If you’re new here, you should know about my fascination with abandoned things. As it happens, the more closely related something abandoned is to something else I'm interested in, the more fascinated I become. Today we hit the trifecta: it's abandoned, it has to do with munitions, and it's in my family's ancestral homeland!
The ICI Nobel plant at Ardeer, in the Ayr district of Scotland (home of Clan Cunningham), was established in 1873 to make nitroglycerine. Alfred Nobel himself, the founder of both the explosives concern and the annual prizes which bear his name, personally made the first batch of nitroglycerine at the Ardeer plant. The plant grew steadily in size and made important strides in explosives manufacture during both world wars, expanding into such areas as black powder, detonators, and fuses, but in the late 20th century (after being absorbed into Imperial Chemical Industries) explosives were being phased out. The plant diversified into cellulose derivatives and various types of silicones during the 1970s, but then fell on hard times. The 600-acre site is nearly completely vacant today.
Every so often I just get to an overload point. This is one of those times.
I spent all day yesterday talking to a great class about revolvers, all last evening dealing with Second Amendment stuff, and all along reading myriad emails and Tweets and Facebook posts that deal with - you guessed it - guns and politics. Not to mention this week’s normal paperwork, client interaction, and even some good old fashioned work.
I feel a little like Lili von Shtupp.
So today is "me" time, at least as far as the blog is concerned. (Oh, and I'm not dealing with any politicians today, either. They may be the greatest drain on a psyche that exists in modern America.)
It was the summer of 1974. Our school district, overcrowded but short on money to build new facilities, had a couple of years earlier come up with an idea to stretch the useful life of our elementary school building: go to a year-round schedule, with students split into four staggered 'tracks' in a 9-week-on, 3-week off pattern.
As a result I spent most of the summer of '74 in a classroom, getting to and from home via the district's buses. Our bus driver was cool, though - he always had on a local radio station, KGW-AM 620 (their bumper sticker: "sixtytwokaygeedoubleyou!") which played the most popular tunes of the day.
It was on that bus I first heard a plaintive folk-rock song from a local group called Blackhawk County. Titled "Oregon (I Can't Go Home)", it was the story of an Oregon girl who had been sentenced to death in a Turkish prison for allegedly smuggling hashish. Oregonians, being pretty liberal even back then, generally felt that whether she was guilty or not was immaterial; death wasn't a commensurate punishment for drug smuggling. Her story was front page across the country, and Blackhawk County wrote a song about her desire to simply go home, back to Oregon.
The song touched a lot of hearts, not because of the story behind it - few people knew who the song was for or why it was written - but because it expressed what all true Oregonians feel about our beautiful state. It became an instant hit in the Pacific Northwest, staying at #1 for over nine weeks and even managing to place #16 on the Billboard charts. Not bad for the first recording from a new band!
It turned out to be the group’s only hit, and soon most people had forgotten about it and gotten on with their lives. The girl for whom the song was written eventually returned to the U.S. in the 1980s, and the tune went into the archives of musical history. It affected many, though, including me; for my entire adult life, whenever I've been out of the state for more than a day or two, the song will run continuously through my mind on the trip home. For me the song was synonymous with the state, synonymous with home. I never had a copy of it; I just remembered it.
Fast forward to the turn of the 21st century, and “Oregon” had become an almost mythical piece. My own memory of it had faded a bit; I remembered the melody, but not all of the lyrics. I couldn’t buy it anywhere, because the master tapes were lost shortly after it was recorded. The only copies left were those albums and singles that had been pressed and sold during the time it was a staple of the airwaves.
Luckily, a few years back one of the composers - Bill Coleman - found an unplayed copy of the album in his grandmother's house and transferred it to MP3. Then he did something only an Oregonian would do: he put it up on his website, free for anyone to download. I did, and for some time now it's been in my iTunes rotation.
A YouTube user named George Washington downloaded it too and shot some video of a river in Oregon's Coast Range to go with the song. Here it is for a new generation of Oregonians (and those not fortunate enough to live here) to appreciate!
Please, go look at the list and check out the other winners - there are some really good articles and videos. If you're not spending time at the PDN site, you're missing out on some of the best self defense information on the 'net.
I wanted to write about the politics of gun control today, to dissect the NRA's press conference from last Friday, to discuss the image of gun owners in society - but I really can't work up the enthusiasm this morning. There's only so much my little brain can deal with at any one time, and I'm just about at overload. Instead of focusing on the coming fight, I'm going to take the next 36 hours and focus on the things which matter: friends and family.
Yes, we have a fight coming. But not today nor tomorrow; those are reserved for the people we care about.
Here in the great state of Oregon we're known for our rain. Despite the fact that more than half of the state is desert, everyone thinks of Oregon as a wet place.
West of the Cascade Mountains, where the vast majority of the population lives, that's certainly true. I don't think there's anyplace on the west side of the mountains that gets less than 34 inches of rain a year, and most places get noticeably more. At my house we'll pass 80 inches this year; we got a solid foot of rain in three days just last week. Just a few miles away there's a spot that gets nearly ten feet of the wet stuff every year. Ten. Feet.
In Oregon we know rain. Well, some of us do anyhow, and in an area where rain is almost a constant I'm surprised no one came up with this: art that is visible only when it rains. Artist Adam Niklewicz made the installation in Hartford, CT, a town which certainly gets its share of rain - even if they don't measure up to Oregon standards.
P.S.: Despite our damp climate, Oregonians - the real ones, not transplants - generally eschew umbrellas. The running joke with members of SNOB (Society of Native Oregon Born) is that you can tell the California emigres by the umbrellas they feel necessary to wield in even the slightest mist.
Way back, when my hair was thick and dark and my eyesight was 20-20 and I struggled to put weight on rather than keep it off, I taught photography classes. One of the things I always reiterated to my students was that if their pictures were no good, a new camera wasn't what they needed. None of them believed me, of course, because when their pictures were bad they went right out and bought a new camera or lens. The cycle would then repeat itself until they had huge bagfuls of equipment, yet their pictures still sucked.
The ultimate illustration of this point comes to us in the form of some wedding photographs from a photographer named Kim Thomas. Now I will admit to having some prejudice against wedding photographers, having historically considered them one rung up the ladder from the folks who do school photos, but there are some real artists in that field. Ms. Thomas is one of them, and she recently proved it by shooting an entire wedding on - get this - an iPhone and processing the pictures through Instagram.
(The comments to the article are predictable. There are several who criticize the photographer, stating something along the lines of "what happens if they want nice, sharp prints?" Reminds me of my argument with a Kodak VP many years ago who disagreed with my then-radical assertion that electronic cameras would one day take over photography. "Nonsense", he said, "people will always want to hold their memories in their hands!" Look how well that worked out for them…)
Many years ago I visited the now-defunct Harrah's automobile museum - the real, original one, not the neutered National Automobile Museum that currently bears the "Harrah Collection" monicker. It was amazing; I saw cars from companies that I didn't even know existed. One of the more interesting activities was having my picture taken with the two cars that bore my names: A Grant and a Cunningham. I had no idea those cars existed until I was standing next to them.
The Grant company sold what were apparently unremarkable vehicles, and was in business for a scant nine years. Cunningham, on the other hand, was a storied firm with an impressive pedigree.
James Cunningham, Son & Company of Rochester, NY was founded in 1862 as a carriage manufacturer. In fact, they became one of the largest such firms in the country. They were known for quality above all else, and were usually among the most expensive coaches available. They made the switch to automobile production in 1908, making both gasoline and electric models. They maintained their well-received focus on quality, and their first models sold for a whopping $3,500!
By 1916 they'd developed a 442 cubic inch V-8 engine which would become their trademark. By 1921, their town car model was selling for $8,100 - when a Ford Model T Runabout could be had for $370 and their four door sedan for only $725!
Around 1928 Cunningham's interests changed to aviation, and they dropped auto production entirely in 1931. In 1938 the company was reorganized to build electrical switching apparatus, which they did until the mid-1960s. The aircraft division, a joint venture between Cunningham and a fellow named Robert Hall, continued in business as an aircraft component maker until being closed in 1948.
Today all Cunningham cars are exceedingly rare and do not come up for sale very often. I've not seen another outside of the Harrah museum. In their heyday, though, driving a Cunningham - whether horse or mechanically powered - was the mark of sophistication and style (and a not-insignificant income!)
Here are a couple of videos of Cunningham autos; this first I included just because I like the word “Phaeton”!
I've written before of the depression-era Farm Security Administration (FSA) and their photographic propaganda campaign, of whose results I'm a big fan even if I decry the manipulative intent behind them. Their photographers roamed the country and produced phenomenal documentation of both urban and rural areas that would not exist were it not for their efforts.
A couple of them made it here to Oregon, and I've seen some of the photos they made. However, I was completely unaware that on July 4, 1936, the great Arthur Rothstein had been in my little hometown: Molalla, Oregon, population (at that time) about 700. Then, as now, the big event in town was the annual rodeo - the Molalla Buckeroo - and Rothstein was in attendance.
He made this picture of what he identified as a Warm Springs Indian at the old Buckeroo Grounds, which was near the middle of town. (The grounds were demolished and new ones built outside of town when I was a teenager, hence the "old" designation.)
The fence behind the gentleman ran the circumference of the grounds and was regularly maintained right up until the demolition. It’s entirely possible that at least a few of those boards survived to the early 70s, when I helped paint them in preparation for the annual festivities. (They sure seemed like they had been there over four decades, but then anyone over 18 seemed ancient to my young eyes.)
-=[ Grant ]=-
P.S.: Please, no partisan comments on how great FDR was or how his programs allegedly saved the country. This time, I'll be deleting them.
Lots of stuff going on and lots of things pulling me in different directions this weekend - all of them shooting related, in some fashion.
On Saturday ace gunsmith and all-around good guy Todd Koonce and his fiancee Amanda Anson were married. Sadly I had a prior commitment and couldn't be there, but I'm happy for the new couple. (Todd's the guy I pictured hovering over his bluing tanks in the Book Of The Revolver, and is soon to be seen in another book. Shhhh - I can't talk about that just yet!) They're great people and I hope they have a long and wonderful life together.
Rob was able to stick around to take Mas' MAG-20 (classroom) course, and came away with a sentiment similar to that which I've offered on many occasions: it is really a "must" course for those who are serious about keeping a firearm for defense. It covers all the “stuff” - the legal, practical, and ethical things - that you aren’t exposed to in courses that teach you to shoot. Mas is still THE GUY for this kind of information, and you should seriously consider signing up for that class.
Several people came up to me during the breaks to express their thanks for this blog and my book. Most bloggers are obsessed about the number of people who read their work, and it's easy to forget that it's not about the numbers - it's about how you can reach and help other people. It's really quite humbling to know that somewhere out there are real folks who appreciate what you do.
We arrived home at 1:AM this morning, tired but very happy that we've been privileged to know the people we do!
The first was from a lady who chose a revolver for her own personal defense needs, and was pleasantly surprised to find that my book helped her learn how to handle her gun when her auto-shooting CHL instructors fell short. She said some very kind things in her email, and I'm glad that the book was available to help her in her quest for self-reliance. Knowing that I've been able to help someone from afar is a great motivator!
The second came in a book review from Greg Ellifritz, over at his Active Response Training blog. Greg's been writing for a while now - though his entry into the blogosphere is relatively recent - and is one of the few people who isn't afraid to buck conventional wisdom. His "Alternate Look At Handgun Stopping Power" made waves when he released it last year, as it dared to attempt to quantify something that a lot of us have suspected all along: there isn't a whole lot of difference in effectiveness between the major handgun calibers. His conclusion? There isn't, and he's got the evidence to prove it.
In short, he's my kind of guy. His review was quite complimentary, and I'm gratified that someone of his experience and standing in the industry appreciated what I had to say.
When I was just a young lad one of my favorite books was "The Mad Scientists' Club." It was the collected stories of a group of kids in the fictional town of Mammoth Falls (out near Strawberry Lake) who were, as the title suggests, very much "into" science and technology as a hobby. The characters were inspiring to me, as I too was a techno-geek. (I had a chemistry lab perched in the rafters of our farm's shop, and my bedroom was full of electronic bits and pieces that I'd repurposed into a hi-fi system.)
These were kids to which I could relate, which was encouraging - because almost no one in the logging/farming town in which I grew up was anything like me. In retrospect, that was probably a good thing for rest of the citizenry - who knows what destruction a small tribe of Grant clones could have wrought?
I checked that book out of the school's library so often that my name was the only one on the checkout card. (We didn't have library cards in school - we signed our name to a checkout card which sat in a small envelope attached to the inside back cover. When the card filled up, a blank one was stapled to it for more capacity. I think there were three stapled cards in this book, with my name filling two of them.)
It's been a long time since I thought about that book, but Alibris - the source for used and out of print books of all descriptions - has many copies. Turns out the book was reprinted a few years back, though I suspect that most of the buyers were of my generation, attempting to recapture some of their mis-spent youth.
My morning routine is pretty consistent; I get up between 5:30 and 5:45, start a fire in the woodstove, grab a cup of tea, and sit down with Tyler The Overindulged Rabbit to watch a program on PBS called "America's Heartland", which comes on at 6:am.
The show celebrates the people in this country who do the hard work to provide us with food, clothes, lumber and all manner of other products. A simple fact of life on earth is that everything we have, everything you see around you, was either grown or mined. This show celebrates the growers (and sometimes the miners - they had a segment on salt mining not too long ago.)
I'm proud of having grown up with loggers, farmers and ranchers, and it's time they got some good press. America's Heartland exists to do just that, and you don't need to tune into PBS to watch it - their website has every one of their episodes, spanning seven years, streamed. You can even search for segments that were filmed in any particular state.
After today's segment on peach growers I'm a little hungry. Thanks to the farmers, I'm going to have breakfast!
First off - check out the video announcing the start of the PDN Spring Training Tour!
Second - if you're not already subscribed, run out to your local magazine stand and check out the May issue of SWAT Magazine. Turn to page 68 and read the article therein - you'll find someone you know (ahem) mentioned in that article!
I knew that my trip to SHOT Show, driving both ways as I did, would force me well outside of my normal paleo diet. So be it! I embraced the cheat, devouring several versions of a food which I normally don't eat: the hamburger. I ate burgers at a number of places, some chains and some local independents, including the almost mythical (they're not in Oregon!) In-N-Out Burger.
One of the things I noticed right away is that most of the places in California ask you how you'd like your burger cooked. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but thanks to the nannies who populate the Oregon legislature we're forced to eat our burgers one way, and one way only: well done. It was a pleasure to once again have a burger that was pink in the middle, the way they should be!
I'll start with In-N-Out, since one of my goals this trip was to give them a try. I ordered, with the help of a friendly and helpful counter clerk, a Double-Double "Animal Style". It was edible, but as I finished it I was left wondering what all the fuss was about. It wasn't all that flavorful, the bland sauce covered up any beef flavor, and even the grilled onions tasted like some sort of polymer substitute. The chocolate shake wasn't much better, and frankly I was amazed at how bad the fries were. I've been there, done that, and don't plan to go back. I don't get the attraction.
I also tried one of the Six Dollar Burgers at Carl's Jr. It was actually pretty good! Lots of good quality vegetables, the meat was seasoned decently, and there was just the right amount of sauce. Probably the best chain restuarant hamburger I've had.
