By Rick Cartledge
SAR is pleased to present this journal by longtime Emma-Gee, Rick Cartledge about his experiences at Knob Creek.
It was with great pride that I took this article assignment from Small Arms Review. This writer has been under the weather for about two years. The twelve cylinder Packard is back. It could use a paint job, but the tires are new and the motor’s tuned. Many of the faithful readers have been terribly kind. In the following I shall return that kindness. I invite you once again to climb up on my running board and ride with me for a while. We will travel through four very special days in October. Nearly everyone agrees that the Fall ’97 Knob Creek Show and Shoot surpassed any that we’ve had for years. The weather and the people could not have been nicer.
I crossed the Salt River on I-65 about sunrise on Thursday morning, hit the exit and pulled to the red light at the top of the ramp. I swung across the bridge and stopped at the light by the entrance ramp to I-65. At this point we begin our journey. I looked toward Shepardsville, Kentucky. Beyond it stretched the mountains that lead to the Knob Creek Range. Shepardsville gave the South one of its most honored sons, Col. Philip Lightfoot Lee of the Orphan Brigade’s 2nd Kentucky. I found it fitting that Shepardsville’s cloud laden sky glowed grey and crimson, the colors of The Gallant Pelham. Later at Knob Creek Range I would view a new Rich Pugsley gun, a gun that all Southerners wish that John Pelham had fired.
While freshening up at the motel, I snapped on the news channel. The presenter waxed fondly about the Harvest Home Festival in New Albany. She introduced a local string band from the Louisville environs. The musicians cranked up with Bill Monroe’s ‘Uncle Pen’. As I motored up to the range house, Range Master Homer Saylor flagged me down. We shook hands. I told Homer about ‘Uncle Pen’ and stated it appeared we would have a great weekend. Homer agreed. We plan to go together one day to Rosine and pay our respects to Mr. Monroe. Homer and I both wore short sleeves. Short sleeved shirts became the dress du jour for all four days and nights. The presence of automatic weapons goes without saying.
I headed past the main line and around to the front of the range house. Twice a year this spot becomes the crossroads of the Title 2 world. Don Turnbull sounded the horn on his golf cart. I shook hands with the raconteur and master of the Boyes Rifle. We exchanged greetings. I brought him salutations from his good friend William Helmer, author of ‘Dillinger: the Untold Story’. Bill sent his regrets that he could not attend. He and Rick Mattix had just completed ‘The Public Enemies Almanac’ for Facts on File. Mr. Helmer experienced unexpected delays in Chicago and Rick was trailing some new Bonnie and Clyde story in Iowa.
While I searched for Paul Mahoney of Krinks, the prettiest mule driver in the Alabama Cavalry motored around the corner of the range house. She threw up her hand and I waved her over. She stopped her titanium taxi and accepted my contribution to the campfire. She safely bore it to the campsite in Kenny Sumner’s eighty acre camping field. I would later join them under St. Andrew’s Cross. We talked of distance guns and the election of the Scottish Parliament. We shall follow with great interest the developments north of Hadrian’s Wall. We send a heartfelt ‘Well done!’ to the children of William Wallace and Robert Roy MacGregor, as we are one in the same. Come springtime we will hoist a flagon and toast the tattoo on Sean Connery’s arm. It translates ‘Scotland Forever’.
On returning to the range house I found Paul Mahoney. Pauly said he had finished his post sample BREN in time for the shoot. He was on his way to get it. While I awaited Paul and the BREN, Beth and Glen Whittenberger strolled up and said hello. I first met Beth when she and Glen were dating. The week before Knob Creek, AMC ran a series of Film Noir greats. I taped most of them.
While watching the Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell classic ‘His Kind Of Woman’ I thought of Beth and Glen. About an hour before the movie debuted, the mail came. ‘The Thompson Collector News’ arrived and told the story of the ‘All Thompson Show and Shoot’ in August. The winners of the men’s and women’s shooting competition both answered to the name Whittenberger. Enough said.
Paul Mahoney sauntered out of the pole barn with the BREN gun thrown over his shoulder. He drew a crowd. BRENs have a tendency to do that. Mr. Mahoney gave us a good show. He asked us to find the receiver welds. There in the bright sunlight I could only find one. He showed us three more. Pauly stripped the receiver so that we could view the inside. Paul marveled at the skill that the Commonwealth machinists used to make the BREN. I marveled at Paul’s skill in putting one back together.
