Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Posts from the Road - Road Warrior

The hum of the tires on the pavement is soothing, mile markers going past me like years.

I don't have to drive in to "work" every day, like many in offices do. Often I fly out, and am gone for days, sometimes weeks. But I enjoy the drives in when I make them, often in the dark, before the roads are busy.

I've made most of my vacation drives by myself though a friend from college and I recently drove across half the country in a couple of days, to visit our families who lived in the same area. I remember when we pulled into the subdivision where one of my relatives had moved, I'd only been there once, and I got lost in all the streets, each bearing the same name but with a different ending. Magnolia Lane, Magnolia Drive, Magnolia Trail (that's not confusing), etc. I had a map printed from Mapquest out but it was ignored in the back seat. My gal friend said "uh. . you want to grab that map" and I was "no. . I'll get it, this looks familiar" as we got further lost. She says again, "say, how about that map behind you" and I responded "nope, I'm sure this is it". She started laughing and said "OMG. You're a GUY! You don't want to ask for directions."

If I'm alone, sometimes I watch other drivers. On one truck a NRA sticker with a older fellow driving. When I came abreast of him, the driver looked at me, expecting some sort of liberal stare down but I just gave him a smile. When he pulled past me and saw MY stickers he gave me a friendly wave. Speeding past us both, a young girl, driving 20 over the speed limit in the construction zone, as she tossed what appeared to be three days worth of lunch bags and trash out onto the roadway, cups, bags, everything. The fact that she had a bumper sticker of our current elected official on her beat up car did not surprise me.

People often drive as they think, modestly, slowly, recklessly. Some move in and out of traffic with the brisk efficiency of a surgeon, others, shyly and with hesitation, invite themselves out to dinner with the Reaper. Myself, I just roll along, not faster than anyone, not slower than anyone, not wanting to stand out, simply watching the centerline break underneath of the vehicle.

When I tell people that I sometimes drive to the Rockies to visit family there they look at me like I'm daft. "You can fly there in an hour". Yes I can. but I like that time to myself, no schedule, no commitments. When I get hungry I stop and eat. When I get tired I find a quiet, clean place to sleep. If I want to stop and look at the world's largest ball of yarn, no one is going to tell me "sorry, that flight has already left the gate." Though I still wonder about some gas station bathrooms. Why do they lock them? Are they afraid someone might break in and clean them?

As we travel through life we often pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that we blow right by it. As adults, we usually fail to stop and just look at what we have right here as we pass by it, things hidden by the layers of indifference casually tossed on us by others, dreams gathering dust while we toil to somehow make our world conform to what we are told it's expected to be. And everything in a hurry. Maybe it's the specter of mortality, maybe it's just this new generation of entitlement that's trying to nudge common sense out of the way, but people seem to expect things they've never earned.

I'm not sure why I enjoy the slow and hard look at things. Perhaps it's just the process of becoming slowly born that are those years leading up to middle age. Perhaps it's what I do for a paycheck. Maybe it was all the hours hiking up into mountains of the West as I grew up. You really learn to appreciate the slowness, the detail, the stillness of a day in the outdoors. The ascent may be hours or it may be days, but with a compass and a few tools, you simply gather your wits around you and head uphill. What you expect to greet you is up ahead of you,even when you can't see it. It's there in the blue, and it only remains for your body to reach it. Patience, one blister, one tear, at a time.

The wilderness gives you time, for the wild, though changing, is still eternal. That's what long road trips are like for me. I keep the horizon in my window but still look back, savoring the journey. The tumbled landscapes of glacier stone, and great pristine rivers, thin as a strand of pearls as I travel on past. It's time, my time, filled with the immaculate sameness of hours bathed in the sun's warm honey. Anything that really requires detailed thought, the engine setting, a scan for traffic, occurs in brief, unhurried intervals. The miles roll by with the thoughts, miles of tears, of laughter I've not known since youth, of love, of mechanical, rhythmic memories of the past that I carried with me as I started this journey.

Those memories are not always happy ones, which is part of the trip you will make. As the miles flow past, you realize that when you are young, no one really tells you the truth about love, about life. About coming into your heart and your strength and what it means when you realize what you have beneath you.

When my friend and I took that trip, after hearthbreak for both of us, we finally talked about many things we never had. Sure, we'd shared many a cup of coffee and a beer discussing past dates from hell over the years (what do you mean you have guns? Eeekk!), kids, parents, coworkers, and dog hair. We'd talked about old loves, about the hopes for a new one. Like old friends, we hadn't really talked of those things that seemed obvious.

