Author Archives: jhoos

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.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 7, Girton’s Gas Staton, New Milford, OH.

Growing up in New Milford, Ohio, a fixture of our lives was the gas station located down the road. Girton’s was owned and ran by Russ and Betty Girton. Russ was a mechanic, Betty ran the store operations and they usually employed one or two clerks. Anything a young woman or man could want, and most things many adults did, could be had from Girton’s.

Girton’s was a full service operation with garage. “Ding ding” as you pulled a car in, or your bike if you hit the rubber line just right. Gas, checked the oil and tires and cleaned the windshield, all with a smile.

Inside, coolers filled with beer, wine, dairy goods and deli meat and cheese, ice cream and ice cream novelties… Shelves for basic pantry items, snacks, smokes, and… A huge candy counter.

We all ended up at Girton’s pretty much daily as kids for a soda or candy, or for air in our bike tires. As we hit the age of driving, we stopped for our gas and oil. Sadly, small independent gas stations were driven out of being profitable by the larger stations and chains.

I don’t remember exactly when it closed. I feel sad that I don’t because it’s closing was a bellwether of the charges of our entire world, in which the warm and local was displaced by the cold and corporate for profit.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 6. Gary’s Barber Shop.

Growing up I can always remember my pap wore his hair high and tight. Not a military cut but a buzz cut and, occasionally, a flat top. Thinking about my dermatology issues with seborrheic dermatitis and his itchy scalp I figure he wore it close for the same reason I do… Less hair, less oil, less itch and sunlight kills it.

Haircuts were done 27 times a year, every other week and an extra before Christmas. Haircuts were done by Gary at Gary’s Barber Shop in East Springfield, Ohio. It was a small building next to his house on Ohio 43 and you parked along the street and walked down the hill to the shop. I mean, you could walk down the driveway and around the house, but no one ever did. If you think of James Dean as Floyd the Barber, you understand Gary. He was the only person growing up I ever knew who had tattoos, he was a volunteer fireman and active in his church. His shop was every small barber shop in America. An impressive bar of barber tools, powders, after shaves and combs in blue alcohol. Newspaper articles and photos on the walls, a nickel pop machine that sold little glass bottles of Mountain Dew, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper. (Leave the bottle, please.)

It wasn’t unusual to make the 45 minute drive to Gary’s only to find he wasn’t in. There was no phone in the shop and sometimes he had stuff to do or just went fishing and left a sign on the door. You waited or came back. No one minded. See, for more than a couple of generations of men, Gary was their first real haircut away from home, myself included. For many people he also gave them their final haircut. I distinctly remember that he made a trip to the funeral home to cut my grandfather’s hair one last time, and him being at the funeral. I’m sure that he did this for other’s, as well.

Gary is long dead, I’m sure. I haven’t been down by where his shop was in 20 years. I tried to find it on Google maps, but couldn’t. I honestly didn’t know him, and yet he was a friend of mine and anyone whose hair he cut… Strangers don’t come to your funeral.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 5. Wine coolers.

I honestly can’t say if I only remember tidbits about my Junior and Senior years of high school and the time just after graduating from the later damage to my brain or because of drinking… A lot… Of wine coolers. For the younger folks, long before Budweiser made strawberry and other Rita’s in a can, we had wine coolers… Refreshing, sometimes fizzy mixed wine drinks that came in 12oz bottles… But a few geniuses at the companies making them decided to package them in 2l boxes and soda bottles. They went down smooth, were incredibly cheap and I drank so much of them that my friend John nicknamed me “Cherry Passion” and called me that for as long he was alive. Yeah, imagine being out with friend and a dude yells out of his car window “Yo! Cherry Passion! What’s up, son?!” God I miss John. It was a much simpler time of life… Get lit, go to bed, go to work, repeat. Did they give you a hangover? Oh sweet Jesus, yes they did.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 4. The house with our initial in the chimney.

My mother and father were neighborhood kids. My mother’s family lived about a mile down the hill on Rte 213 from my dad’s parents’ house. I didn’t spend nearly the time in my paternal grandparents home as the other, sometime around 1979 or 1980 they sold it and moved permanently to Texas. A couple of things that I remember about it are that it had the letter “H” molded into the chimney. I remember my grandpa had a leather Lazy Boy. I remember my grandmother making us breakfast of saltines with sugar and milk like cereal.