The surprising burger of the trip came from a little dive in Corning, CA called "Bartel's Giant Hamburgers". I was looking for something to eat and saw this little place with a parking lot full of cars. Figuring that so many people couldn't be wrong, I walked in and ordered one of their regular sized, two-patty burgers with the works, medium rare. It was delicious! Lots of zesty onions (but not too many), minimal sauce (but certainly enough to taste), and well seasoned patties. It reminded me of the great burgers from the little stand in the small town in which I grew up. I thought about stopping again on my way home, but I wanted to sample the legendary In-N-Out so I passed it by. I wish now that I hadn't!
All my other meals were eaten at restaurants in Vegas, including the Wolfgang Puck Postrio in the Venetian - where I suffered a major case of sticker shock when the bill arrived. It was a terrific meal, I'll admit, and is a huge step up from the buffet fare of the Vegas of the early 1980s, but you certainly pay for the privilege.
I'm back home, back on my diet, and thinking wistfully of the burgers I ate last week. So long, non-paleo food, it was good knowing you!
Doc Wesson and Mark Vandenberg over at the Gun Rights Radio Network did a sorta-formal review of my book last week, and they just put a recording of that broadcast up on their site. Have a listen; the whole podcast is fun, but if you’re pressed for time they start talking about me at the 42:00 mark.
Before that they interview Alex Haddox, the man whose voice was made for broadcasting, who does the Practical Defense Podcast. If you’ve never listened you should, as he has one of the better podcasts on the topic. He too has a new book out called "Practical Home Security", and it sounds interesting enough that I'm going to order a copy for myself.
Tomorrow night we'll be celebrating the arrival of the New Year and looking back at what 2011 has wrought. I, for one, am glad that 2011 is almost behind us (and on Monday you'll discover one of the reasons why!)
I look forward to 2012 with both elation and trepidation. This next year will bring a presidential election that is already shaping up to be one of the most hideous of recent memory, in the midst of a fragile economy and growing discontent amongst the citizenry. The threat of violence on a large scale has never been as high as it is right now, and giving some attention to your own personal protection plans would be a prudent resolution to make this weekend.
On a more optimistic note, there are a lot of really neat things in the works for 2012! I hope to kick the new year off by breaking some big news in January, and if the rumors I'm hearing are true the upcoming SHOT Show may hold some great things for revolver enthusiasts.
In the next couple of months I’ll be adding a new lever action class to my course offerings, as well as a few other surprises - including videos!
Enjoy your weekend, celebrate safely and sanely, and check back in on Monday for a raucous and somewhat tongue-in-cheek blog entry - one sure to get some people's blood pressure up!
2012 is shaping up to be a very interesting year. Lots of stuff I can't yet discuss, but suffice it to say that there are intriguing things afoot on several fronts. Stay tuned.
One thing I can talk about: I've had requests for a lever action rifle class, which I plan to work into my offerings this year. I've watched a lot of YouTube videos and read a lot of articles and blogs about handling the lever action, and I'm surprised at how poorly conceived most of them are. The lever action is different from other types of rifles and needs to be handled on its own merits. Trying to make it into an AR-15 is just as silly as doing the opposite, and this new class will teach techniques and procedures tailored specifically to the lever action. I'll have a section for this class added to the training page sometime in January.
Speaking of training, I'm still open to booking classes for 2012! Check out my training page for the courses I'm offering, and read the page about hosting a class. Remember that no class happens until someone steps up to the plate to hold one -- maybe that someone is you?!
If you like the writing of Ed Harris, and if you like the .45ACP, you won't want to miss this Friday's blog! (Trust me, it's not what you're thinking. No, I'm not giving you any more clues -- you'll just have to wait until Friday!)
Gila Hayes over at the Armed Citizen Legal Defense Network (ACLDN) just posted a very nice review of The Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver in their monthly journal. (In the interest of full disclosure, Gila is both a friend and the person who introduced me to my publisher. She is also known for her scrupulously ethical writing, which makes me doubly proud of her review.)
For those waiting for my book to come to the iPad, the publisher assures me that it's coming "soon" to the iTunes Bookstore. Not sure what's taking it so long, but they tell me the delay is on the iTunes end of things. As soon as it shows up I'll let you know.
(Speaking of the ACLDN - are you a member yet? The ACLDN is the premier organization for anyone who keeps a gun for self-protection. It's not unusual for justifiable self defense cases to end up in the courtroom, and the ACLDN provides support to its members should that ever happen. They also provide educational resources, attorney and expert witness referrals, and much more.
I know there are competing organizations with similar-sounding products looking to make a quick buck from you, but the ACLDN is where your money should go - they're the professionals. Regular readers know this isn’t the first time I’ve praised the ACLDN, and I'll continue to do so because I believe they are the best and most trustworthy resource in the field.)
I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving weekend - ours was filled with windstorm destruction and a blown head gasket on my primary vehicle. My spare time for the next couple of weeks will be filled with hauling debris and fixing an engine. Why can't these things happen in summer, when it's nice to be outside working?
Thanksgiving weekend seems these days to be filled more with thoughts of football than of peaceful coexistence with one's fellow man. Here in Oregon we had our annual Civil War Game - Oregon State University versus University of Oregon, the prize being the opportunity to play in another game of some sort. (No, I don't follow college football - does it show?) I personally find it rather sad that folks can tell you who's playing, why they're playing, who the head coaches are, and even the names of a couple of ousted coaches from a college clear back in Pennsylvania - but can't name five of the top physics programs in the country.
(Just for the record, this is not age-related curmudgeonliness - as my siblings will gleefully tell you, I had precisely the same opinion as a kid.)
Someone (could have been Tam, but I’m not absolutely positive) recently turned me on to a cool gun blog: Forgotten Weapons. Lots of great stuff about guns you may not even know existed, presented with a decidedly scholarly bent. Immediately became one of the few in my daily RSS feed.
A couple of days ago I found out that my new book, The Gun Digest Book of the Revolver, is being sold in the U.K. by Amazon. As of this morning the folks across the pond only had two copies left, which sounds as though it's a big seller over there. Then again, they may have only ordered three copies total - this realization serving to keep my ego in check!
My new book - the Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver - is getting terrific reviews. Besides the traditional dead tree version, it's also available on the Kindle, Nook, and Sony ebook readers - and coming very soon to the iPad!
This being a holiday week, I'm going to refrain from any major articles. Black Friday, however, will feature an interesting piece by Ed Harris! If you're tired of shopping, be sure to check in for his exploration of a load that most of us know nothing about.
If you live near a Gander Mountain store, listen up! They're building Gander Mountain Academies into many of their stores, and you need to check them out. They haven't gotten a lot of press yet, but the GMAs are state-of-the-art shooting facilities unlike any others. Combining both live fire and computer simulation ranges, they provide a shooting experience that very few places can. These are major investments, and they show that Gander Mountain is serious about firearms training.
All of their locations can be video conferenced together, which is (to the best of my knowledge) the first time any shooting facility has done so. The great thing is that they can have a senior instructor in one location who can watch people in all other locations, and provide two-way feedback on what they're doing and how to correct errors. This is going to give people across the country far greater access to top-flight instructors than has ever been seen in this field.
The first such class is going to be with Rob Pincus, who will be teaching Dynamic Defensive Handgun on December 17th and 18th. If you've got a Gander Mountain Academy near you, take advantage of this opportunity to be at the leading edge of shooting education!
Have you gotten your copy of the Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver yet? It's my new book dealing with all aspects of owning and shooting the double action revolver, and it's getting rave reviews. Even my lawyer said that he didn't expect a gun book to be this good! Get a copy now for yourself, and be sure to pick one up for each of your shooting friends. (Remember: orders over $25 at Amazon ship for free! There’s also a Kindle version!)
It's odd, really. This is the time of year that I pine for the long days of summer that are sure to come, and in the heat of that season I wish the early darkenings of winter would get here sooner. I guess I'm just never happy with the here and now!
The whole zombie schtick has long since jumped the shark, and my thoughts on the utility of a .410 shotgun revolver are well known. It shouldn't have come as a surprise that someone would combine the two, and likewise it won’t be a difficult task to figure out what I think of the thing. (Thanks to Tam for ruining my breakfast with this news.)
Trying to catch up with emails, snail mails, parts orders, and everything else around the shop isn't being helped lately. You may remember that my wife decided I needed someone to keep my company during work hours, so she brought in Shop Kat. Turns out that SK is a girl, which we learned when she finally grew up enough to go into heat. When that happened I decided to take her in for a little surgical modification, but as it happens that can't be done until she's out of heat. I thought that if I kept a close eye on her during her infrequent and short outings during that time things would be under control, as I'd seen no stray cats in the neighborhood. You can guess what happened next.
I now have a pile (seven, to be precise) balls of fur who are about six weeks old. They're constantly underfoot, seem to think everything exists for their own amusement, and are generally making the shop difficult to work in. I wear an apron while I work and they seem particularly amused by the parts of it that they can reach. Anyone want a free kitten (or two?)
I've got a couple of interesting articles by Ed Harris which I'm going to run on coming Fridays in place of the Friday Surprise. Ed's got some great stuff and addresses areas of the shooting world that aren't in my normal purview. I think you'll find them interesting.
In the next month I'll be working on my teaching schedule for 2012. If you'd like to book a class now's the time to start the process!
Of course I'll be teaching my flagship Revolver Doctrine course; if you liked my book, you'll love this class! I take you through the revolver, showing you how to shoot it, reload it, manipulate it with one hand, and more. It's a one-day class that can be held on nearly any range, and doesn't require drawing from a holster. It's a great introduction for anyone who is new to the revolver, regardless of their past shooting experience.
I'm also available to teach Combat Focus Shooting classes, both one- and two-day. CFS teaches you the most efficient ways to defeat a threat, ways that work with what your body does naturally. CFS classes are open to revolvers and autoloaders (much as I hate to admit it, I do know how to run an auto. Let's just keep that between the two of us, OK?)
A great combination is what I call the Defensive Revolver Weekend, which combines Revolver Doctrine on the first day and Combat Focus Shooting on the second. RD teaches you how to operate the revolver, while CFS teaches you how to use it to protect you or those you love. This is a great way to take these classes, as there is some overlap which is eliminated when they're back-to-back. The result is that we get in more material than we would if the classes were separated. (This combined version of Revolver Doctrine does require drawing from a holster.)
I’m available for classes all over the western U.S. How do you go about booking a class? It's easier than you might think, and you can train for free just by hosting at your local range! Email me for the details.
Looking even further ahead, I'm considering teaching a master class on Colt revolver gunsmithing. This wouldn't happen until at least 2013, but I'd like to throw out some feelers now to see if anyone might be interested. If so, drop me a note; if I have enough interest, I'll develop the course tailored to your interests.
Well, I think that's enough for one Monday. I'm going to return some emails then go do battle with some very intimidating kittens!
The annual Conference is a chance for active Combat Focus Shooting (CFS) instructors to get together with peers to exchange ideas, learn new concepts, develop skills, and have a little fun at the same time. In this conference we looked at some of the latest information about how attacks happen and how the body reacts to them, and asked ourselves how that changes what we teach and how we teach it. We learned and we grew.
This DNA-level commitment to progress is one of the things that sets the CFS program far apart from others. In any field of human endeavor perspective changes along with knowledge, and defensive skills are no different. Collectively we learn more every day about how to survive deadly encounters; the problem is that so very few instructors or programs are truly committed to evolving with that increasing knowledge.
Let's face it: humans are often resistant to change, particularly when that change means admitting that we are in some way wrong. When we have a lot of ego investment in what we do and how we do it, it becomes darn near impossible to make substantive changes even when they're really necessary.
For instance, I've always considered myself reasonably fit. I'm no athlete, but owing to the heavy work I do around our homestead I'm in better shape than at least half of the people my age. As I learned this weekend I still need some work in that area, and it's important because fitness is critical to long-term survival. Being fit not only helps you survive a deadly attack, but also helps you to survive equally life-threatening but far more common things like heart disease and diabetes. Only by stepping away from my ego am I able to see that and make the changes I need to make.
In CFS we're able to make progress, to evolve our program, precisely because of this lack of ego. Don't get me wrong: there are a lot of Type-A personalities in our group, but very little ego. I know that sounds contradictory, but it's not! One can be very committed and very driven with regard to a topic without the exaggerated self importance that comes from ego.
Colleague Ricardo Pipa put it best: “we lack ego, we are collaborative." We acknowledge that sometimes new knowledge makes old positions untenable, and we change those positions to the benefit of our students and the defensive shooting community as a whole. That's what makes CFS, in the words of founder Rob Pincus, the most progressive defensive shooting program "on the planet."
On a personal note I progressed toward a couple of additional certifications: one for the rifle (Combat Focus Carbine) and one for a new program aimed at absolute beginners in the defensive shooting world (more on that later.) I don't yet know if I passed either one - CFS instructor certifications are notoriously difficult to acquire - but I hope to hear good news later this week.
Regarding my fellow CFS instructors, I don't wish to be maudlin. I'll close simply by saying that they are, in the words of the original Hawkeye Pierce, "the Finest Kind."
A personal item: I hate this whole getting older thing. This last week I stacked our winter's firewood supply in the woodshed - all five cords - and managed to do some soft tissue damage to my right elbow. The last time I remember doing this was about five years ago, when I was doing a lot of hammering during a kitchen remodel. My wife, however, tells me I did the same thing last year when I stacked wood for the winter. That's another part of getting older I can't stand: the memory lapses!
Anyhow, my elbow is quite painful and I'm none too happy about it.
Last month a Colt Paterson revolver sold at auction, setting a new record for the price of a single American firearm: $977,500. Yes, you read that right - within spitting distance of a cool million. Somehow the S&W I'm carrying at the moment seems tawdry in comparison.
For those who have asked, the Kindle version of my book is available NOW!
Just as I was going to press with today's blog post, The Firearm Blog put up news of a new rifle: Advanced Armament Corporation's "Honey Badger", a subsonic .30 caliber rifle built on the AR platform. Tacticool rifles are getting common enough to bore me to tears, but I'm glad they named it what they did because it gives me the opportunity to link to one of my favorite YouTube vids: the (famous) "Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger"!
Yesterday we said goodbye to my father-in-law, Charles "Chuck" Minsinger.
He's a hard person to talk about, mainly because he generally shunned such fuss. Reliable, quiet, and humble, he was one of those guys without whom this country would simply cease to function. He was a conductor for the railroad, an active Mason, a nurseryman, a husband and a father - all at the same time. Of the people I've known in my life, he came closest to the ideal of the "average American."
It's not the Hollywood celebrities or the investment bankers or the industry moguls who make our society what it is; it's guys like him. He never shied away from the job, but he didn't want undue attention for doing it. When he rescued a child from drowning in the ocean, he didn't call the media and hog the limelight; indeed, the next day the newspaper reported that the child was saved by an "unidentified man." Being of service to his community, doing the job that needed to be done, was its own reward.
He managed to stay married to the same gal for sixty-eight years, and in the twenty-nine years I was privileged to know him I never saw him fail to hold her hand when they were together. That, my friends, is commitment - and illustrates more than anything the kind of man he was.
When you were growing up did you have a classmate who was, well, uptight? You know the type: boring, unimaginative, establishment, voted "most likely to become an accountant"? I sure did.
He was me.
I spent the first half (actually, more like the first two-thirds) of my life making Alex P. Keaton look like an anarchist. Hippies? Hated 'em. I liked symmetry (LOVED symmetry), predictability; I couldn't stand the new, the non-conforming, the different. (My fourth grade teacher could tell you stories...)
