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The "Professionals"

Forgotten in this age of automated traps, computers and other modem devices is the work once done by the industry trademen at trapshoots .

Companies that manufactured or distributed gun club-related products employed these hard-working, dedicated individuals. Over the years their name as well as their duties changed. During the old Interstate Association days (1890s to 1918), they were known as trademen. After World War I they were called professionals, and from the early 1970s to 1997 they were referred to as industry representatives. In 1998 the ATA dropped this classification completely, and a glorious era ended.

The Interstate Association (forerunner of the ATA) was made up entirely of manufacturers who produced trapshooting products. These companies controlled organized trapshooting in America. Their representatives literally ran all registered and many unregistered tournaments. Gun clubs supplied the grounds, clubhouse, food, trap help and referees. The trademen did everything else.

Manufacturers viewed large tournaments as a place to showcase their products. Newspaper and shooting publications provided excellent shoot coverage, and all of the big companies used "win advertising." This was the golden age of trapshooting in this country.

In the old days, Paul North of the Chamberlin Trap and Target Company saw to it that his company's traps were installed at the clubs holding big shoots a day or two before the tournament began. Chamberlin people were responsible for setting the targets each day and making all necessary repairs. Since North's company also manufactured and sold Blue Rock targets, he demanded that his traps throw only Blue Rocks. Western owned White Flyer targets in those days, and they also sold traps. Things got pretty competitive when a gun club had to decide what traps and targets to use. At the conclusion of a big tournament, Chamberlin or Western would sell the traps used at the shoot to the club or another one in the area.

nullDupont and Hercules Powder Company trademen helped out in the office, mostly writing down the names of shooters on three foot long squad sheets. Each squad had the names of shooters handwritten next to their position number in the squad. Four sheets per squad were used for a 100-bird event shot over four fields. This translated to 400 different handwritten squad sheets for a shoot with a hundred entries. Many a time a gust of wind sent completed squad sheets flying. Some were never recovered, so shooters were on their honor to tell management their scores from the lost sheet. Not all shooters were "honorable," and some dandy arguments resulted when management had to rely on competitors' "memories," which sometimes failed them.

Another trademan took the score sheets from the last trap to the clubhouse. Here he would check the sheet for errors and hand it to the two or more trademen who posted scores on a large bulletin board. Those who wrote the squad sheets and shooters' names on the score board had excellent penmanship. It resembled the flowing and flowery signatures of our country's founding fathers.

Trademen were not allowed to do anything controversial at gun clubs. They never classified or refereed. Calling a dead target lost or a lost bird dead might cause hard feelings, resulting in a boycott of the trademan's product.

Gun, ammunition and powder company men took entries, figured options, and paid off the winners. Along the line they shook everyone's hand, and when they weren't doing something else, they entered the event. And more times than not, they shot the highest score.

Major brands of commercially loaded shotgun shells were loaded with different powder brands, and all were available in the shell house. Ammunition used at shoots was always purchased at the shell house, No one reloaded, and no one brought shells from home. Generally, a trademan who worked for an ammunition distributor was in charge of shell house sales.

Most of the old-time trademen retired by the time I got into the game in the late 1940s, but a few still came to shoots. One was Clyde Bogardus Wells, who retired from Remington in 1948. Clyde was from the old South and the old school. His dad was a personal friend of Capt. A. H. Bogardus, who helped popularize glass ball and early clay target shooting in the 1870s and 1880s. Clyde retired to Clearwater, Fla., and won the state 16-yard championship in 1950 at age 67. In his younger days he was the second shooter to ever break 100 straight from the maximum 25-yard line. He told me a few stories in the 1960s that I will never forget about how the old-timers convinced shooters to use their shells.

In the old days, as now, different brands of ammunition were pretty much the same. After all, what shell kills the duck the deadest? They all do if you put the shot in the right place. So, we were always looking for sales advantages over our competition, and occasionally we would use a little trickery or deceitfulness to prove our points. Waterproof shells were the big thing long before anyone ever heard of plastic hulls. We called ours "wetproof." They weren't exactly waterproof, but our competition's weren't either. By conducting a little demonstration, I convinced a lot of trapshooters and hunters that when it came to waterproof ammunition, my shells had it allover the competition's.