Talking matter of factly about about such things seemed banal, like proving a right angle or finding the equal distance between two lives but it felt good for us to share our joys and our griefs on that drive. The two lane highway rose slowly out of the Plains as I tried to navigate through words that carried with them both joy and pain, holding me back like the weight of a dead end. So we talked, not in a great gush of words, but as friends do, in small bits of ourselves spread out on the table like show and tell of things that troubled us, those hurts that built up over years of living. The miles and hours flew past, fields clutching onto the skeletons of flowers that long ago died, of bare, windswept trees, and clusters of burrs that stick to everything with a tiny pinprick of pain. Things were sticking to us both.

All that was left was the words; and they flowed, like the laughter and the tears, until I opened the window to let the wind dry my face. Wind that would carry those old hurts to where they would simply bounce off the landscape like a piece of discarded trash, delicate, crumpled tissue best left to be disintegrated by time. Better left behind as the sun began to relax on what would be a renewed journey; the road pulling away from discarded thought, the highway lines breaking up like Morse Code as we moved forward. Moved away from that painful past, those roads best not traveled, til it was just a speck in the rearview mirror.

My friend has found her happiness, and I've found mine, nothing left but the memories that I'm making now, moving on into new skies, open roads. Time ticks past as the diorama of a life unfolds in the window up ahead, the rush of the world, fast food, fast life, suspended for a few hours. The truck still moves on, this time to find a place to rest for the night and I do, cleansing myself of blood and bone and the grime of the day. The hotel room has all the ambience of a dental lab and I can't help but wish I was instead at hunting camp, sleeping under a fluttering tent, canvas murmuring to the whispers of the rain.

As I lay there, I think of Heraclitus, of whose writings are only left fragmentary remains, who said it better than I, expressing the nature of reality as flux in words, the way I'd express them in motion today.

The rule that makes
its subject weary
is a sentence
of hard labor.
For this reason
change gives rest.

Sometime it's time for a change of landscape, of thinking, a journey forward. No agenda but to see the day transfolded before you up ahead. You need those moments alone, those miles of open road, miles of open sky.

Those times of solitude, for souls like us, are simple moments of inwardness. In our simple code of life, quiet independence stands guard over courage heightened by change. This is our own compass north, that directs our paths, the self in isolation, resolve, honor, emotion, thought and liberty held in like breath, until they are amplified within us, becoming direction in life's unhurried journey.

Mark Twain said in Huckleberry Finn "We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened". But I know they were made. Made to serve as tiny points of light to guide a distant traveler back home.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Posts from the Road - Secrets from a Closet

The batphone rang in the wee hours, so while I'm busy, I'll have a few short posts over the next couple of days. . .

When I decided to downsize it felt great to get rid of old furniture, beat up lamps and knick knacks I didn't need. But getting the closests organized in a smaller home took a litle more work. Over the Thanksgiving holiday my favorite engineer helped me get the last of the stuff out of storage, wrestling my boxes of Christmas ornaments into one of the closets.

He recently redesigned his bedroom closet to accomodate clothes, with a very large gun safe set up. I said "I wonder if I need to do something like that".

Having seen my closet he sent me this.

That pretty much covers it :-)



click on the pic to enlarge

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Making Whoopie in Hoosierville

Whoopie Pies

The whoopie pie is a dessert that is not quite cookie, not quite cake, It is made of two round mound-shaped pieces of cake (sometimes chocolate, sometimes pumpkin) with a sweet, creamy filling or frosting sandwiched between them.

Considered by many to be a Pennsylvania Amish tradition, likely made up from leftover cake batter, they are popping up all over the states, including a humble kitchen in Hoosierville, U.S.A.



The more traditional filling is laden with marshmallow fluff, making for a denser, very sweet treat. I made mine with two different cakes and two different fillings.

The first, pictured in the header, is Red Velvet with a vanilla bean whipped cream infused cream cheese filling.


The second, dark chocolate, made with some Scharffen Berger cocoa. That's a specialty deep dark chocolate cocoa that Midwest Chick makes her secret family recipe gun show brownie cookies with.

The filling for the dark chocolate pie as a very light, exceptionally creamy filling with a base of whipped cream and vanilla sugar.