And I remember the wall at the foot of the stairs to the basement. The wall was murderous. It was textured in this brutally sharp texture that you couldn’t touch without getting cut and I remember it would keep you from running down those stairs for fear of touching it. The sample photo isn’t even remotely how sharp it was. That wall had the blood of every person who was ever in the house in it. I am fairly certain that grandma was a witch.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 3. Lucky Lindy.

While it would probably have made sense to post this yesterday, on the anniversary of Charles Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic, I already had another post in mind for yesterday.

This photo, along with the newspaper article about the flight, was on my grandmother’s kitchen bulletin board. I have no idea why, to the best of my knowledge neither of my grandparents ever flew in an airplane, let alone had any interest in aviation history. I remember the article was titled “Lucky Lindy.”

My grandparents’ home was filled with small, but important, mementos… A little flower pot on the windowsill that said “Be happy, be gay for tomorrow’s another day,” a butter paddle that was used for spanking with a cartoon laminated to it, a collectable plate with a story about rooster not visiting a hen as often as as he used to… As well as photos of us all and of horses and of my aunt Nancy, who died before I was born.

As I write these little posts I can almost feel neurons shaking off mental dust and making old connections, even if poorly. Hopefully this endeavor will correct some of the losses from brain damage, aging, or both.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 2. Moving day to KSU.

Both of my parents did the college thing, mom’s bachelor’s degree is from Bethany College, dad went to the Franciscan University of Steubenville, but didn’t finish. Mom got accepted to a Masters degree in Sociology program at Kent State University. There were not remote education Masters programs in the late 70’s. Around 1976 we moved from the trailer on Sixteen Ridge to the Allerton Student Housing at Kent State in building “H.” Later on in life I would date a woman who lived in the apartment almost directly above ours that my parents’ friends, the Kellems, lived in.

On the day we moved we drove past my grandparents house on Rte 213 in Taylortown but didn’t stop. I think I remember them being on the front porch waving at us but it’s probably childish imagination. I remember crying a lot because I wouldn’t see my pap and grandma nearly every day anymore. I did spend a lot of time going to the house for vacations growing up. My pap lived there until the day he died there, laying down in front of his basement work bench. My grandmother lived there until she was no longer safe to live alone. The house was bought by a childhood friend, Robbie Angus.

A lot of other postcards exist from this house but so much more is lost.

There were huge walnut and pine trees in front of it when my grandparents owned it. It’s a Sears or Montgomery Ward catalog house.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 1. Cooking in the trailer kitchen. 1975ish.

I have recently come to the realization that I do not have the huge network of connected memories that most people seem to. Different events and experiences in my life have resulted in my memories being fragmented, short and almost like, well, postcards. I know there was much more to my life, #pcoml will be an attempt to document the memories I have left, even if only briefly.

One of my earliest memories is from around 1975-1976. My family lived in a house trailer that was a caretakers home at a park and baseball field on Sixteen Ridge in Richmond, Ohio. I do not remember specifics like what was being cooked, time of the year, or honestly, even if it was my mom or father I was helping. I just remembered standing on a chair helping cook in the kitchen. I have very few even of my “postcards” from life in the trailer in Richmond.

Jack of Heatrts

You don’t know Jack about CCW. And neither do I.

Jack of HeatrtsI’ve wanted to formulate a post/article on CCW for quite some time now.  Let’s start from some common ground.  You don’t know jack.  And neither do I.  We each may know some strong points, but we’ll never know everything.  Before you can start this, we have to agree on that.  I am not an instructor.  I do not want to be.

I am going to approach this from the perspective of someone who is a lifelong shooter, has worked in positions in which I was required to carry, and have carried, legally, different times in my life.  I will soon have my Ohio CHL and will carry all the time.  I want to convey that I absolutely believe every person has a God-given right to carry a gun and to protect himself or herself with it.  But you weren’t born using a fork and spoon, just like you weren’t born with a gun in your hand.  You have to learn.

