by Hap Rocketto
It was a bright spring morning and the usual suspects had, as is our habit, gathered at Mel’s Diner on Route 163 for Friday breakfast prior to a morning of smallbore shooting.
Young Nash Neubauer, in an intelligent move that belies the fact that he shoots high power-rather well I might add as he is Distinguished and Presidents Hundred, had arranged his college class schedule to facilitate his attendance at our weekly egg eating and Eley expending extravaganza.
As we worked away at our breakfast the conversation drifted towards smallbore ammunition, its cost, availability, quality, and testing.
Nash made a contribution from his experience, “Getting good ammunition is much easier when you shoot high power. You ask around a bit, refer to a reloading manual, try out a few loads, and when you have a tight shooting combination you just stick with it. Smallbore is a really different breed of cat, how do you guys do it?”
Ernie Mellor began to discuss the magical and mysterious method of smallbore ammunition selection. He spoke of Eley and how its machines crank out quality smallbore cartridges by the millions. “They have to test it to determine quality before they label it” he told Nash.
His fork, suspended in midair half way between his mouth and plate, dripped a yellow stalactite of egg yolk as the kid was astonished enough to stop chewing and exclaim, “You mean they have all that stuff piled up without labels?”
In a flash I was transported to the start of the second semester of the 1967-68 academic year, the short lull made it a most carefree time at college. A few days of quiet and conviviality lay in front of us before the hard work and responsibilities of the second semester began. As it happened, Moe Montford, Chuck Spence, John Marzalek, Paul Carpenter, Bill Kaseberg, Jack Strobel, my roommate Craig Duncan, and I were in the midst of celebrating my 21st birthday as we lolled about in my dorm room at Westminster College. In celebration of my majority the guys had just given me a handsome glass bottomed pewter tankard with my name engraved on the front and theirs on the back.
It had not been an easy first semester for me. It was my first time away from home for any extended period of time. I had struggled to meet the academic standards of this strange new world while trying to find my place within a hormone driven group of young men who had already been living together for two years in the small dormitory.
The low point was October 12th, the last day of the 1967 World Series. Westminster is located in Fulton, Missouri, some 150 miles from Busch Stadium, home of the Saint Louis Cardinals and 1300 miles from the friendly confines of the Red Sox’s Fenway Park. The Sox had forced a seventh game the day before and when the “Impossible Dream” team lost the next day I was alone amid all of the cheering and joy that surrounded me. I felt never felt as dejected and totally isolated as I did at that moment. Things got better academically and socially and I soon was just another one of the guys.
The high point was the birthday celebration thrown by my new found friends that marked my total acceptance. To christen my new mug Moe produced, with a prestidigitator’s flourish, a bottle filled with a tawny colored fluid which he decanted into my tankard. I asked what it was and he replied that it was a bottle of bourbon rye, or scotch; he couldn’t remember which, from his family’s grocery store.
Awash in a wave of comradeship I picked up the mug and foolishly proceeded, at the insistence of my pals, to chug the contents. I did not possess a sophisticated liquor connoisseur’s palate but the last time I had tasted any liquid as smooth, mellow, and with a silky finish like Mrs. Montford’s bourbon was when I had siphoned a few gallons of gas out of The Old Man’s car and had gotten an unexpected mouthful.
Gagging and gasping for breath I asked Moe what kind of hooch his family sold. Moe said it was a propriety brand produced by some back country distillery in the rural Boot Heel region of Missouri. The store received weekly shipments in unmarked cardboard boxes containing 24 unlabeled bottles filled with either a tan or clear liquid.
Mother Montford served the customers through a slotted glass panel like you might find in a movie house ticket booth. The customer would approach the counter and request a bottle of scotch, bourbon, rye, gin, or vodka.
Mrs. Montford would then fill the order by reaching under the counter. Keeping her hands out sight of the customer at all times, she would grab a bottle of the appropriate colored liquid, pull the backing off of a self adhesive label proclaiming the contents to be either scotch, bourbon, rye, gin, or vodka, stick said label on the bottle, place it into a brown paper sack, collect the money, and send the happy customer on his way.
At the Eley factory ammunition comes off of the production line and is tested. If it falls within the tightest parameters it emerges from the factory with a red Tenex label that notes the year it was made, the machine on which it was produced, the individual lot number and the muzzle velocity. A slightly wider grouping results in a black Match label with a similar appropriate label. Other labels are reserved for the lots that don’t meet the top two standards, not that it is bad ammunition-it is just not the best.
There is nothing magical or mysterious about Eley’s ammunition classification system. I suspect that Eley simply hired Mrs. Montford who moved on from selling cheap booze to the citizens of Saint Louis to selling expensive ammunition to the shooters of the world.
Category: Hap's Corner