suggest that he is as yet unaware of the body jarring nature of the machine propped beneath his right arm. Naturally, my advisor posted these two images side by side on facebook to illustrate the nature of the Professor/PhD student relationship.


I should say, that shortly after this photo was taken Professor Bidwell did operate the earth auger himself, and I think he would agree with me on how painful the experience can be. So, that is what reminded me of Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler. In closing, here are some of the geckos we’ve been seeing lately, Strophurus ciliaris.