Monday, July 31, 2006

Long time coming – part 1

by Tom Gaylord

That wasn’t my gun I was holding. The photographer told me to hold it, over the protests of my mother who wanted me to just stand there at attention. He convinced her that it would make me look more like a little man if I held a gun and stood in a casual pose like that. He even took the shots my mother wanted and did this one at the end, saying she didn’t have to pay for it if she didn’t like how it turned out. As it happened, both she and my dad liked it best of all, and the others were never purchased, as far as I know.

I was not allowed to have a gun like that because my mother didn’t want me growing up to fight in a war like her brother had. He was killed in Cuba before we got the upper hand in that war, and my mother never got over it. She told me I should never touch a gun or even look at one because that was how her brother lost his life.

Her feelings were strong enough that my father never brought up the subject in our house. I think he had been something of a hunter in his younger years, because my uncles told me about some of his exploits in the field, but I couldn’t get a word about it from him.

Now, all my boy cousins had guns. So, whenever we went visiting, I got to sneak in some furtive time examining them. My one cousin, Bobby, even let me shoot his BB gun when I slept over at his house. It had to be done on the sly, you understand, because Bobby’s parents knew how my mother felt and would never have sanctioned my shooting if they had known.

BB guns were not that common when I was a boy, so my friends didn’t have them as young boys often do today. Some had their own .22s that their fathers would take them out to shoot from time to time, but that was controlled by the parents, and I was never invited, even to watch.

As you might imagine, all of this denial and deprivation built up a tremendous curiosity about guns and a desire to own and shoot them. It became the central theme in my life. Of course when you’re young you think your parents run the world, but as you begin to grow up you realize they don’t and that some day things will start going your way. For me, that day came when I was shipped off to preparatory school. There had been talk of military school before that, but my father put his foot down and refused to consider it. But preparatory school was common for families where the kids were expected to attend college.

Friday, July 28, 2006

How I bought my BB gun – part 5

How I bought my BB gun part 1
How I bought my BB gun part 2
How I bought my BB gun part 3
How I bought my BB gun part 4

by Tom Gaylord

I was trying to think of a good excuse to tell him when he shared a secret with me. He said that he walked along the beach every morning to look for valuables and money people lost. That must have been what he was doing when I saw him earlier that day.

I decided to tell him what I was doing because he had confided in me, so I did. I told him the whole story, including the part about wanting a great BB gun. He said he would help me. He said he would tell my folks I was working for him doing some cleanup jobs, and I could then tell them that the money came from that. Half would still have to go in the bank, but at least I would be able to use the other half. It meant that I was now just over halfway to my goal, but I figured I could get the rest in a few more mornings.

The next morning, I showed up bright and early, and Mr. Carpenter was there to greet me. This time I didn't have to sneak around in the bushes taking off my clothes. I swam out to the platform and began diving. But this morning, for some reason, all I found was twelve cents. I would never get my gun at that rate.

When I showed Mr. Carpenter my meager finds, he asked where I was diving and I told him. He said he thought the best place to check might be about twenty feet to the left, because that was where the first diving platform had been. When they rebuilt it, they moved it to a deeper place. Because it was getting late in the morning and I didn't want my secret to be discovered, I left the lake, but the next morning I was back, ready to try the new place.

On the first dive, I found that the bottom was less than ten feet deep, so I could really scoop up some mud. I brought up a whole can full and sloshed it around at the surface. To my amazement, there was a dollar and ninety-five cents in that load, plus something else I wasn't quite sure of. It was round and coppery looking, so I dropped it into the sack tied on my waist and continued diving. That day, I brought up a total of six dollars and seventy-seven cents. And, when I got back to the shore, I looked at the other thing I had found and it turned out to be a 2-1/2 dollar gold coin! That pushed my total for the day to over nine dollars! I was ecstatic, but of course I couldn't tell my folks that Mr. Carpenter was paying me that kind of money. That was almost what my father made in a week!

I returned to the lake many more times that summer and eventually pulled out sixty-five dollars in good cash money. Besides that, I found three gold rings, fourteen silver ones, nine religious medals on chains, one gold anklet with a name on it and a set of false teeth!

I brought home a much smaller amount of cash on a weekly basis, and eventually had enough extra saved up to buy my Daisy. Once I got it, what remained of the summer was spent in the fields and vacant lots rather than in the water. I still went back, and the finds continued to come in, but the initial thrill had long since worn off. The extra money I hid and only dipped into sparingly, so nobody would notice. It lasted several years.

The next year, the lake was put under stricter town management, and my deal with Mr. Carpenter was over. They put up a high fence around the beach, which made getting in to dive very difficult. I still went there during the day, and I even managed a few "hands-only" dives on my secret hot spot, but the days of bringing up real money were over.

Still, every time I looked at my Daisy, I couldn't help remembering all I had to do to get it. I never told that story before now, because even as an adult I was afraid of what my parents might have thought. I kept that gun throughout my youth and into adulthood. We sort of grew up and old together. Today it needs a little more oil than it used to and the shots are not as powerful as they once were, but I can say the same things about myself. But even in my old age, I can still hold my breath longer than three minutes, and I sometimes dream of diving for treasure again.

Maumee, Ohio, 1951

Thursday, July 27, 2006

How I bought my BB gun – part 4

How I bought my BB gun part 1
How I bought my BB gun part 2
How I bought my BB gun part 3

by Tom Gaylord

I raced home with mother's items and then asked if I could go over to the dump. She didn't like me going there because the place was dirty and I always brought home neat stuff, but she said if I finished mowing the yard, I could go. I tell you, grass has never been cut so fast as ours was that afternoon. Then it was off to the dump to make my money scoop.

I settled on a large tin can with the edges beaten down so they wouldn't cut me. I hammered nails through the can to make holes for the water and muck to drain, and those had to be beaten flat on the inside, too. After about an hour, my money scoop was finished.

