Friday, March 16, 2007

Shooting Matches

I came across these additional photos about shooting matches. Both were in poor condition and were difficult restorations.

I don't know where the first photograph was taken, it is not the Anderson Gun Club. It is difficult to tell, but the second closest shooter may be my grandfather. The little spot of automobiles suggests that this is the late thirties to early forties.

The person in the second photograph has a familiar looking face. He is actually demonstrating my down-fall as a marksman: the kneeling position. I could shoot consistently in the high 90's from a prone position and high seventies in the standing or off-hand position, both very competitive scores. I always shot poorly in the kneeling position and so I preferred the sitting position. When I tried out for the Purdue University shooting team I shoot off-hand and prone. When my targets were scored, several nearby team members murmured some ego boosting noises and I thought I was going to make the team. Later I discovered that in collegiate matches all team members were required to shoot from all three positions: Prone, off-hand, and kneeling! I could barely break 50 from a kneeling position!

Well, they let me practice with them a few weeks and tried to get me more stable by closing the gap between by right cheek and my right foot which is folded underneath. Eventually it was off to the student medical center for x-rays and the doctor assured me that there was no possible way that my knee could bend further, not now or ever. That was the end of my aspiration to be a champion marksman.

Friday, March 9, 2007

The Soap-Box Derby

Derby Downs, just off Madison Avenue in Anderson Indiana, was a childhood fantasy and my nemesis of unrequited love for feats of heroism that every young boy's imagination projects him into. The Soap-Box Derby. In the exuberant confidence and infallibility that only a child can truly possess, I and I alone knew the secrets of winning one of the great challenges of early manhood: lubricant, wheels with bearings aligned true and without any wobble, and aerodynamics. I doubt that I then knew the word aerodynamics, but I intuitively knew that in this race of equal weight, size, and materials, it was wind resistance that could mean the difference between humiliation and a trip to Akron Ohio.

Once each year I'd start at the bottom of the hill and watch pairs of wondrous plywood cars cross the finish line, usually within seconds of each other. Well, they weren't all wondrous; some were so primitive in comparison with the best that I vowed to do it right or not at all. That though would not hold my attention too long and soon I would hike up the hill where you could get a close look at the derby cars, I mean really study them, while they were placed in the starting blocks and awaited the count-down.

The top of Derby Downs was higher than nearly any place nearby and it offered a view of the most exciting and important places that I knew within the small domain of an 8 year old. At the bottom near the finish line was the Madison Avenue Little League Park where I gamely struggled year after year to master the game with a ball that I secretly feared whether I was at bat or in the infield. In the outfield it wasn't that I was afraid of the ball, it was the fear of humiliation at failing to catch it when it practically fell into my glove. You could see my little stretch of White River, especially the neighborhood's multipurpose swimming hole and hot fishing spot. Behind the Downs was a city dump that we would explore a couple times each summer. And, behind that, a site of great childhood anxiety; the railroad trestle over White River. Despite immense pressure from all of my friends, I never did get the nerve to walk all the way across it.

The War at Home

It was no surprise when I discovered this photo from an National Rifle Association shooting club amongst my grandfather's collection. I remember him taking me on many drives that ended up at the Anderson Gun Club when I was 8 years old or so in the late 1950's. He was an active participant in NRA shooting matches and I remember clearly his unusual bench rifle and equipment for reloading ammunition. The bench rifle, the only name that I know it by, was mounted in a vice on a stand and the shooting competition focused on the tremendous accuracy and repeatability that could be obtained from hand-loaded ammunition that was carefully weighed, measured, and assembled to obtain consistent velocity and ballistics.

My grandfather was a few years too old to fight in World War II but he served at home as a civil defense warden. So, I suspect that there may have been a relationship between his membership in the NRA and the war, and that is suggested by the photo which appears to be the early 1940's but I cannot date it with any confidence. From A Brief History of the NRA, union veterans Col. William C. Church and Gen. George Wingate were "dismayed by the lack of marksmanship in their troops" and formed the NRA in 1871 to "promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis". The NRA actively promoted shooting sports programs among American youth and in 1906, 200 boys competed in matches at Sea Girt New Jersey, less than an hour from my home. Naturally, I grew to become interested in marksmanship and through the NRA and Boy Scouts of America I took several gun safety courses and became a pretty fair competitor myself, eventually joining the Purdue University Rifle Team for a brief period.

One aspect of the NRA's history that I found interesting and relevant is that during World War II the organization actively promoted firearms safety and marksmanship among police forces and industrial guards and even reloaded ammunition for guards and police officers. "The NRA's call to help arm Britain in 1940 resulted in the collection of 7,000 firearms for Britain's defense against a potential invasion from Germany. (Britain had virtually disarmed itself with a series of gun control laws enacted between World War I and World War II)."

This particular photo does not look like the Anderson Gun Club as I remember it. Perhaps it is the Cicero Gun Club as indicated on the gun case in the foreground.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

A Farm House Then and Now

This farm house is on 900N in Alexandria Indiana. When this picture was taken in the 1930's it belonged to my great Aunt Alma and Uncle Alvie. My grandfather took this picture and that is his automobile in the driveway.

Now, I spotted the house from some distance. I think the barn and its relationship to the house is what gave it away. There was no doubt in my mind at all, so I wasn't the least surprised when my mother pulled-over to the side of the road.

When I eventually got around to looking at the photo and having a minute to contemplate it, I thought that we might have stopped at the wrong house! I brought-up the original 30's picture on my display and at first I wasn't sure. The house looked a lot different and where did those big old trees come from? If, this picture was taken in, say, 1935, then those trees are only 70 years old. They looked bigger and hence, older than that to me, but I am wrong.

I live in New Jersey now and this photo reminded me of one of those little astounding facts that you hear now and then. They were discussing the growing conflict between civilization and the exploding deer population on the local radio. I know first hand that whether you are talking about New Jersey or Indiana, the carnage on the highways is ample proof that our deer population has made a tremendous recovery in the last few decades. Anyway, someone said is was surprising given the urban sprawl, in general, but especially because New Jersey has the highest population density in the world. The authority that they were interviewing corrected them and said that it really wasn't that surprising because today there are one hundred times more trees in New Jersey than there were in 1776. Now I doubt that there are exactly one hundred times more trees, but the image was clear enough. The settlers and colonalists had strip-mined the trees so they could build their houses and farm the land.

In the past we would fly to Indianapolis for the holidays and get on that long straight stretch of I-69 that goes to Anderson. My wife would always make a couple observations as if the realization had just hit her. Right after "It's so flat!" would come "And there aren't any trees!". Completely predictable. When you drive to Indiana it doesn't have that much impact because the scenery changes so gradually.

I assume the same was true in the mid-west where farming was on a larger scale and much more recently than in New Jersey. Still, I am surprised at how big those trees have grown in the last 70 years.