Duck Season

I saw this cartoon on Brigid’s blog and I had to steal barrow it. My brother-in-law Dick Harriss was an avid hunter. When the weather turned cold and duck season arrived, Dick would arrive early on Saturday, gather up Dad or me or whomever was available and off we’d go hunting. Grandma even went once and bagged a couple of Mallards.

The usual spot for ducks was along the Big Muddy River that flowed not far from the farm. The river was thickly forested on both sides from the highway between Benton and Christopher down to near Zeigler in Franklin County, Illinois. There was a lot of game in the river bottom lands as well as swamps, sloughs, side creeks and thick brush.

Mallards and Pintails would often land on the river. Our hunting tactic was to walk along the river moving upwind, downriver in this case, watching for ducks. When we reached a bend, we’d split up. Some would go forward, cutting across the bend of the river. The remainder would move forward. If ther were ducks taking shelter in the bend from the wind, the ones who stayed behind would scare them into flight. If they flew upwind, we’d get a shot at them. If they flew downwind, the others who had moved ahead, would get a shot.

On this expedition, Dick and I were alone. Dick carried his J. C. Higgins 16ga bolt-action. I had my Dad’s 12ga. Remington Model 11. (See prior posts.) We had been hunting for about an hour. The weather overnight had dropped into the low 20’s and had been at that temperature for a couple of days. The ground was mostly frozen and crunched as we walked.

So far that day, the ducks heard us coming before we could get close and would fly away before we could get a shot. Fortunately for us, the wind was picking up so the ducks would only fly to the next bend in the river. We had been chasing a batch (whatever you would call a group of a half dozen ducks) for most of the morning. The temperature had been rising all morning and by noon was near forty. The ground previously hard as cement, was now becoming soft.

Dick and I had reached another bend. It was Dick’s turn to move forward cutting across the bend to get down-river from the ducks. It was a big bend, so I waited about ten minutes before walking forward. I’d gotten within 25yds of the ducks when they took off. I fired at the lead Mallard and missed. They took off downriver so I waited for Dick to fire.

Nothing heard.

I waited a bit longer but Dick didn’t fire. So, I continued forward walking along the river. It didn’t take long to reach the spot when Dick should have been, but he wasn’t there. I hollered, but it was into the wind and didn’t carry very far. Dick was missing.

I backtracked to the spot where Dick had moved forward and followed his tracks. It wasn’t long before I could hear Dick talking—he was not happy. The area at the neck of the river bend was low and during warm weather would have been marshy. When the temperature had risen, the ground began to thaw. Dick had broken through the frozen surface and was stuck, waist-deep in mud. He couldn’t get out. It was like being stuck in quicksand.

I was lighter than Dick and I could approach him without breaking through. He gave me his shotgun and I took it back to solid ground. I always carried a small hatchet with me in the woods along with some other stuff.

I didn’t have any rope. I used the hatchet to cut a small twenty-foot sapling. Dick grabbed one end and I the other. After some time, Dick got out of the mud, less his boots, socks and pants. It took a little longer to extricate his pants and boots. We never found the socks.

Dick washed his pants in the river to get the mud off while I used the sapling to start a fire. The fire kept Dick warm and dried his pants and boots. We finally got back to the farm around dusk. My Sister Mary Ellen had arrived with their two kids and they all stayed over for the night.

Duck season lasted another week. The following Saturday, Dick showed up again for another duck hunt. Like I said, Dick was an avid hunter. A little mud, cold and embarrassment didn’t stop him from hunting.

A gathering of the Clan for the Holidays

When my Grandmother lived with us on the farm, Thanksgiving and Christmas was always a big deal. Many of our relatives lived at both ends of the state.

My Aunt Anna May and a bunch of cousins lived near Cairo (rhymes with Aero. Kayro is a syrup. The other is a city in Egypt.), Illinois. Mom’s other two siblings, Aunt Clara and Uncle Bill, lived near Chicago along with their batch of kids and cousins. We lived betwixt them with a local batch of cousins and therefore often hosted the gathering of the Clan at the holidays.

In the late 1950s, most of the cakes and pies were hand-made including pie crust. Betty Crocker was expensive and not to be trusted according to Mom and Grandma. A week or so before the guests arrived, Mom and Grandma started making pie dough. They would make it in small batches, enough for a couple of pies and then store it on the porch. The porch was unheated and was used as a large refrigerator during the colder months.

Mom and Grandma had collected pie fillings most of the year. When cherries were in season, they canned cherries. When blackberries and raspberries were in season, they canned the berries—along with making a large batch of berry jelly and jam. When apples were in season, they canned and dried apples. When the holidays arrived, they were ready.