The next morning, I hurried over to the lake to try out my new invention. Let me tell you—it worked on the very first try! After sifting through all the mud in the can, I found fifty-six cents! It took about five times as long to make one dive and sort through the can, but I used the extra time in between dives to breathe deeply for the next dive. I found a dollar and fifty-three cents on the very next dive!

I already had my BB gun, plus money left over for BB shot. My third dive netted me forty-seven cents and a real gold ring! I was beside myself with joy. Surely I had discovered the way to a fortune by simply diving for it. One more dive brought up only twelve cents, but it also almost got me caught, too. The caretaker was now out and walking the beach, looking down at the sand for something. I swam quietly to the other side of the platform and waited for him to move on before I snuck back out of the water.

Hurrying home, I was mentally adding up my finds when the thought struck me, how would I explain my newfound wealth to my parents? They would want to know where I had gotten the money, and I didn't want to tell them, for they were certain to disapprove.

Even if they let me keep it, they would insist that at least half be deposited in my savings bank, which was a cast iron box I kept beside my bed. Father had the key to that box and the rule was, half of whatever I made had to go in the bank. Twice a year, my father took out the contents and deposited them in a real bank downtown for me. I probably had lots of money down there, but it wasn't of much use to me.

After beating the hall runners for my mother, I went back over to the lake to think about my situation. I was sitting on a bench when the old caretaker walked up and sat down beside me. He asked how I was and how my summer had been going, and I said something, I suppose. Then, he surprised me by telling me he had seen me sneaking out of the lake several times in the past few mornings. He said he was wondering what I was up to, but he thought he had figured it out this morning. He said he figured I was diving for something I lost out by the platform.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

How I bought my BB gun – part 3

How I bought my BB gun part 1
How I bought my BB gun part 2

by Tom Gaylord

I was a good swimmer, but on the first dive, I ran out of air before I felt the bottom. Second dive, too. On the third dive, I tried to see the bottom, but the lake was murky and I saw nothing. On the fifth and final dive, I saw a piece of board that must have been sticking up from the bottom. That gave me some hope that I would be able to reach it eventually. But not this day. I was too tired and cold to continue, so I snuck out of the water, got my clothes and went home.

The rest of my free time that day, I sat in the parlor, practicing holding my breath while watching the second hand of our clock. In the beginning, I couldn't hold it longer than 45 seconds, but after some practice, I was up to a minute and twenty seconds. By the end of the day, I held my breath a minute and thirty-eight seconds, which was more than twice as long as the first time.

For the next several days, I worked on my breath holding until I had cracked two minutes thirty seconds. I learned to take several deep cleansing breaths before trying to hold one, and this really improved my time.

The next time I went to the lake in the morning, I was much better prepared. I had cooking grease to rub on my arms and legs to make the cold less chilling, and I was able to stay down a reasonable length of time. This time, I reached the bottom of the lake, which was between twelve and fifteen feet at that spot. It was cold and dark, but I was now where I wanted to be.

The bottom was all clay mud and very slick to the touch. I hated putting my hands on it, until finally I felt a coin. My first coin, and it felt like quarter! I rose quickly to the surface to clean it off, and sure enough, it was a shiny new quarter. I was finally on my way to financial freedom and BB gun ownership.

That day, I found two more quarters and a penny, so the total was seventy-six cents. That was already enough to buy a cheap BB gun, but that wasn't what I was after. I wanted the best, and now that I knew how to find money for free, I would have it!

The next time I went back I didn't find anything except a cheap brass ring someone had lost. I kept it, even though it brought me no closer to my goal. What I needed was a way to go through more of the ooze on the bottom, and to bring whatever I found to the surface to look at it. I thought about that problem all the next day with no great insights, until my mother asked me to go to the store. She needed a dozen eggs, a sack of flour and some butter.

At the store, I watched the clerk scoop the flour out of a big barrel and put it into a small cloth sack that he tied shut. It was the same kind of sack I now carried to put my diving finds in. If only I could scoop the mud up from the bottom the way the clerk scooped out the flour. Then it hit me. Why couldn't I? Why couldn't I do exactly that and spend less time on the bottom, but bring up more stuff?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

How I bought my BB gun – part 2

How I bought my BB gun part 1

by Tom Gaylord

Out in the lake there was a diving platform that pretty much belonged to the older boys. If you were a kid like me and you tried to climb up on the platform, some older boy would probably throw you off again. We learned not to tempt fate by going out there in the middle of the day.

The boys did all kinds of crazy antics to impress the girls who came to the lake. At any time of the day, there would be boys doing handstands or headstands on the platform, or else belly-flopping to see who could make the biggest splash. These boys were in their late teens, and many of them had summer jobs that paid real money. Sometimes, one of them would catch a girl's eye and he would swim in to buy her a lemonade or something from the concession stand, until her mother called her away. It went on all day every day, and everybody just accepted it.

One day I happened to hear a boy tell his friend that he had lost two quarters from his swimsuit. There were pockets with buttons in them in those old-style swimsuits, but if you weren't careful, things could fall out. He said they had fallen out while he was doing a handstand on the platform, and that started my head to spinning. If he had lost money that way, I wondered how many other boys had lost some, too?

That evening, I asked my father just how long the swimming lake had been there. He said he went to it when he was a little boy back in the '70s, so he supposed it was older than that. I then asked him if the diving platform had been there, too, and he smiled and asked whether I had ever been thrown off. He said the platform was the same one he had played on as a kid, except they had rebuilt it a few years back when the boards rotted out. That was when I got my idea.

If the platform had been there all those years and if boys had been doing the same crazy things all that time, there must be a bundle of money at the bottom of the lake. All someone had to do was go down and get it. At least that's how it seemed to me when I went to bed that evening.

