Monthly Archives: June 2019

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 11, …Down on the Farm.

My pap Ashcraft’s favorite chain restaurant, bar none, was Bob Evans. Pap was a hustler, selling at flea markets, changing inventory from season to season, and often traveling out of the state to resupply. Just one example, railroad policy involved changing the 6v lantern batteries in beacons, lanterns and train lamps very often, even if they had never been used. I believe it was monthly, but maybe even more frequently. The end result? Cases upon cases of basically brand new, top of the line, 6v lantern battens discarded monthly. My genius grandfather, former rail man, had an arrangement with the switching yard in Conway, PA, to dispose of the like new batteries monthly. The batteries had there own store room. Pap had his own key. Old batteries on the left, new on the right, never touch the new ones. A dozen in a box, dozens of boxes. It was not unusual for my grandfather to own several thousand 6v lantern batteries at a time. To the point that he would import lanterns from overseas by the case to sell at flea markets.

Which brings us back around to Bob Evans. Flea marketing is hard work and any day you are going to work hard you need a breakfast that will “stick to your ribs” since lunch may be late, or never. The best place to get that was Bob Evans. Why? Because my grandfather knew the Evans family and you supported friends. Pap knew everyone. And everyone knew him.

Pap had a way of setting his placemat. He would put a drop of honey or syrup at each upper corner and stick it to the counter. We almost always ate at the counter, the service was amazing and fast. We’d hit Bob Evan’s before daylight and be on the road as the sun was coming up to hustle the wares. Lanterns with free batteries for an amazing price… You can’t sell a used battery, pap would say. But you can give it away with a lantern or flashlight that is the same cost as everyone else sells them without a battery. Growing up I must have helped sell enough lanterns to light up a decent sized city. I was only able to help in the summer. Pap did it most of the year. You might recall that pap also sold Knapp shoes to guys on the railroad… At Conway, PA. Every trip anywhere had more than one purpose. My pap was a hard working man and set his own course. I miss him. I miss that he was unique but so like every other man of his era.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 10, Son of a blacksmith.

My father was a lifetime learner with many skills, a practical and intuitive engineer, he was also a competent electrician, mechanic, fabricator, as well as able to do basic carpentry. Over the course of his lifetime he wore many hats and designed many things from the small to the incredibly large. Be it a belt buckle or an overhead crane capable of lifting 100 tons, he could design and build it. The skill he enjoyed most, though, was blacksmithing.

Dad made many cool things as a blacksmith, from hand-made chains that were used in a movie to a candelabra that sat on a friend’s wedding altar, from belt buckles to broadaxes. He did his smithing to make money but it was also his therapy, hobby and fun. He would spend a couple of weeks every summer living in a tent and smithing at the Great Pennsic War, both as a crafter and a merchant. He loved beating Iron and creating with it.

As I sit in the house he and mom lived in I can almost hear the ringing of the hammer and anvil in his shop out back… Sadly, they are phantom and a memory of when the toughest guy I ever learned to love still walked the Earth.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 9, Railroads & Trains

My pap Ashcraft instilled what became a lifetime appreciation of trains and railroads of all sizes. Ironically, he could have hated them as he lost one of his legs in an occupational accident working as a brakeman on the Penn Central Railroad. He continued to love trains his whole life.

We would visit the switching yards at Mingo Junction, OH, Weirton, WV and Conway, PA many times as I was growing up. He had many reasons to go, first to visit former coworkers, but also as a salesman of Knapp Shoes. He sold thousands of pairs of high quality shoes and work boots to railroaders. “If your feet hurt your shoes, call me,” was prominently featured on his business card.

Pap’s love of trains wasn’t limited to full size ones. He had a very cool “O” and “HO” gauge model train setup that he could set up in his basement by hinging it down from a wall. We also took trips to see train displays at Buhl Planatarium, Oglebay Good Zoo and other model train shows around the region. Most of these are now, sadly, gone. I recently read that, after decades, Oglebay finally dismantled their fascinating train room.

Another part of every visit to oglebay was the joy of riding their narrow-gsuge train around the zoo.

I still enjoy trains, though not with the deep passion my grandfather had. But you’ll rarely hear me complain about the train whistles living 300 yards from a major rail line, or waiting for the train to pass. Trains, at different points in my life have entertained me, provided income for me and provided me with a way to work via light rail. Maybe someday I will build a model railroad. It’s in my blood.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 8, Fundamentals of Marksmanship, late 1970’s.

My grandfathers were both shooters, my dad’s father was an amateur competition trap shooter, trick shooter and marksman from his World War 2 service in the United States Marine Corps, my mother’s dad from growing up hunting in the hills of Smith County, West Virginia. As I spent a lot more time with my Pap Ashcraft, mom’s dad, he took on the task of teaching me to shoot and started a life long love of firearms.

The rifle above is a single shot, Stevens Junior Model 11. It is identical to the one that my pap taught me to shoot on and that I fired literally thousands of rounds through. It served several generations of our family only to go missing after his death. The rifle was older and field worn. It had many repairs over the years but it shot true. Simple, non adjustable iron sights, manual extraction and loading, and you clocked the hammer to fire it. The trigger was crisp and effortless and it just managed to hit exactly where you wanted out to over 100 yards. It was not unusual for me to toss a soup can out into the yard and then shoot it until it rolled down over the hill over 100 yards away. But, most often my target was a paper plate with a dot in middle that pap would set up at 50 or 100 feet away.

I would sit or stand on the back step and put round after round through that rifle. Usually 50 or 100 rounds at a session several times over each visit. Every hardware store and bait shop knew what I wanted when I showed up for miles around. Yes, they would sell live ammo to a 5, 7, 13 or whatever age boy… Kids didn’t do the stupid stuff with guns then they do now. Probably still was technically illegal, no one cared.

To this day if I had that rifle I could likely dispatch a soda can at 100 yards with it on the first shot. My pap taught me the gun, then gun taught me to shoot it the way it needed to be shot to put rounds on target. The tool was the tool, you adjusted to it.

My grandfather instilled in me what later became the 4 rules of firearms safety that are taught today:

  1. All guns are always loaded. (Treat them so!)
  2. Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target (and you have made the decision to shoot).
  4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

I seriously need to find another model 11. I own some of the most advanced firearms in the world but my heart longs for that old, beat up, well loved rifle. I hope whoever has it appreciates it.