About the only things they didn’t can was pumpkins. Mom and Grandma purposely planted late to harvest late. I don’t remember a year that we didn’t have pumpkins or sweet-potatoes for pie filling.

The count-down started with the pie dough. When the dough was ready, Mom began baking pies. When a pie was finished, it’d go out to the porch covered with a cloth. The division of labor was that Mom would make pies, Grandma would make cakes.

Grandma liked sheet cakes. I rarely saw a round, frosted cake unless it was someone’s birthday. Grandma’s cakes were 12″ by 24″. Icing was usually Cream Cheese or Chocolate. Sometimes, when Grandma make a German Chocolate cake, she’d make a brown-sugar/coconut/hickory nut icing. The baking was done right up until it was time stick the turkeys, hams or geese in the oven.

The last item Grandma would make was a apple-cinnamon coffee-cake that was an inherited recipe from her mother. It was common-place that when everyone arrived, we’d have a dozen pies and another dozen cakes ready. That was our contribution. The guests brought stuff as well.

The holiday gathering wasn’t just a single day, it was several. Thanksgiving, for instance, lasted through Sunday. A Christmas gathering lasted through New Years. We weren’t the only relatives in the central part of the state, but we were the gathering place. Come bedtime, the visitors left with some of the local cousins and would gather again the next day at another home and the visiting continued.

It was not unusual for us to have twenty or thirty folks at the house at one time. Our barn was heated for the livestock, so the men and boys—and some girls, gathered there. Dad would turn a blind eye to the cigarettes, cigars and bottles—as long as no one started a fire. Grandma’s jugs of Applejack appeared as well.

The women would gather in one of our side bedrooms where Grandma’s quilt frame was set up. They would sit, talk, quilt and plan future family affairs. A number of weddings were planned in those sessions. Sometimes before the bridegroom was aware of his upcoming fate.

Come Christmas Eve, the women, along with a number of kids, put up the tree and decorations. At 11PM, those who wished went off to midnight services. There were a number of preachers in the Clan and those who didn’t want to drive to a service and were also still awake attended a Clan service in the barn. That was the only building able to house everyone at the same time.

On Christmas, the Clan dispersed to their more immediate relatives. Mom, Dad, Grandma, my Aunts and Uncles, my sister Mary Ellen, her husband Dick and their two kids arrived. Sometimes my Aunt Emily and Cousins Richard and Dorothy (Dad’s niece) from Dad’s side would come down from Mt. Vernon, IL for Christmas.

More often than not, Dad, Dick, my Uncles and I would go goose or duck hunting early on Christmas morning. The Muddy River was only a few miles away and if we arrived right at dawn, we were likely some Canadian Geese or Mallards sitting out of the wind on the river. We rarely spent more than three hours hunting before we’d return home, wet, cold and tired ready for breakfast.

We would have a large breakfast around 9AM and afterwards while Mom and Grandma started on dinner, we’d open presents next to the tree. I remember once that Mom hide a pair of snow tires for Dad’s pickup behind the couch. I really have a hard time believing Dad wasn’t aware of them.

Over the years, the Clan has dispersed. Most moving to locations where jobs were available. The elders have passed on and with them the traditions. Cousins have lost touch and few live on the old homesteads.

It was a different time, another era. Some families still maintain the old traditions. They are the fortunate ones.

Update: I changed the title of this piece to a more appropriate one. I’d originally started to describe the preparations we made for the holidays and the story kinda morphed into something else.

105th Anniversary of Wright Bros. first powered flight

Everyone seems to be writing about the anniversary of Orville and Wilbur’s touch ‘n go around the pasture today. I thought I’d write about something a wee bit different.

Like many, I went into the Air Force hoping to fly. That ended when my eyes were found to be 20/80. The minimum at that time was 20/30. That was 1969 as I remember. I never got rated, but was able to do some interesting stuff.

Now, scroll forward a couple of decades. The urge to fly has never left and I woke up one day realizing that if that dream was to happen, further waiting wasn’t helping. I toured a number of flight schools around the area and most of the CFIs were kids about twenty years younger that me and more interested in gaining flight hours than helping someone learn to fly.

On the south-west side of the Kansas City metroplex is the former Olathe Naval Air Station, since renamed as the New Century Air Center. The Olathe NAS was created during WW2 and had a number of satellite strips around the area. One was later called Gardner Municipal Airport (K34). The airport had two grass strips and one 32′ asphalt strip. On final, that asphalt strip looked like a pencil line on green paper. I hated landing on it with a strong cross-wind.