In Ohio, we have a training requirement to carry a concealed handgun.  Until March 23rd, 2015 it involved 10 hours of classroom instruction and 2 hours of range instruction.  After March 23rd, 2015, that drops to 6 hours of classroom and 2 hours of range instruction.  These courses are NOT designed to teach you to be a self-defense shooter.  They are designed for you to be exposed to a minimum level of instruction in firearms and the laws about them, as well as for you to demonstrate safe handling of a firearm.  In 8 hours.  I want you to think back to when you took Driver’s Education.  For me that involved a 9-week course at my school after school, 2 hours each day and then an additional 80 hours of behind the wheel instruction, as well as having to pass the Ohio Driver’s License written exam.  And after all that?  I didn’t know jack about real world driving.  And neither did you.  So where am I going with that?  Right, wrong, or indifferent, to qualify to carry a handgun concealed in Ohio, you get 8 hours of instructor-led training, and then you are allowed to carry a device that, when properly used, is harmless, unless it needs to be otherwise, in which case, it is deadly.  Many people seem to baulk at paying, on average, $100 for this education.  Many people seem to feel it is also all that you need to be a good steward of concealed carry.  And baulk at paying $12.50/hr. (after 3/23/15) to get it.  In my mind, to have a professional instructor, that’s a good value.  Will a $45 class be just as good?  I don’t know.  I didn’t take one.  I do know that at the end of my course I knew who Jack was.  But we’d still never met.

So how did you get to where you could feed your face without needing a bib?  You practiced.  A lot.  HUNDREDS UPON HUNDREDS of times.  Being skilled with a firearm is the same thing.  Very few people are actually instinctive shooters by nature.  I’ve met three in my life and I’m married to one of them.  What does that mean?  Well, they are really freaking good at hitting a target.  I’m pretty good.  But shooting was ANYTHING but instinctive to me.  I learned to shoot the hard way.  I did it, a lot.  This is what most people need to do.  A very sad statistic involves many law enforcement officers.  They, on average, discharge their service weapon for training and qualification a total of 100 rounds a year.  Have you ever been to the range where a police officer was shooting?  How did they do?  I’ve seen some pretty good shots, but they were folks for whom shooting was a hobby and not just a potential job function, and I have seen some who were… Not so good.

If you want to be very good, and a good steward of CCW, you need to have a solid fundamental skill set in shooting in general.  That means pointing your firearm down range and safely firing rounds onto a target the size of the human center of mass and at least having every round on that area from a reasonable distance, 30’ being a good mark, doing it at 50’ is even better.  Think of an 8.5×11 sheet of paper.  That should be your ballpark 101.  Next, be able to do the same thing, rapid fire to the capacity of your weapon. When you can do that consistently, you then need to start doing the same thing from your holster.  Every round needs to hit that paper.  Any round that doesn’t just killed the thing in the world you hold most dear.  Sounds dramatic?  Well, a stray round killing someone else, is.  Once you’re comfortable and competent drawing and firing from your carry holster, doing so should become an integral part of your shooting practice, if you can find a facility that allows it.  If not, try to find one that will.  You should also try to practice at different ranges from point black back to 50’ if you can.  How much should you practice?  As much as it takes for you to be able to consistently put those rounds into that piece of paper from 7’, 14’, 21’ and 30’ is a good BASELINE.  Realistically, if you’re capable, getting involved in a hobby-level shooting sport that involves learning to shoot while moving, from cover and concealment, and at varied ranges is going to serve you well.  You should also be able to do this from your non-dominant hand.

Earlier I mentioned your carry holster.  I have seen dozens, maybe hundreds, of cases of people waiting to find the cheap solution to a holster.  If you are going to carry a gun the holster you use needs to be one of a quality manufacture, that is absolutely comfortable for you to have on your body no less than 18 hours per day.  If it doesn’t fit those criteria it is NOT GOOD ENOUGH.  It needs to retain its shape, protect your weapon and be comfortable and durable.  You are probably going to go through several until you find the exact right one, but I will tell you this, you’re probably not going to buy it at Wal-Mart.  You are buying a (bra/jock strap) you should feel comfortable and willing to PUT ON AND WEAR EVERY DAY ALL DAY.  It needs to be as close to your definition of perfect feeling as you can get, NO MATTER THE COST.

