Pistols were common place in
the coalfields and you had to pretty much consider that every one you meet
might be carrying one. I came there with one pistol I had bought
in Germany and ended up with 13 of them at one time. I had set up
a very nice little shooting range right next to the hanger but all that
shooting was getting a little expensive.
One of the pistols that I had purchased was a Smith & Wesson "Air weight" 38 Special, which was considered a "Ladies" gun in the coalfields. It's alloy frame made it exceptionally light which meant that it kicked bad with regular store bought rounds. I could only shoot it a few times before my hand was hurting from the kick. Earl Crumbly, our roving electronics man, offered to teach me how to reload for it and I took him up on it. The reloading brought the cost of shells down to about 2 cents each and I was soon into shooting about a 1,000 rounds a month. And did I ever get good.
The guys had brought me a large wooden cable drum that I set up next to the hanger door for a shooting bench. I then had them make a 1 ft square swing target out of 3/4" steel and I attached it to a wood frame with some small sections of huge chain. I then dug the target in at 75 yards away and began firing at it virtually every day after work. The muscles in my shooting arm developed to the point where I no longer needed a rest to shoot from. I had developed a special round for the "Air weight" that was both potent and accurate that was also just under the point of hurting my hand. It only took a short while before I could hit that swing target 4 out of 5 times with that little "snub nose" 38. Since I was also shooting 45s, 41s, and 44 magnums I soon got a reputation as a pretty good shot on the job. Several of the top shooters on the job came over after work to take me on and not one came close.
By this time the night shift guys in the shop were use to hearing me shoot. I decided to pull a little prank on them and started my shooting as normal. They were accustomed to hearing the sporadic target shooting that was my usual pattern of shooting. I then loaded up every one of my guns and a mini-14 rifle that I now had that had a 30 round clip and put them all on the bench which was just out of their view. I then started my usual pattern of shooting with the little 38 special but soon interrupted it with several unexpected shots from one of the big magnums. I then opened up with everything I had so that it would sound like I had just been ambushed and was now in a shutout for my life. With all those guns at my disposal I was able to drag things out a bit. When I ran out of bullets I took a peek around the corner of the hanger to see if the guys at the shop were looking. Looking heck, here they come a running, all of them, with pistols drawn ready to help fight off who ever had ambushed me. Did I ever have a good laugh on that one. I was lucky thought that they decided not to shoot me in the leg just for spite.
The smoking boss would sometimes make fun of the fact that I always had a pistol in the pilot's door pocket. It came in handy on one occasion though and it was the smoking boss who benefited by it. I had to fly the smoking boss and one other man to a far out job site that they were thinking of purchasing. They had permission from the mine owner to take a channel sample of the coal seam for quality analysis but it was dusk and I told them that I hope the night watchman got the message about us coming in for the sample.
In most cases I would walk with them down into the pit but something inside told me to stay with the ship on this one. Just after they had entered into the pit I saw a pickup truck round the far corner of the job. The night watchman got out of his truck and slowly made his way over to the road leading down into the pit. He saw the 2 men in the pit then took a good long look at the chopper that was just 50 ft away. I had slid down in my seat a little so as not to be seen. With gun drawn the night watchman slowly made his way down into the pit. As soon as he was out of site I got out of the ship and snuck over to the edge of the pit closest to the men. I didn't say a thing because I thought this just might be interesting to watch for a while.
The night watchmen then confronted the 2 men and had them put their hands up. The smoking boss started doing some quick sweet talking but the guard wasn't buying it. Without being heard, I showed my pistol and myself to the boss and casually took a seat on a rock at the top of the road. Since the night watchman was facing the boss he didn't know I was there. Eventually the boss named the right names and the guard put away his pistol and so did I. When they all started up the road from the pit the watchman was startled at finding me sitting there all that time. I just smiled and said "Hello". After we were on our way the smoking boss told me that he would never again kid me about having that gun in the chopper. He said it sure made him feel better seeing me up there with that pistol and having the drop on that watchman if it came down to that.
The best one though came when a new guy named McDuff came up on the plane. He had been up several times before but was still a new guy. There were about 6 of us standing around the plane waiting for the baggage to be unloaded when I made the comment to one of the bosses that I see that he had bought a Browning 9 mm pistol. He said, "How did you know?" I said that I knew he was undecided between the Browning 9 mm and the smaller 380 automatic and was just about ready to get one. Since the flight jacket he was wearing had an inner left pocket and was now bulging just slightly, I guessed that he had chosen the larger 9 mm. He then pulled it out to show everyone and it blew McDuff's mind. McDuff couldn't believe that this exceptionally easy going guy was carrying a concealed weapon. He didn't know any of us were carrying guns.
I saw his astonishment right off the bat and pulled out my "Air weight" from my behind-the-back holster and told the other boss that mine was easier to hide. McDuff took a step back and said something to the effect of, "My GOD, John G has one too". After that we all just fell in line. Dale said that a 38 was not big enough and he pulled a snub nose .357 magnum from his coat. Another of the bosses reached into his briefcase and pulled a 380 automatic and said that he liked it right there. McDuff was very obviously effected by all of this and by now was wondering what he had just gotten into up here in the coalfields. Another boss took out his pistol as well and said that Mr. Harbert even came up with a boot gun. Someone then turned to McDuff, who was obviously shaken by all this, and asked him what kind of gun did he come up with. McDuff then pulled out 2 very large salad spoons that he was bring up to one of the northern jobs and said that was all he had. He then realized that he was just a victim of circumstances and that being in the right place at the right time left him open to what had just happened. Carrying a pistol was probably 10% protection and 90% because you could. It was just that way there.