SI Vault
William Humphrey
June 11, 1979
All manner of barnstormers hit Texas in the 1930s, but the most memorable was an old trick-shot artist—even then an anachronism
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June 11, 1979

A Shot From Out Of The Past

All manner of barnstormers hit Texas in the 1930s, but the most memorable was an old trick-shot artist—even then an anachronism

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I could see it all already: us traveling across the whole U.S.A. and me earning the envy of every boy in it. Loading the rifles, setting up the copper plaques. And that was nothing to what came later. At first people would be scandalized—which was not to say any the less envious—at a boy my age lighting up a cigarette. Then...when the shot was fired that took off the ash I wouldn't even blink. The show over, my father and I would sign autographs. If only he would have the courage to stand up to my mother's objections!

My father's smile brought down these dreams of mine on the wing. "It's mighty nice of you," he said, shaking his head. "But in the first place, I'm not all that good a rifle shot. It's shotguns I'm better acquainted with. And in the second place, I wouldn't want to be on the road all the time. Thanks, but I'll stick with what I know: greasemonkeying. If you're ever through this way again, it would be a pleasure to take you hunting. I'd like to see you on quail."

Now it was the trick-shot artist's turn to smile and shake his head. "Thanks," he said, "but I can't hit them damn things for love nor money. When I'm not working, what I like to do is play golf."

So, if my father wouldn't become a trick-shot artist, I would, in partnership with my pal, Pete Hinkle. We stocked up on BB's and practiced with our air rifles. As our skills sharpened, our targets got smaller and smaller. We became sharpshooters. We became daredevils. We took turns shooting first half-dollars, then quarters, then nickels and finally dimes from each other's fingers at 20 paces. We did it dozens of times. We couldn't miss. It was time to take our show on the road. First stop: the alleyway behind my father's shop downtown, a performance for him alone.

We tossed the coin. Pete won. He would shoot, I would hold. Pete paced off the distance, took aim, fired, and shot off my right thumbnail. Last performance of Hinkle & Humphrey's trick-shot act.

"I blame you," my mother told my father when he brought me home from the doctor's office. "You ought to have had better sense than to let them do it."

"Mother, we'd done it a hundred times before," I said. It was not out of bravery but out of shame for myself and to protect my father against her scolding that I concealed the pain I was enduring. "Don't blame him. Blame me."

She glowered at my father. My defense of him made her all the angrier at him.

"I never knew a damned air gun shot that hard," he said.

"Well, I just hope you have both learned your lesson," she said.

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