The first automobile that I can distinctly remember The Old Man owning was when I was about six or seven years old. It was a  very well used late 1940s or early 1950 NashAirflyte, the famous “Bathtub Nash.” It was so named because it looked like an upside down bathtub on wheels. The design was part of the early post World War II automotive streamlining movement. Aerodynamic styling was coming into vogue and was also favored by Packard and Hudson. It may not have been such a good idea as Nash, Packard, and Hudson were automotive history by the time I reached junior high school.

The Old Man worked as a shop foreman managing a production line of women who were doing piece work assembling ladies foundation undergarment ephemera such girdles, garter belts, and shoulder straps for brassieres. This was sturdy stuff designed to support, shape, and mold women into the popular 1940-50’s streamlined style that modern women will never understand or suffer. Panty hose and the Women’s Liberation movement have reduced a once thriving business to a side line providing little more than lacy erotica.

In the early 1950s it was common for blue collar workers to put in a  five and a half day work week. On an occasional Saturday, The Old Man would take me to work with him. Rousted out of bed in the predawn darkness I breakfasted on a bowl of heavily sugared cold cereal while he munched on some buttered toast and gulped down a couple of cups of steaming hot coffee. After putting the dishes onto the sink we hopped into the Nash, stopped at Milbauer’s Bakery to pick up doughnuts for morning coffee break, and soon arrived at the fortress like mill building.

After he parked the car in the mill’s courtyard we would climb a few steps onto the loading dock and walk into the freight elevator. The Old Man would slam the scissored door shut with a satisfying crash, push a button or two, and pull a lever. Accompanied by the clanging warning bell, the squealing of cables rolling through pulleys, and the vibration of the misaligned car guide rail we were rumbled three stories up and onto the shop floor.

He punched his time card, letting me do the same with one he had made up for me, and would set me to work doing some innocuous task like sweeping, assembling cardboard shipping boxes, or sorting things. The ladies would make a big deal about me being a working man and the morning would quickly pass until break time. While all stopped for coffee or tea The Old Man would hand me my day’s pay, a nickel. Grabbing a doughnut I would rush off to the Vendo Coke machine, deposit my coin, yank down the hefty silver lever, and pull out a cold frosty green 6 ½ ounce bottle of Coke.

At the end of the day Nash I would again take up station in the Nash’s shotgun seat and watch with some awe as The Old Man effortlessly worked the manual transmission and clutch with practiced ease. It was an old car. and family finances would not stretch to purchasing a car with any amenities, let alone let alone a model with the new Hydramatic automatic transmission.

The Nash was the principle participant in a family treat. On an occasional summer Saturday evening we would take in a movie at one of the local drive-in theaters. On those nights dinner would be sandwiches of pastrami, corned beef , and The Old Man’s favorite cold cut-beef tongue, on rye bread accompanied by potato salad, coleslaw, and Heinz vegetarian baked beans. We would then pile into the Nash and head to the theater. Once inside my brother Steve and I would dash off to the playground located under the massive white screen. It was there that he took great sadistic delight in getting me to ride a small metal carousel. He would whip me around until I was dizzy and spewing up my dinner. Trips to the drive-in were few and far between so, dunce that I was, I never caught on to his malevolent big brother amusement.

It may have been old and battered but the Nash was spacious. After I cleaned up in the wash room we would retire to its sofa like back seat, change into pajamas, and either watch the movie if it featured cowboys, war, or jungle adventure or simply fall asleep.

Thoughts of the manual transmission and the Nash came back to me when my brother and I began to shoot high power. We had little money so, like The Old Man and used cars, we purchased what we could afford, an old beat up Remington 03A3 and an equally worn Springfield Model 1922 stock. The old crank rifle served us well. We next upgraded to an M1 and eventually M14s and M1As. Both of us legged out in the early 1980s and, therefore, never had to suffer the ignominy of using the effete M16 platform.

When we showed up with our hermaphrodite 03A3 we were subjected to sidelong glances, sotto voce comments, and well-meaning advice. When we graduated to the M1 the bolt gunners made fun of us because now we had to wait for the rife to reload itself while they could shoot as fast as they wished. The M14 brought about comments about our masculinity, or lack thereof, from the M1 community who felt the .308 cartridge was a powder puff load compared to the manly recoil of the tried and true ought six.

It seemed we could not win. What saved us from the constant mockery of the old timers was the M16. At the time it was a rifle that self-respecting rifleman could, and would, not take seriously. The plastic Matty Mattel 22 caliber centerfire rifle had no recoil, the barrel would bend with the slightest sling tension, the sights were incapable of any easy or serious adjustment, its accuracy dropped off severely beyond 400 yards, and rumor had it that the bullet would not penetrate a Soviet infantryman’s winter coat at that distance anyway.  A lot has changed in the ensuing decades concerning its value as a competition rifle. It is now more accurate, but it resembles a service rifle about as much as The Old Man’s Bathtub Nash resembled a bespoke Rolls Royce Phantom. Operating a standard transmission is an old school masculine skill rarely found in this day of the automatic transmission. The AR, with optical sights, is the automatic transmission of service rifle shooting. But, prized by iron men, a wooden rifle, shooting a 30 caliber cartridge with iron sights, is the stick shift of National Match shooting.

About Hap Rocketto

Hap Rocketto is a Distinguished Rifleman with service and smallbore rifle, member of The Presidents Hundred, and the National Guard’s Chief’s 50. He is a National Smallbore Record holder, a member of the 1600 Club and the Connecticut Shooters’ Hall Of Fame. He was the 2002 Intermediate Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion, the 2012 Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion a member of the 2007 and 2012 National Four Position Indoor Championship team, coach and captain of the US Drew Cup Team, and adjutant of the United States 2009 Roberts and 2013 Pershing Teams. Rocketto is very active in coaching juniors. He is, along with his brother Steve, a cofounder of the Corporal Digby Hand Schützenverein. A historian of the shooting sports, his work appears in Shooting Sports USA, the late Precision Shooting Magazine, The Outdoor Message, the American Rifleman, the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s website, and most recently, the apogee of his literary career, pronematch.com.
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