The next day I went over to the lake, but there was no way to try out my idea because boys were diving off the platform constantly all day long. If they saw me bring up money from the bottom, the jig would have been up and I wouldn't have been able to go near there. So I had to do it all in secret.

The following morning, I went to the lake at 6 a.m., a full three hours before it opened to the public. I had my bathing suit on under my clothes, and I changed in the bushes. I had to sneak into the lake because the caretaker would have pitched me out on my ear if he had caught me. In the cold water, I swam out to the platform, where it first dawned on me—I didn't know how deep the water was. What if it was a hundred feet? The only way to find out was to dive as deep as I could and to try and feel for it.

Monday, July 24, 2006

How I bought my BB gun – part 1

by Tom Gaylord

You're looking at the first real joy of my life and the last thing that never gave me a moment's disappointment. The thing I remember most about my BB gun was the effort it took to acquire. It wasn't given to me as a gift. I had to earn it, and that was at a time when kids were expected to do a lot of work for free. My chores were enough to keep me occupied for several hours each day, and because they didn't all happen at the same time, I was always hopping on to another household task.

Don't misunderstand, there was plenty of free time when I was growing up. Especially in the summer. But chores came first, and nobody ever thought much of it—we just did what was expected of us. So the time available to make money was somewhat limited, and there was almost no way to make money at home, the way children do nowadays. To make money, you had to find a job away from home that no adult wanted to do, and you had to do it for very little money.

You might think just because BB guns cost a dollar or two that we could buy one in a week. Let me tell you, in the 1890s, a nickel bought a whole ice cream sundae, and a dime could buy you a lunch. Shoeshines went for a nickle, and Detroit was so full of shoeshine boys that there was no money in it for a kid starting out. What you needed was an angle. Something that nobody else had thought of and also something that people would pay good money for. Not much different than today, is it?

In the winter you could shovel sidewalks, but the money you made from that was spent in no time. I was expected to pay my own way for things like candy, soda pop and other childhood treats. A ticket to the carnival was bought by my parents, but they went along, too. There was no way to cage anything from that.

Other kids were no source of money. They were all just as poor as I was. No -whatever scheme I hit on had to be attractive to adults, and they had to be willing to pay real money for it. I daydreamed that I found something that paid me a dime and that hundreds of people lined up for it. I never concentrated on what it was—just the fact that there was money and it was coming to me. What actually happened, though, was much stranger than anything I had imagined.

Near my home was a lake that people flocked to in the summer for swimming and boating. I went there because it didn't cost anything, and I loved to swim. In fact, that was how I found out how to get real money faster than any kid had ever dreamed.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Never let her down – part 5

Never let her down part 1
Never let her down part 2
Never let her down part 3
Never let her down part 4

by Tom Gaylord

Well, I figured this was my one chance to convert her to my thinking. I knew she was afraid of guns, so I told her everything there was to shooting the gun before she picked it up. Then, I had her watch me do it one time. When it was her turn, I watched her like a hawk.

Once, she turned around with the gun cocked and loaded, and I grabbed the barrel and pointed it towards the targets, the way my dad and Mr. Cathcart had taught me. They said to never point the barrel at something I didn't want to shoot, so that was what I told my mom. Me, a seven year-old kid was telling his own mother how to behave. But I knew I had to make her follow the rules, because if we had an accident I would probably never be allowed to shoot that gun again.

We shot for a long time that day, and when we were done, she handed the gun back to me and told me to get ready for supper. I reminded her that she needed to remove the trigger parts, but she said it was okay. I could keep them in from now on. I was flabbergasted!

At supper, she told me a story about when she was a little girl. It seems she had been tormented by a neighbor boy who shot at her with his BB gun. One time, he hit her cat, who had to be taken to the vet to have the shot removed. Ever since that time, she was dead set against guns of any kind, and especially BB guns. But she said I had shown her that not everybody had to act like that boy.

She was proud of the way I told her the truth about the gun working again, but even prouder that I acted responsibly when we were shooting together that afternoon. She said she now knew she could trust me to act responsibly with my gun, so from then on it was mine to shoot.

My mother never really got over her hatred of guns. I would love to report that she became an avid shooter and so on, but it didn't happen. But she did trust me to act in a responsible manner, which kept me even more vigilant than I would normally have been. Even when I got to be an old man, I still thought about her whenever I picked up a gun of any kind. I am happy to report that I never let her down.

Franklin Township, New Jersey 1948

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Never let her down – part 4

Never let her down part 1
Never let her down part 2
Never let her down part 3

by Tom Gaylord

Anyhow—I figured that that was how I felt about my gun. I loved having it, but I loved the gun even more and didn't want to see it destroyed. I figured that if it went to Dennis, I would still be able to visit it and shoot it sometimes. So that afternoon, I told my mother what had happened and that I wanted to give Dennis the gun.

As I was telling her, tears started flowing from her eyes. I wish she hadn't done that, because soon I was crying right alongside of her. I figured she was sad because of the pain she was causing me by giving my gun away. I was sad because of it, too, but I never intended to start blubbering about it.

Then, she told me what was happening. She knew all about the gun being fixed. Mr. Cathcart had told her in church that day. She was waiting for me to tell her, to see what kind of citizen I was. Apparently, she knew what a rough time I was having over the decision. She had picked up on that the evening before.

To my surprise, she said I could keep the gun! Mr. Cathcart had told my dad how to take the trigger parts out so it wouldn't shoot, and they could put them back in when I was old enough for them. So that was what we did. The parts came out and went into a small vase in the living room and I got to play with the gun just like before. If I wanted to shoot it, I had to ask my mother or dad to put the parts back in, and they would supervise me while I shot. And that is how the strangest thing of all happened.

