My Gun Story – This Is Long.

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My lovely bride called out the gun bloggers to share their testimony. I suppose that makes it my turn now. In the relatively short time since I became a gunny, I’ve really taken it on in ways that few others ever do.

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When I was growing up, there were a few guns in the house but only a few. My mom’s .22 rifle which I learned later to be a Steven’s Favorite Takedown, and my dad’s Ruger .22 pistol and semi-automatic 12-gauge which I later learned was a Remington M11. I can think of a couple occasions as a kid going out to the farm with my parents and brother to plink at a plastic Pepsi bottle with the .22 pistol, and once even got to fire Dad’s shotgun. As a child I longed for more recreational shooting, but that just doesn’t seem to be one of the important things to my parents. One gun of theirs in particular caught my attention. It was Grandpa’s Smith & Wesson .44 Special – a pre-model 24. I remember as a teenager being allowed to handle it on a couple of occasions. I didn’t even know what ‘double action’ was, but the lockwork in that fine revolver intrigued me. The gun had a 6.5-inch barrel and the bluing was about 99% perfect with just a tiny bit of wear at the muzzle from the leather holster it was stored in for as long as I could remember. That’s the one I wanted to shoot. That was the gun that I wanted to have.

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When Jennifer and I got married, it was kind of an understood thing that I would eventually buy ‘a’ gun when finances allowed (right, just one). For many years, we lived paycheck to paycheck and struggled to cover our barest expenses, so gun ownership was completely out of the question. We dropped out of college in our second year so we could get married, buy a house, and raise a family. Employment opportunities were limited for our educational level and we were far too proud to accept any kind of state handout that we were certainly eligible to receive except for first time home buyers’ assistance. No food stamps though, and no WIC. We worked hard and sought new opportunities and eventually we both found ourselves making decent money – not good but decent enough. For several years we worked through the debt that we had accumulated when we were dirt poor. We bought a newer car than we’d ever had before. We continued to live within our means and stayed in the little house that has continued to shrink as our son grows bigger and bigger. Finally we were in a place in life where we could think about some of the finer things.

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In October of 2007 I posted about the death of Jennifer’s granddad. I still can’t believe it’s been that long. It seems like just yesterday that he’d make some off-color joke, but never in front of the ladies. I really wish that I had been able to get to know him better. Living through that experience, watching him progressively weaken, in and out of hospitals, and then to hospice; it all brought back the memories of my own grandpa’s final stint with bowel cancer. I was about thirteen when my grandpa passed away. He had fought that cancer for several years. I’m still not sure why he didn’t teach me to shoot a gun when I was younger. While Jennifer’s granddad was in hospice, I got to talking to my brother on several occasions. Watching someone in death’s door reminds us of mortality. My parents are close to sixty. I know that we’ve got many wonderful years to come with them, but there will come a time that we have to bury them and divide up their estate.

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My brother and I discussed this and started talking about what of their stuff we’d each want to have. This was not at all in a circling vulture sort of way. Far from it actually. I’ve seen families fight over the crap that gets left to them. The junk left over in the end causes irrational emotional reactions for the survivors. It can tear families apart. I discussed inheritance with my bro with the knowledge that we were discussing it decades in advance, and to set up reasonable expectations so we could avoid the fights. He wanted the grandfather clock. Fine. I wanted Grandpa’s revolver. No. Wait. He wanted that. But, I wanted it. Crap. That’s okay. It’s only stuff. At the end of the day, it is just stuff. Money was pretty good for me at the time. There’s an easy solution here. And, I’ll take Grandpa’s custom built K98-based .244.

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I started researching Smith & Wesson revolvers. I learned about the model 24 and the mighty 29. I pretty well decided that if I didn’t get Grandpa’s gun I wanted a brand new one. And, if I was going to get a blue, 6.5-inch N-frame with a .44-caliber bore, I may as well get one that will shoot Magnum loads, right? As we discussed it, Jennifer and I agreed that when we brought a gun into the house, all three of us had better be able to act safely around it – including our son. I had been told by very trusted sources that I needed to visit H&H Gunrange if I wanted to learn about guns. Jennifer and I went down to H&H just to scope it out at first. As she said in her post, we were expecting something seedy. I imagined low light and dusty corners. Bearded and tattooed shady characters wearing worn flannel. An eye patch here and there. I have no idea where this image came from, but it was clearly unfounded. H&H is an extremely inviting place in every way. It is clean, bright, and well-organized. The cafe at the range makes a mean onion burger and the staff is friendly and helpful. We didn’t actually shoot anything that day. I just wanted to see what it was like, and Jennifer didn’t feel like jumping in with both feet on that trip.

