Mind Over Miller: The longest running college prank in history?


In his latest book, Dr. Miller tells how pre-TV days inspired home-grown entertainment in the form of practical jokes.

My most recent book is Cowboy Practical Jokes. Now the title is a bit misleading because only about half of the stories-all true pranks in which I was often a victim or an instigator-occurred in a cattle ranch environment. I spent 10 summers before, during and between my eight college years working as a ranch hand or wrangler. The bunkhouse environment back then (before TV) was devoid of entertainment, encouraging reading, playing poker, storytelling, singing … and practical jokes.

However, the book also recounts pranks during my youth and my army days, as a pre-veterinary and veterinary student, and even as a practicing veterinarian. The same boredom factor that encouraged practical jokes in the pre-TV cowboy bunkhouse days (many bunkhouses back then did not even have electricity) was true of my army or college days. In the army and in my vet school dwelling for four years (a barn housing vet and pre-vet students for $12.50 a month) there was no TV. The first time I ever saw TV was when our landlord invited us into his home to watch President Eisenhower's inauguration … on his 9-inch black and white TV screen.

The complexity and ingenuity of many of these jokes, as I recall them today, inspired me to write this book. It includes a couple that lasted an entire school year, one of which even dragged in another university 2,000 miles away, and a ranch practical joke that made the Denver Post and several other newspapers.

One ongoing prank led to a student proposing marriage to a nonexistent co-ed. (She sent the student a gorgeous photo of “herself” and numerous letters.) Another involved two armed men on horseback holding up a movie producer, his wife and his children when their private airplane landed on a ranch landing strip. Again, this made the newspapers.

And veterinarians pulling such warped pranks? Sure! How about telephoning one of your best clients-the owner of one the nation's top basset hound kennels-and imitating a sheep herder complaining that basset hounds were getting out of the kennel and killing his sheep in the hills behind the kennel. Talk about outrage! But the furious client got his revenge.

Perhaps a better title would have been Impractical Jokes.

How about this one! One class, which graduated veterinary school back in the 1940s, pulled a practical joke on the school that is still going on-over a half century later. Read the book to learn about this evil conspiracy, surely the longest lasting college prank I ever heard of. When I told one of the conspirators, now in his 90s, about the book, he said, “Oh no! You'll ruin the joke!”

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