As I listen to the sounds of some old jazz and blues from the 20's and 30's, I layer them carefully between sheets of waxed paper to deliver to some folks on LEO duty this weekend (with a couple saved for a friend). I've not tried one yet, but if the smell in the kitchen and the little puddle of Barkley drool on the tile is any indication, they will be good.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chewie, Dewey and Louie - An Adventure Continued


When the day starts with homemade Pumpkin Roll, it's going to be good.

I have had several guests drop by in the last few days, a gal friend from college coming through town for a quick hello with her spouse, before heading on East, and later, my favorite engineer, also on his way through to visit family, and able to stay a bit. The Range was readied and lots of things baked.

Breakfast was intended to be dessert that night, but it just smelled too good to pass up with morning coffee before heading out.

To the Wookie Mobile!!

Roberta X had to work so we missed having her along though I did bring pie and cookies to Roseholme Cottage. Tam looked at the pie. It's a look you don't want to see if you are either a bad guy or a baked good. I said "there's enough for you and Bobbie". She looked at the pie again and said "Roberta's allergic to gluten does that have gluten? I said "it's made of glutenberries". She smiled. Fortunately, I also had a bag of freshly baked gluten free macaroons made out of ground almonds, egg whites, sugar and pixie dust.

First, a stop at the amazing Artisano's. I've used their products, especially their oils and specialty sugars and salts in many of my recipes. It's worth a drive to the city, the owner and staff being so helpful and samples of all the aged balsamic vinegars and fresh oils available to sip, including a Bourbon barrel aged 18 year old Balsamic with cherry. mmmmmmm.


I picked up a few refills I needed and some spices, salts, and sugars for Samantha, teenage daughter of Rev. Paul, as my way of saying congratulations on her new job in her journey towards a career as a chef. (Go check out the pie she just baked the family). Congratulations Sam and let me know what you do with the espresso and the black truffle salt (which was awesome in the mashed potato part of a lamb shepherds pie by the way).

Then, one more cooking supply stop before heading to the hobby store. We stopped for a model spaceship for Roberta's collection, but like kids, we soon found ourselves wandering and playing with everything while Chewie protested light rail in the train section.

I think I need to show these folks what a real potato gun is. Does this thing shoot hash browns? "Stop or I'll TOT?"

Tam:
"It's the derringer of potato guns!


What else do we have in model weaponry? My friend spots a trebuchet but it's not near big enough to launch a flaming sheep at the neighbor's loud party. Look, more weapons! Wood guns of all varieties. As a little kid, I would have loved one of these.


The ammo is at the front counter. Could be worse. I hear in California high powered rubber bands are illegal and Massachusetts requires a permit.


E.: "If you give me a file I can make this fully auto. . ."


Oh Look, 4-D Bacon! (In Pig O Vision)

By the door, a collection of little toys to play with, including some really neat wooden toys of various critters. Look! It's a little OWS Magical Mystery Machine!.

Uh OH. Mr. Anaconda approaches.

Anaconda: 1 Hippies: 0.

Love and Peace meets Economics 101 and the food chain.

Playtime over and purchases made, we headed off to BD's Mongolian Grill to conquer lunch.


They removed the giant wall sized mural of the marauding hordes, which was a disappointment, but the food was really good as always. You get a bowl to fill up at the table of meat (short of Spamalope they have every kind of domestic meat you can think of) and veggies. With your filled bowl, you also fill a little bowl of your favorite sauce (from mild to hot!) to which you can add all sorts of seasonings and then take it up to be cooked in front of you (with a fresh egg if you wish). That's entertainment, in and of itself.

There's soup, salad, desserts and some pricey yuppified drinks, but we just love the basic plunder. I got off to the table with my plate to find rice and tortillas to make wraps, while Tam and E. chat with the cook who prepares their order with swords and flair. If you walk out of here hungry it's your own fault.

We'd planned a stop at one of the big outdoor ranges, as Tam's guests, but it was still raining. Not just raining, like wear a hat, but monsoon pouring, so we had to pass.


One final stop at the Wall O'Imported Beer at Kahns, and a little shop in Broad Ripple that sells homemade pasta and it was time to head back. We left Tam with glutenberry pie, cookies and a big wave.

We're already planning where Chewie will show up next!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Where's Chewie?

Where's Chewie? Hoosier edition.

A day hanging out with Tam is never ordinary. There were Mongol Hordes, guns, knives, Artisano's spices and Chewie the Purse Wookie riding shotgun in the front of the truck (if you squeeze him, he makes loud Wookie noises).