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A few weeks later, we returned to H&H on January 1, 2008. My eyes were on a brand-new S&W M29. I wanted to shoot a similar example to make sure it wasn’t too much gun for me. I rented a 629 at the range counter and put two boxes of ammo through it except for the couple of rounds that Jennifer shot. I was in love. Yes, I went from a couple short .22 plinking sessions as a child to Dirty Harry and loved every minute of it. After our range session, we returned to the sales floor. A staff member pulled a 6.5-inch barreled M29 out of a display case for me to put my hands on. It was beautiful. The price seemed quite fair from what I had seen in my research over the last couple of months. I said I wanted it. Then, the salesman asked if I wanted this one or the one with the hand engraving on it. I said, “Let’s take a look at this engraved gun.” He led me to another room and pulled out another M29, but this one had hand engraving from the Smith & Wesson custom shop. My brother, who had tagged along pointed out that the engraved one would make a better heirloom presentation. It was only a couple hundred dollars more – still in the range that I planned on spending. So, I bought it. And, no. It did not cost nearly that much at the time. That gun is my baby. She’ll never see holster wear. She sees a regular diet of lead and gets cleaned regularly. It all went downhill from there. Everyone in my life suddenly caught the bug.

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Nearly immediately afterwards, Jennifer bought herself a S&W 627PC. It was less than six months after that first range session that I had my concealed carry permit and had purchased a smaller revolver to carry – a S&W 586L-Comp. That was around the time that I started dabbling in holster making. That gun purchase happened in April. In August I bought a twin of the little 586 to carry as a Detroit reload. Our son learned to shoot along with us. The two of us have been to pistol training and shotgun training, we have gone through the NRA training to become RSOs. The three of us attended an Appleseed shoot together. I’ve dabbled in a little amateur gunsmithing, and continued making holsters. After making a few holsters, I started getting good at it and made some innovations not previously seen in the industry. It was starting to become a profit bearing hobby instead of just me trying to get a holster that I liked.

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In January of 2010, I lost my formal employment due to a struggling economy. In February, I took on a 90-day consulting contract with a local small manufacturing plant. They said that if it was a good fit they would hire me on permanently with benefits and a raise. About half way through my contract, I was counting down the remainder of those 90 days. It was a poor fit. I told Jennifer that I felt like I should do the holsters full-time. We discussed the possibility of starving for two years while I attempted to set up the new business. We agreed that this would be a better option than any other opportunity that we could foresee. When I had about two weeks until I was again unemployed, I purchased my first industrial sewing machine with a loan that we took out against a CD that we purchased with the contents of our savings. (This weekend, I’ll be picking up my third, or fourth industrial sewing machine, depending on how you look at it.) The holsters are getting better every day and they are garnering more and more attention all the time. I believe I sold myself short on that two-year benchmark, or at least underestimated the people who would wish to see me succeed. (And, the links given are by no meas an exhaustive list.) By two years, I should be doing really well for myself at the rate I’m going.

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At this point, guns are my life. I live and breath guns. All day every day I have my hands and mind on guns as the core of my self-employment. The only person I’ve seen run a pump-action shotgun as fast and accurately as me is my wife. Every time we shoot together, I feel closer to her. My son has stepped up his personal responsibility since he learned the rifle. He needs that release – that quiet time where nothing exists but him, his gun, and his target. He won a medal in a precision air rifle competition. Jennifer and I intend to continue with our training and possibly become instructors one day. We’ve mused about opening a training academy of our own. Each of us has come from a gunny bloodline that somehow got lost in the last generation. Now, we’re reclaiming that legacy and making up for a lot of lost time. Since our son was almost nine when we started this trip down the rabbit hole, he has done a lot of growing up with and around guns. He’s shot .17 pellets, .22lr (rifle, pistol, and revolver) 9mm, .38 Spl, .410, and 20-gauge so far. He’s wanting to get good at shooting the 20-gauge so he can break some clays with us. The three of us still intend to get our Hunter Safety Ed together so we can bring food home with our guns. Jennifer and I have poured ourselves into other hobbies before that eventually fizzled out. I don’t see this one going anywhere. We are way too immersed and have been running strong with it for way too long for it to be yet another passing hobby.

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So, that’s my story. If you’re still reading, thank you.

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Wee Bot Does Not Compute

In case there is any doubt, I love my son. I do. I may blame him for my thinning hair, but I think the world of him. He’s incredibly intelligent and capable of anything that he puts his mind to. The problem is that he doesn’t often put his mind to anything at all. Public school was certainly not designed with that boy in mind. It has been a struggle for him since day one. Correction – it has been a struggle for us. It hasn’t been much of a struggle for him because he couldn’t possibly care any less about it.

He’s butted heads with teachers and hidden homework because he didn’t want to do it, and his grades have suffered. If he would simply complete his work and turn in assignments, he’d be a straight A student. He’s exhibited an impressive and glorious level of apathy as to whether he succeeds or not. For the first two nine weeks of sixth grade, he skated through his math class with a low D. In the final two nine weeks, he let that slip to a high F. We warned him that he had better run his math final like a rock star or he would flunk the class officially.