Somewhere along the line I snapped and tilted a little toward the wild side. While I'm still anal retentive about many things, I've learned to embrace my adventurous tendencies. I'll always love opera, but I also like to listen to The Fratellis. These days I'm a little less enthused with staid decoration and architecture and more interested in the crazy and creative ways some people find to enrich their personal environments.
That's why I found a recent entry on the Salvaged Grace blog most interesting. It profiled a fellow named Jesse Hartman and his site Shift Build:Industrial Reclamation. Jesse's passion is making interesting things out of non-interesting things. He's very creative, something I try to be but rarely manage to achieve. At least, not at his level!
Check out his reclaimed oak wall - then click on the '11' in the timeline to see its secret. Cool! I've GOT to do something like that, but I haven't figured out just where.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have a junk pile to explore.
I have a geeky confession: my name is Grant, and I'm an amateur radio operator. (Yes, I do have a grid dip oscillator -- and I'm not afraid to use it!)
I mention this because this week I experienced one of the more interesting phenomenon of radio propagation: tropospheric ducting. This happens when a VHF or UHF signal, which is normally limited to line-of-site communication, is bent by a temperature inversion in the troposphere and is able to travel much greater distances than usual. In this particular case, it was nearly 300 miles from my house up to the other fellow's location in northern Washington.
'Tropo', as it's known amongst hams, isn't all that rare but it is a lot of fun. It usually happens in the summertime, especially near the coast where I am. Normally when conditions are favorable I can't find anyone who is also on frequency, and it was simple chance that I happened to be listening to the radio this last week when I heard the other party calling for a contact. When I got a chance to check the current Hepburn tropo forecast map for that day, sure enough conditions were favorable between our two locations.
Ducting isn’t limited to the ham radio bands. Television and radio broadcasts, in fact any wireless transmission in the 50 mhz and up range, can potentially be affected by tropo.
One of the fun parts of ham radio is learning about, and exploiting, atmospheric conditions. It's a little like sailing, I think, where you learn to use the air to take you places. In this case, I use the air to put me in contact with people I don't know but who share my fascination with radio waves.
That's right, I've finally written my first book, and it's a doozy. With 240 pages and over 200 illustrations (all mine, except for the cover photo) it's a general guide to the world of the double action revolver. It covers all kinds of things a revolver shooter needs to know: how to fit the gun to the hand, caliber selection, mastering trigger control, sight picture and alignment, customization, reloading, one hand manipulation, and a whole lot more!
It's even got a foreword by "the man" himself, Massad Ayoob!
It's a one-stop source of information on living with the double action revolver. Perfect for the person who's just started shooting and has picked a revolver, or for the autoloader shooter who wants (or needs) to know how to run a wheelgun. It's currently up for pre-order at Amazon, and they'll be shipping by November 10th. It's a big book, so it's not exactly a stocking stuffer, but it would make a great gift for anyone you know who likes revolvers. Heck, you could even treat yourself and buy a copy for your personal library!
Today is a proud day for our family: my cousin, Col. Julie Bentz, is being promoted to Brigadier General of the Army in a ceremony at the White House this afternoon!
Though she's achieved the highest rank, she's not the only family member to serve as an officer in our armed forces. Her brother, a West Point grad who also made Colonel, retired from duty just a few years ago; their father, who is unfortunately no longer with us, was a commissioned Army officer though it was not his career; our cousin Tim retired from the U.S. Navy back in the '90s after an eventful Cold War career (read Blind Man's Bluff. Wink-wink.) My father was a Sergeant in the Army Air Forces, and I have several uncles who served as well.
It probably shouldn’t surprise you, then, that our family supports the men and women who wear our country's uniform -- whether it be Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard. Even when we disagree with their Commander-in-Chief, which we seem to do quite a lot these days.
I only wish I could get away to attend the ceremony (invitations with the White House logo at the top are pretty cool and hard to resist.) Congratulations, Julie!
Back on track - I hope: My apologies for not getting a post up on Friday. Thursday evening our dog fell ill and the very first thing Friday morning I made the half-hour drive to the vet, dog in tow. They put him under the knife shortly after arrival, and I made it back home with him in the late afternoon. We're still awaiting the results of a biopsy but at this point things are looking pretty good. Amazing how much of a scare a sick dog can be. (He now weighs in at 96 lbs. No wonder I can’t easily pick him up any more.)
Maybe not quite: This weekend I was working on a number of projects around the place. I've got three retaining walls to build this summer as well as lots of general land clearing to do (a perennial task here in the rainforest.) As I was hooking a brush cutter up to the tractor to work on the latter I managed to smash the middle finger of my right hand between a drag link and the tractor. This morning it's still quite painful, especially when typing. (When you're as bad a typist as I am you need every finger you've got!)
This just in: As I was preparing to upload this post an email from Ed Harris alerted me to a company selling free range squirrel in a can. Certainly less messy than doing it the old way, but less fun as well. (Don't think of them as cute - think of them as delicious!)
I'm not going to blog a whole lot today, mainly because I'm busy trying to get a couple of tricky jobs out the door this week. There is something on the horizon about which I'm somewhat excited; more as it develops, but if it turns out as I hope I think a lot of you will be excited, too.
Now for that favor: do you know someone who is high up the food chain at Qwest Communications? I've got an issue with our DSL service at the house and have gotten several conflicting stories from their customer disservice folks. This morning I was greeted with a rather rude call from one of their people who grudgingly issued a rebate on my bill while simultaneously challenging me to go find someone else. Of course, he knows full well that there is no one else out here in the sticks. (There's always satellite, but from the people I've talked with it's hardly an alternative.)
I'd love to talk with someone who a) is in a position to give me a real answer, b) isn't a jerk, and c) might be able to actually cause the problem to be solved. I’ve been a reasonably happy Qwest customer up to this point, and I’m surprised they’d so easily write off a good customer in these sketchy economic times.
You may have noticed that there was no Friday Surprise last week. In fact, it wasn't until yesterday that I noticed there was no Friday Surprise! Apparently I simply lost track of what day it was, one of the risks of working by and for oneself.
I need your help. I'm looking to scope a few old .22 rifles, and would like to find some vintage scopes to do so. What I'm looking for are the Weaver Model A4 (4x power, 3/4" tube) or the '60s vintage Bushnell Custom jobs with the integral full-length dovetails (also 4x magnification.) Yes, I've tried the usual places (eBay, etc.) and for such a common item they just don't show up very often. They're not exactly high dollar attractions, and I suspect that's the reason no one bothers to list them on the auction sites -- not enough return on investment.
Should you happen to possess one of these, and should its optics be in excellent condition, and should you wish to part with it, drop me an email.
Speaking of .22 rifles: there are tons of inexpensive autoloading .22s in the marketplace, and if they're not Ruger 10/22s no one seems to take much notice. I've talked to more than one person who bought a Mossberg or Savage or Marlin .22 auto at a gunshow and sold it off immediately because it "didn't work right." They usually end up going to Wally World (or the local equivalent) and getting a 10/22 on sale, secure in the knowledge that the Ruger will work where those "cheap guns" wouldn't.
I've salvaged several of those gun show rejects, and with only one exception (where I had to replace an extractor) they were returned to proper function simply by cleaning the bolt. A .22 rifle is a dirty beast, and over decades of shooting the extractor and firing pin channels become caked with goo (a technical term used by gunsmiths.) By pulling the bolt from the gun and getting rid of that sandy, greasy mess you can solve 90% of functioning problems.
Cheap .22 rifles are to be celebrated, not feared. They're easy to fix and loads of fun, even if you can't buy carbon fiber geegaws for them.
Over at the Personal Defense Network, they've put up a profile of yours truly. Based on an interview I did recently, it covers my views on teaching and the state of the training business. Hope you enjoy it!
It wasn't really Spring Break, but this last weekend was our annual Sage Rat Hunting Trip to the dry half of Oregon. Sage rats, for those of you who may be new here, are actually ground squirrels, the exact species varying depending on location. Belding's Ground Squirrel is grey with a tan underside, while the Richardson's Ground Squirrel has a brown back with a buff belly. I have seen both varieties in eastern Oregon, but the Richardson's seems more common as one travels south, and the Belding's more common in the central part of the region.
Sage rats are incredibly destructive creatures. They eat seeds and grasses, and in large populations make it extremely difficult for a rancher to raise feed for other animals. Their extensive burrows drain scarce water away from alfalfa roots and stunt growth. As hard as it is to make a living as a rancher, the sage rats make it all the more difficult.
As recently as a couple of decades ago the populations were kept in check by a combination of predation and poison, but in the mid-90s legislative pressure curtailed to use of poisons to protect the raptors that feed on the squirrels. The sage rat turned from a minor annoyance to a full-blown infestation, and it's almost impossible to find a field in eastern Oregon that is free from the prolific pests.
The populations exploded almost immediately, and by the turn of the century shooting the pests had become something of a sport. Today there are sage rat shooting competitions and outfitters who put together tour packages for hunters who like shooting a lot during the day.
The preferred weapon is a rimfire rifle. The .22 LR has long been the dominant caliber, but today the .17 HMR is on the verge of taking over that title. It's not unusual to shoot 500 rounds in a couple of days (sometimes two or three times that in a good field), and the cost advantage of the rimfire - as well as its relative safety due to shorter ranges - keeps centerfire rifles at home in the safe.
We and a group of cousins go over to one of our other cousin’s ranches in an effort to help him keep ahead of the alfalfa-killing pests. Our efforts seem to be paying off, as over the past several years his fields are consistently less populated than those of his neighbors. Pest control is not a glamorous part of hunting, but when you grow up on a farm you learn that it is a necessary part.
One of the best things about being in the sparsely populated high desert of eastern Oregon are the people you meet. Folks are just friendlier out there, largely because a smaller community requires more cooperation and deference. In a large city you can get away with treating people poorly, but when everyone knows you - and you in return depend on them for your livelihood - you're going to be more polite. The occasional visitor is the beneficiary of that ecosystem.
There are exceptions, of course, and unfortunately we ran into one of them this weekend.
For nearly two decades our party has stayed at a little place called Crystal Crane Hot Springs outside of Burns, OR. The hot springs fill a small pond, and over the years it's been developed a bit: there's a bath house with soaking tubs and a series of very rustic (to put it charitably) cabins for rent. Between us we've stayed there every year for two decades, through a succession of owners (my brother actually considered buying the place at one point.)
A few years ago a new owner took over and started making changes. The accommodations didn't get any better (though they did add a wireless internet connection), but prices skyrocketed. It's the only place to stay in the middle of nowhere, and the new owners apparently figure that they've got themselves a captive audience. Between the sage rat hunters and the earthy types who travel the hot springs circuit there is a seemingly endless parade of new people to be bilked.
Pricing to what the market will bear is one thing, and I can accept that. What I can't tolerate is rudeness, and we got a heaping helping of sheer nastiness from the owner this weekend.
Suffice it to say that I have never in my entire life endured verbal abuse like we did this weekend. This wasn't the "I'm having a bad day and you're unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time" sort of rudeness, it was an active and surprisingly vitriolic attack on a lucrative long-time paying customer. At one point the proprietress said that we "must be new here", at which point my brother informed her that we'd been staying there every spring for many years longer than she'd owned the place! Repeat customers don't seem to be a concern of hers, as she blew the comment off with yet another round of harsh language.
We won't be staying there again, which breaks a long tradition for me, my brother, his son, and our cousins. If you're traveling in eastern Oregon and are tempted to spend money at Crystal Crane Hot Springs, don't. There are many other places in this state that would welcome your patronage, especially in economically hard-hit Harney County. Crystal Crane Hot Springs doesn't deserve your (or anyone else's) business.
I'm entering my second childhood, though the fact that I haven't grown up yet makes it hard to differentiate it from my first.
I mention this because our property has a surplus of trees - and I've been itching to build a tree fort, or treehouse as some call them. I had one when I was a kid (I’m speaking strictly in chronological terms), and it was a marvelous abode suspended above the creek on our farm. Now that I think about it, that was prime real estate!
As an adult (again, in age only), my desire to once again enjoy sitting in the treetops was always stymied by lack of suitable timber in the suburbs where I lived.
What's odd is that when we moved back to the country I didn't immediately put up a tree fort. I should have; things like a roof on the house and proper septic system seemed to edge it out of its proper priority. Now that I have a little time between projects, I think about how I'd build mine.
Of course I need inspiration, and I discovered that there is a Flickr pool called "Treehouses of the World"! Excuse me, but I need to go back to, uh, work. Yeah, that's the ticket!
Regarding organization, I'm like the guy with his feet in a bucket of ice and his hair is on fire: "on average, I'm comfortable." On average, I'm organized.
My organization goes in streaks. I'll get the urge to clean, arrange, and organize my workspace, and once done it slowly - over a period of time - degrades once more into chaos. At some point the organization mania comes back, I fix everything up, and the process repeats itself. The cycle takes months.
I'm in the organization part of that cycle, and it hit yesterday afternoon: I finally got tired of digging my way across the shop to find the lathe ("I know it's here somewhere.") I started by clearing some of the workbenches of their layers of stuff: at the bottom of one pile were some new FedEx boxes I'd gotten from their depot perhaps five - maybe six, who knows - months ago.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon inventorying bags of commonly used parts that had simply been dumped in a bin on arrival. (If I need a spring, for instance, I go to the organized parts drawers to see if I have one. If not, I paw through the incoming parts bin. I always find what I’m looking for, but the routine chews up precious time. And it’s annoying.)
The great part is that once I'm finished the shop will seem newly spacious. There are times I think I need to move to a bigger location, then I clean everything up and I find space I didn't even know I had! That's the payoff, but unfortunately it never lasts. Sooner or later the clutter returns, and I'm back to scouting new digs. Won't I ever learn?
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to find the broom and dustpan. I think I saw them over by the lathe...
Sorry for not having a post on Monday. If you tried to check in, you probably found that the site was down. My hosting company, Dreamhost, experienced a system-wide outage on Monday which took down all of their client sites as well as their own. My site came back up, sporadically, sometime Monday afternoon. It wasn't until Tuesday night, however, that I could actually get access to upload anything. Everything seems to be back to normal (knock on wood.)
First things first: On Monday I taped an interview with Doc Wesson for the Gun Nation Podcast. He'll be playing it tonight on a LIVE streaming podcast episode he's calling "The Wheel Of Love". It starts at 9:pm EDT, and you can listen live at this link. He'll even be taking call-ins (which gives me an idea...)
Yesterday Breda over at The Breda Fallacy posted a little rant about lightweight snubnose revolvers for women. Tam picked it up this morning. I read both and agreed with pretty much everything they said, but I had this odd feeling I'd read it all before. Oh, now I remember! That's because I've written the same thing. More than once.More than twice. Great minds? Well, I don't know that I can claim to have one, but they certainly do. (If you listen to the Gun Nation podcast tonight, you'll probably hear me tell Doc that the snubnose revolver is an 'expert's weapon', not something for a beginner.)
In a previous life I dealt with police reports on a fairly regular basis, and I was always amused at the language and syntax in the writing. One Deputy, who was forever on 'the outs' with his supervisors for not playing the game, was once reprimanded for using the phrase "I watched him...” instead of the more official-sounding "I observed as the suspect..." This memory came back when I read a Miami Herald article about a Florida Highway Patrol firearms instructor who was shot in the derriere by her supervisor. The official report was that the supervisor was 'inspecting' the weapon, which is apparently FHP-speak for "screwing around with". Were I in charge I'd be sorely tempted to allow Trooper Mellow Scheetz ('Mellow'? Seriously?) a penalty kick at her supervisor's privates, just to bring home the lesson, then do some remedial safety training that doesn’t allow for the “but I thought it was unloaded!” defense.