One day I asked my mother when my dad was coming home, because I wanted to shoot my gun. She said he wasn't coming home that day, because he was off to some volunteer firefighter camp for three days. I thought about asking whether Mr. Cathcart could do it, but before I asked, she told me he was at the same camp. But my mother said she would watch me shoot after she finished he laundry. So, to her complete surprise, I pitched in and helped her do it. Me - the kid who had to be reminded to put his clean socks away after they had been washed, dried and delivered to my bedroom was helping without being asked!

We finished the laundry in short order, and then went out back to the shooting range my dad had fixed for me. We had done this before, but she had always just watched from a chaise lounge. This time she said she wanted to learn to shoot. Now it was my turn to be amazed. My gun-hating mother wanted to learn how to shoot!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Never let her down – part 3

Never let her down part 1
Never let her down part 2

by Tom Gaylord

Dennis did well on his first shot, too, and Mr. Cathcart was as surprised as we were at the accuracy of the thing. I think we shot almost that entire tube of BB shot that day. The sun was low in the trees when I returned home.

Now I had a real dilemma. The "toy" gun wasn't a toy any longer. It was real. And it was powerful, I had seen that while shooting. Of course it was quiet, too. Not the loud rifle we imagined when we were just pretending. The recoil was pretty tame as well. If I was crafty about it, I could have probably pretended that the gun didn't work and no one would have been the wiser. I knew I would be safe with it—not getting in the BB gun wars that my mother feared so much. But she had only let me keep the thing because she thought it didn't work.

As much as she was opposed to guns, I was lucky just to have it. She didn't approve of guns in any way. So the future of my gun was up to me. I could lie and keep it or tell the truth and lose the best thing I ever had. At the tender age of seven, a fellow really doesn't know how many more good things there will be, so the tendency is to hang onto whatever you have as long as possible.

I even thought about asking Mr. Cathcart to take the parts out and make it into a toy again, but after that day's shooting I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I loved the way it shot so hard and straight that rendering it inoperable once again would have been like putting a pet to sleep.

I went to bed early that evening, worrying about my problem. I felt like a liar just having a working gun in my room when I knew so well how my mother felt about them. But I also wanted to keep it, because I had grown so attached to it. I tossed and turned all night long, wrestling with my problem.

The next morning was Sunday, and we went to church as always. In Sunday school, they taught us about how Solomon was so wise that he devised a clever way of determining whose baby was the child claimed by two women. The true mother was willing to give up the baby before seeing it cut in half, which was Solomon's way of bringing out her true love. He probably wouldn't have cut up that baby, although you never could tell about those Old Testament people. They were always cutting off thumbs and stuff like that, so maybe the mother was right to be afraid.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Never let her down – part 2

Never let her down part 1

by Tom Gaylord

For the next several weeks that gun was our constant companion, going out into the field on military maneuvers and fighting marauding bandits and Indians. As we played with it, its stature grew in our minds, until there was nothing that gun could not do. It was perfectly accurate, unbelievably powerful and never out of ammunition. It kicked like a mule when it fired, but both Dennis and I were such hardy sportsmen that we never took notice. And we were certain that if the gun could ever be repaired, it would fulfill our wildest dreams.

Dennis' father looked at the gun one day and decided it could be fixed rather easily. All it took was a few small parts that he thought were easy to make. He was a handy guy who was always fixing something out in his garage, so this shouldn’t have surprised me.

I had reservations about letting him fix the gun, though, for a couple of reasons. First, I wasn't as sure of his gunsmithing skills as he was. What if he tore it apart and couldn't get it back together again? Then I wouldn't even have a toy anymore. But worse than that, I think, was the possibility that he could fit it, which would leave me with a working gun. My mother would never go for that. If it worked, I could lose it forever.

Still, it's hard for a kid of seven to have a conversation like that with an adult. It seems strange after all these years that I was as astutely aware of the politics of the situation at seven, but believe me—I was!

So, Mr. Cathcart tore into the gun one Saturday, and, after three hours of work, he proved as good as his word. The gun was repaired and shooting. Dennis and I watched him the entire time, fascinated by the ingenuity he employed to get the job done. With just a few pieces of heavy wire and a small spring he found in his garage, he made the repair like a real gunsmith.

The moment of truth came when he was finished. The gun was ready to shoot. Since we didn't have any BB shot laying around, the three of us walked to the hardware store to buy some. They sold it in small paper tubes for a nickel, I think, and Mr. Cathcart treated us to the first tube.

Once we had the shot, there was no delaying the moment of truth. Mr. Cathcart let me fire the first shot because the gun was mine. I had been practicing for this moment for so many weeks that I was fully prepared for that shot, although the feel of a working trigger was a little strange.

We had been pretending that the back of the trigger guard was the trigger when the gun didn't work, and of course the new trigger was in a different position. The real trigger pull was very hard, but it broke cleanly and I managed to hit a jar lid about 15 feet away with the very first shot. Dennis had oiled the gun so well that the power was fully restored, so when we examined the lid, we found the shot had dented it deeply and even cracked the metal at the bottom of the dent. I was in seventh heaven! Now I had a real gun and it shot like a dream.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Never let her down – part 1

by Tom Gaylord

Dennis Cathcart was my best friend when I was a kid. We used to play together every day, and we even managed to get assigned to the same class in school. If I did something, he did it too. If he was somewhere, I wasn't far behind. The two of us were as inseparable as two young boys can be and still have identities of their own.

One thing we both liked to do was play soldier. The war with Spain had just been fought, so there was a lot of military paraphernalia around, and two clever boys soon acquired quite a set of equipment for themselves. Dennis' mother was a great seamstress, so she sewed up uniforms for both of us. My mother didn't sew, but she was more often the designated chuck wagon for the terrible twosome, because we tended to play at my house more often.