Yesterday, his report card came in the mail. He finished the year with a 58% in math. He had not brought his grade up by a single point with his final test. It was clear and obvious to me that his laziness in the class had put him so desperately behind that there was no way that he had any hope of continuing on. This called for desperate intervention on my part. A quick Google search returned several websites with printable curriculum for home schooling. I located a sixth grade math class with printable worksheets including randomly generated exercise problems and coordinating answer keys that looked fairly full-featured. I know my son can learn this stuff. Can I cram a year’s worth of math into his head in two months? I can’t think of a single reason that I shouldn’t try.

I told Wee Bot of my plan to get him caught up in math. If they force him to repeat the previous class, he’ll be prepared for it. If by some miracle of No Child Left Behind they decide to advance him despite his poor performance, he’ll be ready for seventh grade. I told him that he was going to have to do this since he made the decision to blow off math class. His choice was whether he would participate and make it painless or drag his heels as he did through the school year, in which case he would basically do nothing but math all Summer long. His choice.

The first three sheets were basic addition and subtraction. The addition was multiple numbers and both were algebraic in form. His first attempt was a failure to a classic degree. He made solid F’s on two and a low D on the third. I pointed out a couple of tips to improve his work and sent him with fresh worksheets. He came back with an average 16-point improvement. I wrote in the correct answers and told him to study them and see if he could figure out what he had done wrong. With the next attempt he improved again. At this point, he has finished several weeks of sixth grade math and is making an A average.

Several weeks worth. Of math. In two days. A average.

I was right! For a while I feared I was living in parental “my kid is awesome” denial. He proved that fear wrong. His performance is not only becoming more accurate, it is also accelerating in speed. At the rate he’s going, he’ll have sixth grade math knocked out in time to start picking up some seventh grade math. One way or another, we stand to get him caught up in time for the new school year in the Fall.

This brings several questions to mind. First of all, the home environment is obviously a far better learning environment for him than the classroom. With Jennifer working full time and me starting a business, I’m not sure how we would do the whole home school thing, but if that turned out to be the right thing to do, we’d have to figure out something. Secondly, since I’m putting him through the curriculum, I wonder what hoops I’d have to jump through to claim that as him retaking and passing sixth grade math so he could join his peers in the next level. The third question is the same as the first: If home schooling is right for him, what are we going to do?!?!?

Sorry. I know this isn’t supposed to be a Daddy blog. But, there you have it. I just want my boy to realize his potential. That’s not too much for a parent to ask, is it? He really is a good kid, he’s just not much of a self-starter. For years he’s said that he wants to be an astronaut. I’ve told him that he needs to get good at his math and science and keep up with the target shooting. He could fast-track himself through the Air Force ranks and wind up in space very easily. He’s just got to apply himself. The last two days make me think that he’s starting to believe me. Why oh why don’t they come with a manual when they are born?

Ignorance – Not Always Bliss

At this point, it’s been over a year since I bought my Juki DNU-1541 sewing machine. This is the upholstery machine on steroids that will effectively stitch through flesh and bone if you aren’t careful. I’m stitching all of my holsters on it at this point, and have had many a stern conversation with ‘Priscilla’ (pronounced ‘Pear-ish-oola’ as pronounced in the Japanese version of Gun X Sword). This machine has a 1/2-horsepower clutch motor with the pull of a mule and about 1,800 stitches per minute when the clutch is engaged. When I set the stitch length to an attractive 5mm stitch, it will pull a piece of material through very quickly. The machine head is capable of higher speed, but my supplier saw fit to limit its speed with a smaller motor pulley. (The machine in the following video is not the very machine that I took home with me, nor did I get my machine from that supplier.)

Because of how fast this machine stitches and how hard it pulls, I often run it manually by the hand wheel around tight curves and corners. This has led to many blistered fingers, sore arms, and general pain. On Friday after doing extensive stitching on several shoulder holsters, I was trying to ignore my two new blisters and general stiffness in my right hand, but I realized that I could no longer continue on the way I have been. I know that clutch motor has a brake in it, and the brake applies every time I let off the throttle. As an experiment, I pressed on the clutch pedal with the power off and turned the wheel by hand. It stitched through a piece of heavy horsehide with very little effort that way. It didn’t even make my blisters hurt! Yeah. I have to do something differently.

