Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Saga Of Jumping Billy..............

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a collector of almost anything and everything. Someone once told me that my taste are somewhat mercurial. I get hot and heavy into various things, then cool off only to branch off into other areas with the same enthusiasm. But having said that, I have one heck of a good time going from interest to interest, then sharing with my friends.

Back when I started doing Revolutionary War reenactments, one of the things that fired me up were the reproduction artillery pieces that I saw in the field. Sometimes I even served on several gun crews that were short of members. Nothing is as much fun or gets as much attention as a field piece, either a 3 pounder or even a 6 pounder going "bang" at the proper time.

Now for a short history lesson. Artillery in the time of the Revolutionary War, was a bit different than what we have today. Most field artillery was used like we today would use a heavy machine gun, as close infantry support weapon. Most of the cannons used in this time period were smaller so that they could stay up with the quickly advancing troops. Swivel guns, 3 and 6 pounders were the norm. (so named after the weight of shot fired) Any larger, and the combined weight of the gun tube and carriage would make it impossible to move it any great distance or with any speed in the field. Larger guns were used on ship or in fortresses or fixed defensive positions. They were also used in assaults or sieges on fixed defenses such as Yorktown.

I had always wanted a big gun, but it was sorta like it was on the bottom of my wish and want list. There were other items I could afford easier or wanted much worse. Then, a few years back, that changed. A good friend of mine told me he was looking for a shotgun to give his son to keep around the house as a self defense gun. I had a couple of old police riot guns that I was willing to let go, so I asked him what he had to trade. He suggested a few odds and ends which didn't throw any sparks but then he said "I've got a swivel gun" I developed "lock on" and told my buddy, "let's talk. " After a haggling session that would have made two Armenian rug merchants proud, we came to an agreement of gentlemen and my friend ended up with a police marked Remington 870 and a reasonably priced Tex-Mex dinner, and I ended up with a Swivel gun w/ carriage, as well as a Sergent's Halberd. The halberd was tossed in to "sweeten" the deal, plus I am the only kid on my block that has one. I am a fool for sharp pointed things and this is the ultimate in that field.   *grin* The only minor problem is that with it's 8 foot length, that I can't move it around in the house very easily nor lean it up into the corner or store it very easy.  

The swivel has a 11/4 " bore and the tube is about three feet long. It came on a weird sort of carriage, but my buddy told me that it was a French design and historically accurate. (famous last words) I accepted it at face value, and planned on taking it to my next Royal Navy reenactment. That happened about three weeks later. We went to an event hosted by a Scottish Highland unit doing a Highland Games/Jacobite Rising event. We were invited to provide the highlanders with something to shoot at. We of course, went to uphold the dignity of his majesties lawful government as well as to show the royal standard. Pretty soon, we (The Navy contingent) were calling the event "The Great Jacobite Turkey Shoot."

On the first day of the event, we took our post on the battlefield. I set up my new swivel gun, bursting with pride and trying to think of a proper name for this fearsome weapon. Many names ran through my head, Retribution, Sudden Death, Thunderer, and so on. This lasted until the swivel's first shot. At that point, I discovered that as cool as the gun looked, with it's elevating carriage. It just didn't work. We fired the gun and because of it carriage it flipped over on it's back. This was with a simple blank charge, no projectile. I looked at my brand new gun, picked it up and set it back up. We reloaded it, and touched her off again. Once more, the gun did a back flip and landed upside down. But this time, people were watching and one of my shipmates yelled out, "Damn, did you see that thing jump?" So, at that point, two things were decided. First, I didn't think it would be too wise to fire it any more until it was a little bit more stable. And second, this weapon would be forever more known as Jumping Billy.

I took Jumping Billy home and set it in  my workshop until I could do some figuring on the carriage. A few months later, I thought it might be fun (and of course educational) to fire a live shot out of her. I took her down to the creek loaded a modest powder charge and about one pound of buckshot down the bore. Mindful of how the gun acted with a blank charge, I weighed the wheels down with sandbags and cinder blocks. I then touched her off. There was a big boom, a lot of smoke, the sound of branches, twigs, and other odds and ends crashing in the woods where the buckshot went. Also Jumping Billy lived up to it's name, it was as if I hadn't put any extra weight on the gun. When it fired, it ended up doing doing a triple somersault with a half twist backwards, ending up on it's back. The Bulgarian judge gave it a hard 9.7. So once again back to my shop it went.

Some time later, my messmate, Mr. Grimes told me that he was doing some cannon work and would be willing to work up a new stand for the swivel. I told him I would be willing to swap some leather work for it. We came to a agreement of gentlemen and Mr. Grimes took custody of the gun tube this past week-end and hopefully I will have a shooting swivel gun to play with soon.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Now you have russian translation of your post:) No, that's no Putin, just some artillery freaks. Cheers.