You never know WHERE he is going to turn up when I'm out with my favorite people. I have company visiting from out of town, so more pictures tomorrow, including amazing 4D bacon and the Derringer of Potato Guns.

Friday, November 18, 2011

We are Hunters

The last weekend, the wind whipped like a banshee through the trees and the deer were not moving. But still the hunters go back out, not to give up just because of one or two mornings coming home cold, hungry and empty handed.

It had been a stormy night, as I headed out that Fall morning. I walked out, alone, Marlin with .357 pistol loads in hand, with an errant thundershower lingering, perhaps scuttling any plans I had to hunt without getting wet. The deer might well be hunkered down. Yet, as clouds broke into dawn drenched laughter, I could imagine one nice little buck poking his head out at first light, hoping for first dance with the prom queen. Some creatures just have a hard time sitting still, even if their life is half over. There's fields to prance through, endless chasms of corn rows to cross, horizons that tilt and change with a jump of a hospitable farmer's fence. Some living things just can not disregard their souls natural response to living, for they somehow sense that, though they might grow old, it would be with regret.

I think I'm the only one out here, the ground damp, the air biting cold. But I revel in it, as most hunters do. Smelling the rain on the heavens and feeling the wind on my face as I stride towards the tree stand up ahead, the horizon full of things hinted but not yet seen.

For too many years, I spent little time afield, taking care of parents, family, cattle, someone else's dreams. So what if I didn't pick up a shotgun or a rifle for 12 years, I have them now. With them, there's new adventures, the jumbled trail that is a chucker hunt, the fog shrouded lovers touch that is opening day of duck season in Arkansas. Better a belated and streaming dawn than a life lived in twilight, my old Browning would say, if that old Belgium grade steel could talk.

Hunters are unusual people, yet we are rather simple in our ways. We know, but don't always gleefully await, that alarm going off at 3 am, but we eagerly jump up from our warm bed at the call, for it is a dawn that few see, evocative and inspiring. The streaming dawn, that despite the early morning, reaches out and grabs us into an alertness coffee can't provide.

We are hunters. We know the fields of Indiana and the deep sigh of darkness that lies in the middle of swampy ground somewhere down in Arkansas. We know the mornings drenched in pine, the varied scents of a field in Northern Iowa and the up and down escalator drill that is that last minute trip to Cabelas. We've walked a grid of open dirt, or homed into a tree like a coon dog, racing the sun to our blind, hoping to get in before Mr. Buck awakes. We have politely waited for that same sun to come up, reveling in the clear sparkling crispness that is an November morning.

Hunters remember bucks. We remember the does that entice them. We remember quail and pheasant and that elusive, damnable bird called a chucker. We delight in the perfect clarity of a 12 pointer through a new scope and remember a late night waltz down an ice slicked path, retreating to a camp or a farm house with that buck only a memory.

For many of us it began with a simple Daisy Rifle, then on to a Remington or a Browning and later the latest in sight technology and scopes. But whatever we carry, be it new or old, we all understand misfeeds, that branch that got in the way, and finding yourself sodden, including your ammo, when the forecaster lied like a Senate appropriation meeting. But no matter what we carry, the latest and the greatest, or grandpa's beloved shotgun, there is still something that all of us must always comprehend and that is the nature of the wild. Wherever we are, and with whatever we have, we strive to out-hunt complacency, that one thing that can end our day on a uncorrectable note of finality.

We are hunters. We relish the cheerful warmth of that first cup of coffee and the pause of an ice cold beer in front of the fire when the day is done. My generation and my fathers speaks as if old friends of 1911's and Remington's and Colt, cap and ball, not cap and trade. We understand the vagrancies of black powder and the shoulder numbing retort of 50 cal. We recall with pride, the fierce roar that was our first double barreled shotgun. We reminisce over the vast remote landscapes of Alaska and Colorado and Wyoming, of tears and blood and swear, while the young ones have no such memory, spending their time pitting themselves against a video game.

Hunters speak a language handed down from generation to generation and only slightly understood by their non hunting partner. We banter about airwash and anchor point, quiver and quartering. We know the difference between purr and putt and can talk for hours about racks and score, conversations that have nothing to do with the opposite sex.

But when it's time to get into the woods and into the blind, there is no chatter, the concentration being almost tactile. For though we have tasted the insulation of the woods and feel comfortable within its borders, we know too well the adrenalin surge of approaching game, the feel of hairs on our arms standing up in a predators natural response. In that moment as our quarry comes into view we know more than the desire for it, we know conviction and clarity even as our brain telegraphs the movement of our hand to the trigger of our firearm, making sure we are certain, of both the target and ourselves.

