The Measuring Stick

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Published on: Sep. 2, 1998

Last revision: Nov. 2, 2010

skin and clean them. I used the money to buy an old wind-up record player, which I swapped for a shiny miniature steam engine that worked-and probably today would bring $500 in the antique toy market.

I traded the steam engine to my best friend for a first baseman's glove and traded the glove to a teenager in exchange for an earsplitting, chrome wind-up siren that the Kahoka fire department had used. It would, when cranked, make every coyote for miles around howl like crazy, and it got the same reaction from my mom, who demanded that I get rid of it without further testing.

It was the siren that finally got me my .22, traded to a hound man with running dogs. He wanted the siren to locate coyotes before he turned the hounds out, and he left word at the barber shop that he had a .22 rifle to trade.

I rode my bike the long, dusty way out to his farm, and I can still remember taking the little rifle into my hands. It was a Stevens single shot with a rolling block action, a small lever under the breech that dropped the action down to let you load one cartridge at a time. It had buckhorn sights and a little wooden forearm, worn and scarred by a couple of generations of crossing fences. It was short and compact and exactly my size. A boy's gun and my blood sang to look at it.

My hound man, being an adult, had to lecture me some about owning a gun. "My daddy always said one of these things was a measuring stick," he observed. "You had to be as tall as your gun barrel before you had sense enough to shoot it," he chuckled. "Reckon you're big enough to be careful."

I smiled at that. While I fondled the rifle, he removed the siren from my bike basket and turned it over in his big hands.

"I reckon we'll have to trade on faith," he smiled. "I can't try this si-reen, or my old woman would have a conniption. I'm satisfied to swap if you are." We shook hands solemnly.

He dug in a musty drawer full of odds and ends and handed me a nearly full box of .22 long cartridges. "The largest it'll chamber," he said. "I'll just throw these in, to boot." I thanked him warmly and took off riding like the

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