The operator of the FBO at Gardner was Charlie Craig. He, his wife Ellen, their son, daughter, grandson and Rudder the Airport Cat, ran the place. All were pilots and CFIs although Ellen and their daughter no longer gave lessons. The two ladies shared running the FBO while the men gave flight lessons. Charlie was the only “full time” instructor. He was my CFI and was 83 at the time, had over 30,000 flight hours staring before WW2. His son was an ATP pilot, first for Braniff and later for American. The grandson was a Johnson County Deputy Sheriff and made frequent flights delivering or picking up prisoners. The whole operation was a family affair and they treated all pilots, students, and hangers-on as family.

Charlie and Ellen are gone now. Ellen took a nap one Sunday afternoon and didn’t wake up. Charlie and his daughter ran the FBO for a couple of more years, but their hearts weren’t in it and they sold the FBO to another CFI who was looking for a base of his flight school. Charlie followed Ellen not long after that. He and Ellen were together for over 60 years, never very far apart even during WW2. Charlie was a primary flight instructor for the Navy and Ellen was a ferry pilot based at the same location.

When Charlie reached his 30,000th flight hour as Pilot-In-Command, the local FAA office presented him a plaque and a certificate signed by then President Bill Clinton. Everyone was invited to the party. When the certificate was later mounted on the wall, Bill Clinton’s name was covered.

I miss them both. I shared a number of BLT lunches with them when I arrived around lunchtime. Ellen reminded me so much of my mother and grandmother. She adopted everyone who came through the door. Charlie was a perfect gentleman. I rarely saw him lose his temper and never with his students nor with Ellen or Loetta, his daughter. When Charlie stopped giving flight lessons, he had soloed over 10,000 students.

Today in History: The Boston Teaparty

I’m a history buff. I read a lot of history books, fictional and non-fictional. I always try to reconcile the historical accuracy of fiction with the facts. Quite often, historical fiction is very accurate. Not what one would expect.

Today is the 235th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. Most of us were taught that the Boston Tea Party was all about taxes and taxes imposed without representation. It was, but, perhaps not in the fashion that you thought.

Boston Tea Party: To protest the British Tea Act, members of the Sons of Liberty dumped crates of tea bricks from three British East India Company ships into Boston Harbor.

The issues leading to this act has more to do with trade than with taxes. Taxes were definitely a factor and impacted tea drinkers widely across the colonies. One of the leading Boston protesters was John Hancock, a trader and ship owner. In 1768, his ship, the Liberty, was seized by customs officials and Hancock was charged with smuggling. Tea, at that time, was a product of China and the British East India Company had, for all practical purposes, a monopoly on the trade.

All tea was trans-shipped through British ports allowing Parliament to levy and receive taxes on all items carried through British ports. Hancock, however, bought tea from traders in the Netherlands by-passing trans-shipment through the Britain. For this act, the Liberty was seized and Hancock was charged with smuggling. Hancock hired a lawyer by the name of John Adams and eventually got the charges dropped.

According to wiki…

By 1773, the company had large debts, huge stocks of tea in its warehouses and no prospect of selling it because smugglers, such as Hancock, were importing tea from the Netherlands without paying import taxes. In response to this the British government passed the Tea Act, which allowed the East India Company to sell tea to the colonies directly and without “payment of any customs or duties whatsoever” in Britain, instead paying the much lower American duty. This tax break allowed the East India Company to sell tea for half the old price and cheaper than the price of tea in England, enabling them to undercut the prices offered by the colonial merchants and smugglers.

The facts are that the British Parliament allowed the British East India Company duty free shipment of tea to the American colonies and sell tea at half the price that American traders who did have to pay taxes.

In other words, the Boston Tea Party was more driven by the needs of tax relief for American smugglers that the impact of the tea taxes paid by the colonial consumers. This is proved by the fact that if the Americans bought their tea from the British East India Company, the American consumers received a tax break on the tea.

I revere the Founding Fathers of this country, but let’s also remember that their motives may have been more personal than public.

Ummm, ummmh, toasty—now

I have a touch of claustrophobia. More like cabin fever than a panicky feeling of unlighted closets. I try to get out of the house at least once a day.

Most days, I’m sitting here in the dungeon with my trusty space heater at my side. I work at home as a telecom engineer. That means I design, order and project manage the installation and disconnenction of circuits used internally by my company.

My usual day is be tied to a hot keyboard, wearing a headset for conference calls with an occasional IM chat on the side. Comes noontime, I’m getting a bit twitchy.

