walnut and steel

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I can remember in the 1950s, when there were shooting galleries on the boardwalk at Asbury Park, New Jersey. I can remember the crack and the clang and the clank, depending on what you had hit, and the smell of gunpowder, and that the cost of a magazine of ten gallery Shorts was 25 cents. The .22 rifles chained to the gallery counter were guns that you can’t buy today unless you’re willing to part with more than ten times what they originally sold for, if you can find one in the first place. They were lovely rifles, made to a different standard than guns are today, made of walnut and steel.

Which brings us to Bill Ward’s terrific little book on 20 of these great rifles from five different manufacturers, and the era roughly between 1900 and 1960. Mr. Ward, who is a retired Tennessee wildlife officer, has done is his homework. There is a ton of information in here, but because he is an entertaining writer, it doesn’t come across that way. There’s history, and machinery, and advice, and appreciation. What there is not is a table of contents, for which the author takes responsibility. There are lots of photos, and they are good ones.

My first rifle is in here—the graceful Winchester Model 77 with the detachable magazine, which I bought in 1957 or 58 at Abercrombie & Fitch and later traded for a Remington Nylon 66. What did I know? So are the Marlin 39, and the Winchester 63, and the Stevens Favorite and the greatest of them all, the Winchester 52, and a bunch of others.

Probably, there are no shooting galleries any more, except for the ranges where you can come in and rent a Thompson submachine gun. The .22 galleries are probably gone, killed off by liability laws and fears that the chance to knock over a steel duck will result in hostility, aggression, and an eventual 5 minutes on the 6 o’clock news.

So this is a trip back to the America that existed before all that, and it’s a trip worth taking.

Walnut and Steel is available from Amazon, or from walnutandsteel.com. The price is $30 hardcover and $20 paperback.