Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Long time coming - part 3

Long time coming part 1
Long time coming part 2

by Tom Gaylord

About that time, my mother discovered the double life I’d been leading. She and my dad were attempting to transfer some of their finances to my bank as a show of support when someone blurted out that I was the talk of the Walnut Hill crowd. This distressed her greatly. So much so that the transfer never happened, I’m afraid. For several months I was persona non grata at home, where I fortunately no longer resided.

I was never forgiven my indiscretion, but things were patched back up on the surface, so I could return home at holidays and for short visits. Meanwhile, my success at the bank continued right up to the market crash in 1929, where so many investors were wiped out. Although my bank fared better than most, the depression was so universal that it soon locked up all commerce regardless of who had money. In fact, in those days it wasn’t safe to let folks know you had money, so we all just hunkered down and tried to wait it out.

But the depression finished off Walnut Hill for me. The Great War had tainted everything that had a German name attached to it, and of course our shooting was fairly riddled with them, so it became unpopular to talk about it in polite company. Then the depression took away most of the wealth, and the thing finally died on its own. Oh, the ranges were still there and you would see a few cranks out there from time to time, but gentlemen seemed to forget the halcyon days of the Election Day matches and the great shooters of the past. Fine offhand rifles by Schalk and Pope were bored out and remodeled into varmint rifles shooting bullets at 3,000 feet per second, and nobody wanted to shoot just one shot at a time at targets any more.

I retired after the Second World War and settled down to a life of relative leisure for the first time in my life, except it wasn’t a life I really wanted to live. The luster and grandness remembered from my youth had been replaced by the hustle and bustle of a world trying to rebuild itself again. There was little room for a man who wanted to spend a day at the range shooting a front-loading single shot cartridge target rifle. I could find no one to talk to who recalled the same glorious days I did. I was very lonely.

Then one day my mother passed away and I inherited her house and furnishings. It took several weeks to sort through the items I wanted to keep, and that’s when this picture was discovered again. It had hung in our parlor for many years, but after our great rift over Walnut Hill, it was consigned to a musty trunk in the attic.

When I saw myself holding that little Quackenbush again, all the desires and longings of my youth poured over me in a flood. Only I realized that now I was of an age and had the means to do something about it. So I set about seeking and acquiring the airguns and BB guns that had been denied to me as a boy. I am quite sure my mother was turning over in her grave at my actions but the time had come for the little boy to get his wishes fulfilled.

Over the next 12 years I acquired a collection of American airguns that was unrivaled, as far as I knew. There were Quackenbushes, Daisys, Kings and Markhams, as well as a hundred other makes of airguns less well known, but just as desirable to me. I traveled to Philadelphia in search of robust Columbian guns; to upstate New York to find the gorgeous nickeled Quackenbushes; to Michigan to find the greatest assortment of BB gun brands ever made; to St. Louis to scout out both the St. Louis airguns and the plethora of Benjamins that followed; and to many other cities to look in junk stores, gun stores and antique shops. My card is on file with more than 200 antique dealers today. Although I am never exactly certain, my collection numbers something over 4,000 of the diminutive shooters.

Today, I spend my time playing with my guns as I should have at the turn of the century. Although I own single shot rifles by Pope that will put five bullets inside an inch at 200 yards on a good day, my greatest thrills are holding and shooting guns that can’t do as well at 20 feet. That these little wonders can function at all using just plain air astonishes me, as does the genius that went into their construction.

Most of the airgun manufacturers are now gone, as are many of the people who actually made the guns. There has never been a book about any one of them, to my knowledge, so I have to fill my thirst by owning and admiring the guns, themselves.

Perhaps someday people will realize that nothing man makes is either good or bad. The thing is not what makes the good or the bad, it is the intent of the person using it. I lost a childhood from the mistaken belief that all guns are bad, and that, by not associating with them, one can be cleansed from the desire to shoot. In fact, that attitude is probably what gave force to the all-consuming desire I have today. If you are ever a parent or in a position of influence, you might consider my story before condemning an entire class of objects based on fear, alone.

San Francisco, 1959


Post a Comment

<< Home