I had sent Paul a copy of the BREN gun book that Jim Allee prints at IDSA Books. Jim prints the Small Arms Identification Guides written by distinguished Australian gun writer, Mr. Ian Skinnerton. Pauly found the exploded diagrams and serial number sequences especially helpful. He considered Mr. Skinnerton’s book the best nine bucks he’d spent lately. Paul then took his BREN to his shooting slot and went to see Bob Landies for some magazines. We each departed to our separate ways.
I didn’t get far. Brian held out a friendly hand and we talked about the 1914 Hotchkiss article that we are working on. As we talked, we watched Mike Krotz and Bill Mitter unload a dewat Soviet 107mm recoilless from the Vietnam era. Just then, Jim Ballou dropped some web gear over my shoulder. ‘What’s that?’, he inquired. It appeared to be a World War I BAR gunner’s belt fitted for a wide looped .45 holster. Wrong! Jim stated that I held in my hand an original Colt Monitor commercial belt. A shrewd collector had found it up East. The collector brought it to the Knob Creek Shoot for a friend of his. Though he had already sold the rare belt, he lent it to Jim for inclusion in the BAR book. I told Jim that I had brought the Baby Face Nelson picture for the ‘In Unfriendly Hands’ section and would bring it to him later. Jim said thanks and went to photograph the Monitor belt. It is not without good reason that many of us eagerly await Jim Ballou’s book.
A group of friends motored up I-65 past the Gene Snyder on Thursday night. We zeroed in on the Outback Steak House off Wendy Lane. Our table talked automatic weapons, the next table discussed the battle rifle match, and the table behind us talked suppressors. Outback treated us as cordially as the Derby crowd. Good to their word, the restaurant enforced ‘No Rules’. We stayed too late enjoying the stimulating conversation.
We all looked a little bleary eyed when we met Friday morning. All of us arrived early, anticipating the opening of the gun show and putting some brass on the ground. While we waited, a man with a confident stride walked toward us. He carried two trophies. I had seen the impressive trophies displayed in the range house on Thursday morning. The sponsors bought large third place trophies. The sizes went up from there. This man carried a very large one and the biggest of all — ‘Aggregate Top Shooter’.
He introduced himself as Malcome Davis of Huntsville, Alabama. We talked shooting for a while. He then noticed the ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ shirt I wore, presented by the fine citizens of Dexter, Iowa. I told Malcome that I wrote historical articles on Title 2 for the Small Arms Review. I asked him if he knew that he carried the same name, though spelled differently, as the Tarrant County, Texas Deputy killed by Clyde Barrow and W. D. Jones. Malcome replied that he did. He laughed. Malcome then told the story of the first date he had with the woman who would become his wife. He took her to see ‘Bonnie and Clyde’. With shooting and knowledge like that, the “Alabama Cavalry” may be engraving Malcome an invitation at this very hour. We shook hands at about the time we heard Kenny Sumner on the loud speaker.
Kenny announced the opening of the show. The crowd poured into the pole barn. For those who have never had the privilege (and it is a privilege) to stroll through the gun show at Knob Creek Range, the following will attempt to give you a sense of it. To say that weapons, accouterments, books, videos, and RKIs fill up the place states the case too simply. Specifics tell the tale. We will have to dodge all of the Lafette tripods that march out of the pole barn like the mop brigade in ‘Fantasia’ — 34s, 42s, Yugos, and what Bill Mitter humorously calls ‘Braunsweigers’, the optically equipped Bundeswiers sold by Robert Landies. The following describes some of the many interesting exhibits seen at this gun show.
Kent Lomont displayed one of the rare 1898 brass Argentine Maxims. This gun was very similar to the one Bob Landies displayed last spring. I confess an unmendable weakness for the venerable Maxim gun. The ’98 tops my list. An American genius designed this gun. Master machinists breathed life into this magnificent weapon during the twilight of the Guilded Age. Mr. Lomont kindly field stripped the top of the gun and handed over the pieces. The lock reminds one as much of a Swiss watch as it does a gun part. The brass D handles pass for a work of art in their own right. The safety looks like a brass ellipse bonded to a thick popsicle stick. When flipped up for firing, one views a series of concentric brass ellipses cradling raised brass letters that exclaim ‘Fuego’. The whole gun reminded me of Tom Berringer’s famous line from the ‘Rough Riders’ by John Milius — ‘Indian Bob, kill the German!’ Kent once remarked that if they told him he could have only one gun and that was a Maxim gun, he wouldn’t be too unhappy. Though I would plead for a Thompson, this writer agrees.
