Nov 29, 2011

The Next Thing Smokin'

When it's time to go, it's time to go.  We often announce this to people by making a statement like, "I'm outta here," "I've gotta go," or "I'm gonna jam." This is not a new thing.  In the eighties people may have said, "I'm Audi 5000."  This week, the old timey phrase takes us back to a different era.  In the days of railroad and steamship travel it was "The Next Thing Smokin'."

When it was time to go, you could proclaim, "I'm on the next thing smokin" and you would be catching a train or a ship out of town.  In those days, the modes of transport were not nearly as efficient as they are today.  Steam locomotives and ships were powered by coal fired boilers.  The result of a coal fire is a sooty black smoke.
So, when it's time to get a move on and get outta own, jump on the next thing smokin' and see where you end up.

My search uncovered a country song by the same name that has some entertaining album art.

Nov 15, 2011

Pumpkins and Pyrotechnics

A couple of months ago, we got together with a bunch of friends for what could be described as a day of shooting.  Our friends Tom and Leslie have a beautiful home in Snohomish, Washington.  Their property is quite large and there is room for all kinds of shooting.  We shot short range with pistols, long range with rifles, and we shot clay pigeons.  At some point during that day, the idea was created to have another get together shortly after Halloween.  We considered that it would be quite enjoyable to shoot pumpkins on Halloween.  But then, we hypothesized that pumpkins could be purchased at a heavy discount after Halloween given that stores would likely have leftovers. 

The date of November 5th was set.  I could hardly wait.  There is something about guns and shooting stuff that, as my wife would say, "gets you all wild eyed."  As the date got nearer, I got more and more excited.  I had a humorous conversation with my friend Eric a couple of days before.  He asked how many pumpkins we should get?  I replied, "lots.  As many as we can reasonably get."  I heard back from him later that day.  It went something like this, " I called the Fall City Farms and asked if they had any pumpkins left.  The guy asked me what they were for.  I told him we would be launching them out of a trebuchet and shooting them with shotguns.  He laughed and told me to come load up for free."

So, November 5th rolled around and we headed up to Tom and Leslie's house.  I was glad that my brother, Joel, decided to come.  It had been a while since we had been out to shoot together.  We walked in the house and said hello.  Tom walked out of the room for a minute and came back in with a large bag of a white powdery substance.  I had an idea, but I asked him, "what is that?"  He replied "tannerite."  I wish there had been a camera to capture the looks of the faces of everyone in the room. 

Tannerite is a legal binary explosive that can be set off with a bullet impact.  This day was quickly becoming more interesting.  Eric showed up with his truck bed full of about 35 pumpkins.  We set up our shooting area with various targets and shot for a while.  After about an hour, Tom started mixing the tannerite.  He made about six "packages" that were to be placed inside or underneath pumpkins.  The instructions with the tannerite state that a rimfire (.22) round will not set off the tannerite.  That did not stop us from trying, but it turned out to be true.  It was a good thing that Eric had brought along his Springfield M1A.  The M1A is the civilian variant of the M14.  It is a semi-automatic .308 rifle.  Both the M1A and the M14 are descendant from the more famous M1 Garand. 

Springfield M1A
After the targets had been set, we tried to set a few of them off with rimfires and various pistols. As I mentioned, no dice.  Since Tom and Leslie's home was just recently constructed, they have a shipping container on the property.  It just so happens that the container is about 100 yards away from the target area.  We decided to climb up on top of the shipping container and shoot from there. 

Our friend Jay has lots of fun toys.  He had thought ahead and brought along his new Go Pro HD video camera. 

We had a brief conversation regarding camera location.  A few people were a little concerned that it might be too close to the explosions.  Jay responded, "It's fine.  I purchased the best warranty program they had.  The guy told me as long as I can gather up whatever parts are left, they will give me a new one."  With that information, we mounted the camera to the leg of a plastic card table about 50 feet from the target area. 