One day, my dad came home from work with an old BB gun someone had given him. They knew he had a boy and thought I might like to have a toy gun to play with. Since it was broken, both my parents thought I couldn't get into any trouble with it, although it still looked like a gun and had a lot of play value left in it.

Well, I was sure glad to get that gun, I can tell you! Until then I had never had a toy gun of any kind, because my mother was dead set against them. My father had an old shotgun he kept up in the attic, but he wasn't much of a shooter, and I never saw him use it.

Mother used to preach against little boys having guns because she said they always led to no good. I never thought she would let me keep this one, only when she saw how excited I was, I think she softened a little. I had to promise never to point it at anyone or at any animals, a promise I made without reservation.

When I showed the gun to Dennis, he was as excited as I was. His folks didn't have anything against guns, they just didn't happen to have a BB gun. We were both so young that the question of gun ownership was still several years away, and for me it would be even longer.

The first thing Dennis did was examine the new/old gun thoroughly. It didn't have a trigger, so it wouldn't stay cocked, but the spring seemed quite strong. It was the kind of gun you cocked by pushing down the stock and sort of breaking the gun in the middle.

He then poured some oil down the barrel because his dad had told him BB guns ran on oil. Nothing happened, of course, but we both felt we were a step closer to having a working gun.

Friday, July 14, 2006

My Quackenbush – part 6

My Quackenbush part 1
My Quackenbush part 2
My Quackenbush part 3
My Quackenbush part 4
My Quackenbush part 5

by Tom Gaylord

But gold you can't spend is gold you don't have, in my book. So, here I was, a man with a fortune who was as poor as the next fellow because if I spent a cent of it, I risked loosing it all! What a dilemma.

Then it occurred to me to do the very thing others had done—move out of there and change my identity. In a new locale, I could invent whomever I wanted to be and live however I desired. I resolved to pick a place where wealth would be easy to hide, but not so expensive that I couldn't afford to live there. The California climate had gotten into my blood by then, so I wanted to remain on the coast if possible.

In those days, the village of Los Angeles was growing rapidly. If I moved down there I would be far enough from the busybodies and yet still enjoy the beautiful California climate. So I sold the business in San Francisco to my gunsmith and got my things together to move. I was able to hire a train car to move me to my new home that had been selected for its seclusion. I was located on a rural street from which you could see the sun set every evening, tucked up against the hills overlooking the village of Los Angeles.

I spent many years in that house, until the booming movie industry had built up the town of Hollywood all around me. When I finally sold my five acre place, the profit netted me as much as the gold I originally found. Once again I had to move, but this time, there was no pressure to hide who I was.

In 1929, I attended the funeral of the famous Wyatt Earp, whose exploits made him the most well known figure of that time. I sold my house in Hollywood and moved for what has proved to be the final time.

I'm now ensconced in a beautiful setting overlooking one of God's finest creations, beautiful Lake Tahoe, high up in the Sierra Nevada range. I was able to buy ten acres of property right on the lake, half of which lies in California and the other half in Nevada. The summers are hot and beautiful, while the winters are legendary! My home is remote enough to discourage casual visitors, yet close enough to Carson City that I can go to town if I want to. The train is the only regular passage in and out of the mountains, most automobiles being too frail to make the trip reliably. The roads are primitive, which keeps the traffic to a minimum.

With the end of the war in sight, I can't wait to get out of my hideaway and travel to all the places we read about in the newspapers. I imagine I should allow a year or two for them to rebuild most of Europe, but England might still be nice. Oh well, I shall see.

My old Quackenbush air rifle is mounted on a polished walnut board in a place of honor over the mantle in my den, Each day, I read my newspaper and look out over the beautiful lake under the shadow of the small gun that brought so much happiness into my life. I often wonder what might have become of the gun that was made immediately after mine. Did it travel as widely and pass through as many hands, or was it owned by just one person who kept it in the closet all his life?

South shore of Lake Tahoe, on the state line
August 29, 1944

Thursday, July 13, 2006

My Quackenbush – part 5

My Quackenbush part 1
My Quackenbush part 2
My Quackenbush part 3
My Quackenbush part 4

by Tom Gaylord

I resolved to stay another day and explore the trees, as this was the best clue I had found thus far. It took have the day just to get my horse up on the hill where the trees were, and I had to backtrack once to be sure they were the right ones. When I got there, I immediately found a very suspicious looking grove of trees that looked just like the one Jack described.

The ground inside the grove was bare of grass because the closeness of the trees admitted little light. I allowed my eyes to adjust to the low light then began to look for signs of disturbed earth. If Jack had been there within the past ten years, I figured there would be some signs. Indeed, there were!

I found a shallow depression in the ground almost in the center of the grove. There were old signs of a campfire there, but I was more intrigued by the way the ground dipped down in a shallow depression. From my days working in the orchard, I knew that the soil in this region never went back to its normal level, once disturbed. It always left a depression.

I started digging and within the first three feet my shovel hit something hard. Going slower, I uncovered the corner of an earthenware crock. Working quickly, I dug up the crock and found the surprise of my life. In two burlap sacks inside the crock were many hundreds of fifty dollar gold pieces, just like the one Jack had given me!

But the treasure didn't end there. Under the spot where crock number one had rested, were crocks two and three. Both were filled with sacks of the same contents as the first, but these held even more! It looked as though Jack had been digging up crock one only, because the other two were quite full.

I had to construct a travois to carry the coins back to my home, they were so heavy. Once there, I had to plan my next move. The money I now had in my possession was more than I would be able to make in a lifetime, but I couldn't just come out with it or people would want to know all the details.

Even in those early days, certain kinds of people were always trying to find out your private business. As soon as they found out where I got the wealth, there would come a flood of claimants, each with a convincing story of how the money was really theirs. The courts would listen to each of these thieves and enjoin me to not spend one cent of the money until the whole mess could be resolved. No sir, I did not want anyone to know where this gold had come from, or, indeed, that I had it at all!