I moved on to the book and video tables to search for several items. Friends in Georgia sent me with a list. Alabama Arms sold a very fine video on the Browning guns. A friend had recently purchased a nice DLO A-4. He wanted some visual instruction. On viewing the Alabama Arms video, my friend stated that he found it very interesting. He stated it wasn’t fancy, just very helpful. Alabama Arms now debuts a video on the Swedish K. Several dealers featured video material on a wide range of interesting subjects. To those new to the Title 2 world, some of the most informative videos come from Knob Creek Range. For those who wish to know more of KCR’s biannual event, I recommend Fall 1996 and Spring 1997.
On another table I found a book seller of very discerning taste. Among his fine wares, he offered ‘The Devil’s Paintbrush’ by Dolf Goldsmith and Jim Allee’s quality reprint of ‘A Rifleman Went To War’ by Herbert McBride. I still consider Mr. Goldsmith’s book on the Maxim gun to be the finest gun book on a single gun by a single author. Tracie Hill called me during the formative days of ‘Thompson: the American Legend’. He asked me to write for him. The first question I asked was, ‘Do you have a copy of The Devil’s Paintbrush?’. Tracie replied that he did. I stated to him that Dolf had set the bar two notches higher and we should strive to reach it. Tracie agreed. The rest is history. ‘A Rifleman Went To War’ speaks for itself. Along with T. E. Lawrence’s ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ and ‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tzu (the Hoosier warrior Bobby Knight’s favorite book), my family considers McBride required reading. Capt. Herbert McBride brings us to ‘White Feather’.
Mike Waterhouse came carrying a white 20 round box of ammo. Mike knew I wasn’t a distance shooter but thought I might want a box of the ammo he now carries at his table. As usual, the knowledgeable Mr. Waterhouse proved correct. Dennis Duphily had returned from overseas and I had run into him outside the pole barn. I remembered something wonderful when I read the name on Mike’s white ammo box — Carlos Hathcock II.
Several years ago, Carlos Hathcock came to the Knob Creek Range as the guest of Dennis Duphily, and Dan Shea. By the time I got to Carlos, he had run out of his sniper books. Neither his health nor mine is what it once was. I shook the hand of the man who embodies the phrase ‘Every inch a Marine’ and promised to return. I found a copy of ‘A Rifleman Went To War’ and brought it to him. I asked, ‘Do you know this book soldier?’. Carlos cracked a knowing smile and replied, ‘That’s the bible.’ I explained to Carlos that my young nephew had a tough time getting into this world. I asked Carlos to write something for Liam in Herbert McBride’s book. Carlos did.
I don’t shoot well enough to know how good the ammunition is. What I do know is this. If Carlos Hathcock put his name on it, it’s good enough for me. At the end of that day several years ago, Dennis and I watched as Carlos Hathcock departed. As he motored away Dennis said, ‘I hope that Carlos knew how loved and respected he was by every one who met him.’ I told Dennis that I was confident that he knew. With the white box from Mike Waterhouse, I am equally confident of something else. Carlos Hathcock would find welcome at the Knob Creek Range at any time. I hope that in some fall or some springtime that one of America’s most beloved soldiers might find the time to come and, once again, be among us. Should he wish to come on short notice, he should bring his books and T-shirts. I am confident that there will always be a place for him at the S.A.R. table. Dan Shea and Jeff Zimba back me up on this.
I then went to Jonathan Arthur Ciener’s table where I always expect to see something new. Jon rarely fails to have some innovative new product or variation on display. This time, Jonathan smiled broadly as he showed me the ‘Platinum Cup’, his new 22 conversion for the 1911 pattern government automatics. Jonathan stated that he responded to his customers’ requests for a full featured upper. To his 22 slide, he added a number of custom features. He first fabricated a raised serrated flat top slide. Jon then inlayed a micro adjustable Millet sight. He augmented the Millet rear sight with an accentuated serrated front sight. Jon then added angled cocking slots and tightened the whole thing up. He then finished it with the kind of quality that people have come to expect from Jon Ciener. Some years ago I shot with Dave Rosenfield and Mary Ann Sanborn, they of the famed ‘His’ and ‘Hers’ Vickers guns. Dave assisted Jonathan in evaluating some of the first Ciener prototypes. Dave gave me a test drive and it functioned flawlessly. Next spring I hope to try one of the new ones.