Please enjoy:

The third pumpkin, in slow motion, was my shot.  If you watch closely, right before the explosion you will see the side of the pumpkin struck by a .22 round.  Joel thought it would be funny if he could blow it up before I could.  The explosions were impressive.  You could feel it in your chest.  This was the first time any of us had done anything even close to this and it was as much fun as you might imagine.  It was a "blast."

Old Timey Word of the Week

This week's old timey word (or phrase) is "the real McCoy."  A phrase used to describe an authentic item or genuine article, "the real McCoy" dates to the second half of the 19th century.  While there are at least ten different explanations for the origins of the phrase, its first known use was by the Scottish Whiskey manufacturer, Mackay.  In 1870, the Mackay company started promoting their Whiskey as "the real Mackay."  Pronounced "Mack-eye" in Scotland,  the name spread to Ireland where it evolved into "McCoy." 

Next time you are inclined to inquire about an item's authenticity, why don't you ask if it is the real McCoy? 

As usual, here are some of the images I discovered while searching.

Nov 2, 2011

Getting Back Into an Old Hobby

My father was a gun nut.  He loved to collect, restore, and shoot firearms of all kinds.  As a kid, guns were always around. They became something that we were very comfortable with.  When we were old enough, he taught my brother and I how to shoot.  We started out with a Benjamin model 317 air rifle that he had traded for.  It was well loved by the time we got it.  The brass barrel was polished in places and the wood had seen better days.  We tracked down some new seals and a few parts for it and fixed it up a little.  This was no easy task in the days before the internet.  It looks something like this:

We took any opportunity we could to shoot the Benjamin.  My dad would ask, "Who wants to have a shoot-out?"  We would gather up targets ranging from pop cans to popsicle sticks and shoot for hours.  As we got older the targets got more difficult and we got better and better.  My dad was a jeweler, watchmaker, and a very skilled craftsmen.  He eventually reshaped the front sight to allow for finer aiming.  He was also a tinkerer.  He used to take flat top lead pellets and drop a bead of soft solder on the top.  He would then put them in his jewelers lathe and turn them to a point.  I am not sure how accurate they were, but they would fly right through both sides of an aluminum garbage can.  I can remember thinking how "cool" it was.  The Benjamin is still around and we still shoot it from time to time. 

As we got older we moved on to .22s.  I'll never forget when my dad brought home the first .22 rifle for us to shoot.  He had gone to an old jeweler's home to look for antique watch parts. In the basement, he found a beat up and rusty bolt action rifle.  He bought it for $18 and brought it home.  It was a Remington model 34 tube fed rifle.  We started by cleaning up the metal and rebluing it.  It was pretty badly pitted on the outside, but somehow the bore was perfect.  The wood was also pretty beat up.  So, we refinished it.  My dad taught me how to refinish wood with that gun and a few others.  It turned out pretty well.  It shoots very well and we have put thousands of rounds through it over the years.  I had it out last night for a deep cleaning, in fact.  We spent many weekends in Eastern Washington plinking.  My favorite times were shooting out to three hundred yards or more with my .22 rifle.  Battling the wind and walking the shots into the target was always my favorite challenge.

When I was about fourteen, my dad asked me if I wanted to try competitive shooting.  I decided to give it a try.  Our local gun club had just started up a junior shooting club.  We had an armory full of Springfield .22 target rifles and bulk ammunition.  The first few times out, we learned the positions and some fundamentals.  My brother and I both enjoyed it.  After a few months of weekly practice we decided to look for a rifle.  True to form, my dad found the most obscure rifle.  It was a Martini Action with a custom thumbhole stock.  It must have weighed twenty pounds.  It looked similar to this:

The Martini proved to be too awkward with the heavy thumbhole stock.  I was getting more serious, so my dad decided to look for something a little more appropriate.  We heard about a gun for sale in the area and checked it out.  It was a Walther UIT Match Universal.  To this day, it is the most accurate gun I have ever owned.  I used it for a couple of years and by the time I passed it down to my brother, I was regularly shooting perfect targets in competition. 

