A rare and unusual sighting on South Airport Way earlier this week rattled a trio of friends who live around this otherwise peaceful rural area.
Rex Roberts and his friend Ron Shults were on their way home from shopping downtown shortly before dusk Wednesday when they saw an inert object on the ground in front of their vehicle. At first, they thought it was just a stick or a thin pipe, as Roberts’ wife, Lil, explained it.
But on closer look, neighbors Roberts and Shults determined it to be a snake. Concerned about possibly running over the creature and hurting it or worse, the two stopped the car and Shults got out of the vehicle to get the comfortably stretched-out reptile out of the way. But when Shults tried to reach down and extend a saving hand, the snake suddenly coiled up and launched its head toward Shults not just once but twice, prompting him to jump back. About the same time, Shults noted the snake’s tail and recognized it to be a rattler.
Fortunately for Shults, he was standing far enough from the snake when it tried to attack him so he didn’t get bitten by the snake.
And before the two friends could react further, the rattler then went and slithered its merry way under the cyclone fence into the corn field where it disappeared. The 10-acre field belongs to the Roberts’s son and is being farmed by Arnold “Butch” Rothlin and wife Rose.
The area of the rattler sighting is just off South Airport Way on the west side of Fig Avenue. Roberts and Shults just made the turn from Airport Way into the long dirt road that winds into the Roberts’ ranchette where they raise goats for goat milk and cheese when they spotted the snake.
“I’ve lived here since 1983 – we lived in Tracy from 1963 until we moved here – and I’ve never, ever saw a rattlesnake. This is the first time we have ever, ever heard or seen a rattlesnake in the area. Something should be put in the (newspaper) for all people to know, because they are out in the fields working and a lot of people come here just to walk their dogs. These people should be pre-warned” that there’s a rattlesnake around, Lil Roberts said.
She has seen one rattlesnake in the foothills before, “but you expect to see them there because that’s all hills and rocks, and deer and cougar up there. But down here, no. We’ve seen coyotes, skunks, and raccoons – that’s our wildlife here – but not rattlesnakes.”
So she could hardly believe it when her husband and Shults told her about the rattlesnake.
“When they told me, I said, ‘oh, no!’ I’d probably die of a heart attack if I saw one. Now, I’m nervous,” she said.
Her husband and his friend estimated the rattler to be about 18 inches long, she added.
Not a big fan of snakes, especially the poisonous kind, Lil Roberts said that as far as she is concerned, “a good snake is a dead snake. When they (Rothlins) do their corn, I hope they chop them (rattlesnakes) up.” Not her husband and son, though. They are for saving snakes of all kinds, she said.
One of the first things she did after the rattlesnake incident was to call some of her neighbors.
“I called Fred Rich (of Fonseca Farms) so he could warn all of his co-workers,” she said.
She also called some neighbors who have lived in the area for decades who told her they have never seen a rattlesnake in their countryside property at all.
Her other worry, Lil Roberts said, is that “if there’s one (rattlesnake) in our area, there’s probably more of them.”
Retired dairyman, Arnold Rothlin, said the news about a rattlesnake seen in the area where he lived and farmed for decades was something he has never heard of before.
“I’m 82 years old and lived here (at his dairy) almost 57 years, and raised on West Ripon Road between Union Road and South Manteca Road, and I’ve never seen a rattlesnake. I’ve never seen one. I can remember seeing one up around San Andreas one time. But I never heard of anybody seeing one here, but you never know. And, sometimes, somebody may have been someplace and (and the rattlesnake) could have come into their car – it could happen,” Rothlin said.
Even though their ranch is not within the city, but because they are just two blocks from the city limits at Woodward Avenue, Lil Roberts said she went ahead and called the Manteca Animal Control “so they can maybe write up an article that people need to be careful,’ But, she said, the message that she got from the person she talked to was that the rattler “is a wild animal and you just have to live with them.”