No, this story is not about the Intruders 1968 hit song written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, it about that special time back in the 1950’s when life was simpler and good and evil were easily identified by the color of one’s hat.
Yes, our heroes of movies and television rode through the West in their white hats ridding the territories of villains all of whom could easily be identified by their black Stetsons. I remember Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, Tonto all wore white hats. OK! Tonto didn’t wear a white hat, but he hung out with someone who did! Dale Evans wore bonnets much of the time but when she wore a cowboy hat you can bet your bottom dollar it was white. Amazingly, Marshal Matt Dillon didn’t, both William Conrad who played Dillon on the Radio and James Arness who played him on television wore dark hats. In each western story, you could count on two things; first, six guns almost never ran out of bullets until the dramatic end of the battle when both the hero and the villain would simultaneously run out after dozens of shots, and second, during the ensuing fist fight, neither combatant would lose his hat until the inevitable conclusion when the good guy knocked out the bad guy, symbolized by the departure of the black hat from the bad guy’s head.
Of course, that meant that all of us kids had to have cowboy outfits complete with cap guns. Right in the peak of the heyday when cap guns ruled during the 20 years following WW II, one Christmas it happened for my brother and me, lying out under the tree, were two complete outfits complete with white cowboy hat, vest, chaps and a full two gun rig! We were ready to run down every black hatted villain in Lake Shore. Our cap guns were the type that resembled the ornately decorated six gun revolvers that our TV heroes carried. They opened up to reveal a chamber where a roll of 50 caps on a red paper strip could be inserted. Along with all this came a big box of caps in those rolled strips.
We loaded up immediately and one of us squeezed off a shot right there in the living room. That immediately led to the “no shooting caps in the house” rule that was strictly enforced at our home. So right after church we dressed up and went outside and learned the second rule; “caps were a scarce commodity and controlled by our peace and quiet loving parents.” Yes we shot every cap in our possession within 5 minutes. At that point we could still squeeze the trigger and be rewarded by the clink of the hammer hitting the flat surface that backed up the caps but it sounded more like running out of ammunition than shooting at the bad guys. The sound of gunfire was supplemented by our imaginations, enhanced by our yelling “ka-pow” or making that sound that all kids make when playing cowboys that cannot be duplicated with the written word. By the way, Sonny and Cher notwithstanding, we never yelled “bang – bang”; that was too trite for us 8 year old bad -guy-fighting cowboys.
Whoever invented the cap with the tiny powder charge composed of potassium perchlorate, sulfur and antimony sulphide sandwiched between two paper layers which hold in the gases long enough to give a sound report when the cap is struck was a genius! Like the ink cartridges of today, it was easy to pay more for the supplies than for the cap gun itself. Also it was easy for our parents to control the noise level in the neighborhood by controlling when caps were available to us kids. I swear in my neighborhood that the parents coordinated these times; it seemed that when the boys in one family had caps, all the boys were similarly armed. These were often not good times for the girls in the neighborhood with the exception of the tom-boys who were among the worst of us in making noise. The rest of the girls did not like the sound of the caps. It was good for them that these times were few and far between.
There was a serious side of all this; one thing I learned from cap guns at the tender age of 8, was a respect for guns. My Dad sat down with us and gave us some pointers on how to handle guns. Sure, he showed us how to wear our guns low on our hips in order to draw them faster, but he also pointed out that we should never point a gun at anyone, loaded or not. When I went through firearm training in the Navy, I found his advice was closely engrained in the gun handling training that I received there. While in the Navy I had the opportunity to shoot everything from an M-1, to a 50 caliber machine gun all the way to a 5 in (130 mm) gun aboard the USS Little Rock (CLG-4) guided missile cruiser. The recoil from that last shot moved the 610 foot, 15,205 ton ship sideways in the water a few inches. Our target was over 10 miles away and we hit it! I said “we” but it was really the fire control team of which I was a member, assisted by an analog fire control computer that hit it! Still it was a very satisfying noise!
But, by the time I was in the Navy, the intrigue of cap guns had long given way to a much more powerful force in the universe; Girls! The gleam in my eye that was once reserved for that finely crafted cap gun had been instead focused for many a year on those bright sunny smiles and beautiful eyes of the girls and young women in my life. And in that fullness of time, I realized that is how it should be. Oh MY!