Knob Creek takes shooting seriously, but it isn’t all serious. The tellers told these tales better. The following tells two jokes and of a funny conversation. Married lady to girlfriend, ‘I got a machine gun for my husband.’ Girlfriend replied, ‘Good trade!’ The second one goes like this. Married guy to his buddy, ‘My wife said she’d leave me if I bought another machine gun. I’m sure gonna miss her.’ A dealer told me he knew he’d arrived when his first three Christmas cards came from lawyers. I told the dealer of the brilliant novel ‘Primal Fear’ written by fellow Georgian William Diehl. In the opening of the movie made from this book, the fine actor Richard Gere skillfully delivers a couple of lines about law school and the justice system through his character Martin Vail. We won’t print them here. You will have to rent the video (Ladies beware). Before the title page in his fine book, Bill Diehl quotes Charles-Louis de Secondat from 1742 writings relevant to 1986. Among those to whom the Founding Fathers looked to for inspiration, they listed the Baron de Montesquieu. The writer from Georgia and the Baron from Bordeaux provide some very interesting reading.
Though many tables presented interesting wares, I will close this section by telling the reader of one table in particular. This table instructs the reader on what to look for at KCR. It also helps the newcomer to avoid the same mistake that I made on the first trip to the Creek. You will see a dealer with a single table and might pass him up for a dealer with ten. As I maneuvered toward the back of the pole barn, an astute collector waved his hand. He need not have thrown up a flag. I had already spotted the ginny FBI Thompson case crouched on the front corner of his table. He had acquired some rare items from an old time Class 3 dealer who was now retiring. He kindly allowed me to examine them while giving me some valuable lessons.
Among the original Colt Thompson mags, the collector displayed several mint double dates and a shot mag. Next to the mags sat four boxes of rare ammunition. One contained 50 rounds of Thompson shot shells. The second box contained .45 Auto CF cartridges marked ‘Adapted for the Thompson Sub-Machine Gun’. The third unopened box contained Western Super X .45 Auto .230 grain Metal Piercing Lubaloy. The fourth box held .45 Auto tracer from the Frankford Arsenal. This same table had earlier yielded the previously mentioned commercial Monitor belt for another astute collector and Jim Ballou. Needless to say, several knowledgeable collectors with deeper pockets than mine went through this table like a plague of locusts. I deeply appreciated viewing these rare items and learning something from my knowledgeable friend. This man and his table make the following point. If you ignore a single eight foot table, you might just pass up the mother lode.
The Writers Meeting
The Usual Suspects assembled at Mark’s Feed Store on Dixie Highway in Louisville. We rolled in about 8:30 Friday night. The aroma of barbeque filled the parking lot. We each selected from the menu and finished the meal with buttermilk pie. The meeting room at Mark’s gave the tell tale sign of good food. As the servings moved down the table, the conversation died. Before we could escape and find sofas to lie down on, Dan Shea opened the meeting.
First and foremost, Dan gave a glowing report on the acceptance of our magazine. In the months to come, readers will know the full impact of this acceptance. Jeff Zimba reported a steady stream of subscribers flowing past the S.A.R. tables and moving to the Gun Owners of America tables next to ours. Mr. Larry Pratt personally manned the G.O.A. tables and greeted one and all. Holly Gifford reported many favorable comments from readers who viewed the first issue at Knob Creek. A motion was made to commend Dan Shea and the Moose Lake staff for the fine job that they had done. The reader should know that the staff started flat footed. In four months they assembled the magazine. We still have some kinks to iron out. That being said, when the first issue hit the streets we knew that we had something to be proud of.
Jeff Zimba passed out some writing assignments. The book authors then gave their reports. Frank Iannamico stated that his STEN gun book neared completion. Though not yet chipped in stone, a mighty pile of rock dust lies below the granite slabs. Moose Lake will launch Frank’s book as the first of many offerings. Jim Ballou then spoke about the BAR book. He echoed Frank’s comments on the fine cooperation that museums and private collectors gave to their projects. Jim then passed around the cover photo. Though Jim keeps this close to the vest, suffice it to say that the readers will find it simply stunning. Jim had even arranged for the breakfast table decorations in the range house cafeteria on Saturday morning — BAR prototypes. With S.A.R. at KCR, if you snooze you lose.
Dan then turned to the suppressor writers and scheduling the upcoming match. The previous trials generated great interest and keen competition. Many dealers delayed table setups and ran down to the lower range to watch.