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My Quackenbush – part 4

My Quackenbush part 1
My Quackenbush part 2
My Quackenbush part 3

by Tom Gaylord

When I asked the man how he came by the gun, he shuddered and told me a dark tale. He found it in a small cave up in the hills above the community of Los Gatos. He said there were other things up there that he didn't want to talk about, but I made him draw me a map of the place just the same.

The next week, I set out on my horse to locate the spot on the map. After two days of looking, I was sure I had found it. That was confirmed by the appearance of a semi-clothed skeleton tucked under some rocks, which I assumed was the small cave the man described. There wasn't much left, but somehow I knew that this was the body of Scrappy Jack, who had left thirteen years before.

I dug him a proper grave, although not as deep as one in a cemetery, and I dragged what was left of him into it. Saying a few words over the resting place of what I imagine could be considered a friend seemed strange, as it brought to my attention how little I really knew about the man. Then I remembered his stories about his "bank."

He said it was located in a grove of large trees, so nobody could spy on him when he was digging it up. But that was all he ever said about it. So I spent the rest of the time looking around for a grove of trees that fit the description. I didn't find them, but I did find the remnants of another more permanent camp with a lean-to that was still partially standing. Exploring this structure, I found two of the Quackenbush cat slugs laying in a corner. No doubt this was a place Scrappy Jack had holed up. Vowing to return, I rode back home.

I was able to get away again three months later, and rode straight to the old lean-to, to continue the search. I had recalled that Scrappy Jack had once mentioned the beautiful view from the place where his bank was located, and since the lean-to was not in such a place, I decided to look in a spot closer to the coast.

Two days later, I found another important clue. There was a rock that looked like an arrow pointing toward the coast, and I remembered Jack mentioning something about following the arrow when he went to his bank. I looked for three more days but found nothing. Then, as I was leaving, I looked at the arrow once more. It was pointing towards the coast, but it was also pointing towards a spot on the neighboring hill where there was a stand of low trees. From the look of the place, it might have been possible to see all the way to the coast from there.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

My Quackenbush – part 3

My Quackenbush part 1
My Quackenbush part 2

by Tom Gaylord

I accepted the coin and the Quackenbush became his. With it went several boxes of cat slugs and more boxes of lead bullets. In all, he was outfitted to shoot for many years without a worry.

That was the last time I saw Scrappy Jack alive. He left our community and passed into legend, or so I thought.

With my newfound wealth, I went up to San Francisco and inquired by telegram of the Quackenbush factory how much a replacement gun would cost. Shipped from Herkimer to the west coast, it was $13.65, with 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Since I was flush, I bought two—one to use and the other to sell if another Scrappy Jack came my way. Two months later, my rifles arrived at the Union Pacific depot, and, before the week was out, they were both sold at a good profit.

The next time, I put all my money together, plus some my father had, and ordered ten guns from Quackenbush. They arrived in less than a month, together with a letter from the company asking if I would like to be a dealer. I had some time to think about it, as the new lot took more than a month to sell. It seemed to me I might improve my lot in life by selling them, so I applied to become a dealer. I also purchased guns from Daisy who advertised in one of the trade journals.

Within the year, I was selling so many guns that I was starting to have problems keeping up my end of the orchard. My father understood and bought out my share and I went into the gun and sporting-goods business full time. By the middle nineties, I was also stocking firearms from Colt, Smith & Wesson, Winchester, Remington and Marlin. The BB gun trade died off around the turn of the century and I converted to strictly a firearms store with full-time gunsmith on the premises. Sales were brisk, as California was a sportsman's paradise, as well as a frontier territory.

One day, a man came in to buy a Colt pistol and asked if we took in guns as trades. I said we did and asked to see what he had. To my great surprise, he pulled my old Quackenbush out of a canvas bag. It was the worse for wear after all those years, but there was no doubt in my mind that this was indeed my old gun. I accepted it gladly and even gave a little more than the fellow expected, just to get my gun back again, for in a way, it was responsible for the business I was now in.


Monday, July 10, 2006

My Quackenbush – part 2

My Quackenbush part 1

by Tom Gaylord

Then I met an old-timer who changed everything. His name was Scrappy Jack Hill and he had been there since before color was found in Sutter's mill race. He had come out from Kentucky to build a new life, but the rush got in the way and he allowed himself to get caught up in it. As he often said to me, "If you don't take advantage of life when it deals you a winning hand, you might as well get out of the game."

Scrappy Jack claimed to have stashed a small fortune in gold and silver that he prospected during the rush. He said it was up in the hills between our valley and the Pacific Ocean, which was only a few days ride away. He often talked about going back up there to make a withdrawal from his "bank," as he called it.

I didn't completely believe him, as he was mostly a beggar in our village. But every so often, he would disappear for several weeks then reappear with new clothes and a fresh horse or mule. He always said he got lucky at the faro tables in San Francisco, but I wondered about that.

One day I happened to tell Scrappy Jack about the problem the pigeons were causing me at the farm. He asked to see my gun, and when I showed it to him, he acted like a little kid a Christmas. He had never seen something like that Quackenbush, nor had anybody else west of the Mississippi, I'd wager. I think he thought I was going to show him some old .22 rifle or something.

Well, he said he simply had to have that air rifle of mine. He wanted it the way some people want things—so much he couldn't think of anything else. I definitely didn't want to sell it to him, but I didn't see what else I could do, he was making such a fuss.

My father told me to set a real high price, and that might discourage the old fellow, so I did. I told him I wanted fifty dollars in gold for it. That was as much as two Colt revolvers were going for at the time, and I remember how his eyes looked when I told him the price. But he didn't say anything else, and for a while I thought the subject was closed for good.