That's it for today. Be sure to check out the podcast this evening!
My wife and I attended a largish local gun show this past weekend. We used to hit every one that came within driving distance, but over the last few years I've been having trouble working up any enthusiasm for them.
First is the fact that I work with guns every day. No matter how much I enjoy the work, I'm really not all that interested in doing it during my off hours. I'd rather be playing with my ham radios, working on projects around the farm, listening to music, or simply sleeping. A gun show is too much like work.
Second, I get tired of looking at rack after rack and table after table of guns. After a while my eyes simply glaze over and I don't see anything. This weekend it happened about two-thirds of the way through the show, and at that point it became more of an endurance contest than an enjoyable activity.
Third, there's just not much I really want. I'm only looking for a few items - none of them are revolvers, incidentally - and I can't seem to find any of them. I'd like to find an Ithaca Model 37 in 20 gauge; found a lot of twelves, but no twenty. I've mentioned before of my desire for a Mannlicher-stocked rifle in some 6.5mm chambering (though I'd settle for .308 or .358 Winchester.) I saw exactly one, a real Mannlicher in .270. Very pretty gun, possessing all the grace and finish typical of the marque, but I don't want a .270!
Was it a total loss? Well, I got to spend time with my wife, which is always a highlight for me. I ran into a few people I don't see all that often. Oh, and I did pick up a cheap laser pointer so ShopKat would have something to chase.
I guess there are worse ways to spend a Sunday morning!
I have the world's coolest sister-in-law. A couple of weeks back she gave me the perfect gift: 13 bottles of rare (in Oregon) root beers, brews that I'd never tasted before. For the last 13 evenings I've savored a randomly selected bottle, carefully comparing them to my benchmark favorite suds, the hard-to-get Sparky's Root Beer.
What happened? Well, Sparky's - as wonderful as it is, and as much as I like it - has become my third favorite. I feel like such a tramp.
The top spot in my root beer favorites list is now held by Jackson Hole Soda Company's 'Buckin' Root Beer'. It has a very intense pure root beer flavor, a very traditional taste. It's one of the few root beers in this batch that had a strong nose; creamy and rich. When the bottle was gone I found myself wondering how hard it would be to hijack a semi truck and head to Wyoming. It takes a special root beer to make me contemplate sitting in a Peterbilt for 20 hours straight!
Number two on my list is Capt'n Eli's Root Beer. Personally, I've not encountered many products from the state of Maine, and if you'd told me a few weeks back that they knew how to make good root beer I'd have laughed in your face. That was then, this is now. Capt'n Eli's, like Buckin', is a traditional root beer with strong sassafras and vanilla flavors, but without the wintergreen hints that give Buckin' (and Sparky's) that little extra 'something'. The aftertaste of Capt'n Eli's is what sets it apart: five minutes after the last sip my mouth still tasted like root beer. Hmmm...I wonder how long it takes a semi to drive to Maine from Oregon?
Sparky's sits in a comfortably secure third spot, with its unique wintergreen and vanilla overtones giving it a slightly different take on the traditional root beer. Its only major failing is a rather weak carbonation, which makes the taste just a little flat compared to the others.
Fourth place brought a couple of newcomer that tied with an old favorite. Dad's Old Fashioned Root Beer is an old recipe, and it's still unique because of the cinnamon and spice notes in the normal root flavor. (Caveat: the stuff in the cans doesn’t taste the same as what comes in the old-fashioned bottles. Different recipe, perhaps?) Kutztown Birch Beer tied with Dad's because of it's earthy, fruity quality. Birch beers are a close cousin of root beer, and Kutztown is the best of the breed I've yet tasted.
The other tie was Olde Rhode Island Molasses Root Beer. It has a very slight hint of the molasses in its name, and the color and the head are incredible. Very sweet brew with slight anise and citrus tones, this is the only root beer on my short list that can be said to have 'bite', thanks to a very slight citric acid tang. Of the beers I’ve tasted, this is one of the most memorable.
Our illustrious legislature, in their zeal to protect all Oregonians from any perceived harm, has introduced a bill that would essentially eliminate gunsmithing in this state.
I'm hoping that by the time counsel is done with it, it will die on the floor. But given the make-up of our new legislature, heavily populated by prohibitionists of the left-wing variety (who hate guns, as opposed to prohibitionists of the right-wing variety who hate fun) it's possible that it may make it further into the machinery.
(In Oregon, the legislature is made up of committees. A committee will sponsor a bill, which can be written by a committee member or by a citizen. The bill then goes to the legislative counsel, which does the actual drafting. From there it goes to the floor, where it is officially introduced. In this case, the Senate President would assign it to a committee, which holds hearings and makes amendments and votes to send it back to the floor. Then it gets passed around, voted on, read several times, then goes to the other chamber where the process is repeated. Luckily there are enough nooks and crannies into which a bill can fall, but some weird stuff has made it through the process.)
With any luck we can derail this thing before it gets up to speed.
- I wrote a few weeks back about a new feline inhabiting my workplace. Some disagreement exists regarding the name of said feline - I think "ShopKat" is perfect, my wife prefers "Cali" - but the little furball is already doing good work. Mice infiltration is down, and she's managed to snag one or two rodentia herself. This is in stark contrast to the lazy cat at home, who spends all of his productive time curled up in front of the woodstove.
- Several people have asked if I managed to find a line of shirts I like. So far readers have suggested two good candidates: the Overland long sleeve from Triple Aught Design ($$$ but made in the U.S.), and the Safari Shirt from Long Grass (made in South Africa, but not so much $$$.) I’ve not actually ordered either yet, but I'll get around to trying them in the next month or so. Thanks for all the suggestions!
- My wife came home with a big surprise recently: Sparky's Root Beer, elixir of the deities, is once again available in Oregon. I can't tell you how happy and excited I was to find that I now have semi-regular access to my absolute favorite brew! I say semi-regular, as it's only carried by the local speciality food retailer, but the fact that I can get it at all is cause for celebration. My fellow Oregonians, gettest thou to your local Market Of Choice and try Sparky's for thyself!
Gosh, thanks for the tremendous response! I managed to divert a few more copies, so everyone who responded should get one.
Exactly a year ago I mentioned that I'd just finished a project with Rob Pincus, but I couldn't yet talk about it. Today I reveal all!
We collaborated on a DVD in his renowned "Personal Firearm Defense" series. Titled - what else? - "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", it features Rob and yours truly talking about and demonstrating a variety of issues related to the revolver in self defense. It turned out great!
The DVD has been released through the NRA's Personal Defense DVD Collection, and perhaps one other venue as well. I hope to have them for sale here at grantcunningham.com after the first of the year.
I managed to snag some extra copies for myself. I'm going to give a few lucky readers of my blog a chance to get their own copy for FREE! All you need to do is answer this question:What present does Ralphie Parker wish for?The first twelve (get it?) people to email the answer will get their very own copy of "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", autographed by me. (Just remember that comments here on the blog don't count - you have to email me in order to get in on this deal!)Good luck!
-=[ Grant ]=-
P.S.: Those who know me, or have seen pictures of me, may be surprised that I'm not wearing my glasses in this DVD. The director's first question when setting up the lighting was "do you need those glasses for anything?" "Well, only if I want to see..." Apparently that wasn’t sufficiently important, and I ended up spending two days thinking "don't squint at the camera, don't squint at the camera!" Such is the price of stardom, I’m told.
Couldn't come up with anything topical for today, so I thought I'd talk about animals.
I now have a cat in the shop. My in-laws had a kitten they needed to give away, and it ended up in the shop with me. I'm hoping the little furball will eventually develop the skill to catch the mice that inevitably come in from the adjacent wooded area. This would be in stark contrast to our house cat, who runs screaming in terror at the sight of anything resembling feline obligation.
Speaking of stupid animals, you may recall a post almost exactly a year ago regarding our dog, who refused to sleep in his house. He spent the last two years sleeping (through rain, wind, snow and ice) simply curled up in front of our door. Miracle of miracles, he started sleeping in the doghouse this week! I have no explanation for his sudden change of heart, though he just celebrated his second birthday - perhaps he's getting smarter as he ages.
He now lays in his doghouse and looks out at the rain with an expression on his face that says "yup, I'm a smart dog! I sure am, yup yup yup yup yup..."
I remain convinced that he is a stupid mutt. Which, as I think about it, makes him eminently qualified to run for Congress.
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a little...anal-retentive about things. Like clothing, for instance.
I have my preferences about what I wear, and when I find something I like I buy several year's worth in various complementary colors. This way I don't have to worry about looking for something else I like (and spending money on stuff I don't like) for quite a long period.
I wish I could say the same for shirts, and this is where I need your help. For a while now I've been wearing Cabela's Sarengeti Safari shirts, and I'm not at all happy with them. I'm looking for a replacement, but haven’t found anything yet. You’d think this would be easy, but it’s not turning out that way!
The problem is that I have several requirements, all of which must be met for me to buy: the shirt must have square-cut tails, two pockets with button closures, and be made of a medium to heavy weight cotton. Any other features are negotiable, but these are written in stone.
I want square tails because during the summer months I roll up the sleeves, unbutton the front, and untuck the shirt to wear over a short-sleeved Henley. The problem? I believe that contoured tails are meant to be placed inside of one’s pants. Wearing them outside seems somehow uncivilized!
I need the two pockets, because my iPhone goes in one and my ever-present notepad and pencil go in the other - and I need them to have button flaps so that neither falls out when I bend over. Why buttons? Because I cannot abide Velcro ("may it rot in hell") on pocket flaps! I might settle for a snap, but buttons are where it's at for me.
Finally I want it to be cotton of a heavy weight, for wear resistance, concealment properties during that untucked period, and overall comfort in a wide range of environmental conditions.
The winning shirt will be available in solid earth tones - tans, browns, greens - and preferably available online.
I've been looking, and I've found several products which meet two of my three requirements - but all three in one so far eludes me. The hardest part seems to be the square tails! I'm hoping that someone out there will have seen something suitable. If so, let me know.
It has become something of a trend amongst the latest hipsters to declare an interest in the fountain pen. It might be said that I find this whole business a tad amusing, not because I think the fountain pen to be out of date but because my interest in them often goes back further than some of these newcomers have even been alive. (Get off my lawn!) Wait long enough, and everything comes back into fashion.
I received my first fountain pen as a high school graduation gift in the late 1970s. It was a Cross Century and came in a set with a matching ballpoint and a pencil. What happened to the latter two pieces is a mystery, but I still have that fountain pen. In fact, I'm looking at it as I type this. I've added more to my collection as time has progressed, but I still have that one.
Over the years I'll admit to not being completely faithful to the fountain pen, but in the last few years I've gone back to it as my primary writing instrument. My handwriting these days is all in printed letters (I long ago forgot how to write in longhand), and I don't do as much of it, but I still scribble notes and fill notebooks with bits of information, ideas, the occasional drawing, and sometimes a shopping list. I have perhaps four pens that I use regularly, and several more in storage that I ink up and use only occasionally.
Why a fountain pen? For me, it's the fact that they require no hand pressure. The nib of the pen simply rests on the paper, and no additional force is needed to get ink to flow. As I near the half-century mark I find that the joints of my fingers are not standing up to the kind of abuse they used to, and anything which reduces the wear and tear on them is most appreciated!
There is another aspect to the fountain pen, though I fear putting too much emphasis on it lest I be labeled as a closeted environmentalist hippy. (Tam and her eco-friendly bicycle currently have that schtick sewn up like a hemp shirt, and heaven forfend I should intrude!) The fact is, however, that disposable writing instruments are wasteful. A quality fountain pen is a lifetime purchase that needs only a supply of ink to keep working. Nothing ends up in the landfill or gets thrown away (except the ink bottle, which is usually glass and easily recycled.)
Of course, for a gadget freak like me the fountain pen provides limitless opportunities to indulge! There are perhaps a hundred (maybe more) fountain pen manufacturers around the world still making pens, with price points from a buck (I'm not kidding) to several thousand dollars. You can find nibs (the part that touches the paper) in sizes ranging from extra fine to broad; no matter how or what you like to write you can find a line width to suit. There is also a large quantity of vintage pens available should one prefer the ultimate in recycling with a retro flair.
Ink makers? There are probably fifty brands of ink that come in a literal rainbow of colors. I'll bet you never knew that black ink isn't just black, did you? Yes, black ink comes in shades. There must be a couple hundred different blue inks, more blue-black inks than you could probably ever use, forests full of various greens and browns, and reds that range from blood to fire - and everything in between. If you want the perfect ink to match your personality or mood, you can find it for your fountain pen.
There is, truly, something for everyone in the fountain pen world.
I'll leave you with some pen snapshots I did a few years ago. The first is a couple from the German maker Rotring (probably my favorite pens), the second is of a Duke (one of the better Chinese pen makers), and the last is a no-name pen that my wife likes (yes, she’s into them as well. Makes gift giving around our house easy!)
Whew! What a week I had! I’m actually glad it's Monday, as I might finally be able to catch my breath!
I spent a few days last week helping to teach a Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Development (CFSID) course in Washington (as in 'state', as in WA.) We had a great group, all of whom were there to learn how to teach progressive, reality-based shooting in both the public and private sectors. Rob Pincus was the lead instructor, and I had the pleasure of interacting with three other Combat Focus instructors who were also there to help out. Teaching something is the best way to learn the subject, thus teaching how to teach makes one a better teacher. (Seems almost circular, doesn't it?)
One of the take-aways from this session was a new way of looking at the concept of precision in combat. You'll be hearing more about this as I flesh out my thoughts.
Speaking of Combat Focus Shooting, I've received a number of emails showing interest in booking classes for next year. Some of them have been from sunny or very scenic locations out of state, which is much appreciated, but I'm also looking to do more courses here in Oregon. If you'd like to see either Combat Focus Shooting or my Revolver Doctrine class come to your town, let me know - perhaps you could be the one to host it!
Here's something to consider: host a Revolver Doctrine class on a Saturday, followed immediately by a Fundamentals of Combat Focus Shooting class on Sunday. The former teaches you how to run your revolver properly, while the latter shows you how to use it efficiently to protect yourself. It's a great one-two combination!
If you're interested, email me for the details. (Remember that while I love teaching in Oregon, I will travel in the Western states to hold classes.)
Last week was particularly full because I was working feverishly to finish my Chiappa Rhino review for Concealed Carry Magazine. Deadline was Sunday, and I managed to slip in under the wire. The review turned out to be very long - over 3600 words - and I'm concerned that it will need to be heavily edited to fit into the magazine's allotted space. (Lots of pics, too.) My editor at CCM, Kathy Jackson, has her work cut out for her!
I'll be posting the next installment of the blog's series covering the technical features of the Rhino on Wednesday. Coincidentally, I'll be recording an interview about the Rhino with the ProArms Podcast folks that day. I'll certainly let you know when that gets released.
One of last week's frustrations was my outgoing mail server. It stopped accepting my login name and password, thus no mail went out for about four days. Qwest's technical support (the pride of Bangalore) was of no use: "I'm sorry that you're not happy with your service, Mr. Cunningham. First I'd like you to turn off your computer and turn it back on again." I swear that if you called them instead of dialing 911, they'd respond to your request for an ambulance by telling you to turn your computer off!