Things were starting to get serious with competitive shooting.  I was travelling almost every weekend up and down the west coast.  I had a shooting coach who had competed on and coached for the United States Olympic Shooting Team.  My dad had just imported the state of the art target rifle of the time, an Anschutz 2013, and I was doing pretty well. 

I had added air rifle competition to the mix and was really enjoying that.  My air rifle was a Walther UIT, as well.  The pressure started to increase as the stakes got higher.  I was being pushed towards shooting year-round and that created a direct conflict with my passion for baseball.  In 1995, I qualified for the National Championships in California.  If I had scored in the top eight, I would have been invited to the OTC.  This was the point I decided to quit.  It was not fun any more and I no longer had the desire to make the commitment needed.  I turned down a college scholarship to shoot for a school in Alabama and committed to playing baseball. 

A few years later, my dad passed away.  Most of his guns were gone and I had lost my interest in shooting.  The few guns that were left just sat in the closet.  I thought about it a lot and my brother and I would often talk about it, but we rarely got around to doing any actual shooting. 

Fortunately, about a year ago, my friend Eric started talking about buying a gun.  We talked about the culture of guns and shooting and we started going out to the range.  He bought a handgun and a rifle and we started shooting pretty regularly.  I have to say that the love of shooting started to come back to me.  I realized how much I loved it and how fun it really is.  Shooting is an escape for me.  I can focus on that and nothing else when I am doing it and I find that truly therapeutic. 

I have always been a rimfire guy.  I love to shoot .22s.  I decided to buy myself a .22 handgun.  I wanted something that I could shoot all the time and it would be accurate and reliable.  The choice was pretty easy for me.  One of the things I inherited from my father was an affinity for Browning products.  I considered a Belgian made Challenger and even a Medalist, but settled on a Buckmark.  I knew I would be too paranoid about putting a scratch on one of the Belgian guns.  So, I found a very nice used Buckmark.

I did some trigger work and got it to a point where it shoots better than I am capable of shooting it.  Although, I have a ton of shooting experience, very little of it is with handguns.  Here is a target I shot last week.  This is 10 rounds fired offhand at 30 feet.  I used CCI mini-mags. 

Over the years, countless guns came and went.  My father bought, sold, and traded over a hundred guns that I would love to have back.  Some of the highlights that I can remember include a Colt 1902 Longslide and a Winchester model 12 Diamond Grade Trap.

Winchester Model 12 Diamond Grade Trap

We still have one of my dad's all time favorite guns.  It is a Remington model 12C.  The 12C is a pump action, hammerless, tube fed .22 with an octagon barrel.  It has a very compact shape.  Looking back, I can now see the trends of the guns he loved.  They were all compact and sleek guns that had an artistic design.  He also loved the Browning semi-automatic .22 rifle.

Remington Model 12
He traded for it years ago.  The metal was in fairly rough shape when he got it, but he decided to leave it original.  The stock had been damaged and was pretty ugly, so he refinished it.  We shot it a bit over the years, but it seemed to be reserved for special occasions.  That gun is now 100 years old.  I had it out a couple of months ago.  I decided that it needs to be retired due to pitting in the barrel.  Its only job now is to look pretty.

I started shooting when I was about 8 years old.  The fun and memories it has created will be with me forever.  My brother and I have countless shooting stories that start out, "remember the time..."  I realize now that shooting created a bond between my father, brother, and I that will always be there.  My father left us with these memories and skills that cannot be traded for anything.  Getting back to shooting has reminded me of all of these things.   It has also inspired my curiosity in collecting. 

I took time away from shooting and part of me regrets that.  But, If I hadn't, I don't know that I would appreciate it for all that it is and was.  Either way, I am glad to be back doing the things that make me happy.