Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Why old guns?

"Why these old guns, Tam? What do you find so fascinating about them?"

Let me try to explain...

I've always been interested in history. If I could own one science-fiction gizmo, it would be a time machine. I think it would be absolutely fascinating to travel to various places and times in the past and view things firsthand; see how people lived; talk with them and find out how they saw the world. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear likely that this will become a reality in my lifetime.

Fortunately, however, folks in the past have sent stuff forward to the present, via that time machine that travels into the future at sixty seconds every minute, and some of these artifacts are actually affordable. I can hold a Roman coin in my hands and feel the weight of history in it. I can wonder what it's seen and done. How many cups of wine has it bought? Was it part of a legionary's savings? Did he use it to bribe his Centurion to get out of sentry duty? Did the Centurion treat some friends to a night on the town with it? I have a small cube of teak from the orlop deck of the HMS Victory. If I hold it to my ear, I can almost hear the creak of sails, the roar of a 68-pdr. carronade, a voice saying "England expects every man to do his duty."

It's the same with these old rifles; each one is a history lesson, an invitation to a treasure hunt, a physical link to a long-gone time and a far-off place. There are tangible marks on the gun that can be decoded through research, that can let you find out where and when it was made; words evocative of foreign lands: Solothurn, Chatellerault, Koishikawa, La Coruna, Spandau... And then there are the intangible marks... Was this Mauser clutched in the frightened hands of a Bavarian schoolboy, awaiting the order to go "over the top"? Where has this Krag been? Cuba? The Phillipines? What has this Garand seen in the forty years it spent in exile overseas before returning to its homeland? Where did this nick come from? Whence this ding in the stock?

"What do you find so fascinating about those rusty old things?" indeed. What's not fascinating about them? You can heat the cosmoline out of the stock, but the history is soaked in for good. You can own it, you can hold it, you can learn from it, you can shoot it, and then you can pass it and its story on to the next generation, having added your own small chapter. Until they make a time machine, I'll just have to keep using the time machines I already have.

9 comments:

BobG said...

I know the feeling; I have several Roman coins, and often wonder where they have been. My old 38-40 Colt was made in 1894; who fired it, and at what/whom? Used to know an old guy who was a WWI veteran. He had a lot of interesting stuff from that war, including his old uniform, complete with Pickelhauben (he was German). He also had an Iron Cross, and a picture of Kaiser Wilhelm awarding it to him. The stories he could tell about old Germany and the war were amazing. When he died, some distant relative (he had outlived his children) of his who I had never met came and hauled everything off. I ofter wonder if they knew what they had.

Brandon said...

My prized possession is an M1A1 .30 Carbine. It was one of the many sold by the NRA after the war, and was given to me by my late grandfather. It's been there and done that, has the nicks and dings to prove it, and can be replaced by no other.

It still shoots just fine, too.

Firehand said...

First milsurp firearm I ever bought was a #4 Mk1 Enfield, which I planned to modify for a target/hunting rifle(shut up, I didn't know better then).

That intention lasted until I got most of the cosmoline off and found a line of small 'x' marks cut into the bottom of the stock. Which made me think of WWII and Korea, and where the thing may have been. It's still here, cleaned up and in original condition, and it'll stay that way.

phlegmfatale said...

"via that time machine that travels into the future at sixty seconds every minute..."

clever girl.

Joseph said...

I feel the same...I have a 1916 SMLE, and often wonder where it has been...the Somme, maybe? North Africa? The 1917 ammunition pouch with "Northants" penciled in it? The SMLE bayonet with "RW" scratched into the wood? It isn't so much the item itself, it's the history it represents.

Parzifal Odinson said...

I agree plastic/synthetic ruins a weapon."my opinion"

Shooting a old finn rework of a tula arsenal moisin nagant carbine at the range was a wonder....just imagine the life said rifle had, adventures and sorrows..


Good post

Rob

Conan said...

That was so well put. Thank you very much, I have had truble putting into words why I like to own them as much as shoot them.

Cybrludite said...

As I've said elsewhere, "How many people can say that their deer rifle was carried into Berlin in 1945?" The one item I most regret loosing during Katrina was my Colt Vest Pocket Model 1908. Most of the bluing was gone and it would give many a FTE if not cleaned between magazines, but it clearly had a History. You'd look at it and wonder about the person who put the stag grips on it or if those dings on the back of the slide were the result of an especially poorly times jam. I had been looking into getting it refurbished & refinished before my hasty job of packing left it at the mercy of the flood-waters.

markmas said...

Recently bought a 1956 Mannlicher-Schoenauer. It's 2 years older than me. Everytime I pick it up I wonder where it's been.