For we respect the power of our firearm, and know what it means to fight for the right to carry it, to fight for what we believe in. That is the uncommon faith of man's innate need to take from our environment what we need to live and nothing more, tending the forest, being conservators of the trust God has given us.

We respect our weapon and we respect the inordinate right that we have to carry it. But just as calmly as we trust in our abilities, we also believe in the capriciousness of this world, and of predators both two and four legged. There's not one of us that hunts deep within the wild, where we are not the largest creature on the food chain, that forgets that we may tested in a face off against something unseen, of large fang and claw, that will pit our every ability against a red stroke of fate.

We are hunters. We are male and female, young and old, wealthy or poor in pocketbook but never in spirit. We have small cars and big trucks, tattooed with flags and jumping fish and the symbols of our service. We are unabashedly proud of being an American, family people at home and in the deepest part of our landscape.

We know the overwhelming beauty of a Midwest sky as the sun seeps into the deep purple horizon and the pristine beauty of the sun's reemergence after a long, cold night in a sleeping bag. We remember the sentient rows of corn guiding us to feathered warriors and the winding roads deep into a forest in which the wild turkey plays. In such places, with only a mug of coffee and a chunk of bread we've held our own Communion with God in the sanctity of the the land he created, land He trusted us with, as its stewards. It's a Pentecostal fire that turns our fingers blue, as we warm them with the blessings of this days breath.

We've seen time stop, seconds stuttering into slow motion by the sheer moment of a group of elk, one so large, and moving fast, the others following like dark ghosts, not running, but merely keeping pace with the looming might of the largest rack we've ever seen, worshipping in its shadow. Game, appearing out of no where, as if from thin air they were formed, just for this moment, from prayers unsaid.

We walked miles across Iowa cornfields, as if we didn't hurry we could lose the birds forever, tireless, eager, propelled by only the tiny little hammering of our heart, and the deep panted breathing of our bird dog, Then just as quickly, stopping, as if struck down, watching the dog point, and the sky exploding into flight, our whole world coalesced in bright sunlight. We've experienced that moment when time merges into that one spot of sun and sky and dog and hands , the sun glinting off a watch that portends a moment here, forever, then gone with the blast of our Dad's old Remington.

We've watched a deer emerge, as if summonsed by our thoughts. One minute, a blank landscape, the next minute, only hide and hair and rack and breath, his, your own, as your hands hesitate like the first rush of love. There, in that millisecond between want and need, your hands find that trigger in the windless days hot dalliance and he's gone. Gone as if he never was, as if he was only some adolescent dream of desire.

We've toasted those hunts, both successful and unsuccessful under the northern lights. We've seen horizontal rain and microbursts of leaves shaken down by a turkey coming down to do battle. We've seen quiet things no one would believe, things that only those that embrace the outdoors might see, and we're hooked on it. Not for the food, though that bounty is appreciated in a country kitchen, but as something that's hard to put name to, a reasoning beyond ego that is the freedom of the outdoors. It's pitting our skills against something as elemental as a whitetail deer, something ingrained in us, an essential element of our being.

I'm almost at my tree blind, the sun peeking out and I hope that the weather will allow for some food for my table this winter. But for now I have my Marlin. I have my solitude, as I settle into where I will hunt. It is that solitude I have found no other place but a cockpit, one that wavers slow as I lean back against a tree and close my eyes for just a moment, breathing deep. Head thrown back I stick my hand out into air the temperature of a lover's soft breath, trailing my hand in the wind, sensing it's direction and how it might give my position away. Time strolls by like a day at the seashore until the sun bursts from the horizon.

I don't have much, but I have this, the breeze, fresh air to cool me quick, to blow out of my eyes and my brain and my blood all the would make me stressed and weary. My hands rest on the stock of my rifle, I follow with my eyes, the waving branches of the forest, looking for one small movement, as sounds dissolve into dying leaves.

This wouldn't be anything that you'd see on outdoor TV, no lights or fancy equipment. I'm simply a hunter, in a circle of trees where at somber intervals tall branches shift and moan in the strained winds musings, dropping their leaves, leaving their signs. I patiently wait, waiting for game, watching for my own signs. I look out across the forest, a lonely figure, yet not alone. I look up into the sky that lies prone and subdued in the embrace of this season of life and death, a season I understand all too well.