I tried valiantly to get them to escalate my call to someone who wasn't translating a script from Hindi to falsely accented Southern American English. I failed. The problem finally resolved itself sometime Saturday. For that I am grateful, even if a bit puzzled.
On a personal note, I'm very happy that tomorrow evening all of the campaign advertisements will cease. (How do you tell when a politician is lying? When his lips are moving!)
Of course Oregon is my preferred venue, but I'll travel anywhere in the Northwest and I could possibly be convinced to go to California. (Since that's the only place to get Sparky's Root Beer, it might not be hard to get me down there!)
I also have some very limited dates for private instruction, which need to happen in western Oregon. Range facilities for private instruction can be less developed than for a class, as long as we have a safe area to shoot.
Check out the course descriptions, look at your calendar, call your friends, and get in touch with me.
I must apologize for being a bit late with this one. Last month I was interviewed on the "Meet the Smiths" segment of the Personal Armament podcast. I'd planned to put a note on the blog when the interview was published, but forgot about it until yesterday. That’s when I fired up iTunes for the first time in several weeks, refreshed the podcast list, and -- there it was!
The podcast is a good listen even when I'm not the guest. (Hmm. That sounded vaguely conceited, didn't it?) Rob Robideau is a solid interviewer; he asks great questions, and is flexible enough to pursue different lines of inquiry when they show promise. Most interviews are heavily edited, but he's polished enough that what you hear is pretty much how we recorded it.
As I find time I'm downloading and listening to his back episodes, and they are terrific.
It's about 10:30am as I write this, and it's been a hectic morning. I've been on the phone since early today with suppliers, customers, and gun companies. Because I'm behind schedule, I'm simply going to leave you with this little gem from The Firearm Blog. (Be sure to follow their link to the ARFCOM article that started it all.)
Happy Monday. I hope yours is less stressful than mine!
During World War II, my Dad was a flight engineer/2nd co-pilot on a B-29. He'd flown B-17s and B-24s, but loved the B-29 - and why not? It was a technological marvel, full of almost magical gadgets, and my Dad was - to the day he died - a serious gadget freak. There was more than enough interesting technology on a SuperFortress to keep a hyperactive 19-year-old mesmerized for his entire tour of duty.
Dad never stopped talking about Boeing's best, and in the mid-'90s the Commemorative Air Force (then referred to by the more whimsical "Confederate Air Force") brought their crown jewel to a local airport: Fifi, the only flying B-29 in existence.
My father heard about it, and called me with uncommon enthusiasm to tell me the news. Of course I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see one, so I took Dad to the airport. They were giving tours of Fifi, and we joined the small crowd for a chance the crawl through the old bomber.
We were all crammed into the cockpit while the pilot was explaining the layout. Dad sat down at the engineer's station, his old post, and while the pilot/tour guide droned on Dad sort of looked around, shrugged his shoulders and started flipping switches. "One. Two. Three - that's the wrong kind of switch, it's a replacement. Four - they moved Five - there it is - Five."
By this time the pilot had stopped, his eyes got really wide, and he said "what are you doing?" Dad looked at him and said "prepping for flight, sir. Six. Seven." The pilot got a big grin on his face and he and Dad shook hands and exchanged the appropriate pleasantries. The pilot hadn't even been born when the B29s were decommissioned, so it was a treat for him to run across someone who remembered flying one. I was impressed that even after all those years, Dad remembered his job to the letter.
(He also made me crawl through the crew tunnel that goes over the bomb bays, just to get a feel of what it was like. He said "now imagine it in the dark, with a sadistic pilot rocking the plane just to make your life miserable.")
What brings this up? I stumbled across the news that Fifi recently got four new engines:
Last month she took to the air again, her first flight since 2006:
When I was in high school my dream was to play trumpet in the Stan Kenton band. Kenton's organization was for years the most progressive, innovative big band in all of jazz. Their sound was decidedly different than any other big band, and that alone attracted fans (of which I was one) and detractors (of which there were many.)
Narrow-minded jazz listeners complained that Kenton didn't "swing", that you couldn't dance to his music. Musicians, though, understood what he was doing and were the backbone of his fan base.
Kenton made it a point to seek out the most progressive composers and the most difficult music with which to demonstrate the sheer power of his orchestra. Over the course of nearly four decades, no matter what the prevailing jazz style was Kenton would turn it on its ear and make it sound fresh.
As a result of his uncompromising attitude toward the advancement of America's indigenous music, Kenton attracted the best and brightest musicians. A list of his personnel over the years reads like a who's who of jazz, and I hoped that I could someday make the grade.
Then, thirty-one years ago this week, Stan died - and with him, the legendary band that he led. My own dreams suddenly vanished. (Not that I would have made it; frankly, in retrospect I wasn't nearly good enough. Youthful enthusiasm served to mask that reality until well into adulthood.)
To give you a taste of what Kenton's band could do, here's a video from 1972 featuring a Hank Levy composition titled "Chiapas." The musically inclined will notice the tune was written in 5/4; odd time signatures were something of a Levy trademark. (The trombone soloist is Dick Shearer, who ironically would retire to the small town where I had grown up listening to recordings of him with Kenton. He spent the last years of his life within sight of my childhood home.)
I grew up a small-town farm kid, the son of parents who themselves had grown up on farms, and the major thrill of my summer vacation was always fair season.
Our county fair would come first, followed by the "big one" - the Oregon State Fair. (All the counties were pretty much the same, except Harney County. Their fair inexplicably occurred after the state fair. Always has, as far back as I can remember, and they're awfully proud of that.)
The county fair was a place where citizens could gather, interact, watch the local talent perform, and show off their produce and handiwork. It combined socialization and competition, along with some entertainment, and was a vital component of farm and ranch life in the 19th and well into the 20th century.
People from all corners of the county would bring their livestock, produce, and the things they made to display and compare to the same from others. Those items found superior would win their owners/creators a ribbon and a year's worth of bragging rights, while those that didn’t make the grade would cause a stern resolve to win next year. It was always friendly competition, but there was definitely an undercurrent of antagonism when it came time to judge the pies and preserves!
What I remember most from my childhood were the tractor displays. The various agricultural equipment dealers would bring a large selection of the newest tractors and implements, while the local farmers would bring in their oldest equipment for a taste of the "good ol' days." For me, if there aren't tractors it just ain't a fair.
Today county fairs have become caricatures of their former selves, many looking like a cross between Cirque de Soleil and a college dorm beer bust. Our modern State Fair? Well, the less said about that the better; the last time I went it was nearly unrecognizable, and I haven’t been back.
The rural county fairs, thankfully, have managed to hold on to their noble ancestry better than those closer to the metropolitan areas. In the outlying fairgrounds you can still get a taste of what a county fair should be.
I plan to do just that this weekend. While folks in the cities mock the "rednecks" of this country, I'll be celebrating the worth and dignity of those who produce the food that fills bigoted stomachs.
I have a bad habit of picking something up, walking around with it, then putting it down in an inconspicuous place and forgetting about it. Causes no end of problems around my house!
For instance, yesterday I was working on someone’s S&W. I picked up a tool, then remembered something I needed at the other end of the shop. Instead of putting this tool down on my bench - which is where it came from - I carried it with me. Somewhere between my bench and my destination I managed to lose the thing!
It’s in there, somewhere, but after an hour-and-a-half of searching yesterday I still hadn’t found it. Today I’m going to tidy up the shop (a task I’m not at all fond of) and see if that doesn’t turn it up. If not, I’ll have to get another one.
This is why I have two of everything. I only know where one is at any given time, however.
I get many emails asking what I carry on a daily basis. While my choices are mine alone, and aren't meant to be prescriptive for you, why I choose certain items may be of some help to you.
As most probably already know (or, from the picture above, have managed to guess) I generally carry a revolver. Not 100% of the time, mind you; there are instances when I carry an autoloader, and have done so for many years. A careful analysis of the likely risk of the environment determines what type of handgun I carry. Most of the time the risk profile favors the revolver, so that's what I carry. When I do carry an auto, it's virtually always a Glock 19.
Over the years I've carried many different revolvers. My favorite remains the Colt Detective Special for its combination of size and capacity. As I've lamented many times, it's a shame that the ultra compact 6-shot revolver is now a thing of the past. There is nothing on the market which has that combination of attributes.
I still occasionally carry a Colt, and sometimes I'll be found toting a S&W Model 42 or 642. The lightweight 5-shooters are great for pocket carry, and though I have belt holsters I rarely carry them that way. One of my favorite carry methods is a "belly band" holster worn so that the gun is under the armpit - much like a shoulder holster. With a dress shirt and tie on it is completely concealed.
Those are the exceptions, however. The majority of the time you'll find me carrying a Ruger SP101 or GP100 in a belt holster. The reason is simple: the Ruger guns simply have fewer failure points than any other revolver. There are no screws to back out, no extractor rods to come loose, they rarely develop timing problems, and firing pin breakages are virtually unknown. (I LocTite all screws and extractor rods on all revolvers as a general procedure, but sometimes even that doesn't work.) WIth a bit of work the Ruger's triggers are as good as can be found anywhere, and their reputation for strength is unmatched. The guns simply run, and in my mind that's A Good Thing.
I spent this weekend assisting at a defensive rifle class with Georges Rahbani, and sometime during the weekend thought of a great article for today.
Then I forgot what it was.
My usual habit is to carry, in the left pocket of my shirt, a small pad and a mechanical pencil. When I have an idea I jot it down, thus preserving it for a time when I can make use of it. That's assuming, of course, that I remember to look at the thing!
The weather was pretty warm this weekend (about 90 degrees) and we were in the sun for most of the two days. I'd shed my normal pocketed button-front shirt for a more comfortable short sleeved Henley. My pad and pencil, of course, was in the regular shirt and when the aforementioned great idea struck, I was without a means to record it. Thus this morning's rambling version of "my dog ate my homework!"
Luckily Chris over at The Anarchangel posted something worthy of commentary. Go read it, then come back for a little discussion.
I tuned in for the first episode of Top Shot, recognized it as yet another overblown social manipulation festival common to reality television, and promptly turned it off. My spare time is quite limited and I have to make hard decisions about what I do with it. Even with guns and shooting Top Shot didn't make my cut, so I didn't know what transpired until Chris filled me in.
Those who live in landlocked states probably have no concept of just what the United States Coast Guard does. Here in Oregon, where Coast Guard helicopters and rescue crews are a common sight, we have a deep appreciation for the sacrifices those men and women make. Despite being ridiculed (or even worse, ignored) they go out and do their job to the best of their ability every day of the week.
Those in the other services are only in danger when they've been activated and deployed, and their tours of deployment are limited in duration (a good thing, do not misunderstand.) The USCG is always on deployment, whether doing rescue work, interdicting smugglers, or protecting our Navy's operations in foreign ports. (That's right - when the U.S. Navy needs help, they call the Coast Guard!) When I was growing up it was widely said that you were more likely to be killed in the Coast Guard in peacetime than in the infantry during wartime. While that may not be literally true, it serves to illustrate the tough job USCG does.
Much of that is because the nature of their missions requires them to always be in harm's way. One of their primary duties is to protect lives in America's waters, and here in Oregon they do so constantly. The USCG's rescue swimmers and helicopter pilots are the best that can be found; until you've witnessed a Dolphin SAR helicopter hovering nearly motionless just feet away from a cliff face, in high winds and torrential rain, you have little appreciation for the skill of those crews. I don't know where one goes to recruit such people, but they must have ice water injected into their veins upon enlistment. They are amazing to watch, and when they appear on scene there is a very strong feeling of relief - even if you're not the subject of their attention.
So, to Caleb and all the other past and present members of the United States Coast Guard, and especially to those stationed here in Oregon, thank you. We appreciate your service, your sacrifice, and above all your professionalism.
Do you have a recurring task that you put off because it's just so...annoying? For many people paying bills falls under that classification; for others, doing the dishes. In my job, it's tracking down parts.
If I'm working on a gun of recent manufacture, it's just a matter of popping onto the website of one of the parts houses and ordering up as many as I need. For guns that are out of production, or are of a vintage when the parts were of a different configuration, I have to hunt them down. With Colts everything is discontinued, and the very small number of used parts that are available are hard to find and are often not serviceable. I have to hunt those parts down.
I hate parts hunting.
Hunting takes up a lot of time, especially because many of the better parts houses don't have their inventories online. I have to call them up, in some cases multiple times because their phones are always busy, ask for the part, wait for them to check if they have the right one, and if they don't I have to repeat the procedure with the next company.
It chews up a lot of time, time which I'd rather spend working. It's also often unproductive, so I end up making the same calls for the same parts over and over. Is it any wonder I put it off?
Today is parts hunting day, which I've been putting off for several weeks. Now I have even more parts to hunt down, which makes it worse!
Wish me luck. Not in terms of finding parts, but that I don't go stark raving mad in the process!
When I was a kid my older sister, through the act of renting an apartment, made the acquaintance of a nice elderly couple. Mr. and Mrs. D had no children of their own and quickly adopted my sister (and the rest of our family) as surrogate offspring. They were what was known as "old money", but were devoid of pretension despite their wealth. It was always a treat to drive into the city to visit them.
Mr. D was an avid stamp collector. I'd never even known a stamp collector, and Mr. D was quite persuasive in his belief that it was the perfect hobby for a young boy. He gave me a number of books about stamp collecting, several large stamp catalogues, a couple of albums and a smattering of stamps to get me started.
I dutifully pasted my stamps into their albums, and for a short while made an effort to search through the letters in our attic for hidden gems. Adolescence eventually put an end to my collecting activities, though I must confess a certain lack of interest in the whole affair to begin with.
On Friday and Saturday I did my annual duty at a local high school's all-night graduation party. For several years I've volunteered as part of their security detail, making sure the kids stay safe from both internal and external threats. (This, despite having no children of my own! How did I get talked into this?) It starts every year at about 10:pm and goes until breakfast the next morning.
I usually get a long nap Friday afternoon before the event, but this year I couldn't do it. Not in the sense that I didn't have time, but because I just couldn't fall asleep in the middle of the day! The net result is that I ended up going 24+ hours without sleep, and I'm just not used to that kind of thing! After it was over I crawled into bed and dropped right off to sleep. Saturday was essentially toast.
Sunday I worked my way up to The English Pit range in Vancouver USA to help out at a Combat Focus Shooting/Advanced Pistol Handling class with Rob Pincus. Jeff Varner, one of my fellow Combat Focus instructors, hosted the course at what is his home range. Great class.
After class Randy, the club's owner, brought out his Mateba Unica 6. Rob thought the Unica to be mythical, but here is a picture of him shooting the .44 Magnum beast as Randy looks on in amusement:
(I have another pic of Rob which is far more embarrassing. I'm keeping that one in my files as "insurance"!)
Non-related note: the best arrangement of the tune "It Might As Well Be Spring" is on the 1961 Stan Kenton "Adventures in Jazz" album. I don't have the liner notes handy, but I believe it's a Gene Roland arrangement.
I'm pretty sure the delay was due to the amount of editing required. We were up at the Firearms Academy of Seattle, and Gila Hayes had insisted that I try a dessert she'd made - some sort of brownie mocha torte. Near as I can tell it starts with a 55 gallon drum of concentrated chocolate extract which is somehow crammed into an 8" square cake pan. I usually don't eat such rich (and sugary and caffeinated) desserts, and it left me 'wired' for a couple of hours. You can actually hear me slow down toward the end as the effects wore off. My wife thought it was hilarious. Some of the sillier stuff was thankfully left on the cutting room floor (free tip: never do an interview while on a sugar high, unless you want to sound like a deranged chipmunk.)