Opinions vary all across the board as to carry weapons, calibers and ammunition.  The FBI Ballistic Test Protocol (http://greent.com/40Page/general/fbitest.htm) sets a quantifiable standard for the effectiveness of ammunition.  In my opinion, for a general carry weapon, if the round in question will NOT pass this protocol then it is not suitable for carry.  There are some very specific exceptions, and they are rare and I’m not going into that here.  The FBI Ballistic Test Protocol is the guide I, and most others, use, to make sure their ammo will deliver a wound capable of inflicting damage that should be capable of delivering a mortal wound with ideal placement.  No one should rely on one shot stopping anyone, it, generally doesn’t happen.  You also should proof the ammo to work reliable in your firearm.  That means you’re going to be firing enough rounds of your chosen ammo through your firearm to be certain that it will feed, fire and function under varied conditions.  Slow fire, rapid fire, full magazine, partial magazine (or cylinder.) And this should be done through your carry gun that you have fire enough rounds through to also be comfortable that it will function reliably.  Some schools of thought recommend that you fire no less than 500 rounds though your carry gun before you ever carry it.  That’s something you’re going to have to decide, but it’s NOT a bad idea.  As to what gun you should Nope.  Not going there.  Too much emotional attachment.  If it won’t fire 500 rounds in a row without a failure it is probably not a good choice.  Period.

I want to come back around to what carrying a gun is fundamentally about, and that is shooting.  IN order to be a good shooter you have to shoot.  It all comes back to the old joke of “how do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice. Practice. Practice.”  The fundamental ability to shoot well will be developed by practicing.  Practicing with your carry weapon, from your carry holster also achieves a training element of building muscle memory.  You will learn your failure points, and you will develop muscle memory that will come from doing the activity over and over and over.  When it comes down to the time when you actually have to draw your weapon and fire the person who has practiced this often will be orders of magnitude faster, and more accurate, than someone who does not.  The person you may have to fire on is someone who intends to kill you, and you can bet your bottom dollar, THEY HAVE PRACTICED.  And they WILL KILL YOU if given the chance.  They do not care about bystanders!  They do not care about missed shots!  They do not care about the baby in your arms!  They are intent on making sure you get dead, so that they do not get dead, and they can escape.

The final element that is essential to being a good firearm carrier is that of training.  There are people who make it their life’s work to become as absolutely versed on carrying firearms, shooting them, drawing them from holsters, shooting under circumstances you’ve never considered.  They are in the business of attempting to convey knowledge they have gained from their own training, from experience, and from practice.  Your CCW class is an introduction to get you to a bare minimum qualification level.  Every bit of training you can get beyond that, that you can afford, and you should afford, is going to get you a small step closer to knowing Jack.  The money you spend will help you to develop good habits, think about scenarios and situations you have not considered, and have a professional instructor work with you to help you overcome short falls that we ALL have.  Even if you can only take one class a year you will be LIGHT YEARS ahead of someone who only ever did the bare minimum.  You know the bare minimum type; we’ve all worked with them, right?  And be a good consumer of instructors.  An educated one.  There are a lot of mall ninjas and paper tigers out there.  And then you’ve got the guys that are really good and know their stuff.  Talk to people who have taken classes from them.  Make sure you’re making an investment and not just being entertained.

At the end of the day you are taking on a responsibility to safely and skillfully be in possession of a deadly weapon with the ability and understanding that you can and will only use it with absolutely the best skills at your disposal under circumstances that warrant it.  Every round you fire, every class you take, every video you watch, and every book you read is a tool in your belt and gets you closer to knowing Jack.  Who knows Jack?  In my mind it would be the person who has lived and breathed under immediate and imminent threat of their life every single day, and possibly has experienced it.  You probably don’t want to be Jack, but you want to develop as close to a skill set as he has as possible.

Again, I’m not a professional, not an instructor, and freely admit I don’t know Jack.  But I hope that reading this helps someone to get closer to it