There's no place I'd rather be.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Occupy Z.


My sense of humor gets a little twisted after a very long day working.
B.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Bloodhound of the Law - Mayberry Cafe


Not only do I have more than one bullet I know a good place to eat if you are traveling through Central Indiana.
For I was traveling through a little town by the name of Danville IN, located not too far West of Indy on my way back from a country excursion. We'd seen tractors, old barns and a VFW hall that remembers what is important.


I loved their flagpole. I've got to bring Tam over to see this. It's even cooler than the Broad Ripple Gargoyle with RayBans.


A few miles later, slightly wrinkled and road weary and definately hungry, we spotted the squad car. I watched enough TV, and TV Land over the years to recognize the squad car.


The Mayberry Cafe. It's full of memorabilia, little flat screen TV's playing an episode from the show, and friendly, small town service. As I walked I felt transported back in time, to an era where your Dad was your hero, family was important, romance was slow but true and involved lots of home cooked food and the Sheriff could always be counted on to do the right thing.


Even before the drinks were ordered we had a loaf of fresh, hot homemade brown bread with cinnomon honey butter to work on. The bread had a nice taste to it, I almost suspected a little rye or graham flour mixed in with the wheat but the tub of spread was the best part of all.


Drink refills were prompt, not that you needed them with the giant old coca cola glasses. The food, American Diner style, good and abundant portions, but they also have a full salad bar and a selection of soups, salads and stir fry dishes for those eating lighter.


I had the Aunt Bea's fried chicken. I ordered two pieces thinking I'd get a breast and a little leg or wing. I got two whole boneless chicken breasts deep fried with a savory, crunchy, totally non greasy coating. The potatoes, real potatoes, not instant, not dehydrated, not from a can. They were topped with a peppery white gravy that (sorry Cracker Barrel) was better than mine or most restaurants.

My friend had grilled Hamsteak with all the trimmings and he said it was perfectly grilled, not cooked, then refrigerated and then microwaved. It was a thick steak and about took up the whole oversized dinner plate.


I ended up getting a box to bring half of mine home, including the big dish of buttery corn, which is not something I do often with a meal for less than $10. But then there were the desserts including blackberry cobbler with homemade ice cream (no Brigid! Nip it!, Nip it in the bud!) which I passed on but they looked wonderful.


I'll have to come back, to try perhaps the chicken fried chicken and pork tenderloin sandwich someone else in the crowd ordered. Both were about was the size of a hubcap and had a large serving of freshly made coleslaw on the side (or sides of your choice). At the checkout they sell old fashioned candies that the little ones were lining up for as well as jars of the cinnamon honey butter and Mayberry cookbooks (homestyle cooking, always helpful in getting the attention of a handsome Sheriff).

There was a number of folks coming in the the door when we left, but the service was good and the wait, more than acceptable. This isn't fast food, and the taste proves it.

Even if you weren't a fan of the show, if you like fresh, tasty, 50's style comfort food, that tastes like your Mom cooked it, not the platoon mess cook, the Mayberry Cafe serves it up well. Located in Danville located on Main St (US 36), in the heart of the small downtown area on the north side of the street. Today was Monday and they were open 11 am til 9:30, staying open til 10 on Friday and Saturday nights.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Range Report - Smith and Wesson 66


I have more "old" weapons than new. Some of it is simply the comfort of those things that have been proven realiable.Then there is simply the sheer love I have for that which is history, of the acts of courage that defined a persons freedom, of the mechanical workings of objects which support self sufficiency and strength. Planes, trains, steam engines, old tools, and yes, the gun. There's an attraction to old tools and old machines, the human values they represent. Nothing that withstands history gets built without brilliance of design, a laboring effort and the dreams of man. Some say a gun is a killing instrument. Man is a killing instrument. The gun is only a tool, from which we have the pure mechanical force which can keep one alive or take a life. As a tool it is as weak or as strong as he or she who hold its, as good or as bad as the collective soul that keeps it in working order. The guns I own are defenders of good, soldier's weapons, officer's weapons, my weapons.