It’s not too bad during the summer. I can always walk out the back door, watch the birds or squirrels, take some photos of weapons and stuff, al’a Brigid and others, or just sit in an old rocker on the patio. I can’t do that during the winter.

Today, my wife left before noon to visit a friend for lunch. I was on my own, so I decided to visit the local greasy spoon to see what their special fare for today might be. I visit there a lot, know most of the waitresses. I soon as I sit down, they appear with a cup of coffee and take my order. I frequently get a cup of soup on the side.

Today was no different. I had a cup of Clam Chowder, a hot roast beef sandwich, a cup (OK, several cups) of coffee and a paperback. Perfection.

I sit with my right side towards the wall. I carry a S&W 442 in a pocket holster if I know I’ll be taking off my jacket while I’m out. No one appears to have noticed the bulge in my front jeans pocket. At one visit, I sat with with left side to the wall and one of the local cops who had stopped for lunch gave me a once over—several times. I think he finally decided I was carrying, but didn’t do more than look. I now sit with my right to the wall if possible.

Yesterday, we had a 46 degree temperature drop. It was 60 around 9:00AM yesterday morning. By nightfall, it had dropped to 14. This morning when I got up, it was 4. At noontime the temperature had risen all the way up to 10.

On the way home, I stopped to top off my tank. During cold weather, I try not to let the tank get below 1/3 full. If there is room in the tank, you can get condensation inside the tank and if the car is left out for long, such as in a parking lot, you could get a frozen fuel line.

That happened to me once when I was flying a Piper Cherokee 140. I was doing the preflight and got interrupted. I forgot to check the fuel sumps. In a Cherokee, each wing tank has a sump and drain. There is another in the engine compartment. I checked the right drain and the engine drain and when I returned, I started with the stall warning flap and missed the drain. POINT: use a check-list and check off each item. I discovered the frozen fuel line when I switched tanks prior to the mag-check run-up. Glad it quit then than a few moments later at an altitude of only a few hundred feet. Your options are limited at that point.

Anyway, I’ve digressed.

I stopped for gas, got out, ran the card through the pump and grasped the pump handle. I think I left most of my palm on it. I’d neglected to put on gloves. So, I standing there, watching the dollars ring off and the wind starts. IT’S BLOODY, BLEEDIN’ COLD!

No hat. My ears hurt. I’ve a leather jacket that blocks some of the wind, but my hands are freezing. I have to hold the pump because the auto-release isn’t working. The pistol in my jeans feels like I’ve stored it in the freezer overnight. My eyes are watering. I think my eyes are frozen open.

Oh, man. I miss summer.

Old Guns

I was reading an e-mail from someone on a mail list about old guns. He was saying how well he liked his S&W revolver—called it an old gun. From his description, I would guess the pistol was made sometime in the late 1970s.

That’s old!?!?

I’ve seen 60 come and go. I have three guns older than I am. Now, that’s old!

The least old of these three is my M1 Garand that I bought through the ODCMP program several years ago. It was made in the Springfield Armory in February 1942 according to the serial number. It was later rebuilt at the Rock Island Armory but it still has all Springfield parts. It passes the go-no go test and is a real shooter. I’ve zero’d it for 100yds. With a bench rest and iron sights, I can punch out a 6″ grouping. That is amazing considering one facet of the rifle. It’s been used and abused. The few inches of rifling at the muzzle are worn to a smooth bore. But it has a good crown and still groups well.

I had thought about replacing the barrel but decided not to do that. I want to keep it just like I got it with all the dings and gouges on the wood, the wear on the exposed metal parts, all as near I can to it’s earned condition. The only thing I’ve done is to swab most—but not all, of the copper fouling out of the barrel. It still has that copper tint when examined with a bore-light, but I’m going to leave that part of its heritage where it is.

My next oldest is my Marlin Model 39 .22lr (the picture is of a Model 39A.) As best I can determine, my Model 39 was built in the 1930s. It has some older-sytle sights that I will replace with some Williams peep-sights. I’ve never been able to hit anything with Buckhorn sights. I can’t decide to place the front sight at the top between the “horns” or at the bottom of the V.

I just like the way this rifle handles. For me, it has a natural point. I can bring it to my shoulder and it points nicely where I want to aim. There is not any shifting at the shoulder, ducking to the stock to see the sights—it just fits. I usually shoot CCI high-speed Velociraptor ammo. I bought a brick of this when it first came out. In my M39, it chronos at around 1600fps. The next fastest high-speed .22lr ammo clocks in at 1400fps. That is not bad for a .22lr. A 40gr slug at 1400fps or 1600fps makes a nice small game meat rifle.

