Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Little Howdah Pistol

I found this beastie about 12 years ago at a Houston pawnshop. (Note: A recent review of my records showed this weapon came from COLLECTORS FIREARMS in Houston, Texas) It’s a handgun but the mechanism is classic double barrel muzzle loading shotgun. The weapon has no maker’s markings or numbers. It’s probably one of the countless Italian imports that have graced the American shooting market since the end of World War Two but this is only a guess. At first sight everyone, me included, says it looks like a Howdah Pistol. If anyone out there can tell me more about it please speak up. Until a better title comes alone it’s the little howdah pistol.

A little while after I got it I was one of the Re-enactors who went to Missouri and Kansas to work on the movie Ride with the Devil. This imposing oddball was one of the handguns in my pommel holsters. It has been a popular standard on lectures and displays of pre cartridge era weapons. I always told myself one day I would get with someone who shot black powder shotguns and try it out. I’m embarrassed it took so long but finally happened.
Hangman and his family had come to visit for the day and that always means lots of shooting. This time he had his black powder shotgun in the mix. I showed him the little howdah pistol and he said we could give it a try. We chose to go with a low pressure .410 load and #8 shot. The little howdah pistol gave a spirited buck and roar and lived up to everything I have ever read about howdah pistols. They aren’t long range weapons! I recall reading that one old timer advised a client if you ever have to use this stick the muzzle in the tigers mouth and pull the trigger. From 25 feet I think I ‘scared’ one of the two tin cans I had set out. I was thinking about trying it with shot again when Hangman said I have the correct caliber round balls if I wanted to shoot bullets next. Such a question! Since tigers are thin on the ground here at HomePlace (thank God) I selected an old steel drum top for my target hoping it was large enough to give me some idea where the weapon was shooting. This time I paced off ten steps and fired. The first shot missed completely but that was more not having made friends with the weapon that anything else. The second shot hit next to the fill hole for the drum. This told me I had been aiming high.
All things considered I don’t think of the little howdah pistol as a trouble gun but it is all kinds of fun to shoot! I will have to do this again soon.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ma Moo's Burried Treasure

Several years ago I under took one of the hardest jobs I ever expected to face. I traveled to Dumas Texas, where I was born, to clean out the house on North Porter Street that had been a safe haven all my life. It had been the home of my mother’s parents since my Grandfather had built it in 1946.
Ma Moo and Pop Pete’s house was a magic place. It was a home in every sense of the word. There was a garden and fruit trees and a large shady yard front and back. The single car detached garage also served as Pop Pete’s workshop.

It was here I learned the value of simple things. A watermelon shared with family on a warm summer evening. I remember the loved feeling we had when Ma Moo made chocolate chip cookies in her kitchen. I can close my eyes and still see the Christmas tree in the living room. There were two down stairs bedrooms and their closets connected by a crawlspace under the stairs that led to the attic bedroom. That was my bedroom since I was four years old. It was where I stayed whenever I was in town, until that trip.

I would be here all night trying to list the things I learned from Ma Moo and Pop Pete but the one thing that always brings them to mind is coins. Pop Pete was a serious coin collector. He and Ma Moo had worked on the collection since before my mother was born. It was an activity I fell into with then. After dinner we would sat at the kitchen table one night a week and go through rolls of coins Pop Pete would get at the bank. We were looking for coins he either needed for his collection or would keep for swapping with other collectors. I felt like I had been admitted to an exclusive club when I was given my own coin books to fill up. What coins were left over would be rerolled and taken back to the bank the next week when Pop Pete would get more.

Of course, saving pocket change was nothing new. Ma Moo and Pop Pete hadn’t grown up in the Great Depression; they raised my mother in it! Pop Pete used to say he was the best educated milk man in Amarillo, Texas in those days. They knew the value of saving even small amounts.

When I was eleven Pop Pete passed away. Ma Moo stayed in the house on North Porter for another 40 years. Mom was also in Dumas and they talked every day. Ma Moo did her own yard work into her 80’s. I thought she would last forever. Then came the call that Ma Moo had gone to sleep and didn’t wake up. I was numb until after the funeral.

None of us wanted to sell the house, but there was no other realistic option. My life was in Falls County now and the others had gone their own ways. So it was time to clean out my grandmothers things and put her house on the market. It was at this point we discovered the treasure.

All of Pop Pete’s best coins were in a safe at Mom’s house. But when my brother, Allen, tried the pickup Ma Moo’s knitting bag he almost pulled his shoulder out of socket. In the bottom of the bag was almost 100 silver dollars, the big ones! A few minutes later Mom was cleaning out the freezer and found several ten and twenty dollar bills in tin foil inside a zip lock bag.

When packing Ma Moo’s China sets I lifted a plate and found a five dollar bill, then another, then a couple of tens. They were followed by twenties and under the last plate was a one hundred dollar bill. A fifty was in the cookie jar. Some of these were old bills; silver certificates were mixed in with them.

The jars of coins were everywhere. Her desk drawers had one in each. There were several in dresser drawers, sometimes more than one. Chest and trunks also held coins. When cleaning out the closets Allen and I found several as we went along. As we got into the crawl space under the stairs we found the last of them. Allen was coming from the other closet when I said “There’s another coin jar here.” It was just a couple of feet in front of me and I was puzzled when he said he would get it. It turned out there were two of them, one on each side of the stud.

I will confess here there was one more. An old Clabber Girl Baking Powder can that had just over a dollar’s worth of pennies. It is sitting in front of me as I write this with the same coins still inside. I gave Allen, who was in charge of collecting and dividing the “treasure” a ten saying I had found it in the bookcase. I didn’t want to rip the others off, just wanted to keep this one stash intact.

The coins in the jars weren’t valuable collector’s items. But in their own way they were priceless. They spanned from the 30’s (coins still in circulation when the house was built) to early states quarters. They were fifty plus years of pocket change dropped into jars after sorting looking for something good. It’s a practice I still follow today.

On the shelf next to me are my coin books. Today Helene and I have grandchildren who like to come to HomePlace. They love feeding the rabbits and chickens. Riding around the property in the Dodge M-37 is a special treat, but at some point they want to look at “Papa Art’s” coins. Explaining the different kinds from years past reminds me of my days with Ma Moo and Pop Pete. From time to time I also bring home rolls of coins to sort through. I think perhaps there are coin books for Ali and Spud in the near future.

Friday, March 19, 2010

I'm Back

Well friends, I took longer than expected but I have returned. The old computer has been tossed into the River Stix and Helene and I are making friends with a new Dell Laptop.

There are adjustments to be made to be sure. The keyboard is sightly smaller which leads to more interesting adventures in spelling than I normally present my readers...which is saying something. I am making friends with the touch pad, but there may still be a mouse in this beastie's future. That brings us to the operating system - Windows 7.

I am assured by folks who know computers much better than I that Windows 7 is a much better system. Perhaps, but I spend a lot of time wishing I had XP on this machine.
Tomorrow will come painfully early and lots to do. Wish me, the new Dell Laptop and Windows 7 luck.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Computer Troubles

My apologies to the folks trying to follow the blog lately. The computer is on it's last legs and crashes without notice several times a day. Several attempts to tell the story of my grandmothers buried treasure have been lost.
A new laptop is suppose to arrive by the weekend. I will save any post longer than two paragraphs until then. Thank you for your patience.