Simply put, our suppressor writers put their share of brass on the ground. They are just very quiet about it.
After the meeting Dan and I ran into each other in the motel parking lot. He asked how I thought the meeting had gone. Before answering, I thought of all the bright and enthusiastic men and women who gathered at Mark’s Feed Store. I knew we had a winner. I stated that this meeting didn’t resemble ones that any of us had ever attended. Each person in that room brought honed skills to a new magazine. We all stood together on the starting line. In ten years, we might all look back and be amazed at the race we had run.
We are unlike any other publication. If the reader looks for sky diving from a Piper Cub, he should apply elsewhere. If the reader wants to stand on the cutting edge, look out the back door of a flying boxcar, and hurtle out into the blackened night — he has found his magazine. This is not to say that we don’t make mistakes. We do. We won’t make mistakes on some dusty library shelf. We will make our mistakes standing knee deep in a brass pile.
‘Build It and They Will Come’
Kevin Costner filmed his motion picture ‘The War’ in my home town several years ago. Mr. Costner showed himself to be personable, accessible, and gracious. With all due respect to Mr. Costner (and this writer has a great deal of respect for him), there is one thing that ranks as more American than baseball — Freedom. Legitimate ownership and uses of Title 2 weapons serve as an index of freedom. The camaraderie between free Americans brought about the Knob Creek Show and Shoot. Readers who have journeyed to Westpoint, Kentucky will fully appreciate what they are about to read. Those who have never seen the Creek will still find the following interesting.
In an article for another magazine, this writer told of the changes in the Creek from the time when he first started coming more than ten years ago. Last April while dining on some fine steaks in Louisville, a friend who preceded this writer by more than ten years told his story. I ran into him this fall at Bob Landies’ tables while we looked over some of Ohio Ordnance’s semi auto only BARs. I asked Bob about the new .308 models and he stated they worked fine. Bob then announced the 1918 classic semi autos. Ohio Ordnance will build 300 limited editions of the famed blue steel guns with their finely checkered wood. Could there be a ‘scattergun’ replica in someone’s future? Only time will tell.
We then moved around to the back side of the table and took up a position by a beautiful 08 Maxim gun. We looked over the sled mount as Bob told us about the gun. This gun showed fine attention to detail as did many of the excellent belt feds offered by the dealers at this shoot. As Mike Krotz joined us, I asked my friend to again relate his story. He called off a list of the early shooters. We knew the names of them all. Just as he started telling the story of how he first came to the Creek, Mike and Bob had to excuse themselves to wait on customers. My friend and I talked one on one.
As my friend strolled through a midwest gun show in 1976, he ran into two known machine gunners. One of them stated that they planned to go to Kentucky to put some brass on the ground. They asked if he would like to come with them. They got an affirmative response. The two gunners instructed my friend to awaken early on Saturday. They would pick him up on the way. The adventurous three rolled up in front of the range house about one o’clock on Saturday afternoon. About a dozen guys hammered away on the main line. As the three unpacked their guns, Kenny Sumner came out and shook their hands. They asked if they could shoot with the rest of the shooters. Kenny explained that they would need shooting slots. Kenny pointed toward the line and said ‘Take those three slots over there that are next to each other.’ They still have them.
My friend explained that no vendors set up shop until about 1978. They displayed their wares under hospital tents. With apologies to Ted Nugent, the M.A.S.H. unit vendors presented ‘Intensities In Tent Cities’. The Knob Creek Show and Shoot was up and running. As we reminisced, Mr. Biff Sumner walked by. We waved to Mr. Biff and asked him to join us. Biff Sumner then gave us the story of how it all began.
The Sumner family bought the land from the government some years ago. Biff Sumner owned an automatic weapon and knew several friends who owned them. In 1963, Mr. Sumner invited five of his friends to come put brass on the ground. He explained that an old gun testing range stood on some of his property. The shooters began using the old range. Word spread from friend to friend through the Class 3 community. Each year a few more hearty souls showed up for good shooting and conversation. They camped on the spot where the Waffle Man now sets up his booth. As the vendor ranks began to swell, the campers moved to the other side of the range house. That is where this writer first started camping.