When I was growing up on the farm, I would often take my .22 rifle out after school and bring home some squirrels or a rabbit or two for the pantry. I still love squirrel and rabbit—it they are prepared properly. As with all wild game, you must insure you cook them correctly to prevent disease. My mother always scalded game before freezing it or cooking it further.

My last old gun is my Remington Model 11. My father owned a Remington 12ga. Model 11. It originally had a cracked stock. The bluing had most been worn off and the metal had that old worn steel look. It made the shotgun appear well used. As a Christmas present one year, my mother took it to our local gunsmith and had new wood installed and the rest re-blued. When it was finished, it looked new.

When I was in High School in the early 1960s, I had the serial number checked. I discovered this shotgun had been made in 1921—originally as part of a War Department order. The US Army canceled the order at the end of WW1 and the production was modified for the civilian market.

Dad’s Model 11 was stolen a few years later along with all the rest of our rifles and shotguns. A few years ago, I was at a Gunshow in Springfield, MO and came across a man who was selling three Remington Model 11s. I bought the best of the three for $150. I never made a better deal. My “new” Model 11 appears to be a PD cast-off. It has O.M.P. stamped on the receiver. I was told that meant “Ontario Mounted Police.” Somehow that doesn’t ring true but it’s a good story. Accordingt to its serial number, it was built in the late 1920s. My Model 11 is a 12ga, full choke shotgun. I’ve thought about buying some additional barrels, a home defense barrel and one with a modified choke for birds. Unfortunately, I’ve not found a source. It appears it’s easier just to buy a complete new shotgun that find replacement barrels.

All three of these guns are full working shooters. I like them. I’m comfortable with them. There has been new designs that are supposed to be better, but from what I’ve seen, the new designs work no better than these half-century or older weapons. New is not always best.

Breakfast at Grandma’s place

I’ve mentioned my Grandmother in other posts. She married my Grandfather Jim in 1902. My mother was the oldest of five children. One, a twin of my Aunt Anna May, died at a very young age. I don’t remember her name now.

Grandpa was a blacksmith and coal miner and died in 1955. Grandma lived alone in her two-bedroom house in town until 1960 when, after a heart attack, she moved in with Mom, Dad, and me. Before she moved to the country with us, I spent a lot of time with her and frequently stayed over-night.

It was common at that time in coal country that coal heat was the common fuel for heating and cooking. Grandma had an old black pot-bellied stove in the front room and a large wood/coal stove in the kitchen. The other parts of the house was unheated. During the winter, Grandma kept a kerosene space heater in her bedroom, but the front bedroom where I often slept was unheated. And it got cold.

The saving feature that kept me from freezing into an icicle was Grandma’s featherbed filled with goose down. Before she went to bed, Grandma would take a few bricks and put them on the stove. When they were almost burning hot, she’d put them in the feather beds. The bricks heated the beds long enough for body heat to take over. From that point, it was toasty the rest of the night.

Getting up in the morning was an adventure. Whoever got up first would scurry into the kitchen, stir-up the coals from the previous evening, add some coal and get the kitchen warmed up. I would usually burrow into the feather bed until I heard Grandma stirring. When I smelled bacon frying, I’d get up and run into the kitchen to stand next to the stove until breakfast was ready.

As best I remember, Grandma always had some eggs for breakfast. Usually, she’d cook a half-pound of bacon to go with it. At times, she substitute a ham slice or some sausage. My Aunt Anna May sent Grandma a bit of pork sausage every fall—enough to last Grandma through the winter. Just to be different, Grandma would add some grits, or oatmeal, or pancakes to go in addition to the standard fare.

I have a vivid memory of such a scene. Grandma is sitting at the kitchen table. She always wore an old flannel nightgown to bed. Under it, she’d wear some of Grandpa’s old long-johns. I am sitting at the kitchen table with her, hands around a hot cup of cocoa. Grandma has placed our plates on the table filled with bacon and eggs, along with a bowl of oatmeal. She is making some toast on an old manual toaster—two slices for her and one for me. When the toast was finished, she’d add a dab of strawberry or blackberry preserves to the toast.

Grandma was a small slender lady, not quite five feet tall and maybe a 100lbs when wet, but she could really eat. She always polished off her plate and usually a second bowl of oatmeal or whatever she’d added that day to her bacon and eggs.

I would sit eating breakfast. The stove heating my back, the smell of bacon in the air accompanying the scent of cinnamon that Grandma would add to the oatmeal or occasionally to the toast. And, always with coal heat, an underlying distinct odor of burning coal.