Lewis and Clark's Most Valuable Tool?Posted Sunday, March 4, 2012, at 12:25 PM
A couple of days back, I told someone that I was going to try to check out a local source of good quality gasoline. About five minutes after I sent that e-mail, the "Big Brown Truck" pulled up out front, squeaky brakes and all.
Now first off, this was sometime after noon and Brown usually hits this part of town at around 8:00 AM. But I was anxiously waiting for a package from a fellow in Washington State, so maybe this was it.
The doorbell rang and the driver was back on the truck before I could get there. Now I expected to have to sign for what I was waiting for, but obviously that was not the case. So, I opened the door and there was this triangular box in pretty red, white and blue colors that make the United States Post Office's Priority mail so distinctive. Now what the dickens is Brown doing delivering Priority Mail?, I asked myself.
By golly, that package was THE package I was waiting for and, well, everything else I had going on just didn't seem so important any more.
Inside the "pretty" box was my old 1940 something Benjamin air rifle, fresh from a rebuild by a company up in Bellingham. In just a few minutes, it was un-wrapped, briefly inspected and attached back to the stock that didn't make the trip to the repair shop.
A quick look down the barrel to assure it was empty, a quick pump of the handle and I heard that sound so dear to my formative years.
My oh, my, that was such a sweet sound.
A sound I took out of the rifle by firing LOTS of .177 caliber pellets at rusty cans, telegraph insulators, beer bottles, picket pins, sparrows, magpies, imaginary Indians, and rusty car bodies, just a few hundred feet from the house there on South 5th West. A sound that I hadn't heard since about 1968, when I ordered the parts I "knew" I needed from Benjamin to "fix" her back up.
I probably ought to add that the gun cost my Dad a $1 entry into a salmon fishing derby in Stanley in about 1947 or so.
Well, this eager, YOUNG, wanna be gunsmith, over-looked a couple of the more critical instructions that came from the manufacturer (Imagine that if you will). And after a few pumps of the finished product, there was not a breath of air coming from my $65 investment. So, she went in the closet and that's where she's been for over 40 years.
Late Friday night, I stopped by a little sports/convenience store and picked up the only other thing I needed to make this little jewel work. And just as I suspected, John (the owner) knew right where the pellets were. Now I never even noticed what that tin of 250 projectiles costs, but it was in the neighborhood of about 2 cents each. Roughly double what it used to cost at Western-Auto in Mountain Home back in 1961 or 1962.
This afternoon, I'm going to take the old girl, the can of new pellets and my trusty old pickup truck out for a test fire.
While I'm out having fun, I want to remind folks that the air rifle was REPORTEDLY invented and manufactured in Italy in around 1790. It was a repeating firearm that fired .46 caliber round lead balls, said to have been commissioned for the Austrian's to stave of the invasion of Napolean. The original had a 20 round magazine and an amazingly simple loading mechanism.
REPORTEDLY, that old firearm had a cast iron air chamber that could withstand some 800 pounds per square inch of pressure. And it reportedly took 1500 strokes from a "bicycle tire pumping mechanism" to charge the weapon. No need to "keep your powder dry."
This is an interesting link to a fairly lengthy video (8 plus minutes) that explains the impact that the lowly "air rifle" had on the history of the United States of America. A part of the story of Lewis and Clark that few are aware of, and that has only recently been "confirmed"...
The perception of peace through superior fire power. A "parlor trick" that connected a nation?
You be the judge.
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I was born September 17, 1949 in Caldwell, Idaho. Like Idaho's climate, I have a dry sense of humor. It may be a result of faulty genetics, but I come from sturdy stock. My great grandfather once served as a postmaster right on the line between Camas and Elmore Counties and is buried on what was once his land. According to research my only sibling has done, we generally agree that he started his westward trek in Indiana sometime after 1838 and died of pneumonia in 1911. If Google earth is correct, there are at least 2.5 million average steps between Ripley County, Indiana and his gravesite.
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