by B.B. Pelletier
A.J. Stewart gets a chance to shoot Ray Apelles’ custom Benjamin Marauder at Crosman’s Northeast Regional Field Target Championship (NRFTC) hosted by Crosman at their facilities in East Bloomfield, New York.
The concept of a product gone wrong isn’t unfamiliar in our society. One only needs to consider the Edsel automobile, Apple’s Lisa computer and reformulated New Coke to realize that failures in the marketplace are part of our rich tapestry of life. And collectors will point out that Edsels are now highly collectible, or that Apple learned a lot by taking the PARC technology and putting it into a $10,000 personal computer. It was the perfect springboard for their hugely successful Macintosh line. As for New Coke, well, the comedians are the only ones who derived a little benefit from that!
So, is there an equivalent faux pas in the world of airguns? You betcha! Plenty of them. Let’s start with one of my favorites.
The Wamo BB gun line
I have to call this a line of guns, because it was comprised of many different models. The most popular was the Kruger pistol that looked like a Luger, and the Western Haig that resembled a Buntline Special. Both “air” guns used the explosive force of toy caps to propel a No. 6 birdshot, which is very close to .12 caliber. And at least one variation of the Kruger shot genuine .173-caliber steel BBs instead of the smaller lead shot. And I’ve seen the box for a Kruger variation that was a potato gun.
A .12-caliber Wamo Kruger pistol at top, Western Haig in the center and the .177 steel BB version of the Wamo Kruger at the bottom. Wamo made a lot of cap-firing guns! They didn’t sell the Western Haig directly, but the co-owner of Wamo owned the patent on it.
Wamo (or Wham-o — they used both names in their literature, in their ads and on their boxes) also sold other cap-firing shot-launching guns that were covered by the same patents but were not directly associated with the Wamo name. The Western Haig is one such gun.
The caps were a poor way of providing power. They had unreliable ignition, wildly variable power and they left an acidic hydroscopic residue in the steel barrels and firing mechanisms that rusted them to inoperability within days of the first shooting. Nowhere in the scanty instructions was the shooter advised how often or even how to clean his gun after firing, so they failed after the first use in most cases.
Crosman .21-caliber compressed gas guns
The Crosman CG is a CO2 rifle that uses a 4-oz. CO2 tank left over from World War II, where it was originally meant to rapidly inflate large life rafts. A Crosman employee located several thousand of these tanks after the war and the company modified their model 101 pneumatic to use them. Crosman had been making and selling shooting galleries with CO2 guns since 1932, so this idea wasn’t new to them; but on many of these CG guns, as they came to be known, they installed .21-caliber barrels that used a proprietary shot.
This is a straight-tank CG rifle. Another version has the tank slanted toward the butt of the rifle. They came in both Crosman’s proprietary .21 caliber and the more conventional .22 caliber.
The gun wasn’t really the product Crosman was selling. They were selling a complete indoor shooting gallery, suitable for league competition, which they hoped to popularize in companies across America. They had some success, if you believe all the press photos of the leagues shooting, but the idea died out pretty fast. Can you imagine the sales call that would have to be made to the New York Times — to get them to purchase a shooting gallery for their employees today?
The CGs were also produced with .22-caliber barrels, and those are the ones that are still being shot by collectors. But the .21-caliber rifles don’t see a lot of use.
Here’s a blooper that can still be found at some airgun shows! The Larc BB “machine gun” was powered by a can of Freon. It used the pressurized Freon gas to blow the BBs out the barrel at a rapid rate. Back in those days, we not only bought Freon by the can for our leaky air conditioners, kids played with liquid mercury and had real firecrackers on the Fourth of July. Sure, their names were Sleepy, Stumpy and Lefty, but those were the good old days!
For those who are too young to know, Freon is a refrigerant gas that was replaced by other gasses when it was realized that it depleted the Earth’s ozone layer. Using it in a gun to launch BBs is politically incorrect on a number of levels today.
Today, a few enthusiasts still shoot their Larc guns using air pressure instead of Freon. But as originally designed, the Larc was doomed to extinction.
Daisy 400-series pellet rifles
What if Daisy took a Daisy Avanti 499 Champion BB gun and modified it to become a repeating pellet rifle? Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Daisy must have thought so, because from 1971 to 1976 they made no less than seven different models (400, 403, 404, 450, 452, 453, 454) — all of which did pretty much the same thing. They looked like BB guns on the outside but were actually clip-fed pellet rifles in disguise. And the customers stayed away in droves! Like Ford with their Edsel, Daisy kept right on trying to make the idea work, and also like the Edsel, this was a design that never worked right from inception.
I owned a 450 in like-new condition. It was weak, misfed pellets and was the most inaccurate pellet rifle I’ve ever tested. A regular BB gun is more accurate. But at least the magazines were difficult to load and quirky to install! I couldn’t get rid of mine fast enough, and I suspect that’s what happened to most of them. A great idea that, unfortunately, didn’t work.
Sorry that there’s no picture; but if you can imagine a Daisy 499 painted gray, that’s what they looked like.
By Himmel — it’s a Schimel!
The time was 1950, and airguns were literally coming out of the woodwork. When a .22-caliber single-shot pistol that ran on CO2 and looked like a German Luger hit the market, it should have been well-received. Perhaps the marketing wasn’t there, or perhaps the company was under-capitalized. For whatever reason, the Schimel didn’t make it. But that wasn’t what made it a blooper.
What makes the Schimel stand out was the use of inappropriate materials. A steel barrel liner was pressed into a diecast shell, with the result that over the years electrolysis has welded most Schimel barrels in place. The diecast parts were also used in places where they were overstressed, and they broke in use. The seals for the CO2 system were gas-permeable, with the result that they absorbed the gas and swelled when the empty cartridge was removed. The owner then had to wait for hours for the o-rings to shrink back to normal size so another CO2 cartridge could be installed in the gun.
Schimel grip panels were made from plastic that shrank over time. Today almost all grip panels have shrunk in place. And the paint that was used over the outer surface of the gun dried and flaked off so that today no Shimel can be found with 100 percent finish.
These shortcomings are not what ended the gun’s career. They each took many years to appear, but they do indicate that the people at Schimel were not interested in the product as much as they were interested in immediate sales. That mindset is probably what caused the end of Schimel.
Schimel gas pistol was a good idea, poorly executed.