Jimmy Robinson
History has a habit of forgetting about those whose names have long been chiseled on gravestones. The past great shooters, administrators, and promoters of our game are but a dim memory to all but a few. Some of the people we owe the most seldom, if ever, pulled a trigger. They say Elmer Shaner, who ran the old Interstate Trapshooting Association for more than twenty years, never shot a clay target in his life. Old Billy Moore, editor of The Sportsman Review for over fifty years never shot (Sportsman Review is now Trap & Field).Betty Ann Foxworthy, retired editor and publisher of Trap & Field shot only on occasions during her early years with the magazine. The late Jimmy Robinson, trap and skeet editor of Sports Afield for over forty-five years, could hit targets if he wanted to, but he seldom did. He preferred shooting ducks, telling stories, and chewing tobacco. There was and can only be one Jimmy Robinson. He spent his life writing about people whose accomplishments came nowhere near his own. At an age when most can’t remember what they had for breakfast, he could recite scores, names, dates, and places of events that happened some sixty years past, or tell you who got four hits in the Yankee-Red Sox game last Tuesday at Fenway. His computer-like mind stored every little thing and if one turned on the switch, history just rolled from his mouth, which was often tobacco stained.Jimmy was born on August 27, 1896. During World War I he served as a sniper with the Canadian 44th Infantry. Over 6,000 were killed or wounded in his outfit. Machine gun holes in his right leg bore testament to the action he saw in France. On April 11, 1925, he became ATA life member #910. A year later he wrote his first article for Sports Afield about a hunt with Annie Oakley in 1924. As the assistant manager and statistician for the ATA, he started to write trapshooting columns for Grantland Rice, the famous sports columnist who picked All-American football teams for Colliers Magazine. Rice asked Jimmy to pick an All-American Trapshooting Team for his syndicated column. Jimmy picked one and continued to do so for the next 37 years (from 1964 to date a committee selects the teams). In earlier years one woman, one junior, and one professional (Industry Rep) were selected along with about ten men. At the suggestion of his long time friend, author Ernest Hemingway, Jimmy started selecting a junior team in 1949, along with an industry and first and second women’s squad. He added a sub-junior team in 1960, and made Britt Robinson of Texas captain. Jimmy knew talent. Twenty eight years later Britt broke 100 from 27 yards to win the 1988 Grand American Handicap. He announced a veteran team in 1962 consisting of “old timers” 70 years and older who were still active in the sport. The veteran team as we know it today came into being 1968, the senior vet team a few years later. Jimmy Robinson was a lovable character but always had a way of putting you in your place. When asked by shooters why they weren’t picked on the All-American team his answer was always the same: “You didn't shoot good enough, that’s why.” On the other hand, if one shot well and happened to run across Jimmy there was always the natural desire to brag a little. Between tobacco spits and one finger typing he mostly would say, “You should shoot well, you’re shooting all the time.” I don’t believe I’ll ever forget opening envelope addressed to me some 50 years a from the Midland Bank Building, Minneapolis. It was from Jimmy written on Sports Afield letterhead advising I was on his 1952 Junior All-American second team. This was as big a thrill as a 14-year-old country boy from Connecticut could possibly stand. I was simply elated. One just doesn’t forget about letters like that. There are countless Jimmy Robinson stories in circulation. It was a known fact hated to drive a car. He owned them but didn’t like to drive and would do his best get the other fellow behind the wheel. Right after the second world war, Jimmy and baseball great Ted Williams were duck hunting in Stuttgart, Arkansas. They decided to drive Ted’s car to Florida for some Tarpon fishing before spring training started. Jimmy promised to do half the driving. Before duck camp broke up Robinson started passing word around that he was colorblind. When the trip to Florida started, Jimmy was behind wheel. At the first red light, he sailed right through it, never touching the brake. That was enough for Williams. He ordered Jimmy stop and drove the whole distance himself. For the next two days the famous colorblind writer sat on the passenger side telling stories and spitting tobacco juice into an empty tuna fish can.      Ted Smith, a now-retired Westen-Winchester rep, spent his first few months the job living with Jimmy and his wife Clara in Minneapolis. Ted and Jimmy used to duck hunt together. He told this story often: “Jimmy and I started out for the marshes about 3 a.m. one morning with Jimmy driving. After about 5 minutes on the road I looked over at him and his head had dropped and his eyes appeared closed. I said, ‘Jimmy are you sleeping?’ ‘No only dozing,’ came the reply. I made him stop right away and took over behind the wheel.      “Years later the old writer told me he often pulled the same trick. His right eye was closed but his left open. This little maneuver always brought about a driver change which also enabled Jimmy to get an extra hour of sleep.”

