Herald Journal Columns
Jan. 13, 2003 Herald Journal
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Arrows and slingshots


I truly believe that there is something deeply rooted in the human male chromosome that causes men to create and employ weapons to kill creatures great and small.

And although I have read enough history to conclude that these same base instincts have, in every generation, led to war and to the destruction of tribes and nations, I must confess that as a boy I was probably more possessed by these primitive urges than most.

As in many families, the progression of weaponry began innocently enough when Grandpa gave me a pocketknife. The pearl handle was magic to the touch, and the exquisite sharpness of the gleaming blade seemed hypnotically dangerous. Having owned it for only one day, the knife was already my most prized possession.

Next, my big brother Sonny taught me how to select and cut just the right willow branches from Miller's grove to create a bow and arrow.

I used my precious knife to strip the green bark, as I fashioned a slippery white shaft. I felt a deadly pleasure in my hands for the first time as I sharpened the arrow's point.

With a yellow mason line bowstring attached and the arrow notched, I was ready to stalk both bird and beast. But because of our flawed human condition, man is seldom satisfied with the current destructive force of his weapons, and so it was with me.

By the age of six, I was already frustrated by the limited accuracy and range of my bow and arrows.

Sonny and I were lucky to have old man Dohman as our neighbor. He was a friendly, gray-haired fellow who made the deadliest slingshots for miles around.

The barn in which he made them was located northwest across the garden from our house. We used to watch him as he worked.

Mr. Dohman used only the strongest materials when making a slingshot. He fashioned each fork out of a single piece of heavy gauge metal rod that he bent and hammered in his vise.

At the base of the crotch, he crimped a piece of copper to make the fork more stable. But the true secret to the power in his slingshots was the rubber that he chose.

The half-inch wide strips were cut from inner tubes, some black and some red, that I suppose he collected as blowouts from either Arvey Parpart's or Louie Jenneke's service station.

The old man had an eye for "good" rubber and never used any that was cracked by age or weather. He had apparently experimented for years by slicing up inner tubes in various directions until he had found the exact angle at which they would yield strips with the greatest strength and elasticity.

The next step in crafting the weapon was to wrap the end of each prong with friction tape. This was necessary to keep the 50 pound-test fishing line from slipping as he wound it round and round to secure the rubber pieces to the fork.

He completed each slingshot by adding a leather pouch big enough to hold a dime-sized rock or a marble.

Mr. Dohman made his masterpieces in two different sizes. The smaller model fit perfectly into the hand of a six-year-old; the larger size was for the bigger kids.

Regardless of a boy's arm span, he could provide a slingshot of perfect size by fitting it with rubber in one of several available lengths.

These were indeed custom-built items in a time when customer service did not command a premium price. The small model sold for a nickel, and the big one for a dime.

I'd guess old man Dohman just liked having kids around.

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