by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
A history of airguns
This report covers:
- I started out young
- My first new BB gun
- A real BB gun
- Fanner 50
- Old blue and white
- First pellet gun
- Second pellet gun
I started out young
Little boys in the 1950s wanted to be cowboys or astronauts. We didn’t use the word astronaut then, we called them spacemen, and spacemen were what we wanted to be when we didn’t want to be cowboys. Oh, and lest I forget, we also wanted to be soldiers.
I do remember wanting guns with infinite ammo loaded in them so I never had to stop to reload. Hollywood said that was possible, but reality clashed with that view every time.
Some kids were into dressing up in cowboy clothes and wearing fake leather quick-draw holster rigs with a pair of matching nickel-plated cap pistols. I had the holsters and cap pistols, but what I liked more than anything was shooting at things and actually hitting them. I was an airgunner in training.
My earliest recollection of an airgun was my father’s Benjamin model 107 pistol. He kept it in a green cardboard box and the nickel plate made it shiny silver in color. It had a pump rod that extended from the front and I think I saw him shoot it outside one time. As I recall, he put the pump rod end against a tree and pressed inward on the gun to pump.
My father passed away when I was 9 and I inherited that pistol. Then I tried to shoot it for the first time. It took forever to pump it and the best I could do at the age of 9 was three pump strokes. I found a couple darts in the box, so I shot those to begin with. The pistol wasn’t very powerful and I bet those darts were traveling under 200 f.p.s. They stuck in a dart board pretty well, but the pistol didn’t give me much satisfaction. I wanted a BB gun!
My next door neighbor had an old Daisy that was probably a 102. I remember it didn’t have a forearm. It shot to the left, but Duane knew how far to aim off and he was pretty accurate with that rusty old gun. I wanted one just like it, but not that many kids owned BB guns in my neighborhood.
My first new BB gun
Then came a watershed day — a day that separated all that had gone before from all that was to come. My mother finally relented and bought me a BB gun! At least that is what it said on the box. It was a Kruger (looked like a Luger) single shot BB gun that you loaded through the muzzle. Then you pulled back a knob on the breech and slid one or more paper caps into a slot. The theory was when the breech slammed shut it would set off the cap(s) and the resulting explosion would send the BB hurtling downrange with accuracy and power. That was the theory.
In practice, the caps exploded about one time in 5. Since you never knew when that would happen, you didn’t concentrate on the trigger-pull or breathing very much. It was more of a guessing game, as in “I wonder if this will be the time?” One time I saw the BB come out and drop into the water in a concrete pond in our yard. It was going slower than if I had thrown it.
No, the Kruger, made by Wamo (also spelled Wham-o) was not a successful BB gun. Maybe that’s why I own several of them today. They are the train-wrecks of the airgun world — the Yugos, if you will! If you are interested, you can read more about the Kruger here.
After the Kruger was behind me I dug out that old Benjamin pistol and shot it some more with pellets. It still wasn’t powerful.
A real BB gun
I was getting older, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I had a paper route by this time and money was available. So, when one of my sister’s boyfriends said he owned a Daisy pump gun (a number 25) for sale I jumped at the chance to own it for $5. A Daisy pump was the Holy Grail of BB guns. Everybody knew they were the most powerful BB guns of all. Why, they could sometimes shoot through one side of a tin can! In those days cans were made from steel plate. I would lord it over Duane like he never imagined.
And lord it I did! For the first few days I had that gun Duane couldn’t say anything without me reminding him who was the fairest in the land. My Daisy pump put Duane’s pitiful old rusty lever action to shame. It was more accurate, more powerful (we got cans and proved it) and in much better condition than his old gun. I was king of the neighborhood!
Then came a horrible day — a day of learning that made me the airgun writer I am today. My pump gun started shooting slowly like the Kruger! Then it got worse than the Kruger. And the payback for all the bragging was swift and sure. In fear and desperation I started disassembling the gun. To do what I don’t know. I got just far enough that I couldn’t put it back together and then sadly announced that my glory days were over. Duane started in on me with ruthless abandon. He shot his BB gun in my yard — a thing kids normally had to ask permission to do — just to let me know he still had a BB gun that worked.
