A Cheap Pistol for Old Timers!

By Norris Chambers

            Clifton and I began shooting guns when we were youngsters. My father had an old 12 gauge double-barrel shotgun and a .22 repeating rifle that was referred to as a “pump”. I supposed it was called a pump because when shooting several shots a slide beneath the barrel had to be moved back and forth to load the cartridges and eject them after firing. I don’t remember the exact number of cartridges it held. When shooting several shots the movement of the arm back and forth reminded an observer of someone operating a water or air pump. My brother, Clifton’s dad, had a long .22 caliber rifle that only fired one cartridge at a time. He said it was very accurate even though it was cheap. He had spent less than $4.00 for it and had used it for several years. He also had a 16 gauge shotgun that I had never seen him use.

            Clifton managed to trade for an air rifle. It was a nice looking gun but wasn’t very powerful. It was nice looking and was accurate enough to kill birds if they were not too far away. We didn’t care about shooting birds so it wasn’t used much. I was probably nine or ten years old when I managed to convince Papa and Mama that I needed a twenty-two. I saved ‘possum hide earnings until I was wealthy enough to order a nice little single shot for a little over two dollars. It was about two and a half feet long. It was accurate if the target wasn’t over 150 feet and was powerful enough to kill rabbits and other small animals at that distance. Clifton ordered a similar

Rifle but by paying a dollar or so more received a longer, heavier gun with a little better range and accuracy. With the new guns we were now ready for miner’s carbide lights that fit on the head and allowed the shooter to hunt animals in the dark by causing their eyes to glow in the dark. A shot at a point between the shining eyes usually meant another ‘possum or skunk hide for our fur collection. The guns also made it easy to shoot ‘possums out of trees when chased there by a good hunting dog.  Most of the small towns in our end of the county had a merchant or two that bought furs.

            My little gun had an accident that ended its hunting career. I evidently got careless and allowed the barrel to collide with a clay bank and plug the end of the barrel for a few inches. I didn’t notice this and the next time I shot it there was a terrific noise and explosion at the end of the barrel. The barrel was made from thin sheets of steel pressed and laminated into what appeared to be a solid metal tube. About six inches of the end spread apart and split and resembled the end of a dirty string mop. Luckily, Clifton and I were not injured by the explosion. We were badly scared!

            My ‘possum hide money was plentiful enough for me to order a rifle like Clifton’s. He did considerable complaining because my gun was exactly like his and was newer and prettier and had cost a few cents less. The price had actually gone down since he got his gun.

            A few days after the mishap we carefully examined the ruined rifle. The only damage seemed be the end of the barrel. We decided to saw it off and see if it would shoot. Since we were a little bit afraid we clamped the rifle in a vise and tied a string to the trigger. We were completely out of danger when we pulled the trigger from the other side of the shop. The gun fired normally.

            We now had a working rifle with a short barrel and no end sight. We agreed that it would not be useable as a hunting rifle and after some more discussion we came to the conclusion that we could install a nice wooden pistol handle and solder the sight at the end of the barrel. With the proper adornment this could make a nice pistol. We agreed that it would be hard to hit anything with it, but it would be a beautiful novelty and we might be able to trade it for something we could use.

            We spent several hours shaping and attaching a grip that we carved from a fully matured oak limb. With a hacksaw and an assortment of small files we attached a sight at the end of the barrel. We fired a shot from the gun with it mounted tightly in a vise and aimed at the side of the chicken house at a distance of about 30 feet. The sight was aimed and mounted for a direct hit!

The pistol was finished and it was really a thing of beauty!

            We admired the beautiful object a few days then Clifton traded it to Jack Hudson for a set of headphones. I built a nice little radio for him and he enjoyed Lum and Abner and Amos and Andy for a long time. We were both shocked when we heard that Jack had sold the pistol for $5.00.

            “After all,” Clifton complained, “it was only a two dollar pistol!”