Centuries ago, the practice of tarring and feathering was used to publicly humiliate lawbreakers and petty criminals. Hot tar was poured onto the wrongdoer, followed by a generous application of feathers. It was a form of public shaming used to set an example.
Last week in upstate New York, a series of unfortunate incidents led to a modern-day instance of the long-discontinued practice.
Hollis McCloud, 46, has quietly made a successful business for himself, supplying a growing market with fresh, free-range poultry. “We call them ‘run-around’ chickens,” said McCloud. “More and more folks want them. Too many chemicals in the supermarket ones. We call them ‘foul fowl.’ That’s a little chicken joke we say up here all the time,” he explained.
McCloud’s delivery truck was filled to capacity with fresh hens, when he noticed a road repair crew along Cuba Hill Road, his regular route. “I saw they had the cones out, but I figured I’d drive off the road and around. I’ve done it before. All those big asphalt trucks and steam rollers blocked everything. They flagged me down and told me to turn around, but that would have made me waste an hour and a half!”
“He argued with us for a long time,” said construction supervisor Ted Graham. “His truck was driving pretty low to the ground to start with, and the grass was pretty uneven off the road, but he wouldn’t back down, so we finally told him he could try driving around but we wouldn’t be responsible.”
“So I drive around to the grass,” explained McCloud, “and one of my wheels gets stuck in a hole. I’m leaning way, way over to one side so I jump out to push the crates back up straight and that’s when the tie-down snaps and the crates fall off. Some of the chickens got out.”
McCloud chased the clucking runaways through the grass and unfortunately, back up to the freshly tarred road.
“Well my foot gets stuck,” McCloud continued. “The chickens get stuck, I fall down face first and the chickens run up to me all concerned ‘cause they think I’m their mother, I guess. I don’t know. More and more of them follow each other. It was a damn mess.”
The construction crew halted their work and did the best they could to assist the now asphalt and feather-covered chicken man.
“I tried not to laugh,” said Graham, “but it was like a movie. We tried pulling some of the chickens off of him, we got chicken feathers stuck on our gloves, we got some feathers stuck in the road, one of my crew almost got pecked in the eye, but we had to help the guy.”
The crew was able to tow McCloud’s truck back onto the road, as well as help to recover most of the chickens. “I got back on the road but had a lot of explaining to do when I was making my deliveries. I could tell some of my customers were just waiting till I drove off to bust out laughing, so I didn’t make a lot of small talk. I tried to keep my head held high, but that’s hard to do when you’ve got tar and chicken feathers all stuck to your face. I tried to keep some self-esteem, but it wasn’t easy.”
“Next time I see a traffic cone,” said McCloud, “I’m flyin’ in the other direction.”