Small Town, USA. It wasn’t what I pictured Colorado to be. My Mom was born and raised down in SW Colorado and from the old family farm you can see the San Juan mountains. Somehow the fact that the eastern side of the state is just an extension of the bleak Kansas and Nebraska plains had escaped my attention. So, when the chance came to spend a summer in COLORADO, visions of mountains, clear streams and trout fishing filled my mind. The application for the job of Intern Minister at the local church was sent and eventually I heard back that it was accepted.
Back in the days before GPS we’d travel with just a map and a general idea of which way we were headed so I packed my few belongings into the old Ford Fairlane, put a cooler of Aldi’s softdrinks on the front seat, buckled Bear into the center seat belt on the bench seat and headed west by north west. At the end of a looong day I rolled into the small town, looking in vain for the Rocky Mountains for which the state is famous.
The minister and his family gave me a warm welcome and after a few days of settling in, orientation and instruction, they took off on family vacation leaving me to fulfill the duties of a small town minister during their absence. Preparing for Sunday sermons and visiting members of the congregation were two of my main responsibilities and the congregation stepped up to supply the hungry intern with home cooked meals and fellowship. As I got to know the town and the inhabitants it wasn’t too long before I learned that sooner or later everyone stopped at Hardware Hank’s, the hardware store down on the main drag through town. So eventually this became my main hangout when not down at the church office or visiting in people’s homes.
One one side of the store, up against the wall, was the sporting goods section. They had a locked glass case where handguns for sale were stored, along with certain ammunition. They would do some trading and often a used handgun was placed in that case to tempt the customers with. The proprietor and I came to an understanding. I had free access to the case and could even check out any of the used handguns overnight as I’d return them cleaned and oiled and in good shape for sale. And if it was available I’d buy the ammo from them. It was a win/win situation. They sold the ammo and got a clean gun back in return.
There wasn’t a lot of turn over, but they did get some interesting pieces in occasionally. One time someone traded in a Dan Wesson 22 LR with a 6 inch barrel. I took that pistol out to the pit east of town and worked a box or two of ammo through it, enjoying the working of the action (fairly smooth as I recall) and the accuracy was good, too. That evening I cleaned it up, gave it a light oiling and the next day placed it back on the shelf at Hardware Hank’s, ready for sale. I don’t recall how long it was on the shelf, but one day I noticed it’d changed its look. I got the keys, opened the case and found it had morphed into a 6” 357 magnum! And they had a box of 357 Maximum right there on the shelf! Little did the proprietor know, nor I as a green kid who was still learning all he could but had a long way to go, that the Maximum and Magnum 357’s were not identical and the same. So that pistol sat there looking forlorn until in a conversation with the barber down at the donut and coffee shop revealed that not only was he a handloader, he loaded for the 357 Magnum and had a box of shells I could use to try out that Dan Wesson!
That afternoon the 357 accompanied me out to the pit east of town and I started my usual round of plinking. I don’t recall the load, but it was a semi-wadcutter bullet and through that Dan Wesson it shot like a laser. On a whim I set up a gallon jug at somewhere between 50 and 75 yards, further than anyone had a right to expect to hit anything with a handgun, according to the “common knowledge” of non-handgun shooters. This was my first experience in reaching out and it opened my eyes to what a handgun can do if you pay attention to what you’re doing! That jug was NOT safe at that “insane” distance, not at all. And a love for handgun shooting was born then and there. In my sheltered existence prior to this I’d never been exposed to the likes of Elmer Keith or Skeeter Skelton or any of the other masters of the handgun. Indeed it would be years before I stumbled upon their writings, but in the meantime I managed to pick up a pistol or two and continue my self taught education.
In those Post GCA of ‘68 days it wasn’t allowed for a wet behind the ears boy to purchase a handgun from a store, especially not across state lines, so the itch to own that Dan Wesson remained unscratched since it had been entered into the store’s book as required by the feds. Over three decades have passed and that itch remains unscratched. Dan Wessons have climbed in value and a bargain isn’t that easy to find. But the memory of the accuracy of that old sixgun remains. Who knows? Maybe someday the opportunity will come to relive those days of my youth when a used Dan Wesson taught me a bit about what can be done with a handgun.
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