In 1975, Mr. Biff Sumner turned the shoot over to his son Kenny. Kenny, with the help of a lot of dedicated people, built the Knob Creek Show and Shoot into what it is today. Someone not familiar with the Title 2 world would not believe that Knob Creek today came from six people. They do not understand that automatic weapons have protected our freedom. They cannot comprehend that legitimate ownership of them serves as an index of that freedom. Many of us who come to the Creek know the following above all else. Those who harbor shallow views on individual freedom lead poorer and emptier lives than we do.
In 1963, five men looked for a place to put brass on the ground and be free. A sixth man provided it. With due respect to Mr. Costner, the following simply states how the Knob Creek Show and Shoot came to be. Biff Sumner built it. Kenny Sumner expanded it. And, oh, how they came!
The Endless Line
I first came to Knob Creek for the guns and still do. I now come more for the people, some of the best this earth has to offer. That being said, when Saturday afternoon rolls around I am ready for two things, a lit cigar and a loaded machine gun. Those who have viewed a certain picture in ‘Thompson: the American Legend’ know that I come by this in an honest fashion. We now go up on Knob Creek’s main shooting line. We shall discuss some of the wonderful guns being shot there. We will tell of it when the line goes hot. The reader then will join in conversation with some of the knowledgeable people who congregate when the barrels cool.
These serious men and women have graciously allowed me to be among them for the past ten years. I know all by face and most by name. As most of them know that I handled hundreds of names per week before retirement, they forgive me when I stumble. In the following you will meet some of them and learn from them, as do I. In this section they will pass along some words of wisdom. They will also tell some stories that the reader will find interesting.
When I first went through the orange gate, I sought out Mr. Irv Kahn. I have known this man for more than ten years and known of him for more than twenty. I never fail to learn something when speaking with him. I brought him salutations from Donna and Bill Taylor, mutual Class 3 friends from Georgia. I then got some good advice on ammunition for a friend’s BREN gun. We then talked about the thundering A-4 that Mr. Kahn has hammered for as long as I have known him. Early on, Mr. Kahn gave me some of the best advice I have ever received. As more and more people enter the Class 3 world, remiss would it be not to restate some of his sage words.
You should learn before you buy. No truer words were ever spoken about Title 2 weapons. Many first time buyers purchase guns that they have heard of or guns that their friends told them about. They buy without ever having fired an automatic weapon or without knowing much about their care and feeding. At Knob Creek, dealers on the main line and the lower range offer guns to rent. For a reasonable fee you can test drive a number of different guns. Brass put on the ground by your own hand proves to be amazingly instructive. A $100 investment can save a $3000 mistake. Remember, you will buy retail and sell wholesale. A $200 tax awaits you at the door. Mr. Kahn simply suggests that the buyer try to make his purchase intelligently not emotionally. Neither of us claims to have always done it that way. Most dealers want you to be happy with your purchase. It means that you will probably do business with them again.
Secondly, Mr. Kahn advises to always buy good ammunition and clean your weapon thoroughly after shooting. He once asked why anyone would spend $5000 for a gun and try to save $2 on a box of ammunition. When he made that statement we were discussing the bulged barrel on someone else’s Colt Thompson wrecked by some gun show reloads. Bad ammunition can seriously harm a fine gun as well as its owner. For those new to the Title 2 world I would expound a bit on Mr. Kahn’s words. You will not shoot as much ammo as you initially think that you will. You will just shoot concentrated bunches. Over a year, you will probably not run much more ammunition through a Thompson than you do through the 1911 you own. If you seriously shoot your handgun, it will balance out. Always buy good ammunition and clean your gun properly.
I then went to see Mike Free. I congratulated Mike on his latest triumph. Mike and Tracie Hill have won three best in shows with their Thompson exhibit. Their latest victory came at NRA Show in Pittsburgh, PA. Fellow writer Don Thomas and his son Paul came over. They joined in the spirited conversation. Don, the historian for the Military Arms Corporation from inception to the sale, now crafts a book on the MACs with renowned writer Tom Swearengen. As we talked, Chief Range Officer Homer Saylor ran the safety drill though the loud speaker. ‘Safety is the first thing, safety is the second thing, safety is the third thing, safety is the only thing!’ I knew the barrels would heat up soon. I headed back down the line to shoot with Ron and Gary Wilson, the Whittenbergers, and Ken Snyder.
