The Jenkin's Clan

I noted with a particular sadness the recent passing of William "Bill" Jenkins. The January 2003 issue of TRAP & FIELD carried a thumbnail sketch of a long and successful shooting career. Bill was 90 when the end came, and with him died the last person I knew that hobnobbed with shooters from the 1920s. Old Bill and I shared a few things in common. Both our dads started us shooting before we were 10, and we literally grew up around trapshooters. Bill won the 1927 Junior Clay Target Championship at Vandalia and a lot more after that. Twenty-four years later, I won the Sub Junior Clay Target and a tin cup or two since. But more importantly, we were good listeners, and sometimes good listeners become good storytellers. And Bill Jenkins had plenty of stories.

Bill was a typical shooter of his era. He wore a necktie, pressed trousers, a soft hat and polished shoes. He shot at fast pulls, slow pulls and broken targets with guns that didn't resemble prosthetic devices. Double targets were thrown lower, longer and farther apart than the close pairs we shoot at today. In Bill's heyday, the game was composed of two types of shooters-those who could win, and those who thought they could. The recreational shooters of today didn't exist.

Bill's grandfather and namesake, William P. Jenkins, began as a poor country boy from Orleans, Ind., but he conceived the idea of shipping live poultry to Eastern markets in specially built railroad cars, patented it, and got rich. Bill's dad, Ralph, and his Uncle Rock were longtime directors in the company that they eventually sold to Flying Tiger Airlines. The Jenkins boys had plenty of money to shoot, and shoot they did.

They remain the only two brothers to ever serve as ATA Presidents. Rock ran nullthe show at Vandalia in 1937-1938, and Ralph was president during World War 1I,1944-1945.

In the '20s the two brothers established the Jenkins Brothers Gun Club in Orleans and for years ran target and live pigeon shoots there. In 1959 Ralph became the first shooter to ever register 200,000 targets. At the time, everyone thought this was a record that would stand forever.

Ralph and Rock were both inducted posthumously to the Trapshooting Hall of Fame in 1978.

About that time Bill, the storyteller, sat down and recorded for posterity many of the tales that were so

The back of this picture reads, "Dad and I at the 1926 Grand American. He broke 98 which was fifth over-all. I broke 97 and won a shoot-off for 11th place. Few knew we were even there as 'Sparrow' Young won with 100 straight."

much a part of his years on the shooting circuit. He called his little pamphlet "Rambling with Bill." It couldn't have had a better name, for ramble he did.

Perhaps the words didn't flow in a Hemingway style, but what he had to say more than made up for the way he said it. The paragraphs that follow are some of the stories found in Bill's booklet that I paraphrased for the sake of brevity.

Bart Lewis of Auburn, Ill., won the 1913 North American Clay Target Championship at the Grand. We all called him "Old Tomato Face." Enjoying a little of Kentucky's finest libation, he recalled some of his early days. He told us how he and his younger brother used to sneak their father's shotgun out and hunt rabbits. Their dad eventually caught them and figured they were too young for firearms. He knew if he hid the gun they would find it, so he removed the hammer and carried it in his pocket. A while later his father was in town, and a friend remarked what a good shot his boys were. Bart's father asked how he knew. His friend said he had seen them shoot the day before. Mr. Lewis said, "That's impossible. I have the gun's hammer in my pocket." His friend laughed and said it didn't matter. He had watched Bart point the gun and, when he was ready to shoot, yell at his brother, "hitter; hitter." The younger Lewis hit the firing pin with an old claw hammer; and they picked up the rabbit together.

Bart said when he got older and his father trusted him with the gun, he market-hunted quail and sold them for a dollar a dozen.

Dad, Uncle Rock and I took the B&O railroad to the 1926 Missouri State Shoot in St. Louis. We stayed at the Sattler Hotel. The old Sportsmen's Review published weekly out of Cincinnati (forerunner of TRAP & FIELD ) had a picture on the front cover of the new shooting grounds that was to host the big shoot. We took a cab to the address the magazine stated the club was at, only to find a vacant lot. After much difficulty we located the shoot. It was being held in a large cemetery, and whenever a funeral was in progress, the shooting had to stop. I remember the traphouses were bales of straw with corrugated tin roofs.

Many years ago, my mother arrived at our Orleans gun club simultaneously with a well known Midwesternshooter who had brought someone else's wife with him. Mother was somewhat aghast but attempted to maintain her composure. The shooter said, " Margaret, you know my wife, don't you?" Mother answered, "Yes." He responded rather sheepishly, "Well, this ain't her."

Big Paul Derringer, the Cincinnati Reds pitching great and winner of two 1940 World Series games against Detroit, used to shoot pigeons at Orleans and was always at the Grand American. He was the first to tell me this Hack Wilson tale. Hack played for the old Chicago Cubs baseball club, then managed by Joe McCarthy. I believe Wilson still holds the major league RBI (runs-batted-in) record of 191 in a season. McCarthy, in an attempt to demonstrate to his players the evils of alcohol, took two glasses-one filled with water, the other whiskey-and put a worm in each. The liquor killed the worm instantly, but the one in the water wiggled merrily. Joe asked Hack what this told him. Wilson promptly replied, " If you drink whiskey, you won't get worms."

My career in trapshooting started during the heyday of two great Hall of Famers, Mark Arie and Frank Troeh. Old Frank had a good smooth style and a distinct snap as he prepared to call for his bird. Mark Arie was very much different. He would put the stock to his shoulder very quickly and shake it two or three times before permanent contact was made.

My dad saw the great Fred Gilbert and W. R. "Bill" Crosby shoot. He said Gilbert was a "pointer" and Crosby a "poker," and only a dyed-in-the-wool trapshooter would understand what he meant.

The great Joe Hiestand is as effortless and smooth as anyone I ever saw. Ned Lilly was the classic example of "poker." Pennsylvania's Walter Beaver was a very careful competitor, being slow and methodical in movements. Arnold Riegger and Dan Orlich rank with the greatest in simplicity of form. I've observed some of today's best at nullpigeon shoots, and to me, they lack the flair of those of yesteryear. But I'm somewhat prejudiced.

Bill Jenkins ended his 35-page booklet of rambling by saying in part, "I've had a good, long life and I desire to go down swinging. I would prefer my epitaph to be the line from the old "The Martins and The Coys" ballad: "He was about to pull the trigger when he seen her purty figger." Amen!

Mr. Jenkins' widow and son graciously gave our museum a number of fine gold pins and trophies. Among the items was a silver Hamilton pocket watch in its original box. It was engraved, "1927 Grand American Junior Champion. Won by William P. Jenkins."

It is only fitting that Bill's old pocket watch now resides in our Vandalia museum, for it represents a significant time in America. A time when everything ticked slower and folks were friendlier. A time when "really cool" meant exactly that and "grass" was something you cut. Most of us missed out on these times. The late Bill Jenkins didn't.