The Smith and Wesson 66 was born in 1970 as a stainless, and therefore more corrosion-resistant, version of the already-popular Model 19 Combat Magnum. That particular firearm was produced from 1957 (first model number stampings) to November 1999

The Model 19 was produced in blued carbon steel or nickel-plated steel with wood or rubber combat grips, an adjustable rear sight, semi-target hammer (wide hammer spur with good checkering), serrated combat-type trigger, and was available in 2.5" (3" particular to the Model 66 being more rare), 4", or 6-inch barrel lengths. The weights are 30.5 ounces, 36 ounces, and 39 ounces, respectively. The 2.5- and 3-inch barrel versions had a round butts, while the others had square butts. I'm not a big fan of the Spongebob Squarepants gun butt from a "feel" standpoint, but they've got a nice crisp look to them.

The Model 19 was produced on Smith and Wessons K-frame platform (S and W refers to their frame sizes by letter) and was chambered for .357 Magnum. The K-frame is somewhat smaller and lighter than the original N-frame .357, usually known as the S&W Model 27. The Smith and Wesson no longer makes the K-Frame, replacing them with the heavier L-Frame models, which include models 619, 620 and the model 686. The L Frames are a bit heavier, and for me, don't point as naturally as does the 66.


Stainless steel offers many advantages in a gun, outside of just "SHINY", including the fact that you can polish out minor imperfections without removing bluing. Additionally minor rub wear doesn't affect the gun's finish appreciably as it would do to a blued finish.

The Model 66 is a double-action, six-shot revolver, retaining most of the characteristics of the 19. The one I have fired the most, like the 19, had a target trigger (featuring vertical grooves), target hammer (wide hammer spur with good checkering), fixed point sight and adjustable rear sight.

If you are on the lookout for one of your own, the first issued ones are easily identifiable with the stainless steel rear sight, pin barrel, serrated stainless trigger, recessed cylinder and the “mod 66” stamped on the frame. If you think you see one there just waiting to be purchased somewhere, it should have stamped on the left side of the gun the words "SMITH & WESSON" along the barrel, with the trademark S&W logo on the frame below the cylinder latch. If you have a S&W you would like to know more about you can send a picture and a form from the S&W Website to the Historian, Mr. Roy G. Jinks.


The gun remained virtually unchanged until 1977 when the 66-1 model came out which changed the gas ring from the yoke to the cylinder. The later 66-3 designation indicates design tweaks to delay development of cylinder end-shake as well as the elimination of the recessed cylinder. Future changes through the 70's and 80's slightly lengthened the cylinder and installed a new yoke retention system/radius stud package/hammer nose bushing/floating hand.

In 1994, with the 66-4 model, the rear sight leaf and drill, extractor and tape frame were slightly changed and Hogue grips were introduced. In 1998 there was a change in frame design and in 2002, with model 66-6, it introduced the internal lock. I believe the last one was manufactured in 2004 or 2005.



This firearm was a favorite of many law enforcement agencies in the mid to late 70's, some even carrying it into the late 90's (or later than that, if the rumors are true). The demise of the K-Frame (and with it, the 66) came as owners started to get a hankering for the lighter and faster 125gr .357 Magnum load as an alternate to the 158gr lead projectile that was the bulk of the ammo available in the early production years. The forcing cone on the model 19 is not as thick at the very bottom. The lighter bullets at very high velocity using very hot burning powders, apparently subjected the forcing cone to what I guess, in layman's terms, you could call metal fatigue, with resultant cracking of the forcing cone. Smith and Wesson has made the recommendation to not use the 125gr loads though I've not heard of any cone cracking issues with the 66 Model. Some 66 owners recommend alternating .38 with the .357 in the 66, others have shot nothing but 158gr for thousands of rounds and still have a nice, tight weapon.

The .357 Magnum is a story in and of itself, being probably the oldest handgun "magnum" cartridge. Its collaborative development started in the 30's, in direct response to Colt's .38 Super Automatic. At the time, the .38 Super was the only American pistol cartridge capable of defeating automobile cover and the early ballistic vests that were just beginning to emerge in the post-World War I "Gangster Era". ("Gangster" not to be confused with "Gangsta" as the future felons of the 1930's had the common sense not to wear their pants so low the waist is about knee level. It would have been hard to be a successful bootlegger in pants a clown wouldn't wear because they were too undignified.



Tests at the time revealed that those early ballistic vests defeated any handgun cartridge traveling at less than about 1000 ft/s. Colt's .38 Super Automatic just edged over that velocity and was able to penetrate car doors and vests that bootleggers and gangsters were employing as cover. Smith and Wesson's Dan Wesson agreed to produce a new revolver that would handle "high intensity" .38 Special loads, but only if Winchester would develop a new cartridge.