So, I started looking on the interwebtron for servo motors, whose speed is adjustable either by pedal pressure or by manually turning a knob setting on the motor control. I found this entry which only provided a small bit of clarity for my issue. In looking at the motors online, I found that I could expect to pay about $200.00 for a good servo motor. *Sigh.* If that was what I needed to do, I’d save up the money and do it. But, I decided that it was time to give a call to the sewing machine shop first. I got on the phone with Darren at the sewing machine shop and told him I thought I needed a servo motor. He said that he had one in stock that he’d sell for $150.00 if I wanted it. He also explained that the servo motors wear out a lot faster than the clutch motors. I recalled in the link above how the woman testified to having one go bad with only a few hours use. Yuck.

So, I described my problem with the detail work and fighting the brake and asked if he had any suggestions for me. “Wait,” he said, “That brake shouldn’t even engage unless you heel down on your foot pedal.”

“What?” I asked for clarification, “The sucker is engaging hard every time I release the throttle.”

“…” he said, “There’s a little spring on the control arm with a wing nut at the end of it.”

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“Why don’t you loosen that thing up and see what happens. If you go too far, the machine will spin under power when you don’t have your foot on the pedal. If it’s too tight, the brake will lock up on you when you let off throttle pressure.”

I gave the wing nut in question several left-hand twists, unthreaded the needle and fired up the motor. The needle and feet stayed at rest as the motor whirred to life. I placed a piece of leather under the foot and applied throttle pressure. The machine laid down twenty stitches in the fraction of a second it took for me to heel down, where the brake engaged. When I removed all pressure from the pedal and let it go neutral, I turned the hand wheel. Effortlessly. *Face palm.* For A WHOLE YEAR the motor control was adjusted wrong and I have been KILLING myself trying to use it. This was all because that’s how it had always run and I didn’t know any better. The guys at the sewing machine shop are good. I’m sure they had it adjusted properly and it probably settled out on its trip to my home. I felt so stupid. I have to remember that I didn’t know any better. This is not stupidity, this is ignorance. We are allowed a little of that every now and then. One way or another, I’m smarter now, and this should make my job easier.

Lucky Gunner Blog Shoot 2011

For a brief background to the story, Jennifer told me about this blog shoot that Lucky Gunner was hosting in TN over Memorial Day weekend. Apparently, we’d register to go. Upon our acceptance, we needed to figure out a way to get there and a place to stay. They were going to provide guns, targets, and ammunition and we were asked to blog about the experience. It sounded like fun, so we jumped aboard. I was looking for blog fodder and a good time, and Lucky Gunner was looking for bloggers to generate more customers for them. Holy expletive. It is quite possible that I’m going to have to buy all of my ammo from them for the rest of my life in addition to giving them extensive and frequent blog time for the same duration in order to repay their investment this weekend. I knew we would have fun. I can go out to a field with a .22 and a few targets and have fun for hours. I would have never imagined what we actually got could even be possible.

On Saturday morning, we met up with the Lucky Gunner people and the other bloggers for breakfast. Angela from Lucky Gunner passed out paperwork and explained the scope of the day. She said that they gathered guns from Multiple sources including manufacturers, local collectors, and reenactors. She said that the reenactors had actually come with fully functional tanks. She pointed to three cute little girls and explained that they were our ‘ammo waitresses’ and would take orders and deliver ammunition and drinking water throughout the weekend. Wait. What? So, not only do we get to shoot other people’s weapons including historical pieces, full-autos, and artillery; not only do we get free ammo for the event to shoot the aforementioned to our hearts’ content from a store of 200,000 rounds; but said ammunition is going to be delivered to us by these lovely young ladies at our beck and call? Un-freaking-believable. I was starting to believe that the rapture had actually taken place and I just woke up in heaven. Yes, in my version of heaven there are cute girls that bring me ammo so I can shoot machine guns. Except in my version of heaven, they also bring beer. Quite understandably, this was not part of the deal. That was my biggest clue that I had not actually entered into the Great Beyond.

When we drove into the range, we were surrounded by old military vehicles, tents, and men and women in uniform. The reenactors had done a remarkable job of creating the atmosphere. For the first ten to twenty minutes after we arrived, Jennifer and I simply stood there, trying to soak it all in. It was just that amazing. Several of the Lucky Gunners and RSOs approached us and told us not to be shy but to get up there and ask if we could shoot some guns. Which we did. And it was awesome. There are pics and videos that I will share, as well as specific reviews on weapons and experiences, but for now I want to get this much down and keep this post to a readable length. On Saturday we shot ourselves stupid and poured into bed. On Sunday, we took a pistol class from Tom Givens of Range Master. As I had been previously warned of his teaching, I learned a lot in just a little bit of time. I realize now that I need a whole lot more pistol training. Anyway, the people were amazing – those of Lucky Gunner and my fellow gun nerds. Many thanks go out to Lucky Gunner, Angela and the other lovely employees who were so very accommodating. Thanks to Magtech and Sellier & Bellot for sponsoring with their ammunition. Thanks to Tom & Lynn Givens and the RSOs for the fantastic pistol class.