Historical Content Note: The following material is reprinted from publications from throughout Fermilab's history. It should be read in its original historical context.

"Felicia:" $35 Pipe Cleaner Saves Thousands at NAL

Robert Sheldon, the innovative fellow at the National Accelerator Laboratory (NAL) who managed to transform discarded tin cans into structural building panels for lab facilities not too long ago, has come up with another first for the site.

To get a special job done right, he reversed the trend of the day and replaced automation - or technology - with a small animal, a bit of femininity dubbed "Felicia."

Qualifications for the lady were a native sense of curiosity and the ability to stay slim enough to play an important and little known role in the construction of the Meson Laboratory at the NAL.

"Felicia" is a ferret. The dictionary says she is a domesticated, albinistic, red-eyed form of polecat employed in Europe for hunting of rabbits in burrows; usually 21 to 23 inches long, and about five inches tall.

Felicia came to the NAL several weeks ago when construction problems developed at the Meson Laboratory building. There was a need to clean out steel particles from the long lines that must be spotless for the elementary particles that will zoom through them in a few months.

Wally Pelczarski, designer in the main NAL section was given the job of developing a "Meson cleaner."

It was then that Sheldon first suggested live, rather than mechanical "ferrets" be used.

The search started out with calls to Brookfield Zoo, which then lead to a Wild Game and Fur Farm in Gaylord, Minn., one of the few places in this country where ferrets are bred.

The request was for the smallest ferret possible, so back, via special shipment, came Felicia, about 15 inches long, about 15 per cent smaller than her male counterparts.

She came at a cost of $35, but officials believe she has probably saved the NAL hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars so far. According to Sheldon, Felicia is doing a wonderful job.

Sheldon, who had seen ferrets used before in pipelines, says they are chosen because they are known as observant, curious animals with hunting instincts that make them seek out Roles and other items. They have also been used for rat extermination.

The first ferrets were brought to Europe several hundred years ago. They reached the United States in 1875.

Sheldon said Felicia can go through rectangular tubes one and three eighths of an inch by four and seven eighths of an inch-holes that are only slightly larger than the size of her head.

So far she has made three 300-foot runs through Meson Lab vacuum pipes that are only 12 inches in width.

Her schedules call for nine more "cleaning" runs through the lines in the next few months.

A specially-made collar placed around Felicia's neck carries a string which she pulls through the pipe. To the end of this string workmen fasten an appropriate swab which is then pulled through the pipe by the workmen. After that the vacuum pipe is clean and free of unwanted scrap particles.

Don Richied, Meson Lab technician, said, "Felicia has saved me much time and effort. We'll use her over and over again and perhaps in other sections in the Lab as time goes by." Her diet for the day is similar to that of the mink. Some of her food has been obtained from a mink farm in nearby Winfield. Mainly, that diet centers around chicken, liver, raw meat and fish heads, but she has a special liking for hamburger.

She has her own special set of weight watchers, including Sheldon, who just doesn't intend to let her get too big for the job.

Asked why there was only one ferret, Sheldon laughed and said, "If you think she needs company, you're not really thinking ahead. We have to. Motherhood might just put her out of a job. Her career depends on her size. She's important to us, but one is enough."