Most common phrase not heard in the interview: “you can edit that out, right?” I’m sure I added immeasurably to Gail’s blooper reel!
Much as I like bragging about myself, the cool thing is that the other interview on this episode is with Rob Pincus! Rob's interview was done a little over a month ago, just after I finished his Instructor Development class, and Gail thought the two interviews would make a good match. She's right as usual. (Thanks to the mocha torte, this is the only time you'll ever hear me able to talk nearly as fast as Rob!)
We had a diverse group of just under 20 students, some of whom were "advanced practitioners" and some who were significantly less experienced. From the comments in the mandatory end-of-class debrief, everyone came away learning something about themselves and about how to survive a deadly encounters. How fortuitous that the course is designed to do exactly those things!
(If you're an instructor, one of the best things you can do is to teach with another instructor, preferably one who style is very different from your own. I learned as much about my ability to teach as the students learned about their ability to shoot. It pushes your limits, identifies areas where you need to improve, and gives you a different perspective on the art of teaching.)
The XE-7 is one of the cameras I've admired from afar, but never actually owned. This wasn't because of any lack of the camera itself, or of the superb Minolta lenses, but simply because it had been discontinued several years before I got involved in photography. The XE-7's successors weren't nearly as interesting, and their lack of a reliable "pro" camera throughout their history meant that there was no upgrade path. That left the XE-7 sitting on its own little photographic island.
But what an island it was!
Photo courtesy of Stan C. Reade Photo, http://www.stancreade.com
The XE-7 was rumored to have been developed "in conjunction" with E. Leitz, the makers of the famous Leica line of cameras. I'm not sure that was the case, as a tear-down reveals significant similarities to the XK model, introduced in 1972, and both preceded the rebranded Leica R3 version by several years. That assertion does, however, give one a good feel for just how well the XE-7 was built.
The shutter, sourced from Copal, was quiet and accurate. Film advance was as smooth as anything ever made in the 35mm field. Metering was predictable and accurate (as long as the aperture follower, which coupled the meter to the lens, stayed clean - a common weakness of all Minolta MC/MD mount cameras.) The camera was just a joy to use, and those times I took to the field with borrowed XE-7s were magical. The camera was responsive and easy to adapt to; the images were clean, clear, and had wonderful contrast.
Part of the stellar performance was, of course, due to the Minolta Rokkor lenses. Minolta produced some of the very best optics to ever come out of Japan; to this day, knowledgeable photographers wax poetic about the color rendition of their designs. (They were good enough that Leica bought several Minolta lenses, with no change other than mounts, to round out the lens line for their SLR cameras.)
The camera proved to be fairly rugged, the aperture follower issue notwithstanding. One of my colleagues had a pair of them that he used extensively while working as a photojournalist, and they looked like they'd been through a war zone. They still worked perfectly despite the abuse.
Sadly, the XE-7 was discontinued in 1977 to make way for the more modern XD series of cameras. While the XDs were certainly smooth, nicely functioning machines, they weren't the photographer's tool that the XE-7 was. It was because of the lackluster XD that I generally ignored Minolta, despite their uncompromising optics.
-=[ Grant ]=-
P.S.: Regarding Minolta "pro" cameras - yes, I know all about the XK and the XK Motor. I also know, far too well, how unreliable those cameras were in actual use. The XK Motor, in particular, was perhaps the least reliable "pro" camera I've ever seen, with many examples making multiple trips to Minolta for repeated repairs. I liked the XK, and to this day feel the XK Motor to be one of the nicest-handling large SLRs ever made, but they just didn't have what it took in the durability department. More's the pity.
I just returned from a visit to Virginia Beach, where I attended the Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Development (CFSID) course. I've been searching my brain for a one-word description of what the class is like, and this is the only thing that even comes close:
We spent 4 days and just shy of 60 hours learning the ins and outs of Combat Focus Shooting so that we could accurately and efficiently communicate the program to students. We spent the first of those day on the range...no, that's not quite right; for any other course it would have been the first day, but for us it was roughly half of the first day, as the entire session ran well past 9pm. The rest of the week was spent not on becoming better shooters, but learning to be better teachers.
We studied a little of everything: anatomy, physiology, neurophysiology, psychology, philosophy, and more. By the end of the fourth day, which is when testing was done, my brain was fried. I don't even remember the final written test, but I do remember nearly passing out somewhere on page three (serious blood sugar drop, complete with tremors and sweating.)
Apparently I finished it. At least, I think I did!
This isn't like most other instructor courses. Most of the time, an instructor certificate is a matter of showing up, shooting well, and having your check clear. CFSID is different; Rob Pincus is committed to producing good teachers, not just good demonstrators. That showed in the caliber (pardon the pun) of the people who were there, as I'd be confident in recommending any one of them as a competent and knowledgeable instructor.
There's a reason that, historically, less than 50% of Combat Focus Shooting instructor candidates pass the course. It's that tough, and takes a phenomenal amount of mental discipline just to make it through.
As it happens, my return trip routed me through Chicago, where I spent nearly three hours waiting for my next flight. Turns out that Tam was in Chicago at the same time. Wish I'd known, I'd have loved to finally meet her.
We also got to study some (unintentional) modern art, courtesy of an ancient video projector that refused to hold a sync signal with Rob's new MacBook:
Yes, that's Rob Pincus getting all Warhol on his students.
I don't usually plug local businesses, but this one deserves it.
The day before I left, I discovered that my old camera had died. It powered up, but none of the controls worked. (It will still take pictures, but the exposure control is fried and the autofocus appears to be only sporadically active.) We had planned to upgrade our camera later this year, but this forced our hand: we needed it now.
I spent that day not packing, but running all over Western Oregon to find the camera I'd decided on. I finally found the body, but the lens I wanted wasn't in stock anywhere. I decided to pick up a used optic as stopgap measure, while I waited (and recovered financially) for the one I really wanted. Trouble is that none of the camera stores I called carried much (or any) used equipment. About that time I remembered seeing a yellow pages ad for a little one-hour photo place located in a small town fairly close to us. I had it in my mind that the ad said something about used cameras, and since phone calls are free I dialed their number. A pleasant young lady answered the phone and said that yes, they had used gear and that they had several suitable lenses for me.
What I found when I walked into Focal Point Photography blew me away. This is a tiny shop, located in a small farming community in a rural area, and it is filled with photo gear. From Speed Graphics to the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, these folks have a little of everything. Piles of used gear (literally), a surprising selection of lighting equipment new and old, even darkroom stuff, all stuffed (literally) into a two-story building in little ol' Dallas, Oregon. It was like going back in time, to what camera stores used to be before the age of big-box homogenization. I don't know if they do mailorder, but they're so accommodating I suspect they would. If you're looking for just about anything photographic, particularly if it's out of production and now hard to find, give them a call: (503) 623-6300.
I have no affiliation other than as a satisfied, if somewhat amazed, customer.
You may recall that I spent some time as a commercial photographer (and general photographic genius) back in the '80s. During that period I used a wide variety of cameras and lenses, and probably spent an amount exceeding the economies of several Caribbean nations on my vocation/avocation.
Over the next few Fridays, I'll be talking about some of the cameras I've used extensively, or have had close contact with, during my career. For those who lived through the end of the film era, this will be a trip down memory lane. For those who came of age after the digital revolution, here's your chance to hear what things used to be like. (For your benefit, I'll work in a solid rant at the end of the series.)
The camera I've chosen to start is one which even hard core photographers won't recognize: An obscure ICA 9x12cm folding field camera called the Universal Palmos. ICA was one of the four European photography/optics concerns which, in 1926, merged to form Zeiss-Ikon. (Zeiss also marketed a model called the Universal Palmos, but it paled in comparison to the ICA model.) The Palmos utilized 9x12cm sheet film, which was sometimes referred to as "the European 4x5."
The Universal Palmos was reminiscent of the company’s better known “Maximar” model, but had a longer double extension track. The track had two focus knobs, one for the back and one for the front. They could be used singly, but in combination would extend the bellows to the full length of 16”, allowing satisfying closeup shots. Once focused, the knobs could be pulled out to lock the track(s) in place. Even with the tracks fully extended, the camera was still rigid. A better large format field camera one could neither want, nor find. The terminally curious can download the 1925 ICA catalog and see a full description of the machine.
Like all ICA products, it was superbly built. The range of movements on the front standard were greater than any "press" camera, and it had sported a real rotating back. The focus and sliding/rising front controls were gear driven, and machined to incredibly close tolerances. There was no backlash or slop in any of the controls. The metal was finished in a deep, glossy black enamel and the controls were nickel plated.
The 9x12 film was a bit of a problem. While not unknown here in the U.S., it wasn't available in the wide variety of our own 4x5" format. Luckily the two formats are very close in size, and I was able to fabricate a clever adaptor that allowed me to attach a Graflok back while retaining the rotating feature of the camera. I was even able to use a Grafmatic film holder for the ultimate in rapid-fire large format photography!
A slightly larger problem was the lens mounting plate. It was a circular sheet metal affair, which sort of bayonetted into three pegs on the front standard. I was able to demount the old lens and mount a slightly more modern optic, and an acquaintance with a metal shop was kind enough to fabricate a second for me. The small lensboard was serious restriction on the size and maximum aperture of the lenses I could mount, but this was a field camera, not a studio tool - the slower optics weren't a hinderance in the great outdoors.
I shot more 4x5" film through the ICA than through all of my other large format cameras combined. It was handy, compact, superbly constructed of fine materials, and boasted capabilities that no contemporary field camera could match. The fact that I got it for less than $20 was just icing on the cake!
I have a physical exam every year, complete with blood panel. When they take my blood, I always ask specifically for a lead test to show how much of that stuff has gotten into my bloodstream. Last week the doctor did my blood draws, and today I learn the results. I expect my lead levels to be at their normal lows, thanks to a few sensible precautions.
First, I always wash my hands after shooting. I carry a package of those pre-moistened towlettes with me wherever I go, and make sure to wipe my hands and face after shooting, or before I ingest any food or drink. The antibacterial (waterless) gels can also be useful, but only if you immediately wipe with a towel of some sort; allowing it to dry on the skin doesn't get rid of any lead compounds, it just moves the stuff around to a larger area of skin!
Never partake of food or drink on the firing line; smoking while shooting is also a good way to introduce lead into your bloodstream. Take a break, wipe your hands and face, then eat, drink, or light up as you see fit.
Handling lead bullets usually results in some of the metal being transferred to the skin. The very best protection is to wear gloves (latex or nitrile), but if you can't do that at least give your hands a very thorough washing.
There is lead residue on and in your gun after firing. When you clean your gun, those compounds are removed and deposited somewhere. They don't just disappear! Gloves are highly recommended for cleaning chores, and you should always use some sort of disposable or washable covering over the area where the cleaning is being performed. Keep those gloves on while you clean up after the gun maintenance is finished.
I recommend that the first thing down the barrel be a wet patch, followed by a dry patch. This tends to remove the bulk of lead residue, after which you may proceed with any brushing you feel necessary. Under no conditions do I run a dry brush down the bore first; that pushes the residue out the end of the barrel, where it floats into the air that you breathe. Start with a wet patch to trap as much of that stuff as possible.
Even small amounts of lead in your blood can pose a serious health risk. Be smart, take a few simple precautions, and your only worry about lead will be the escalating price!
Back To Work - Returned last night from a rare (for me) three-day weekend. I spent the time in the eastern half of the state (the desert part) to visit relatives and do some shooting. The last such trip was two years ago, and I'd forgotten what it was like to relax!
Somewhere Steve Wozniak Is Crying - The Firearm Blog brings us news that an Aussie company has developed a sniper moving target system using Segways as drones. I was pretty pumped about that - shooting a Segway would be almost as satisfying as perforating a Prius - but alas the little things are armored. Still, it's a neat concept. (I like the part where the Segways run for their lives at the sound of a gunshot!)
Shooty Goodness - One of the topics of discussion amongst my cousins this weekend was their desire to go to Knob Creek for the annual machine gun shoot. Turns out it was happening literally while we were talking about it, and Tam was there.
Pest Control - The shooting part of my trip involved helping to rid my cousin's ranch of the dreaded sage rat. Sage rat hunting has become a Very Big Thing out here in the West, and despite hundreds of thousands of the things being dispatched every season the population continues to outbreed the hunters. Damage to crops from sage rat infestations is staggering, and it doesn't look like the problem is going to end any time soon.
There are a couple of schools of thought regarding the hunting of sage rats. One school likes to set up a shooting bench and snipe the things from long range with a .22-250. The other prefers to use a .22 rimfire, and just get closer. I belong to the latter group, as using a rimfire is significantly cheaper and still quite challenging. (In a good field it's not unusual to go through 500 rounds a day, and I'm just not wealthy enough to afford to do that with a centerfire rifle!)
Another benefit of using rimfires is that it's easy to get kids involved. It's important that children learn early the necessity of responsible wildlife management. The reason we shoot the sage rat is because a) the population is out of control, and b) poisons aren't an option in areas with large raptor populations. (How many of you have actually seen a bald eagle hunting prey? I saw a half-dozen just this weekend, which is the case every time I go out there. With poison, that wouldn’t be the case.)
Happiness Is A New Gun - My nephew Roman came with us on this trip, and I presented him with his first “grown-up” rifle. Up to this point he'd been using one of the little Chipmunk rifles, and it was time for him to upgrade. I gave him a Glenfield Model 25 with some special touches: I shortened the barrel to a more kid-friendly (yet legal) length, tuned the trigger just a bit to get rid of the horrendous grittiness, floated the barrel, and mounted a 3/4"-tubed scope. It turned out to be a fast handling, accurate little gun which he quickly put to good use, making some excellent shots in very challenging (windy) conditions.
Some Thoughts On Equipment - It's normal to think that a beginner doesn't need top notch gear on which to learn how to shoot. My nephew reinforced my belief in the opposite view: the novice is more in need of quality equipment than the experienced shooter. It's hard to learn all the nuances of good shooting when one is fighting with substandard gear, and good quality guns and ammo don't stand in the way of skill development. Regardless of the age of the student, If one is just starting out it's important to buy the best equipment one can afford. It is only after the basics are mastered is one able to rise above his/her equipment, but poor equipment can keep one from truly mastering even the simplest techniques.
I usually eat my breakfast in front of the computer. I check my personal email, look in at Twitter and Facebook, read George Ure's blog, look at all the blog feeds to which I subscribe, and maybe even check what's for sale on Craigslist.
One of the Facebook updates this morning was from Rob Pincus, who is heading for Rochester (NY). That brought back memories, as in my former life I traveled to Rochester on an occasional basis, one time staying for the better part of two weeks. Astute readers will deduce that these trips had something to do with the Eastman Kodak Company (EKC, as it was known - Kodak was extremely fond of acronyms and abbreviations), and that deduction would be correct.
In the early- to mid-Eighties, which is when I visited, Kodak owned most of Rochester - and what they didn't, Xerox did. Kodak's facilities were huge even by Detroit standards, all based on sales of film and associated equipment and supplies. As digital photography eroded film's dominance, Kodak (which had been willfully dismissive of the digital threat throughout the period under discussion) saw their business decline precipitously.