Just before closing time at a hardware store or gun club, I would leave two Remington shells and two competitor's shells in a small glass fishbowl filled with water. The next morning, my shells would be in perfect condition, and the competitor's were completely soaked and deteriorated. This proved beyond doubt that Remington shells were waterproof and "Brand X" weren't.

This trick worked because I placed the Remington shells in the water with the brass heads up. The competitor's shells were set in the water so the crimped end was up. Overnight the weight of the shot in the top end of the competitor's shell was so heavy, it caused the paper hull to deteriorate and fall apart. My shells, with the light end up, remained in perfect condition.

Another old trick had to do with shotgun shell pressure. Years ago the big concern among trapshooters and hunters was consistent pressure in shells. Actually the pressure was probably the same with all manufacturers, but the ammunition salesmen working for Remington often demonstrated that the shells they sold had the most consistent pressure.

Here's how we proved our claim. The Model 11 autoloading shotgun was the country's most popular autoloader from 1905 to after World War II. The gun had a recoiling barrel. We would load five of the competition's shells in a Model 11 and place a hat on the ground about four feet from the ejection port. Every time the trigger was pulled, the shooter would apply varying pressure with his thumb on the recoiling barrel. The result was the empty hulls would land all around the hat in different places. Then we would shoot five Remington shells and apply no thumb pressure to the barrel. All five empty hulls would land in the hat, proving our shells had consistent pressure and the competition 's didn't.

Clyde B. Wells was a fine gentleman and storyteller. A lot of trapshooting history passed on when he did.

In 1918 the Interstate Association, run by manufacturers, turned control of organized trapshooting over to the amateurs, and lots of things changed. Gradually the trademen 's duties were replaced by local gun club members. Trademen became known as professionals, and they continued to do office work at large shoots, but other jobs that were historically theirs fell to other hands. They continued to compete, and most maintained the high averages of their predecessors. Ammunition was still purchased at gun clubs, and the word "reloader" still wasn't in the dictionary.

nullDuring the early 1950s, Homer Clark Jr. and his company, the Alcan Corp., changed all this. Son of one of the game's greatest Winchester- Western professional shooters, Homer was virtually born and reared at gun clubs. During the 1930s, he was among the most dominant junior trapshooters in the country. And he went on from there to win many state and Grand American championships. Twice he won the World Flyer (live pigeon) Championship. An unbelievably fast shooter, he was blessed with extraordinary vision and foresight.

Clark is the man credited with starting shotgun shell reloading in America. He formed the Alcan Corp.of Alton, lll., in 1951 and began showing people how they could reload traploads at home for half the cost of factory loads. And he started to sell reloading components. The Remingtons and Winchesters of the world had fits and tried everything possible to prevent Clark's company from being successful. Personal injury cases started to multiply when reloaders ' guns began to come apart due to high pressure handloads. For a period of time the big ammunition companies intentionally made the mouth of paper hulls thinner so, once shot, they couldn't be reloaded. Eventually the Alcan Corp. offered a factory- loaded shotgun shell that sold for substantially less than the red and green ones offered by major manufacturers.

Reloading brought thousands of new shooters into the game, but it pretty much eliminated the big ammunition and powder company professionals from doing much work at tournaments. Factory-loaded shell sales at gun clubs were reduced to practically nothing, and the big gun companies spent more time in court defending their product in liability suits started by careless handloaders. Companies could no longer justify sending more than a couple of professionals to a state or zone shoot when most of the shells shot were reloads. The Grand American was an exception as shells used there must be purchased from the ATA.

In the early 1970s, the ATA changed the professional category name to industry representative. By this time, their duties at gun clubs consisted primarily of servicing shooters' needs. Unlike the old days, they did little to help run a big tournament, and few of them were capable of shooting a winning score. In 1998 the ATA finally dropped the classification completely.

The old game lost a lot of luster when the colorful trademen/professionals stopped coming around. Along with gun club work, they settled arguments, put on demonstrations, shot high scores and were regarded as experts in their field. Sadly, all of this is gone. Some say it's a better game now, though I'm inclined to think it isn't.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 May 2010 11:07