Though .38 and .357 would seem to be different-diameter chamberings, they are in fact dimensionally identical. 0.357 inch is the true bullet diameter of the .38 Special cartridge. The .38 Special nomenclature relates to the previous use of heeled bullets (such as the .38 Long Colt), which were the same diameter as the case. Thus, the only external difference in the two cartridges is a slight difference in length (the .357 having a .125 inch longer case). Those first revolvers referred to as the Magnum Models were completed by Smith and Wesson in April of 1935.

Retired Assistant Chief Patrol Inspector of the U.S. Border Patrol, and noted firearms and shooting skills writer, Bill Jordan, consulted with Smith and Wesson on the design and characteristics of the Model 19. His idea? The Peace Officers perfect dream. A sidearm with a heavy barreled four inch K frame .357 Magnum with a shrouded barrel like the big N frame .357 and adjustable sights. After months and months of experimenting with improved strength steels and the latest in special heat treat processes, the result was the .357 "Combat Magnum" firearm (later designated as the Model 19). The first, serial-number K260,000 was presented to Jordan on November 15, 1955 and a legend was born.

So how does this "old legend" shoot? Flawlessly. With the weight of the K frame and the barrel, it points more naturally then a German Short Haired Pointer. Never having shot the weapon before, I still got a nice tight group, even with the bigger round, once I learned where it shoots with the sight picture. I can see why it was so popular with law enforcement.

The trigger was one of the smoothest I've tried, no stacking. Double tap didn't require me to do the "Dance of the Seven Veils" trying to get my hand back in position from recoil. Single hand holding with double actions pulls was not hard at all with this piece. It was accurate, it was tight, it felt really good in my hand (no ow!!! factor with multiple rounds and tender skin) and even better, it made a nice big HOLE right where I wanted it to go.

Now for the ammo question. Generally speaking, any .357 Magnum revolver will safely handle any factory 38 Special ammo (but do NOT attempt to load or fire .357 in your .38 special - BAD dog. . BAD!). The Model 66 should safely shoot both 357 Magnum and 38 Special ammo, including extra-hot 38 ammunition known as "plus-p" (+P) and "plus-p-plus" (+P+). Of course, check with your manufacturer if any doubt as to what rounds are the best to put in your newly acquired firearm. I've not fired it enough to recommend any particular type, so will leave it up to my readers to pass that information along.

The double action (DA) was not quick as smooth as the Colt Python, but that's like saying Vanilla Hagan Daz ice cream is not quite as rich and tasty as the Coffee flavored. The feel was consistent through out the pull, even more so than the Python, which to me has a noticeable change in the pull weight partway through the DA trigger travel.

You may have to hunt around to find one. But there are not a ton of good condition, clean ones available. If you have to chance to buy or borrow one, you probably won't regret it. The first one I shot, and one of those pictured here, belongs to a partner in squirrellville. It's what he carries when off duty and it's a beautiful piece.

The leverage is excellent for the size of the handgun. I've got really long fingers and a good sized hand. However, I think the hands of most women and men who are not built like Grizzly bears, would find a good grip with this. The trigger finger reaches the trigger with a minimum of effort, and the front sight stays on target if the target isn't a Bobble Head.

Cleaning is a snap. Remove the cylinder and clean with a little Break-Free. There's no sideplate removal or detail stripping that's required on other types of guns you're used to cleaning. Even if you dunk the thing in salt water, it's just a field strip, clean with Break-Free CLP, rinse in hot water, spray with more CLP, wipe down and air dry.

Why salt water you ask? Seal Team Six used the Model M66 until the M686 came along, as did other Teams. The reasoning was that if lubricants washed off the weapon during the swim to the. . uh. . . objective, a revolver was more likely to function than a semi-auto. Blued finishes don't hold up to such exposure. Parkerized, anodized and stainless finishes do quite well. There was no special ammunition used, as the Winchester Silver Tips of the time were considered reasonably waterproof.


It's a wee bit big to be totally indiscernible, but with the right holster it will make a good concealed piece for someone that's not hobbit sized. Dennis at Dragon Leatherworks has made several beautiful ones of the FlatJack type for the Model 19 (K Frame, just like the Model 66) and a J Frame (Chief's Special) including a couple that blogger Jay G. owns.

I was sold the first time I got my hands on it. It's light for what it packs and comes on target easily with a high hit probability. It's a legend, a true sculpture in stainless. Like my partner, I'd trust my life with it, and that says a lot.