Three shooting sessions later I made some notes for the readers. The unmistakable whir of a mini gun caught my ear off to the left. I went down to investigate. There I found the unmistakable craftsmanship of Rich Pugsley and the craftsman himself. Rich had mounted a mini gun on a beautiful underslung Gatling gun carriage. Rich kindly assisted the Small Arms Review with the article on his unique gun. (see S.A.R. January 1998). Closer still stood Frank Iannamico firing yet another STEN. Frank volunteered an aerial photograph of the Knob Creek Range taken during an Iroquois flying over. Frank stated that the only two people who enjoyed the flight more were Kathy Lomont and a comely young lady named Andrea
On the way back to the shooting slot, I finally met Bill Vallerand. I have known Mr. Vallerand by telephone for many years. I finally got to shake the hand of this most knowledgeable and amiable gentleman. We talked of Maxim guns, BRENs, Land Rovers, and the Vincent Black Shadow. Near us Jim Ballou fired an interesting machine pistol. Jim stated that he just had to break from BAR research to test this interesting gun. Next to us, the Great Lakes Barrett gun thundered away.
Bob Allen and John Rust deftly handled the 82A1 in all three rifle positions and then hip shot it. These men weren’t playing Rambo. They skillfully drove the storied veteran of Desert Storm in a professional and soldierly manner. Other than the marksmanship of Gary Wilson, watching these men safely and skillfully handle the big rifle provided some of the most interesting moments of the Night Shoot on Saturday night. Gary Wilson hit a number of the designated targets during the night shoot. As we say in our part of the country, ‘Gary’s shooting made his father proud!’ As those who come to the Creek know all too well, automatic weapons are a generational thing.
The Range Officers added some thrilling special effects to the designated targets. When hit, the targets threw star busts into the night sky. Between the fourth and last round of night shooting, the flame thrower contingent put on a spectacular show. First, they crossed two flames and then three. They then demonstrated different effects with several types of fuels. For their grand finale they marshaled ten flame throwers and lit up the night sky. The large assembled crowd spontaneously broke out in a thunderous applause. The fifth firing round featured tracers. Need we say more.
One of the people that I would drive to see whether guns fired or not is Mr. Ken Snyder. My valued friend Mr. Snyder stands as one of the elder statesmen of the Class 3 world. He does so not because of his age. He instructs us because of his knowledge that extends in depth to World War II. Several years ago, Mr. Snyder and I sat in the shade of the Navy Arms truck courtesy of Mr. Paul Reed. We discussed John Browning and the reliable guns that he left us. I still find it interesting that so many Class 2 professionals continue to bring at least one Browning gun when they come to the Creek. Mr. Snyder then summed up the genius of Mr. Browning. He captured John Moses Browning in two sentences. ‘Those line guns probably hold side plates from twenty different manufacturers. No two side plates are just alike, but all the guns work!’
During the down times, we gathered in small groups and talked of guns and gunman. Mr. Snyder introduced his friend Jack Riggle who journeyed from New Mexico to join us. I asked Mr. Snyder to convey my regards to Bruce McCurdy, maker of fine Pennsylvania style flintlocks in Maryland. He said that he would and promised to invite Bruce back again to the next shoot. Mr. Snyder then spoke eloquently of his departed friend Daniel Musgrave. Mr. Musgrave left this world several years ago. Daniel Musgrave wrote intelligently and well. The Class 3 community is poorer for his passing. Mr. Snyder called him a gentleman’s gentleman who did fine research and writing for George Chinn among others. He left us with his testament ‘German Machineguns’ still in print. I commented that I had obtained a copy of that book from LMO several years ago but, regrettably, had never got to meet its fine writer.
John Tibbetts of John’s Guns came by with the Black Maria. John’s gun topped the field at the suppressor trials in May. His victory attracted a lot of attention, some of it from the Navy SEALs. John stated that he just concluded an in depth interview with author Lawrence Meyers. I told Mr. Snyder that I had examined this suppressed pistol earlier in the day. I suggested that he check the balance of it. I count it as quite a rare day when I can show something new to Mr. Snyder. As I went with John back toward the exit gate I ran into two escapees from Gun Hell. I stopped to interview them.
Volker and Heiko Stibbe flew in from Cologne, Germany to enjoy the freedom at Knob Creek Range. The two brothers quickly hooked up with two savvy collectors. The brothers Stibbe had the time of their lives. They fired a number of weapons and praised them all. With little instruction, they skillfully disassembled several weapons and assisted in cleaning them. I think they even enjoyed carrying the sandbags for the belt feds. These two knowledgeable young men then explained the gun laws of their country.