Then one day about three weeks later, Scrappy Jack showed up at our cabin asking to see me. "I've got your cash." was all he said. Indeed, he was holding a California fifty dollar gold piece in his hand. Now for those who have never seen one, a California fifty dollar coin is the most beautiful sight in the world. It's so much bigger than our standard twenty dollar piece that it puts the smaller coin to shame. I've even seen people pay a premium, just to get a fifty for themselves. More than just money, the coin tends to break down resistance from reluctant sellers. I know it sure got to me!


Friday, July 07, 2006

My Quackenbush – part 1

by Tom Gaylord

Although my family was from New York where I was born, I grew up in Mission San Jose in California in the 1880s. The schools were primitive at that time, so I stopped going when I was fifteen, having gone as far as possible in our little community.

California was such a wild place in those early days. There were still plenty of old 49ers around and they would tell you their story (or any story) with little encouragement. I listened to them all, because they were the most interesting entertainment we had. Tales of Joachin Murietta and Black Bart the Po-8, and how they rampaged through the gold fields around Mokalumne and Hangtown. Many of the old gentlemen were inveterate liars, having only recently arrived in the territory and therefore knowing as little as I did, but every once in awhile I got to meet the real thing. Some crusty old hardtack panner who had lived through the days of the famous gold rush. The stories they told made the impostors worth the trouble.

My family started a small orchard of plum and pear trees just outside of town. We bought 160 acres from a Mr. Campbell, who told us the land was ideal for fruit trees, and, indeed it was. Of course you don't start picking fruit from first year trees, so we also planted an acre of strawberries, which can be picked as early as the second year. We also raised several vegetable crops like lettuce, corn, squash and beans. It was those crops that sustained us those first few years while the orchard grew.

I was the general farmhand of the place. I had two younger brothers and a sister, and together the four of us worked on that farm as hard as the draft animals. But it wasn't all work. My father knew what it took to raise more than just crops, and he had us kids doing things we liked to do along with the rest of the chores.

My brother Bobby was the family fisherman and my special job was pest eliminator. I had to get rid of the thieving pigeons and rats that threatened our corn crib. For the job, I got to use a Quackenbush air rifle, perhaps the only one of its kind in the territory. Father had bought it in Herkimer before we left, and he said it was a good investment, since cartridges cost so much in California.

I could drop a rat from twenty feet away with that gun. All it took was a head shot. Sometimes they weren't completely dead when I got to them, but I dispatched them as quickly as I could.

The pigeons were a different story. They could take a direct shot and fly away as if nothing had happened. They were always a little farther than the rats, because of the way the place was laid out, but I still would have figured that a bird would have gone down before a rat!


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Squirrel boy - part 3

by Tom Gaylord

Squirrel boy part 1
Squirrel boy part 2

He was interested, though. Real interested. He said he had a nest of squirrels in his attic that he had done everything to remove, but nothing worked. He couldn’t shoot them with a .22 because the bullet could go right through the boards on the outside of the house, where it might injure someone. A regular BB gun was also out of the question because it would only injure the squirrels without killing them. He wondered if I might possibly come over and give him a hand with them.

That same evening, I cleaned out five gray squirrels from that man’s attic rafters. It was like a zoo in there. I dropped every one of them with five pumps in the gun. The lead BB went in one side of the head and stayed there. No danger to anything else.

The man was so grateful that he offered to give me a dollar for the job, but I turned him down. After the embarrassment at the dump, I just wanted to get out of there with a little self-respect.

The next evening, a man came by our house and asked to speak to me. He had a big house on the other side of town and there was a squirrel problem in his attic. Would I please come over and help?

I did, and he was so happy with the job that he gave me a silver dollar. After that, I used to get asked several times a month to clean out attics all over Akron. People would pay me as much as fifty cents a squirrel for the job, and it was worth it because those animals were notorious for starting fires when they gnawed through the insulation on electrical wires.

My parents began to think of me as the "squirrel boy" because that’s how people who didn’t know me would ask for me. I didn’t have to hide my gun any longer, not because it wasn’t powerful after all, but because it was so popular. I even got my picture in the Akron Beacon Journal for killing squirrels in attics, and the popularity after that was what led to my going into business full time. I gave up my paper job and had business cards printed up to tell people of my services. I soon found that my best customers were not the actual homeowners, but insurance agents who told their clients to use me to lower their fire rates.

I did that work straight through high school, after which I went into the extermination business full time. I didn’t just get rid of squirrels any more—I did the whole spectrum of pests. My business grew very well, and as I added each new exterminator, he always got a Benjamin air rifle to take care of the larger critters. My own Benjamin was mounted on a plaque in my office until I sold the business in 1953, when I took it with me.

How about that? An airgun that proved to be an embarrassment in the beginning actually defined the rest of my adult life. On reflection, I guess I’d say I like BB guns a lot.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Squirrel boy - part 2

by Tom Gaylord

Squirrel boy part 1

I hid my gun out in the garage behind a box next to the wall, and I kept some of the shot in a bag in my paper sack. On weekday evenings in the summer, I would take it to the vacant lots near our house and shoot at squirrels in the trees. It was hard to hit them, but I managed it a time or two, when I got close enough. They always dropped in their tracks with a good head shot.

One of my friends had a shooting range in his back yard and a lot of kids brought their guns over to have a try at it. His old man had hung big spoons and paint can lids in the tree branches and we could shoot at them as long as we liked because there was nobody living behind their property.

I remember one time a lot of us guys were shooting over there and the kid’s dad who built the range came out to see what we were doing. He wanted to try all our guns, so of course we let him. When he came to mine everyone warned him how powerful it was. Someone even blabbed that it was as powerful as a .22 on five pumps, so he said he believed he’d like to see that. We couldn’t very well shoot a .22 on his property, because they were just as much in town as my folks were, so he said we could go over to the city dump on Saturday. There it was okay to shoot .22s, and of course my gun as well.

