My grandfather was a crusty, opinionated man. I don’t think there are words in English to describe him, or how I felt about him. One thing is certain. He did not treat me like a child. I was always “old enough to know better.”
When I was about 10 year old, he taught me to reload shotgun shells. Once he was sure I was doing
it correctly, I was allowed to reload unsupervised. I was meticulous,
and loaded box after box. My grandfather used those shells in
competition, trusting me to have done them right. As an aside, he
trusted them in his guns, and as anyone who reloads knows, that is the
point at which you really trust someone.
I would sit at the table at the bottom of the basement stairs. A
bucket of old hulls on one side, a half full box of loaded shells on the
table. There were boxes of primers, and a large cylindrical can of
flake gunpowder nearby. A MEC reloading press was bolted to an old table
before me. Powder on one side, shot on the other.
The presses changed a couple of times over the years, and every
summer I got a refresher course. One thing I clearly remember was, early
on, having to set the wad to a certain compression. The ram on that
press had a spring, and as each wad cup was pressed in on top of the
powder, it had to be pulled down until that spring was compressed to a
certain mark on the frame. On each shell, at that point, I would hook my
toes under the crosspiece of the workbench and pull down with both
arms, watching carefully to see that I had gotten to the right point on
I would do a couple of boxes a night, maybe a case over the course of
each vacation. Eventually, the powder must have changed, and the need
to compress the wads went away. He got a new turret press, where one
hull went on and one finished shell came off with each pull of the
handle, and the hulls rotated, being deprimed, shaped, primed, powder,
wad, shot, and finally crimped, each in their turn.
He passed away at 85, the last of my grandparents. I went
back to New Hampshire for the funeral. My uncle took all
the guns. I took a couple of cases of his handloaded shells. I shot
them, mostly at sporting clays. I have one box left. I have not been
able to bring myself to shoot it. It sits on a shelf with the rest of
the shotgun ammo, getting a little older all the time.