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Yorklyn Gun Club and the Marshall 500

In the 1920s, during the heyday of trapshooting in America, the DuPont Powder Co. estimated there were some 8,000 trapshooting clubs in America. Many small one-trap layouts flew targets across a bean or corn field. It was an exception when a club had more than two fields, but these humble surroundings became the homegrounds of many national champions. The little town of Yorklyn, Delaware, had one of the East's largest privately owned clubs. For years it conducted a five-day tournament that featured the country's first registered 500-bird 16-yard marathon. The tournament ranked second only to the Grand American in attendance and targets thrown.

Yorklyn Gun Club owner and 1939 ATA President T. Clarence Marshall ruled his club with an iron hand. The country's greatest shooters competed there in August just prior to the Grand American. Future Trapshooting Hall of Famers came from far and wide to shoot in the Marshall tournament. Frank Troeh rode the rails from the state of Washington, Mark Arie from Illinois, Ned Lilly from Michigan and Joe Hiestand from Ohio. All ironmen of the game gathered annually at Yorklyn to compete in one of the most prestigious shoots of the year.

nullThe initial Marshall shoot was held the first three days of August 1921 over three traps and a "ladies' " tent. The club sat on a slight hill overlooking a paper and fiber mill owned by the Marshall family. A new clubhouse replaced the ladies' tent in 1924, and four years later, seven regular traps and one practice field were in operation.

The first 500-bird marathon began in 1921 as a two- man challenge between Delaware shooters Ike Turner and John Minnick. Turner won with a 492. Four years later Clarence Marshall opened the race to all competitors. A 38-year-old future Hall of Famer named Steve Crothers won with 496x500. Before the last marathon held in 1950, Crothers won the event five times. His 499x500 in 1931 was thought to be unbeatable, but four years later, 27-year-old Joe Hiestand of Ohio duplicated the score.

The tournament always started on a Tuesday afternoon with the doubles race. Initially, 150 targets comprised the championship, but in later years it was dropped to 100 birds. Ted Renfro of Montana (Hall of Fame 1974) won the last year of the doubles 150-target event. He broke 141x150.

Wednesday was the big 500-bird marathon. It cost $20 to shoot the program in 1938. Target-only shooters paid 1 1/2 cents a target plus fees. The winner received $200, second place $100. Class winners, runner-ups and third-placers received $75, $65 and $35, respectively.

For Thursday's 16-yard championship, known as the "Brandywine," shooters paid $10 to enter the 200-bird race. Marshall added $1,000, divided among the champion, runnerup and class winners. Sterling silver Paul Revere bowls accompanied the cash awards.

The " Auburn Special" (Auburn was the old name for Yorklyn) was shot on Friday and also consisted of 200 16-yard targets. $1,000 was added and divided similar to the "Brandywine" event. Handcrafted leather prizes replaced the sterling silver trophies. Immediately following this event, the "Red Clay" shoot was held. This non-registered event was reminiscent of the shoots of the early 1900s, when the Interstate Trapshooting Association was the sport's governing body. Everyone stood at 18 yards, and 65-yard targets were thrown; 20 birds were shot on each of five traps. If anyone still felt like shooting after the " Auburn Special" and the "Red Clay" event, he could hang around until dark and shoot over six lighted fields. Usually about 250 shooters attended the 50-bird event.

Saturday's event, the T. C. Marshall Handicap, called for 150 targets for a fee of $9.50. The winner received $150 and a new, high-grade trapgun. Runnerup through l0th place divided $650. The first four shooters in each yardage group received a solid gold Hamilton pocket watch.

Clarence Marshall never allowed a Sunday shoot at the Yorklyn Gun Club because of his own religious beliefs and to maintain goodwill among his neighbors.

Some amazing scores were shot at Yorklyn. In 1935 Arthur Cuscaden, a professional (industry rep) for the Hercules Powder Co., put together a squad of experts who endorsed Hercules Red Dot powder. The squad consisted of Cuscaden, Ned Lilly, Hale Jones, Joe Hiestand and Bill Eldred. These five men shot together at Yorklyn and broke 498x500, eclipsing the old squad record of 497 set at Maplewood, NH, in 1916. A year later this same squad broke their own record. Ned Lilly missed the only target, and they finished with 499x500.

The great Remington professional Fred Tomlin of New Jersey (Hall of Fame 1973) began his world long- run record at the 1938 Yorklyn marathon. He broke the last 400 straight and left with an unfinished run of 702, a new record. With the '38 Grand American two weeks away, Remington took advantage of it by proclaiming Tomlin the new long-run record holder. More important, he shot a Parker single barrel shotgun (which Remington made at the time) and Remington "Sure Shot" shells.

When shooters arrived at the Grand, there were signs and banners everywhere announcing Tomlin's great achievement. The signs went so far as to tell shooters what trap Fred would be shooting on so they could watch him add to the 702 straight.