So, we all loaded up in his truck on Saturday and went over to test the gun. When we got there, he lined up six tin cans at 25 feet and shot clean through all of them with his .22 Remington. Then it was my turn. I lined up another six cans of about the same size and shot into the front one. The lead BB didn’t even completely go through the front of that can, to say nothing of the ones behind. Boy, did I ever feel like a jerk! I guess I said something, but there was nothing I could say after bragging on my gun like that and then being shown up. I had believed the guy in the store, or at least I wanted to believe him so much that I kept repeating what I knew to be a lie. I guess that’s what a real sales job can do.

After the big question had been answered, we hung around the dump for a while and shot rats. I got six and my friend and his dad shot about 20 with their Remington. I think they felt sorry for me, except the father said he was impressed that my gun would kill a rat. I told him about all the squirrels I had killed in the vacant lot by my house, but my story lacked conviction, now that I had been proved a liar.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Squirrel boy - part 1

by Tom Gaylord

BB guns? No, I never had much use for them. I always had a soft spot in my heart for the really powerful air rifles from Benjamin and Crosman. You know the ones—you pumped them up and they shot like a .22. Well, almost as hard.

I had a few traditional BB guns as a young kid, but they were never of much interest to me because the darn things were so weak. Most of them could only dent a tin can at close range, and even the more powerful ones weren’t all that strong. But there was one exception.

My first Benjamin was one of the old types that had the pump rod in the front of the gun. You pulled it out and then pushed down on the whole gun with the pump handle resting against something hard. Don’t use tree roots, though; they’re too slippery. You’ll get almost down and the doggone handle will slip and you’ll have to do the whole thing over. After a few pumps the lead BB was dropped down the muzzle and it would jam in the barrel until you shot.

I think I got that gun around 1919 or so. The war was over in Europe and people were back to their normal lives once again. I hawked newspapers in downtown Akron every day after school, so I always had some dough to spend. When I saw that gun in the sporting goods department at O’Neil’s, I just knew I had to have it. The salesman told me I could control the power by the number of pumps I put in. Three was good enough for most shooting, but four was for really long shots, or for bigger game. The guy said that five pumps were even possible, but it took a whole lot of strength and if the gun was pumped that many times, it would shoot like a .22. That’s what sold me. I wanted a gun that shot like a .22 but didn’t cost a fortune for bullets. With a .22, you paid fifteen cents for about 25 shots, or so.

In those days, lead BBs cost five cents for a huge bag that lasted for weeks. Because my gun needed to be pumped up each time it was shot, I went through the bag even slower than a kid with a regular BB gun would have. I was in hog heaven, shooting for a fraction of the price a regular .22 rifle would have cost. That’s always good when a guy has to come up with the money himself.

I bought that gun, but I had to keep it out of sight at home because we lived in the city and my folks would have pitched a fit if they knew I had it. BB guns were okay, but a gun that was, in essence, a .22, was an entirely different matter. They would have been worried about me shooting through walls and stuff like that, so I just kept mum about the whole thing.


Monday, July 03, 2006

Chicken dinner - part 4

Chicken dinner- part 4

by Tom Gaylord

The whole next day I tried baiting prairie chickens with piles of rice. The only thing I could tell for sure after that was, they don't like rice. In fact, I think they hate it. I would have been really disappointed that evening at dinner if I hadn't noticed something late in the day. A whole flock of the elusive chickens were down at the edge of the pond, pecking for something in the bushes. I never saw what it was, but I reasoned that as long as I knew where they were, it didn't matter why they were there. I dodged uncle Don's questions that evening, and set about to plan my attack the next day.

What I was going to do was build a hide in the bushes near where I had seen the chickens feeding the evening before. I tried to build a brush pile hide, but there wasn't enough brush around to make one. The country hadn't begun to bloom that spring, and the amount of heavy brush was disappointing. But there was something even better.

Near the edge of the pond was an old rowboat that must have been used for fishing. I turned it upside down and made a very cozy hide along the edge of the pond just a few feet from where the birds had been the evening before. Sure enough, as the sun was getting low in the western sky, they began coming over to feed. I had a clear shot at them from less that 20 feet away.

In all, I managed to get three birds that evening. I would have gotten more but my uncle's yelling for me to come to dinner scared the flock off. Instead of taking all three birds to camp, I cleaned them all but hid two under the boat to bring home the next evening if I wasn't as lucky.

My uncle was stunned that I even got one prairie chicken! He said he thought it was next to impossible to bag one with a BB gun. I almost broke down and showed him the other two, but I really wanted to get that BB gun and to get it I had to provide at least five chicken dinners. We only had six nights left on the trip, so I wasn't about to overfeed him on one night just to lose my gun!

I needn't have worried. The next evening, I bagged four birds and the night after that two more, plus a little rabbit. We had chickens all over the camp in various stages of preparation. I had a sack full of feathers and down plus a rabbit skin, and my uncle was beside himself with amazement! In all, I shot 13 birds, three rabbits and a field mouse. Needless to say, I got my BB gun at the journey's end.

When we returned home, my uncle told my parents the whole story of the chickens all over again, making it sound like I was Jungle Jim or something. I was so swelled up with pride over my accomplishment that I finished the school year on a cloud.

Thirty years later, I asked my uncle to tell me about that trip once again. He didn't say much. He just smiled and said, "That two dollar BB gun was the best baby-sitter I ever had. You were so caught up in hunting those damn birds that the days just flew by for you."

I hadn't thought about it that way, of course, but upon reflection I see what he did. That's why I bought each of my boys a Daisy for their first outing with their dad. They should learn how to eat chicken dinners.