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Whelen, Askins, & Keith

November 13, 2009

I was driving along yesterday, in a sort of mindless, semi-agitated state, thinking about the cover of a back-issue of Guns & Ammo that I’d picked up to page through while I was waiting.  The magazine’s cover reached out, grabbed my shirt, and slapped my face.  There, in garish color, depicted for all the world to see, was a rifle bedded in an honest-to-god clear plastic leucite stock.  It was one of the most unsettling things I’d seen in a long while.  In fact, I’d put it right up there with the autopsy movie they showed us in the forensic law class in law school.

I confess to being really old-school when it comes to firearms.  About as “trendy” as I ever got was accepting fiber-glass bedded barrels.  Otherwise I’m deep into fine, checkered walnut and maple stocks, Mauser and Springfield actions, and barrels from Harry Pope’s shop.  Winchester High Wall actions are things children are traded for. Plastic and stamped parts seem to be an anathema to me.

It set me to thinking about what warped me to this state.  I remember reading about Col Charles Whelen and his .35 Whelen wildcat, though I’m pretty sure he’d retired from the gun writing trade by the time I was picking up those magazines.  But I thrived on Col. Charles Askins’ stuff (both father and son), even considering how cool it would be to join the Border Patrol just for the gun-fighting.  I was young.

Elmer Keith came along a bit later.  He was a bit irascible and I didn’t appreciate Elmer until I was older.  Always opinionated, but accurate, his stories weren’t as colorful as Askins’ border skirmishes.  Jeff Cooper and Jack O’Connor round out my long-gun writer mentors.  As for pistols, only revolvers counted, and I stopped listening after reading Ed McGivern’s book in high school.

So, my tastes are pretty much set in stone, nurtured by a nostalgia for times long gone.  Back then, when I learned what the state of the art was, it marked the high water.  I can’t seem to get over it, and honestly, like my love for panelled libraries with Tiffany lamps and leather bound volumes, I really don’t want to.  Don’t bother me with the facts.  A similar thing seems to have happened to me with respect to “state of the art” field vehicles back then. 

Despite Berg’s persistent good influence and patient explanations of write-ups from Car & Driver, I have persisted in harboring a longing to run about in a restored vintage Land Rover (blame Bob Ruark for that), or a late ‘5os Jeep C-7.  I recall seeing one in a little garage down off Abbot Street across from the football field back in 1960.  I don’t know, it just grabbed me by the short hairs and blew in my ear.  As I recall Berg did scoff when I told him about my attraction; but I ignored him.  I believe he has been a closet admirer of the old Dodge Power Wagons since the days of our youth.

So, it’s walnut and metal, classic field vehicles, and literate gun writers for me.  I’m unabashedly old school, and it there’s any justice, when I step into the shade Charles Akins and Elmer Keith will be standing there with a good bourbon, ready to introduce me to Col. Whelen.

— Jim Margadant

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2009 1:55 pm


  2. November 13, 2009 2:34 pm

    I have owned a couple of revolvers. Then, thanks to my Uncle Sam, I discovered I was quite good with a match grade .45. I haven’t owned a handgun in years. If I ever do again, it won’t be one of your primitive 6-shot ratchets. It’ll be one of ol’ John Browning’s M1911s.
    One time I was at an industrial design seminar. We were each asked for an example of design excellence. The other designers (all dressed in black that year) had examples of autos, radios, and telephones. It came around to me and I nominated the M1911 .45 auto. They looked at me like I was from another planet. But then politely asked me … “Why?” ” Because it is simple, it looks like a pistol (I probably called it a “gun”), it’s performs it’s function perfectly, and it just feels right in the hand. Even if a non-shooter picks one up and hefts it, they have an urge to shoot something.” Perfection.

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