On Monday, August 22,1938, a huge crowd gathered behind Fred Tomlin's trap to watch him add to his long- run record. They didn't watch too long. He missed his 12th target, and the long run ended at 714.

Ironically, Tomlin's record held for less than two days. Joe Hiestand (Hall of Fame 1973) broke the last 66 straight at Yorklyn and all 900 Grand American 16-yard targets for an unfinished run of 966. He shot Western ammunition.

In a matter of hours, the Remington "Tomlin" signs came down and were replaced immediately by Winchester-Western "Hiestand" banners.

T .Clarence Marshall first shot registered targets in 1913, when Elmer Shaner and the old Interstate Trapshooting Association sanctioned shoots as John Norris and the ATA do today. He never forgot those early years and the shooters who made up the game. In 1933 he invited as many of the old-timers back that he could locate. Ancient tales were retold, and as is the case with oral history, facts weren't as important as a good yam (but no one really cared) .

Two iron horses of the old days, Lester German of Maryland and Neaf Apgar of New Jersey, attended. Les German had a remarkable career as a professional shooter for the Parker Gun Co. of Meriden, Conn. Prior to his association with Parker, he played major league baseball, pitching for the New York Giants (1893 to 1897) under the legendary John McGraw. With his lifetime pitching record of 34 wins and 64 losses, old Les won far more trapshooting tournaments than baseball games. In 1915 he established a new trapshooting world record by breaking 499 of 500 singles targets at the Westy Hogans shoot in Atlantic City , N J .At this tournament he broke 647 of 650 singles, doubles and handicap targets.

Mr. German, recovering from a severe stroke, attended the 1933 old-timers shoot at Yorklyn. He died less than 10 months later at age 65.

Neaf Apgar represented the Peters Cartridge Co. for almost 50 years. He managed their sales offices in San Francisco and later New York City and became one of the early directors of the old Interstate Association. Apgar is best remembered as one of the founding fathers of the Westy Hogans tournament, once run entirely by the professional shooters of the Eastern Seaboard. It is still held each September in Millington, Md. Neaf Apgar was the Hogans president from its year of inception, 1907, until his death in 1947. He was a good shooter, but not in the same league as most of the old professionals he shot against. His strong suit was organization and trapshooting promotion. He excelled at running tournaments, always conducted smoothly and without incident. Apgar , a small man with a big vocabulary , was an excellent after-dinner speaker and amateur poet. Generally Neaf ended his after-dinner speech with a poem he wrote many years ago. It went like this:

When you start out on a program
And your nerves both twitch and twinge
When your trigger pull is jumpy
And you catch one in the fringe
Then you settle down to business
And forget your flinchy spells
As you sock' em in the center
When you're shootin' Peters shells.
When a head wind kicks them upward

Or a tail wind bears them down
When the lefts are rising smartly
and the rights most hit the ground
Then you smack' em as you see' em
And your
" confidence " it swells
As you smoke
' em in the middle
When you're shootin' Peters shells.
Perhaps you favor Em Ex

Or maybe you chose Red Dot
Again you may be satisfied
With anything behind the shot
The thing that's most important
Is the tale the scoreboard tells
And the story's never bitter
When you're shootin' Peters shells.
Why fritter all your efforts
With a load not tried and true
Because someone broke a hundred
With the stuff when it was new
If you want real satisfaction
Every single doubt it quells
You' II be pasting them with Peters
Those "Peerless Peters" shells.

Les German and Neaf Apgar never saw each other again after Clarence Marshall's 1933 old-timers' reunion. For almost 50 years, these two stalwarts of the game shot together or worked side by side, running tournaments up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

The Parker Gun Co., which German represented, favored Peters ammunition as Peters was not connected with a gun company that was in competition with Parker. Peters, which Apgar worked for, felt partial to Parker as Parker wasn't in the ammunition business. This all changed in 1934 when the Remington Arms Co. Inc. purchased the assets of the Peters Cartridge Co.

The old Yorklyn Gun Club held its last tournament in 1950. Clarence Marshall and his son, who ran the club with him after World War II, just ran out of interest. The traphouses remained on that Delaware side hill until 1996, silent reminders of a once-glorious event. Today one can only visualize what it would be like to shoot for sterling silver trophies or gold Hamilton pocket watches and pay an entry fee of less than $10.

TRAP & FIELD doesn't include obituaries of gun clubs in its Completed Careers section, but if it did, there just might be as many tears shed over a club's demise as there are for the individual shooters who have passed on.

If you are interested in trapshooting history, try to stop by the National Trapshooting Hall of Fame and Museum located at the ATA headquarters in Vandalia. The museum houses one of the largest collections of trapshooting memorabilia in the world and is open to the public free of charge Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 June 2010 13:09