The concept has escaped many of us over the years. Sometimes you can get by with what you have. If you don't have what you need, maybe you can just figure something out.
It has been a trying year at our house—the kind that makes you think. November of last year started with a serious health problem that required a dangerous surgery and prolonged recovery period for Rosie. Later, we lost her brother and his wife within a seven week period. We started to wonder about the things we have, the things we need, and the things that can be passed on or discarded. Where are we headed with the remainder of our lives?
We weren't the only ones. In October Rosie received a call from her remaining, brother. He wanted to give us an old family shotgun. He knew we had a son and grandsons to pass it to and it was important to keep it in the family. He asked us to stop by their house and pick it up when we came up to Kansas City for our sister-in-law's service's. As it turns out, we got more than a shotgun. We also received a handmade heirloom and an important reminder of earlier days when people made do with what they had.
The gun is a Savage Arms, Stevens Model 77D. A date stamp at the aft end of the barrel shows a year-code K, indicating it was manufactured in about 1959. This was only a few years after Rosie's parents, Charlie and Pearl, moved into town from the farm. The gun isn't one of the fancy 'sporting' shotguns with the elaborate engraving and checkered grips that many expect with their guns these days. This old Stevens was a tool that was used to put food on the family table. It has a long, full-choke barrel and it is in good condition. There are some stock dings but the blued metal parts look very good for a gun approaching it's 60th year. Guns like this could reach flying water fowl; they could also take a squirrel out of the top of a tree; or a rabbit at a fairly long shotgun range. But you had to let a quail fly for a moment to avoid obliteration.
Today, many folks get queasy at the thought of eating wild game. Others, for whatever reasons, oppose hunting altogether. In the days when we grew up game was a meat staple on many tables. Not just because people liked it, but because it was an economic necessity. The meat on the table came at the cost of a shot-shell or two and money was scarce. Much of the shot fell out of the meat during preparation and cooking. Then, you simply chewed lightly, removed the uningested shot from your mouth and placed it on the side of your plate. After the meal, it was scraped into the trash with other scraps. You didn't have to worry about damaging the garbage disposal—there wasn't one.
As the family sons grew older, the necessity of hunting transitioned to sport hunting for all of them. It was then that some of them bought the nicer checkered and engraved firearms. But this old Model 77D stayed put with the family for years.
With the above said, let me say something about the family and the time it was formed. It leads directly to the next subject.
Charlie and Pearl were married in February of 1928—about a year before the start of the Great Depression. Like many families of the day, their grandparents were settlers and some were immigrants. They were working people of modest means who made a good life with what they had or could find. But the realities that Charles and Pearl faced quickly were the tough times that came with the depression. Raising families today is daunting for a lot of young couples. But they cannot imagine the hardships that many faced in the 30's when jobs, money, fuel and food were in painfully short supply. With a large household, figuring things out and making do with what they had were part of surviving.
The Bonus—A Hand-Made Cleaning Rod.
After the shotgun, he handed me the cleaning rod. I'm sure there was a little grin on his face. He knew it was special.
The 35" long rod was hand made from what appears to be red oak. I am a woodworker and I suspect the tools used to make it were: pocket knife, saw, sandpaper, brace & bit and a small wood chisel (or one of the small sharpened screwdrivers that were stored in coffee cans in the family garage).
The rod (below) is about 1/2" in diameter, but is slightly oval-shaped in places. Both ends are flattened very smoothly. The cleaning end is flattened to 5/16", has a 1"x 3/16" slot, and the ends of the slot were likely chiseled square. The other end is flattened to 3/8" and has a small hole, probably meant for hanging. The hanging end flares out to about 5/8" wide and the flat surfaces blend smoothly into the shaft. There is a wide strip of tape about 1/3 of the way from the cleaning end. The Tape is a mystery—it might be a repair or the rod might be made from two pieces of re-purposed wood. The varnish coating and age have given the fabric tape a plastic-like consistency.
I said "re-purposed" for a reason. The slotted, cleaning end has two small holes, about the size of an 18 or 20 gauge nail, and they go all the way through. The hanging end also has what looks like the path of a nail near the hanging hole. I suspect the rod came from the garage scrap pile that held pieces of lumber from earlier projects or disassembled objects. You didn't throw good stuff away. A piece of wood was selected, cut to width, whittled and sanded to shape and tooled at each end. There was no need to fill the holes—it, too, was just a tool.
As I was driving home that weekend and thinking about the rod, the term "folk art" came to mind. When we got home, a quick Google search led to someone else had a similar rod and thought . Later, I got a gun cleaning kit out of the cabinet and took it and the shotgun to the deck to lubricate the action and apply a light coat of oil. I looked down the barrel and it was very clean inside, but I wanted to put a protective coat in there too. I took the metal cleaning rod and a patch out of the kit. Then I paused, and put the modern rod back into the box. I threaded the patch into the slot in my new treasure and It worked like a charm.
With the gun in the gun safe, I found a couple of hooks and hung the wooden rod on our dining room wall. That is where an heirloom belongs.
1. Folk Art?
I noted above that I did a Google search for wooden, handmade gun cleaning rods. I found this one on an auction site. I think the price was about $50 and they were selling it as: "Vintage, Folk Art Gun Cleaning Rod, Handmade, Primitive, Rifle Cleaner, Wood Shaft, Gun Collectible ..."
Ours is a lot nicer looking and it ain't for sale.
Thoughts 'n Things
Some 'Thoughts' and short articles about past and present-day St. Paul and the Southern Kansas - 4 State Region.