No one may possess a full auto unless they possessed it before 1972. They can never fire them or take them outside their houses. Every firearm of any kind must be kept in a safe. Only police and politicians may carry guns. No one can possess replicas or even toys that resemble guns. If a person moves from one house to another, they must obtain a permit and a police escort. Absent the police, the owner must hire expensive private security to transport the weapon. On hearing all of this, one of the other gunners cracked wise, ‘Are you sure you guys aren’t from New York?’ The brothers’ reply sounded like a number between eight and ten.
They thanked us all for the kindness shown them. We invited them to come again. Heiko and Volker commented that they would like to return but the trip was very expensive. From the smiles on their faces and the looks in their eyes, they will find a way to meet the expense. This writer suspects that the brothers Stibbe plan another daring escape from Gun Hell at this very hour. Volker later wrote to this writer and asked that the following be expressed on his behalf and that of his brother Heiko. ‘We would like to use this opportunity to thank all the other people we met at this weekend for their kind assistance and help whenever we had a question.’ From half a world away, these two German brothers had learned the true meaning of the Creek in less than one day. Both I and the fine men who befriended them remain confident about the following. We shall see Volker and Heiko again.
A very respected friend joined our gathering. He told the following amusing after dinner story. This sequence of events comes from Knob Creek’s storied past. Neal Smith brought a quad 50 rig to the Creek. Terry Williams served as assistant gunner. They set it up on the main line. My friend went down to assist them with setting it up and checking the guns. Just as all the guns checked out, a news cameraman walked up. The news man asked if he could film the quad rig firing. Neal and Terry told him yes. The cameraman walked up right by the muzzle and shouldered his camera. My friend walked up behind the cameraman to offer some helpful advice. He stated that the cameraman had taken a safe position regarding the bullets. However, my friend advised him that he shouldn’t stand so close to the muzzles.
The news man became argumentative. He insisted on holding his position. My friend threw up his hands and said ‘Okay!’ My friend backed away to a less exposed position. Homer Saylor then declared the line hot. Neal Smith hit the solenoids. The staccato sound of the quad 50s filled the air. The muzzle blast knocked the cameraman flat on his derriere. The camera fell on top of him. Our friend then fought to control his laughter. He stated that it was the only time during that entire afternoon that all four guns worked together. Dazed, dusty, but unhurt, the news man learned a valuable lesson. When one of the older RKIs offers some advice, one might be wise to heed it.
We continued to shoot all day Sunday. We had enjoyed four days of 80 degrees and no rain. My Knob Creek jacket never left the front seat where I threw it Wednesday night. Don and Paul Thomas stayed an extra day and got in some extra shooting. We had all but run out of ammunition when Homer finally closed the range at 5 o’clock. We all shook hands, promising to return in springtime.
We have pulled out of the Knob Creek Range. We have now reached Shepardsville. I must cross the Salt River and you must go your own way. It is about time for you, the reader, to get off my running board. I hope that you enjoyed the ride. You have spent some quality time in our very interesting world. You have seen much and learned some things. You have met some of the people who still teach me. Before you go, I will leave you with a parting story and a valediction.
A man from California first came to Knob Creek Range in the pride of his late forties. I have seen him more than once. He stood behind the main firing line and openly wept. For the first time in his life he had seen completely free Americans. He saw America as it used to be, and in this place still is. As you are reading this magazine, you are an individual who succeeds. You have done for others. Before you leave this earth, we beseech you to do something for yourself.
Come plant your feet on the free soil of Kentucky. Come drink your fill of the river of freedom that flows beneath the cordite clouds. If you cannot come and bathe in the water, we will understand. For those of you who cannot be with us, this magazine makes a commitment to you. The stalwart staff of the Small Arms Review will kneel by the waters for you. Each and every month, our dedicated writers will fill and pass you a canteen. Upon that you may rely.
An old hand once remarked that gun knowledge is knowledge gained over time. Always remember that knowledge of automatic weapons take longer than that. Before you go, I will leave with a parting phrase known wherever the Emma Gees gather. When someone says it to you, you will know that you have become part of the good company of gunmen. In Atlanta, Bangor, Seattle, and Malibu we add this same valediction when bidding farewell to a respected friend. As we part company, you must step off my running board. You will stand by the entrance ramp to I-65 where all of this began.. I’m going to drop it in low gear and leave you now. Maybe we’ll see you in springtime. Adios amigo, and God speed you on your journey. Not to worry, I have not forgotten the valediction. We say it like this: ‘See you at the Creek!’
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N6 (March 1998)|