Barely into the new century, Kodak was closing buildings at a rapid pace. They demolished a few, auctioned off some others, and sold what they felt they didn't need but which would still generate cash. One of the latter was a complex known as the Marketing Education Center, or - in EKC-speak - MEC.
MEC is where they held seminars, training sessions, and business meetings. Every time I went to Kodak, MEC is where I ended up. It was a gorgeous campus, looking more like a community college than a corporate office.
MEC sat next to the Genesee River, and featured a dining hall with floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over the river and a placid meadow. The view from the tiered seating was so perfectly New England, regardless of the season, that visitors joked the windows were actually Duratrans - Kodak's trade name for large, backlit transparencies. The food was't bad, either!
This little trip down memory lane got me to wondering: whatever happened to MEC? As it turns out, pretty much nothing. Kodak cleared out and sold it for about $3.5 million to an investment concern in 2004, and it appears to be sitting vacant today. The campus, with 120 acres and four buildings, is currently for sale at an asking price of only $9.9 million.
P.S.: Speaking of acronyms...at one point Kodak decided to do some corporate reshuffling, and the technicians who serviced their large photofinishing and photocopying equipment were inexplicably transferred to the control of the newly renamed Consumer Equipment Service. At roughly the same time, those technicians were given the title of “Field Engineers.” The in-joke was that since they were now FEs, working for CES, that their corporate acronym was to be FECES. Upper management was not at all amused.
I get lots of strange emails, and sometimes a patten emerges in the subject matter. A year or so ago, I was getting frequent inquiries as to the cost of custom making a top-break revolver in .44 Magnum or .454 Casull. My stock answer was a) you don't have the kind of money it would take, and b) I'm not the guy to be asking. After a while even that became tedious, and I round-filed every subsequent one that came in.
Those emails finally stopped, but they've been replaced by emails asking if I can modify a S&W to have a gas seal mechanism like a Nagant. They invariably mention that they would like to be able to suppress such a gun.
The first couple I answered in the negative; after they started coming in every week or so (yes, from different people), I decided to go into “ignore” mode. There’s just something odd about such a request, particularly coming in quantity, and I rather not encourage continued dialogue.
Why the sudden interest? The only explanation I can come up with is that some video game or movie features such a gun, prompting the impressionable to send emails to the first few hits that Google gives them. (I should be checking my referral logs...)
Since I'm not of the sort that often goes to the movies, let alone plays video games, perhaps someone out there could tell me if they've seen such a thing in either of those venues?
Many people tell me that they'd love to have my job: "it must be fun to play with all those cool guns and get paid for it!"
Lest others be deluded into thinking that this business is all fun and games, allow me to supply a dose of reality: somedays it literally doesn't pay to get out of bed.
Last Thursday was just such a day. It started with the need to make a 'spud'. No, not a potato - a 'spud' is a metal pilot that aligns a cutter with a bore. They're used as guides for such things as chamfering chambers and crowning barrels.
You can buy them ready made, but they come in one size per caliber-specific application. The problem is that if the spud is even .001" off, the quality of the cut will be destroyed. They need to be fitted precisely to the hole in which they will be inserted, and the ready made variety never are. If good work is to be done, they have to be custom made to fit the work.
Over the years I've made a wide range of spuds in various sizes, and because of that selection I usually have one that will fit properly. Occasionally, though, I run into a situation where I need to make yet another one, which is what happened on Thursday. I needed a .216" spud, and the closest I had was .214" - not nearly good enough to properly crown the .22LR barrel on which I was working.
Not a problem! I picked out some appropriate metal and chucked it in the lathe. I made a couple of cuts to get close to finished size, but when I measured the diameter I found that it tapered by roughly .002" throughout the length of the piece! The spud is only a couple of inches long, so a .002" variance in that length is huge. It renders the part unusable.
It's also not supposed to happen.
Annoying, but not insurmountable. I thought that the lathe probably just needed to be re-leveled, which hadn’t been done for a couple of years. I leveled the lathe (which takes a couple of hours if done very carefully), made a test cut, and....it was still off!
Grrrrrr. The next step was to check the lathe’s tailstock for alignment. The tailstock, which supports the end of work in a lathe, has to be precisely aligned along the lathe's longitudinal axis. Otherwise, it pulls the end of the piece left or right, which leads to a taper such as I was finding. I spent the time aligning the tailstock, and a quote from the movie "Ruthless People" poured from my mouth: "Now THAT oughtta do it!"
I went back, tweaked the lathe level, and aligned the tailstock again. The problem persisted.
Put yourself in my place: I've got a top-notch Austrian lathe, the best Swiss measuring instruments, and I'm making parts displaying precision more appropriate to a Kalashnikov clone produced in an unlit cave factory outside of Jalalabad. Something was wrong, and I had to find it. The only hitch was that it was now dinnertime, and due to skipping lunch I was as hungry as could be. The problem would have to wait until the next day.
Friday morning I came into work determined to find the cause. Double checking everything revealed no clues. I replayed the issues in my head, while at the same time resting my hand on the tailstock. I looked down, and it came to me: the live center in the tailstock must be the source of the problem. It was the only thing I'd not checked.
A live center looks like this:
The cone-shaped bit is inserted into a hole in the piece being machined, and the other end goes into the tailstock. The cone revolves on precision ball bearings, keeping the piece aligned as it's rotated by the lathe. Any rotational error will result in inconsistencies in the finished part.
A quick check with a quality (Swiss) test indicator confirmed my fears: .0025" wobble. I checked the piece I'd machined, in several orientations, and sure enough - not only was it tapered, it was also slightly oval, which is exactly the error a worn live center would produce. Bingo!
I ordered up a new live center from my favorite online tool supplier (www.mscdirect.com), and on Monday the smiling UPS man delivered it to my door. The center quickly proved to be the answer; the rotational error was less than .0001", compared to the .0025" wobble of the old one.
With the new center a perfect spud was easily produced, the barrel was beautifully crowned, and the gun will soon be on its way back to a happy shooter.
It only took me a day and a half, plus a not insignificant amount of cash to find and fix the problem. So, want to tell me again how you wish you had my job?
HAPPY NEW YEAR! 2010 is finally here, and I'm still surprised about that. Back in 1979 the twenty-first century looked sooooooo far away that I thought I'd never see it. Here we are in the second decade already; where did the last ten years go? (So, this is what it's like to age....)
I took a four-day weekend for the New Year, though it wasn't really time off: I spent the time doing work around the farm, to the screaming protest of my muscles and joints. This brief respite reminded me that it's been many years since my last vacation (which, as it happens, I spent in a shooting class), and I think it's high time for another. I say so every year, but this time I'm going to do it. Of course, I say that every year too!
S&W GOES PRO: Remember a year or so ago, when I wrote about a limited run of no-lock Model 642? At the time S&W claimed that they'd "found" a stash of pre-lock frames and decided to put them together for sale. Apparently they were popular enough that the company has managed to "find" some more NOS frames, as they've brought out a couple of new editions: the "Pro" series 442 and 642. They're just like the non-Pro models, except they have no locks and have cylinders cut for moonclips. There are a whole lot of questions one could pose about the decision to bring these to market, but I'm glad to see them all the same.
(I do wish they'd get consistent with their naming conventions: they have the 642 PowerPort Pro Series revolver, which has a ported barrel AND a lock, but no moonclip capability. The only thing these models have in common is a matte black finish, which harkens me back to the days of selling high end camera gear: you could get many cameras in either chrome or black finish, the black models inevitably referred to as "professional". At least they're not calling them 'tactical'!)
SPEAKING OF MOON CLIPS: I get several queries per month regarding moonclips for a carry revolver, and I recommend to all that they be limited to range use. Yes, they are faster to reload (the margin depending on the cartridge) - but I don't believe that outweighs the fragility of the clips themselves, as even a small bend will tie up the gun. (There's always someone who writes back "well, I've carried moonclips in my pocket for years and have never had a problem!" I'm sure that's true, just as I'm sure that someone, somewhere has a perfectly reliable Colt All American 2000. I'm not willing to bet my little pink bottom on either one, however.)
MORE SMITH NEWS: The regular Model 642, along with the 637 and 638, will now be available with 2-1/2" fully lugged barrels instead of the 1-7/8" tubes. I always liked the .357 version of the Model 640 for its slightly longer barrel, and am glad to see it come to some other models. That little extra weight up front helps with control on the lightweight frames, as well as providing longer extractor travel. (Sadly, they are still afflicted with the silly lock.)
WELCOME TO OREGON: This holiday season saw three groups of people lost in the Oregon woods - thanks to an over-reliance on GPS navigation. This should serve as a cautionary tale: ceding your health and safety to something (or someone else) is an invitation to disaster. Take responsibility for yourself; make sure your brain is always engaged. You'll notice that these are consistent themes here at The Revolver Liberation Alliance, and they have application well beyond protecting yourself from human predators. (Oh, and buy a decent map when venturing out of the confines of the suburbs.)
AN ADVENTURE: Spent some time last week working on a project with Rob Pincus. You'll have to wait a while to hear the details, but a good and educational time was had by all. (Yes, Rob, it's still raining here.)
LUBRIPLATE COMES THROUGH: Got an email from Alex Taylor, a District Manager at Lubriplate. They're now selling the superb SFL #0 grease in consumer quantities in their online store! Comes in a 14oz can for $23.01, plus shipping. Glad to see them recognizing the firearms market; now let's see if we can get them to sell their FMO-AW oil in small quantities too!
THIS DOESN'T HAPPEN EVERY DAY: Remington recently announced that they've produced their ten millionth 870 series shotgun. I knew they were popular, but ten freakin' million? I would never have guessed anything close to that. The shotgun, it appears, is alive and well in America.
THIS IS JUST WRONG: I'll take some of what I just said back: certain shotguns are alive, but not well. Apparently trying to out-silly the S&W TRR8, Stoeger recently announced the availability of the Double Defense - a tactical side-by-side shotgun. Yes, a SxS with a fore-end rail. Black, of course. (Folks, I couldn't possibly make up something like this. It takes a marketing department to do so.)
I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW: A University of Alabama prof has claimed to have invented a revolutionary sighting system that promotes "intuitive aim." Knowledgeable readers will recognize the concept as being eerily reminiscent of the Steyr "trapezoid" sights as used on the 'M' and 'S' series pistols, which have been available for a decade now. Hmmm...
Back in the early '80s, I lead small groups of advanced amateur photographers around the Portland, Oregon metro area at night. The goal was to teach them the fundamentals of available-light photography in an environment that was simultaneously familiar, yet unexplored. We'd gather at about 10:pm at a local Denny's, then head out for a few hours of shooting, usually getting home about 3:am.
Let me paint you a picture: say, 5 people. Camera bags stuffed with multiple thousands of dollars (in Reagan-era money) of easily pawned high-end camera equipment. Major urban center. At night. Sparse police presence. Before cel phones. Before SureFire flashlights. Even before our concealed handgun law.
Now I know what you're thinking, and in retrospect I agree with you. But it seemed like a great idea at the time!
The exact itinerary varied a bit, but a typical evening might find us wandering around the downtown core area, through alleys, construction sites, industrial areas, and perhaps even along the east side of the Willamette River. (Today area residents know it as the "EastBank Esplanade": a tribute to a ditzy mayor who was convinced the way to help "poor homeless people" was to build a boulevard for over-indulged yuppies to ride their bicycles between latte stops. Back then, though, it was just a rough industrial riverbank where bums set up camp once the longshoremen had gone home to dinner.)
These events were very popular - we always filled our limit of attendees - because they were, after all, the only way to get shots like this:
While some of the participants used fine-grained films, tripods and long exposures (giving me a chance to share with them the mysteries of reciprocity failure), others handheld their shots using fast films (often pushed in development) and fast lenses. Both approaches had their uses and limitations, and the facilitator (that would be me) had to be well versed in all of it - while simultaneously maintaining some sense of aesthetics. I'll gladly claim the former, and from the shot above you can judge if I have any business talking about the latter.
Today I wouldn't attempt such craziness without an armored personnel carrier and close air support, if at all. Back then, though, it was just us, our "steal me" bags, and lots of film. And the bums.
One of the hardest things to predict in this business is workflow. The shop will be humming along, work flying out the door, then suddenly a few large projects (total customs or heavy restorations) come in and the work slows to a snail's pace. Those bottlenecks seem to come in groups, when they're most difficult to deal with. It makes mincemeat out of the most conservative projections!
Occasionally someone will suggest that being a one-man shop is limiting the amount of business I can do, and that I should take on employees. Aside from not wanting the hassle (I was once a corporate lackey with a pile of employees to handle - I know of what I speak), there's also a bit of personal pride involved: if my name is on the work, I think it's important that I actually do said work. If it's good, I want the accolade, and if it's bad I don't want to be reduced to pointing like a 5-year-old and screaming "but it's HIS fault!"
There exists today a well-known gunsmithing concern whose very talented owner used to do all his own work. He "progressed" to having employees, but supervised their work closely. Judging by the recent experiences of several of my clients, he's been reduced to sending out emails explaining why their shoddy work is actually better than the quality product he used to provide.
Personally, no amount of money (or time savings) will convince me to do that - my clients deserve better.
Dog people, I need some advice. We have a year-old Shepherd/Newfoundland mix who won't sleep in the spacious, insulated doghouse we've provided. He'll go in to eat, and he's been known to voluntarily pile his toys in it, but he sleeps on our porch exposed to the rain and wind. One would think that sooner or later he'd get cold enough and wet enough to use it for the intended purpose, but it has yet to happen. Should I just leave him to his misery, since it appears to be of his own choosing?
I now realize that I like looking at beautiful sunrises more than beautiful sunsets. I'm sure there is some deep psychological significance to that preference, but it as yet escapes me.
Everyone, it seems, is making a "tactical" pen these days. Benchmade, Schrade, Tuffwriter, Hinderer, Surefire - and now Smith & Wesson. Who will be next?
I have nothing against the concept, as it's simply a return to the roots of the familiar Kubotan (the techniques for which were originally intended for the common Cross-type pen.) These, though, all look like rejects from The Mall Ninja Outlet Store. I have half a mind to make one myself - classically styled out of real rust-blued steel, of course.
One of the better (most balanced) preparedness blogs extant is Jim Rawle's SurvivalBlog.com It's one of the few blogs on my morning "must read" list, and has been since I found it several years ago. This morning he posted the sad news that his wife Linda has died after a long illness.
He's shared the progress of his beloved in the blog, and while not a shock it's still depressing to hear. My wife and I extend our heartfelt condolences to Jim and his family.
It's necessary, if one is to maintain proper perspective, to learn from those whose experience is different from yours. Take, for example, an interview with a WWII Soviet tank crewman (thanks to Tam, who finds the most amazing stuff.) What he says about the Sherman tank, the Tommy gun, and the .45ACP cartridge are very interesting and definitely challenge certain widely held opinions.
(When you read what he says about the mighty .45, think back to the very similar stories regarding the .30 Carbine.) If you have any interest in WWII, armaments, or the nitty-gritty of battle, it's a great read.
If you ever get to attend a major shooting match, one thing that will impress you is how accessible the top competitors are. If you want to meet Rob Leatham or Jerry Miculek, no problem - they're usually happy to shake hands and talk.
The same is true for the top jazz musicians. Jazz is a personal music, and because of the smaller fan base getting to meet even the biggest names is relatively easy. Imagine being able to walk up to a well-known pop or rock artist and being able to do that. Unless you're a buxom groupie with a purse full of cocaine, their security staff isn't likely to let you get within a country mile of the star! Jazz musicians aren't like that, and I've had the experiences to prove it.
