When I was a kid growing up in the 1950s there were three movie theaters I frequented, The Garde, the Victory, and the Capitol. My older brother Steve also recalls a fourth movie house, the rat infested Empire, but I have no memory of it.

Like most of my peers, I was a lover of western war, and action films. One of my favorite actors was Burt Lancaster. The former circus trapeze artist, and his aerobatic partner Nick Cravat, brought life to some of my favorite action moves, The Flame and the Arrow, The Crimson Pirate, Valdez Is Coming ,and Ulzana’s Raid. Lancaster and Clark Gable’s Run Silent Run Deep was a big hit at the Victory, which featured a mural of a Gato class fleet submarine behind the snack bar. It’s popularity was no surprise as it was located on the main drag of New London, Connecticut, the home of the US Navy Submarine School.

Toward the end of his career Lancaster starred in Valdez Is Coming. The film tells the story of Bob Valdez and his conflict with a wealthy rancher named Tanner who as tricked Valdez into killing an innocent man.  The unassuming Valdez, who rides shotgun for Hatch & Hodges stage line and is the constable, “…on the Mexican side of town..” has concealed his past as a scout for General George Crook and the  7th Cavalry Regiment during the Indian Wars of the late 1880s.

Valdez asks Tanner for a $100 to help the man’s widow, but he is ridiculed and almost killed by Tanner’s hired hands. After Valdez recovers he is determined to see justice done. He pulls an old bedroll from beneath his bed, dons his old calvary hat, and gathers up his collection of guns.

On his way to confront Tanner he is accosted by one of his henchmen who notices that Valdez is now heavily armed and remarks, “I think I see many guns?” Valdez replies, “These little things? For rabbit.” The man gallops away over a rise and quicky returns with his rifle out. Valdez mortally wounds him with a shotgun blast, helps back onto his horse, and sends him away with ominous  message, “You tell Mr. Tanner that Valdez is coming.” 

“So many guns” reminds me of the many guns I have run across in the course of my misspent days. I am not talking about Remington 513Ts, Winchester 52s, Springfield ‘03s, M1s, and M-14s but the odd type of guns.

The first would be a grease gun. When I was a kid cars required frequent periodic maintenance calling for “points and plugs,” adjustment of the point/condenser ignition system, and cleaning, gapping, or replacing the spark plugs. With that came pumping grease into special fittings connected to tie rod ends, ball joints, and other areas subject to wear. The grease was stored in a cylinder that was attached to a pistol grip and was either hydraulic or man powered. The similarity of this mechanics tool to the United States Submachine Gun, Cal. .45, M3 gave this World War substitute for the Thompson submachine Gun its nickname.

I have a tangential connection to the M3. My shooting mentor Art Jackson owned a first run Winchester 52 with a rare round action. The early 52s were designed as trainers for the centerfire ’03 so came with a flat topped receiver to accept a rear leaf sight similar to a Springfield’s. The 52 actions manufactured from 1919 until the introduction of the B model had a wing type safety on the left side with a pivot rod which passed through the recoil lug surface. Over time, this wall would frequently crack. Winchester would exchange faulty receivers, but Jackson did not want to give up the round one and so went to a local friend and gunsmith. George Hyde, a shop foreman at the highly respected custom gun makers Griffin & Howe, Hyde effected the repair. It was so well done that it is almost impossible to see. My connection? Hyde went on to design the M3 “Grease Gun” during World War II and Art gifted me the Winchester.

Then there is the Biscuit Gun. All airport control towers are equipped with a signal lamp which looks like a cylindrical box of Quaker Oats with a pistol grip. It projects a powerful white, red or green beam to direct aircraft traffic in case of radio failure, aircraft not equipped with a radio, or in case the pilot is hearing impaired. It is said that it got its nickname because, if a pilot could not read the signals, they could use the lamp to shoot up some biscuits to help him to stave off hunger as he circled about unable to land .

After Thanksgiving, I gather with friends to make Soppressata di Calabria, colloquially called ‘soupy,” a dry cured pork sausage specific to the region of Calabria, Italy, the “Old Country” for much of Westerly’s Italian population. We have purchased an array of meat grinders, mixers, and stuffing machinery to ease our labor. As we work the occasional grandfather, uncle, or other such ancient lay about toddles in during our sausage making for a taste of the product, a glass of homemade wine and, most importantly, kibbitzing.

The elders enjoy needling us about how much tougher it was making soupy in their youth. It is true. They raised, slaughtered and butchered the pig- you can’t get away with in Westerly today, ground the pork butts, mixed in the spices, cleaned and hand stuffed the natural pig intestine casing called ‘stendine’, and attended to it as it cures.

Recently one of the “Moustache Petes” showed up for his yearly soupy tithe with a burlap bag slung over his shoulder like a Calabrian Santa. After wetting his beak on our soupy and wine he opened the bag and pulled out a tube and piston syringe with a funnel like nozzle. Snatching up a ball of ground meat he filled the cylinder, fit a stendine over the nozzle, grabbed the device’s two handles, and pushing the base against his chest, produced one perfect stick of soupy. We stood in awe of this wizened old master of soupy making as he connected us to a past of which we had only a vague idea and now could fully appreciate. There are many types of guns, rifle, pistol, shotgun, matchlock, flintlock, staple, nail, and label, but that is how I was introduced to the sausage gun.

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,
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