Memories of a Clark’s Battery Kid

by Mike Kendra on May 3, 2010

An Old-School Nationals Cannon Match, I remember them shooting at balloons!

My Dad has been taking me skirmishing for as long as I can remember. The long trips in the car, the smell of Coleman Fuel, and the foil wrapped Ring-Dings are the memories that make skirmishing so special to me.

More on the Ring-Dings Later…

My favorite memories of skirmishing include sleeping in my godfathers Winnebago motor home, in that compartment over the front cab… You guessed it, while we were driving to Nationals… What can I say? It was the late 70′s/early 80′s and we didn’t think is was any big deal.

My godfather would tow my parents pop-up camper down to the Fort and we had great fun eating chicken dinners and goofing around at the camp site. Our unit would always have great big campfires, and I can remember the guys burning pallets and old telephone poles and logs that had been pulled from the Passaic River in NJ. Who knows what we inhaled…

Our campsite was smaller then, more intimate, and the fun of Nationals was more like a circus then the current state. We had a goofy bunch then.

One guy, a dentist, would leave old false teeth in the bathrooms just for fun. Thinking back on those old stinky holes in the ground on Artillery row makes me gag even now, but I smile remembering guys coming out wearing old military gas masks. How’d we manage without flush-toilets, I’ll never know…

We also had a guy who loved practical jokes, and would tie 3 feet of fishing string to a rubber snake, and the other end to his boot and scare the heck out of us around a late night camp fire. I can still hear the screams of “SNAKE!!”

I used to also love riding on the tailgate of my dad’s Suburban to get stuff. The water up on the hill tasted better, tasted less like fish to all of us… Nevermind that we were getting water at the dumping station bathrooms… And you could fit a lot of chicken dinners in the back of that Suburban, picking dinners up at the pits up at the barn was standard then…

Okay, okay, the Ring-Dings… it didn’t happen at Nationals but it could have. We used to stuff Styrofoam wads into the cavity of our cannon shells way back then, they’d be covered in “tin-foil” (ha ha, that’s for my wife) and you’d push them into the cannon shell with your thumb.

My dad knew that they looked a lot like Ring-Dings, so he hid one those chocolate goodies amongst the foam wads. One guy, Lenny, was unlucky enough to stick his thumb into the cream-filled center. We’ve been laughing about that joke for many, many years. (And I still think the old Ring-Dings wrapped in foil tasted better than the plastic-wrapped ones of today!)

You had to be there…. Maybe you were?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Norm Gibson May 3, 2010 at 11:01 am

What I remember about the nationals in the early 70s, was leaving after work Friday evening, driving most of the night to get there. Setting up a tent in the dark, wishing I had a pop-up camper. I don’t think anyone had a “big” rig then. Then getting up Saturday morning to watch, (I don’t remember the schedule) the artillery matches, regional all star musket team matches, demonstration carbine team matches, and staying up Saturday night around the campfire with rebel yells going around the fort like a wave. Getting up early Sunday morning shooting six minute events, and an eight minute stake event with four relays of skirmishers. Leaving the fort between 5-6 in the evening driving 500 plus miles back to be able to get to work at 7:30 Monday morning.

Phil Spaugy May 3, 2010 at 10:30 pm

I have only been a member since 1978, but my fondest Nationals memories are of my early years of staying in an old tent with Digger Huntoon, Jim Oswalt and Chuck Fulton. We would arrive at the Fort Thursday evening, set up the tent, then it was off to Sutlers and then to bed. We would rise early to shoot our individuals. Then it was off to Gettysburg, Antietem or Harpers Ferry ….and we always wore our uniforms ! Saturday was carbine, then more Sutlers and then the thrill of wearing the fifes and drums as they marched around the Fort. Musket match on Sunday, then back home to Ohio….I loved every second of every minute of every hour of my time at the Nationals.

I am not one to wish for things the way they I think they were, because oft times, your memories are not the reality. but in this case I just wish we could get some of that atmosphere back.

