So there I was, peering over Old NFO’s elbow, trying to read the accession number on the little tag hanging off the 1878 Smith and Wesson .44 Russian, so I could record it along with the fountain of information pouring forth, but the floodgate had opened, hands were moving and it was all I could do to write down numbers, names, and details. Peter Grant was looking at another revolver, inspecting some modifications, and I couldn’t remember if I’d written that one down yet or not. Five more revolvers lay on the counter in front of us, swords and spears and a few maces hung from brackets on the wall, and Dorothy Grant had wisely tucked herself into the corner with a book, well clear of overflows of enthusiasm. The curator alternated between making note of what had been looked at and asking questions. I had unleashed a monster: knowledgable experts with nearly unlimited examples to inspect, poke, and teach from. What hath Alma wrought?!?
It started last year, when Old NFO, Peter, and the Lawdog came up on a visit and research scout. We stopped by the Panhandle Plains Museum, which is one of the unsung treasures of Texas. It is the largest history museum in the state, and includes an amazing firearms collection, only a tiny bit of which is ever on display at one time. Peter believes in serious research for his western series, which helps make them so good, and after finishing the second book (due out soon), he decided that he needed to see a live example of a particular post Civil War revolver. Which the PPHM might have.
Enter spring break, and your unsuspecting author saying, “Hi gang! I’m off this week. Wanna get together?” The response was, “Hold on just a sec,” followed by, “We’re coming up and can we look at the guns in the museum?” So I pinged some people I know at the museum and got things arranged for a visit to the collection.
Old NFO and Dorothy and I also went to Alibates Flint Quarry National Monument and hiked the quarries and back with a ranger-led group. And saw the evidence for the fires the week before. Happily, the wind stayed relatively low so we didn’t have blowing ash.
That was Monday. On Tuesday we went down to the museum and after a bit of mild confusion caused by a date mix-up that I didn’t catch and correct in time (my bad), we’d been booked for Wednesday. S’awright, we cruised the new WWI exhibits, then went to Palo Duro Canyon State Park. At 0945 the line to get in was already 12 cars, something I had not seen before. Spring Break strikes. We started at the visitor center (and gift shop), and I was thrilled to see my history book for sale on the shelves. Wheeeeeee!!!!! I did not bounce up and down too much, but I did take pictures to prove that it happened. Then I went outside to get away from the crowds, and watched ravens and a golden eagle riding the winds up the canyon walls. We had lunch in the canyon proper, then while Peter took a nap and caught up on business matters, I dragged Old NFO and Dorothy to the Carson County Square House museum in Panhandle, another wonderful small museum.
The volunteer on duty opened a building for us and Old NFO and I peered and poked at a Studebaker wagon. It has all the original gear and most of the canvas stretchers on top (the curved pieces that held up the cover.) There are also old rail cars, a very nice firearms display, local artifacts, and some taxidermied wildlife. It is a good if small local museum, and well worth a trip to poke around in if you are interested in regional history.
On Wednesday we returned to the museum, met the curator, and after a bit he led us through the maze that is the “backstage” of many museums and into the firearms storage area. Oh, my, gosh. The guys found what they needed, found other things, and helped identify more, including something from South Africa that somehow made its way to the Panhandle. If things could talk, there would be a heck of a lot of novels and biographies and history books babbling away in that room. The gents had cameras and measuring things, but no note-taking materials. I had brought pen and paper, and started trying to keep up.
It was a bit like chasing a terrier through a meat market, or someone trying to keep up with me in an archive. The guys know historic firearms inside and out, and went through revolver after revolver, pointing out modifications, alterations, unique features, and amazing pieces of information. Peter found exactly what he wanted and studied it closely, while Old NFO sampled the buffet that is part of the Colt collection. I almost managed to keep up, but it was not easy, especially when three similar revolvers appeared for comparison purposes. I learned an amazing lot, and really enjoyed the 90 minutes or so, but whew! You try reading a seven digit accession number from a flipping, weaving little paper tag on a string as the revolver-holder happily points out details and special things to someone on his other side. Dorothy, being the smart one, found a nice chair and a quiet corner and caught up on her reading. And occasionally wandered through the long guns and sharp, pointy things, no doubt trying to decide which would look best hanging over the fireplace and which would draw the instant attention of a multitude of three-letter agencies should they leave the building. (Answer: one or two. Assuming you could smuggle something that big out of the museum without attracting attention from the dozens of kids swarming the place.)
As they used to say in the society pages, “and a good time was had by all.”