Old Stuff

Frequently these days, I’m shocked to realize that something my eye lights on has been around for forty, or fifty, or sixty years, and that I if I think about it a moment, it brings back all sorts of memories.

I still have the first knife I ever owned, a little Ka-Bar fixed-blade obviously made for a kid, which I got in 1952. I carried it when I joined the Boy Scouts a few years later, and was issued a Totin’ Chip, a card that certified me safe to carry and use knives, axes, and hatchets. The Totin’ Chip was created in 1950, so mine was one of the very early specimens, but sadly it has gone away.

To keep the little Ka-Bar company I have an adult-sized Ka-Bar that was carried by Norm Strung. He lost it on an October evening in 1972 when each of us shot identical six-point bull elk. It was bitter cold, and the knife vanished on top of the Cottonwood-Hyalite Divide outside Bozeman, Montana. Sam Curtis, Norm’s neighbor, found it next spring after the snow had melted and Norm said he could keep it. Sam did until 2009 when he went to join Norm in a land where there is always good tracking snow. The knife still takes a terrific edge, although it’s all messed up, and I wonder who will get it when I go to join Norm and Sam.

In my garage is a gun vise that I got in 1970 in a store called Hunting World. The vise is curved to fit the fore-end of a firearm, and tightens with a wheel like a ship’s helm. It was made in England, but it still works after all these years. Hunting World was founded by Bob Lee, who began his career afield in the 1950s with a series of six-month safaris in Kenya and went from there. The store could have been called Hunting World for the Very Well to Do, because that was the nature of what Lee carried.

You could buy an elephant hair bracelet, made with elephant hair, or you could buy the same thing done in gold. He found a Parisian cutler who made exquisite Swiss Army-style knives, but much larger than the VIctorinox ones, handled with stag and mother of pearl. They were works of art more than knives.

Lee had a gun collection that was probably as fine at the time as anything in the United States. A friend of mine saw some of it and was unable to speak coherently for several days. He imported Tonkin cane for fly rods, and amassed a vintage-car collection that would give Jay Leno a hissy fit. And all this notwithstanding, he was a hard-case hunter and damned fine company.

Hanging on a nail is a saddle scabbard made by a Wyoming rancher named Bill Hape. Bill did leather work as a hobby, and I got the scabbard from him in 1977 just before I went on my first horseback elk hunt. The scabbard is very slender, the leather is still hard as wood, and it’s probably good for another 40 years or so of riding on various nags’ sweaty withers.

Despite having done a great deal of riding, I do not sit on a horse painlessly, so looking at the scabbard brings back memories of wondering how much longer there is to go on this goddamn animal, and why do I do this to myself, and how about a nice ranch hunt where you get to ride around in a beat-up Suburban?

There are a couple of memories connected with it that make me smile. One is an elk hunt outside Cody, Wyoming, where a group of us rode up a mountain, and my horse, Trooper, farted virtually nonstop from the base to the peak. I don’t know what he’d had for breakfast, but old Trooper put on the most astounding display of equine flatulence since horses evolved. The fellow riding behind me turned sort of olive-drab by the time we were done.

Later that morning Trooper kicked me in the face; or, more accurately, his hoof and my face tried to occupy the same space at the same time. But that’s another story. Hopefully, I will not have to use the saddle scabbard again.

Down on the porch I have a canoe paddle that I bought at L.L. Bean in 1958 when I was about to canoe the Alagash River in northern Maine. On the advice of the geezer who sold it to me, I got a copper edging tip for the blade with which to push off the rocks. It was well I had it, or I would have been paddling with a collection of splinters after the first day. As I recall we were out for roughly two weeks, and saw, fleetingly, one other group of people the whole time. Fifty-five years later, I went back and stuck that same paddle in the same waters where I had first gotten it wet.

I could go on, but not much further. Over the years I’ve been too eager to purge, throw away, clear out, and get rid of old stuff that I thought I had no further use for. Now I discover that even if you never take it afield again, a lot of this old gear is more than worth keeping around simply as reminders of people and times you can never call back.