Finally, I cracked under the pressure. I couldn’t take it anymore. I put all the parts of my pump gun into a grocery bag and sold them to another kid for a quarter and a .50 caliber BMG bullet. He took the bag home and a week later he returned to show me the gun was assembled and working perfectly. “My dad put it together for me,” he told me. I didn’t have a dad at the time, so there was no place to get that kind of help.
“My dad says you’re a dope for not knowing that you have to oil these guns to keep the power up.” Duane was quick to validate his statement and little Tommy sucked his head back inside his turtle shell to ride it out. You have to oil a BB gun. Okay, I won’t forget that. And, I still had a very nice .50 BMG bullet!
I now made a brief excursion into CO2 pellet guns, buying a Crosman Single Action 6 — because it was all I could afford. I wanted to buy the Crosman model 600 or even the Webley Senior, but both were priced out of my reach, so it was the SA-6 or nothing. It was a .22 caliber revolver that used CO2 to propel expensive lead pellets. The CO2 cartridges of the day were capped with bottlecaps and leaked horribly. But I could carry that gun in a real cowboy holster and draw it and fan it rapidly — just like the real cowboys did on TV.
At any rate, I thought I was the bee’s knees. We would say cool today. We actually said cool back in 1958, but I was a dork, and dorks always talked different so the bullies would be able to spot us. Anyway, I was convinced this gun was the one, so I went hunting with a buddy. We went into the woods behind Isley’s ice cream parlor and started our trek. We walked for a long time before we saw anything, but then a rabbit jumped out of the weeds and took off running. After he was gone I drew my revolver and fanned off six quick shots in the general direction he had departed. I might even have hit one of the footprints he had made moments before!
My friend was impressed by this awesome display of raw firepower, but when nothing could be found he started laughing at me. He called me Fanner 50, after a popular cap gun that was advertised on TV in those days, and the SA-6 quietly retired to its box. Hey, the CO2 cartridges leaked — don’t forget.
Old blue and white
I needed another BB gun. This time there would be no mistakes. No vintage guns for me — no, sir! I was buying new this time. I walked to Eddie’s — the local cross between a convenience store and a general store in Stow, Ohio. They always had several Daisys on display. Except when I had cash in my pocket, of course.
What did I find for sale in my price range? An Air Force Rocket Command BB gun that was painted medium blue and had a pure white buttstock and forearm. But it was new and it was a BB gun — two of my most important criteria. Until I got it home.
Then Duane saw it and screamed, “You got a girl’s gun! Ha, ha, ha!” After that Old Blue and White didn’t see daylight very much. It had a hole for oil on the side of the barrel, but I didn’t have to oil it. Because I didn’t shoot it.
First pellet gun
My mother remarried and we moved from Stow to Sharon Center, to a place with three acres. Our house was located on the town circle — as close to the center of town as it was possible to get — and yet we still had acreage out back. I could have a firearm at last! And I did. I had a .22 single shot, a Colt Army Special in .38 Special and a 12 gauge single shot shotgun. I also had no job and no money to buy ammo, so I didn’t shoot for different reasons than before, but the result was the same.
Then I got a pellet rifle as a present — birthday or Christmas, I forget. It was a .177 from Precise Imports Corporation (PIC), and I still remember the name on the tube. It was a Slavia! The model has slipped my memory, but it was either a 618 or the next size up. I shot it a lot and learned that it wasn’t that accurate, plus it buzzed when shot. Boy, could the me of today ever help the kid me of the early 1960s with his first pellet rifle!
That pretty much ended my flirtation with airguns for awhile.
Second pellet gun
In 1975 I was a first lieutenant in the Army, serving in Erlangen, Germany. I had a wife and a young son and absolutely no extra money to spend. However, in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a walled tourist city, I discovered and bought a Diana model 10 target pistol. I also bought 5000 pellets and a steel trap that hung on the wall. This was a 10 meter pistol that sparked my return to airguns after about a 10-year layoff, and this time I stayed with it. The gun was accurate and I also knew how to shoot — thanks to some coaching from a former squadron commander a few years earlier.
The accuracy of that one target pistol erased all the negative feelings of my youth and made me a dedicated airgunner from that point on. Twenty years later I started The Airgun Letter and began to write about airguns.
Your experiences are probably a lot different than mine. How did you come to airguns?