My interest in jazz matured in high school, which is also where my first brush with fame occurred. I went to school with the brother of Alan Yankee, who at the time was a saxophonist in the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Kenton was my idol, then and now, and meeting Alan was a highlight of my young musical life. Little did I know that it was only the beginning.
When I was attending college in Portland (Oregon) in the early '80s, there were a bunch of jazz clubs in the city. Portland was known as a jazz town, and major players would often make a stop on their way between San Francisco and Seattle. We had not one but two jazz radio stations (one commercial and one funded by a local college), as well as an internationally regarded jazz festival. Life was good for a jazz musician and lover of the genre.
By the turn of the century, the Festival had been reduced to a weekend in one of the city parks, one of the radio stations was gone and the other played more blues than jazz, and virtually all of the jazz clubs were no more. I was lucky enough to meet quite a few notable jazz musicians before jazz disappeared from Portland.
Freddy Hubbard played a single set at one of the local clubs, to a packed house. Despite the cramped surroundings, he made sure that he got around and shook people's hands before jetting off to who-knows-where.
One of the high schools managed to snag the great Clark Terry for a benefit concert. The school was in a bad part of town, and the concert was not well promoted. Still, I was surprised at the sparse crowd. For a city with a jazz reputation, it was embarrassing. That didn't stop Clark from putting on a great show, and I told him as much when we met afterwards. "I"ve played bigger crowds, but that's not important - I'm just happy that people appreciate my music." Clark is known as a consummate gentleman, and his reputation is well deserved.
One summer a local college held a small jazz festival, and the headliners were guitarists Herb Ellis and Barney Kessel. During a break between acts, I went to use the facilities. Standing at the next urinal was Herb himself, and we started talking. I normally wouldn't remember a conversation from almost 30 years ago, but the surreal setting burned this one into my mind: gardening. After finishing our respective business, we went outside and sat at a bench, still talking gardening. Nice guy, that Herb. (For those who think the sun rises and sets on rock guitarists like Van Halen, check out the link - Herb is the gray-haired gentleman. Perhaps you'll learn something.)
The Woody Herman Big Band, one of the most popular in the history of jazz, made a surprise visit to Portland one year. I don't remember the details, but for some reason they unexpectedly found themselves in town. Somehow they managed to find a venue at one of the colleges, which had an open auditorium that day. Word went out on the jazz radio stations that tickets were available for that evening - dirt cheap, with all proceeds going to some charity. The place was jammed, and the band was in top form. Later I got to thank Woody for the unexpected treat, and expressed my appreciation to number of the band members as well. One of them was Frank Tiberi, who would later take over the organization after Woody's death.
Trumpeters Pete and Conte Candoli appeared in Portland one year, and of course I saw their show. At the time the Candolis were at the top of their game; it was virtually impossible to find a big band that hadn't had one (or both) in their trumpet section at one time or another. I got to meet Conte, but Pete disappeared somewhere after their set was over. The next day The Oregonian newspaper had a review of the show. The writer, who apparently knew nothing of jazz, lamented that when they soloed together they often hit "clashing notes." I wrote a letter to the editor that said something along the lines of "yeah, that happens with simultaneous improvisation, you moron!" They didn't publish it, which wasn't a surprise.
I remember taking my buddy and roommate, Ed, to see a then-unknown Diane Schuur. Between sets I introduced myself and told her Ed was dying to meet her. She giggled and I motioned Ed over; he was quite taken with her. That was understandable, as she was a terrific singer and a wonderful person. I hope she hasn't changed in the intervening 25-odd years ; she certainly still sings well.
Of course, there has to be the exception that proves the rule, and in jazz that was Maynard Ferguson. I found him to be the single rudest person I'd ever met in music. That attitude had rubbed off on some of his band members, as the rest of his trumpet section was as obnoxious as he was. (His sax players, who apparently didn't get as much attention, were nicer. I almost felt sorry for them.) I originally chalked the snub up to his having a bad day, but have heard from many people since who tell me that it was SOP with him.
If memory serves it was the second Mount Hood Festival Of Jazz that featured an appearance by a young and highly touted Wynton Marsalis. I ended up (unintentionally) running into him around the venue, and though he was polite enough, I frankly didn't find much in his music to be impressed with. I haven't heard anything from him since which changes that impression. My contrarian opinion hasn't seemed to hurt his record sales, though, and I hope he doesn't hold it against me!
My favorite trumpet player is the late, great Red Rodney. In the early '80s he had a quintet with the phenomenal Ira Sullivan, a group which to this day gets my vote as the most overlooked in jazz. They showed up in Portland once, and my buddy Bob and I were there front row, center. Between sets Red ambled over and introduced himself, and asked if I was a trumpet player. Confused, I asked him how he knew; he said that I was the only one in the audience who "got" what he was playing. I never did quite understand what he meant, but he sat down at our table to chat and eat his dinner. It remains my favorite jazz experience, and on that note I'll leave you with this video of Red at his best.
Did you know your eye dominance can be changed? I didn't!
I recently had a problem with shots hitting several inches off my point of aim (at only 5 yards.) That's odd, I thought, it's as if I'm seeing out of my left eye. But that's impossible - I'm right eye dominant.
For some reason I did a quick dominance test, and I was shocked that it showed I was left-eye dominant! I must have done it wrong, I thought; I did the test again, and it showed the expected right eye dominance. Whew! One more time, just to be sure - darn it anyway, it came up left again. And again.
That's odd. Dominance, as I've always understood the mechanism, is neurological, not optical. Your brain simply prefers the vision from one eye or the other, and it appears to be hardwired from birth. I've always thought it to be unchanging, as most people do, yet mine had definitely changed.
Guess what? Turns out it's not as immutable as I'd believed. According to my ophthalmologist, who I called the next morning, eye dominance spontaneously changes only in a very, very small percentage of adults - usually as a symptom of an underlying neurological disorder.
Neurological disorder? Doesn't that mean...tumor?? YIKES!
As it happens, I'd had a complete physical (including a thorough eye exam by this doctor) just a couple of months ago. I had no other symptoms, and he reassured me that lack of symptoms and my recent positive tests made me an unlikely patient for surgery.
As it happens, he said, eye dominance can be trained away. The usual trick is to wear glasses with some Scotch-type tape on the lens of the dominant eye. The out-of-focus image forces the brain to use the other eye, and in time becomes used to the arrangement - thus changing the dominance.
But, I protested, I haven't put any tape on my glas....oh, wait.
For years I've worn a jeweler's loupe over my right eye. When I'm working, I swing it down so I can look through it and back up when I no longer need it. It's a hassle to swing it in and out of my vision all the time and get it perfectly aligned again, so for the last year I've just sort of looked around it instead of flipping it up. I use my left eye for distance vision, and the right when I need to do closeup work.
What I normally see in my right eye, then, is...an out-of-focus image. It's the same as tape on the lenses, and by doing that I've unintentionally trained away my right eye dominance! At this moment I'm part of the small number of people who have no strongly dominant eye. If I continued using the loupe in that manner I'd end up strongly cross-dominant.
I immediately swapped loupe positions to force my brain to accept the right eye again. It's been a month or so, and I'm already seeing results. Once I'm back to my normal, strong right eye dominance I'll swap my beloved loupe for a binocular magnifier.
Trouble is, I hate those things! Decisions, decisions...
It appears that our spell of excessively hot weather has ended. Last week the digital thermometer at our house recorded a high of 111 degrees. (Yes, that's in the shade - who'd be stupid enough to go out into the sun on a day like that?) We set an all-time record for consecutive days over 90 degrees (9 and counting.) I'm just looking forward to being able to spend a full day (more or less) in the shop.
I'm pleased to note that QC at Ruger is improving - the last couple of SP101s I've seen, of recent production, are much improved over those of years past. Gail Pepin at the ProArms Podcast tells me that she's visited the plant recently, and their production floor has changed considerably. She credits their new emphasis on 'lean manufacturing', with its attendant focus on reducing waste and rework, for the quality bump.
The Firearms Blog also brings us happy news of Winchester's reprise of the Model 92 Takedown. I'd be tempted if they'd make it in .357 Magnum...
Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to go to work!
I hope everyone enjoyed their Independence Day holiday! I've been burning the candle at both ends lately, so I took a long weekend, during which I managed to overexpose myself to the sun. (The weekend was hot by Oregon standards - we hit 100 degrees at our house on Friday, and only slightly cooler on Thursday & Saturday.) What's that line - "feel the burn?"
Since it was so warm, I drank a huge amount of water. Having been in the ER more than once for severe dehydration (and accompanying heat exhaustion), I'm a little more attentive to this detail than most. For several years, my choice of liquid container has been the classic Nalgene bottle - the translucent white variety, made of #2 HDPE, free of those nasty plasticizers currently suspected of causing cancer. A side benefit is that HDPE is flexible, making it more suitable to hard use than the much more rigid clear varieties. This proved beneficial this weekend, when I ran over my Nalgene with a tractor. Smashed it nearly flat, and collapsed the bottom inward. I managed to squeeze the walls back into roughly cylindrical form, but wasn't able to fix the floor. I filled it with water, threw it in the freezer, and in a couple of hours the expanding ice did the trick! Good as new (more or less), and none the worse for wear.
I just wish they'd make the things in "earth colors" - OD, coyote tan, etc. Nalgene, are you listening?
The S&W "J" frame is a generally reliable piece, but lately I've gotten reports of ignition issues with newer examples. S&W has transitioned to a new firing pin, which is much lighter and much shorter than the previous varieties. (This may be their solution to the drop testing standards in California.) They seem to be the source of the problem.To insure reliability, I replace all those I encounter with the Cylinder & Slide Extra Length firing pin. Highly recommended, and an easy "do it yourself" modification for those so inclined.
The supply chain is finally starting to recover; AR-15 rifles are becoming a common sight in the stores again, and I'm receiving reports of ammo shelves being restocked. Shortages of certain products (most notably .380ACP ammunition) can be expected to continue for the next few months, but by and large we're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Portland, Oregon has for years had one of the highest numbers of movie theater seats per capita. Oregonians, it would appear, can't get enough of the silver screen. (Save for this Oregonian, who sees one theater movie every five years or so whether he needs to or not.)
It seems to have always been this way. Portland had a large number of neighborhood movie theaters up through the '60s, and many of those buildings are still standing. The theaters were converted to other uses, and some of them actually retained some of their former features. Finding and exploring those old locations is a hobby for some, an obsession for others.
Back in the early '80s, when I was doing some moonlighting as a commercial photographer, I was retained by an older gentleman to photograph the abandoned Egyptian Theater in northeast Portland. The theater, originally built as a vaudeville venue, had been converted to the newfangled "moving pitchers" in the early '30s. It operated until 1962, when it was closed and used as overflow warehousing space for the chemical company which had purchased the location.
The gentleman who hired me was a serious movie buff, and was writing a book on old Oregon theaters. He wanted me to shoot pictures of the interior of the Egyptian. (I got the job because i was the only photographer he found who could light an entire large interior without benefit of electrical outlets or a generator. The power in the building had been shut off for years, the wiring having been declared a fire hazard. I'll leave you to guess how I pulled it off.)
Once in the building we found many of the seats still in place; the entire balcony was intact, as were the Egyptian-motif decorations and appointments throughout. There were torn ticket stubs littering the floor and even remnants of coming attraction posters in the lobby.
When theater closed, the awning (shown in this 1933 photo) was removed, and the front of the building simply covered with a false wall. The ticket booth and original doors were still there!
It was a surreal experience, as if the building was simply waiting for the janitors to arrive to clean up for that evening's business.
The building was torn down in 1989; sadly, the book never materialized. I had a good time, though.
If you've hung around here for any length of time, you've noticed that on Mondays and Wednesdays I try to keep the blog somewhat on the topic of firearms, preferably on revolvers.
Today is not going to be one of those days.
Why? I was so busy over the weekend I didn't even get a chance to think about the blog, let alone write anything! Well, that - and the fact that my elbow hurts like heck!
As you may recall, I'm suffering from a very painful occurrence of tendonitis in my right elbow. So painful, in fact, that it hurts to type! As I mentioned last week I took it fairly easy for several days, and was feeling vast improvement until I did something so innocuous that I am startled at the outcome. It involved a Junkyard Dog.
As it happens I live equidistant from the knife companies of Kershaw and Benchmade (and, by extension, the firms of Gerber, Leatherman, and Lone Wolf Knives. I guess you could call this "Edged Alley"!) Over the years I've bought many Benchmade knives, and generally avoided the Kershaw brand. Kershaw just didn't have the quality of blade that I desire in my knives, and despite having met Pete Kershaw himself I was never persuaded to carry one of his products.
When Kershaw moved a lot of their production from overseas to right here in my own stompin' grounds they got my interest, but not enough to make me want to put one of their products in my pocket every day. It was when I found that they were transitioning from the use of cheap 440A and 440C steels to Sandvik steels that I became truly interested.
(Bear with me - this does eventually get back to my tendonitis!)
I have quite a bit of experience with Sandvik blades, particularly with their 12C27 steel as used in the famous Swedish Mora knives. It is, in my estimation, one of the better 'all around' steels that one could use on a general purpose knife. It holds an edge well, is very resistant to breakage, and is easy to sharpen. The fact that there were almost no folders made out of that superb yet underrated steel annoyed me greatly, and I was left to console myself with my Moras.
It was when I found out that Kershaw had gone to Sandvik steel (13C26, a very close relative of 12C27) that I decided I had to have one. The Junkyard Dog II had gotten rave reviews over at Bladeforums, so I decided that I was to get one.
(Luckily my wife intervened, and got one for me as a gift, thus saving me from the guilt of buying it for myself!)
It arrived at the end of last week, and from the start I was smitten with it. Fit and finish is quite good, easily up to the Benchmades that I own, and at the price point it is astounding. I haven't gotten a chance to resharpen the edge and really test it yet (any factory edge is downright primitive compared to what a few minutes with a set of stones can achieve), but I expect great things.
The trouble is that the blade is really quite heavy, and flicking it open delivers a solid "whack" to one's muscles. I was absentmindedly doing that while watching television the other night: opening and closing it repeatedly, just because it's fun to do. After about a half-hour of such foolishness I found that my elbow was as sore as it ever was, and then some!
So now you have, as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story."
I know you've always wondered: how does a jet-setting gunsmith work with all of those adoring fans hanging around? Well, I hate to disappoint you, but unless you count an overindulged rabbit, no one is hanging around waiting for me to pay them any attention!
Tyler, the spoiled rabbit
Since my shop isn't open to the public, I get to dress and arrange my environment as suits me. I usually work in sweatpants and a sweatshirt (rarely matching), over which goes my little green grocer's apron.
(You read that correctly; I have two old-fasioned green cotton grocer's aprons, which I acquired when I worked in a grocery store during high school. How long ago was that? Well, let's just say the White House refrigerators were stocked with Billy Beer!)
My shop has no windows, so I'm forced to entertain myself as best I can. I usually do so by playing music at somewhat louder-than-normal volume. One might think this would be a rock-n-roll custom, but not usually - I've been known to play Scottish dance reels, Aaron Copland, Baroque trumpet concertos, and Red Rodney at the same transducer-destroying level. (Eclectic? Hey, I was a music performance minor in college - I'm allowed!)
So if you call and I don't answer the phone, it's because I can't hear it over the noise of the shop equipment. That's my story and I'm sticking to it! -=[ Grant ]=-