      You didn’t bet or play cards with Jimmy. His remarkable memory never forgot what cards had been played and what remained in the deck. Gin rummy was his game and if he was ever beaten no one can remember who did it. He played against some pretty important people of his time, like Clark Gable, Ernest Hemingway, Gary Cooper, Will Rogers and Babe Ruth.

     The great Wisconsin skeet shooter Ed Scherer used to tell this story. “One night on  the road to the 1960 World Skeet Shoot in Virginia Beach, Va., he and I decided to play gin for a half a cent a point. He beat me in 27 of 28 games and if he hadn’t let me off the hook I would have lost $380. I had a stick shift Ford station wagon at the time. After three unsuccessful starts in high gear the crankshaft was about to pop. You guessed it, he was a passenger for the entire trip, spitting tobacco juice out the right front window that was open most of the time.”

     Jimmy loved to set you up for a bet, too. The first World’s Skeet Shoot was held in Cleveland in 1935. A bus took shooters from the hotel to the gun club and back at the conclusion of events. Every morning they drove by a large brickyard. Jimmy always sat next to Ollie Mitchell of Massachusetts.  Mitchell was a skeet All-American at the time. Every morning as they drove by the brickyard Jimmy would say, “I wonder how many bricks are piled up there.” A $20 bet was made and each wrote his number on a piece of paper. That afternoon, Jimmy made the bus driver stop at the brickyard and he and Ollie looked up the foreman. He knew exactly how many bricks were there and it was within ten of the number Jimmy had written down. Ollie Mitchell couldn’t believe it but reluctantly handed over his twenty bucks. Jimmy gave it back to him the next day along with the reason he had won the bet. The day before the wager drive him to the brickyard and the owner had told him how many were there.
    When Ducks Unlimited was formed in 1938, Jimmy got behind the movement (he later became a member of the Board of Trustees). He was involved with DU all his life and at their 1978 Annual Convention in Winnipeg, he was honored as a primary factor in the growth and funding of the organization. Once at a fundraiser luncheon in Minneapolis he helped collect $150,000 for the Delta Wildlife Research Station. At the time it was the largest amount ever raised over a single afternoon lunch.      Every summer Jimmy released a duck survey which he took from western Canada. Over 400 newspapers were informed as to what kind of season American water-fowlers could expect in the fall.      He also ran a duck club in Manitoba for almost fifty years. Here he entertained movie stars and millionaires, and just plain common folks, too. Jimmy Robinson was a primary force in establishing the Trapshooting Hall of Fame and Museum at Vandalia. His early records and photos of past champions were instrumental in the selection of shooters who dominated the early years of trapshooting in America. In appreciation of his untiring efforts and lifetime promotion of our sport, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame on August 24, 1971. Perhaps Trap & Field’s Betty Ann Foxworthy said it best in a 1979 booklet on All-American teams she and Jimmy authored, “Jimmy Robinson is in three national halls of fame for trapshooting, skeet shooting, and fishing. He is also in the Minnesota All Sports Hall of Fame, along with Bronko Nagurski, Harmon Killebrew and Bud Wilkerson. And if there were halls of fame for memory, duck hunting, raising money for wild fowl conservation and longevity as a writer Jimmy would be in those too.” Jimmy died of heart and kidney failure on June 18, 1986, exactly 15 years to the day I’m writing these lines. He was 89 years old. Jimmy Robinson was the only man one will ever meet who could smoke a pipe, spit on the floor, wink at you with a nervous eye, twitch and remember your name and the score you broke to win some fifty years ago.If there are gun clubs in heaven, one must assume the wind never blows and everyday is sunny and pleasant. And you can bet Jimmy is a frequent visitor. I can see him now, wearing that old straw hat, chewing on half an unlit cigar, holding the lined pad he always carried scratching down words only he could read. If there is an “All-Heaven” team picked annually, Jimmy is involved for sure. There are a lot of folks up there he knew from the old days. And a fair amount he knew that aren’t there too.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 June 2010 14:12