John Holland May 4, 2010 at 10:34 am

I joined the N-SSA in 1963, and sold $1 raffle tickets for the new Home Range, but wasn’t able to attend a National until May 1964. It was the 2nd National held at Ft. Shenandoah, and it was wild, to say the least! Like Phil, the first stop was always Sutler’s Row. I can still see it in my mind’s eye…saw horses with old doors laid across them and guns literally piled up on them! At night everything was a sea of twinkling lights as far as you could see, and Sutler’s Row was shoulder to shoulder until the wee hours. Fife & Drum music could be heard lilting in from all corners of the camp. We didn’t have permanent camp sites yet, so part of the “fun” was finding where you were assigned to camp and then setting up. Like Norm said, it was always in the dark. The view in the early morning hours was fascinating, with tents, tiny campers, people sleeping in cars, or just out in the open on WWII Army cots, scattered everywhere. There was so much stuff on Sutler’s Row, I didn’t know where to start. It was like a museum, except everything was for sale! I only had $5 for the whole weekend and ended up at Bernie Mitchell’s tent where he had piles of artifacts from the famed Bannerman’s Island. Having read about the Island, and then being allowed to handle the things from it, was an ecstasy for that young boy that remains unparalleled, even at this late date. Bernie had a large wooden crate full of a rainbow colored assortment of Artillery Fuze Packs. I remember buying 4 packs. They were Red, Green, Yellow, and Blue, and were $.50 apiece, so there went 40% of my money! Bernie also had a cardboard box full of old wide brimmed hats labeled “Rough Rider Hats” for $2 apiece. They were pretty beat up, and I really wanted one. But, I didn’t buy one because my Dad said they looked like old worn out hats from a bunch of Bums. First learning lesson, “Dad wasn’t always right!” But, that revelation didn’t come until much later in my life. I then drug my Dad over to one of the saw-horse tables and made him look at an 1866 Winchester Saddle Ring Carbine, priced at $60. He looked at me and said “Just how much money do you think I have?” Dad is 84 now, and will ask me about once a year what that 1866 Winchester is worth today. Wonderful times, great memories, the best friends you could ever have…Life in the N-SSA.

John Holland
44th New York
Ellsworth Avengers

Mike M. May 4, 2010 at 8:54 pm

I wrote an article on growing up in the N-SSA that ran in the Skirmish Line about 10 years ago.

I remember the Skirmish-gypsy life….in the ’60s and ’70s, most shoots in the National Capital area were not at Fort Shenandoah. So you packed a tent or pulled a camper. Baughman’s Mill, Bedford…I have vague memories of Fort A.P.Hill, even.

And the Nationals! Oh, that was a blast even through the ’80s. Impromptu rebel yell contests in the evenings, visiting other team’s camps, the band marching through on Saturday night.

No, I don’t wish for all the old times back. But it would be nice to get some of the friendly atmosphere back. These days, everybody is busy watching their back.

Mike M. May 5, 2010 at 10:00 am

I’ll add that it WOULD be nice to get those old-time prices back, though. Original guns are getting to be absolutely backbreaking these days, and things are not likely to get any better.

Rich Siegel May 6, 2010 at 4:52 pm

I started with Barrery B, 2nd NJ Art. (the old name for Clark’s Battery) back in May, 1965. At that time, we were given a camp sight on top of the hill. I remember being part of the cannon crew when Ray, Pete, Alan, Bob Fisch and a few I forget, won the match with a perfect score. I left the battery and skirmishing in 1968 when I graduated from college and got a job. Didn’t get back into the N-SSA until 1994. A lot has sure changed!

Rich Siegel
Sherman’s Bodyguard

CHUCK MULROONEY JR May 2, 2012 at 1:20 pm

I WILL NEVER FORGET THE BATTLE OF GETTYBURG IN1976

WE WERE TOLD IS WAS NO BIG DEAL I DID NOT BRING A CAMERA

I HAD GATORADE IN MY CANTEEN
I WAS TOLD TO GO TO THE FRONT LINE
WE HAD 40,000 PEOPLE WATCHING US
WE MADE THE COVER OF THE NY TIMES

CHUCK MULROONEY JR May 2, 2012 at 1:22 pm

DEAR GUYS IN CLARKS BATTERY

I WISH YOU 50 MORE YRS

CHUCK MULROONEY JR

PS 1971 TO 1979 WERE GREAT YRS

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