Old School Outdoor Gear Technology

Recently I was working on a magazine article concerning the great old companies that once proudly made, in the USA, excellent outdoor gear. They sold the gear to seasoned trappers, hunters, anglers and expeditions who’s daily lives depending upon the gear holding up against hard use.

It brought back many fond memories. An item, as an example, is my old Eddie Bauer arctic sleeping bag that I ordered custom made back in about 1967. Many of you may not remember, but in those days Eddie Bauer was a company that outfitted expeditions, hunters and anglers, not a women’s fashion clothing store.

In 1967 I knew that my budding outdoor career was going to take me to some of the coldest environments in the world and I wanted the best gear I could find. Even though money was scarce in those early days, I ordered a custom made extra-large Karma Koram sleeping bag that was 72”X34” with a rip-stop nylon cover. Instead of the 3 pounds of goose down filling the catalog offered, I had 5 pounds of goose down put in mine. Rather than a half-length zipper I ordered a full-length extra heavy duty zipper. I also ordered a flannel liner to go into the bag. I actually talked with the person making the bag on the phone as the bag was being made. When the bill came it was a staggering $85.00. What would a bag like that cost today?

The bag has served me well in temperatures far below zero and on trips that lasted two months or more. It is as good today as it was when new, and it still looks almost new. A tribute to hand-made gear made by companies who took pride in their work, back in the good old days.

My thanks go to Mr. Colin Berg at Eddie Bauer for the 1967 catalog photos.

A GIFT PISTOL – Part 3 of 3

Tex shook his bloody head. “I can’t let my mind wander” he muttered. Slowly, with determined effort, began to pull his battered weight up the little tree, using his good leg as best he could. It seemed like agonizing hours before he was upright. Leaning onto the tree to support his mangled body, he could not resist squinting across the valley he had been happily crossing just a short time ago. He wondered if the stories of Alaskan gold that had brought him here were for real. He knew he would never know. Holding onto the little tree, weaving and unsteady, he looked puzzled. He tried to remember why he had chosen to come through this particular valley. How had he gotten between the old sow grizzly and her two mischievous cubs? If only he had gone a different route.

Pulling the Colt from his belt Tex spat at the dead bear. “Ha, old bitch, you got me but you were no match for my “Forty-Niner.”

Twisting around, using his last bit of strength he jammed the Colt into the tight fork of the tree.

“Good-by, my friend” he gasped, as the lifeless body slumped to the ground.

A warm Chinook wind began to blow and the little tree waved gently, firmly grasping Tex’s revolver.

It was in 1897 that Tex, with his last breath, placed the revolver in the forks of the young tree. It wasn’t until 1977 that a young trapper crossed a vast wilderness valley and up a slope to where a tall group of trees grew. He was exploring this country to expand his trap line for that fall. Reaching the trees he decided to sit down and take in the beautiful valley as he rested. He started to sit next to a large tree with a forked trunk when he saw the rusty metal sticking out from the fork. On the back side he saw the rusty grip frame of an old Colt pistol.

For the next hour he studied the tree and the antique it held, trying to figure out how to remove it. His mind raced as he wondered just how an old pistol wound up in such an unlikely place. He could only image. He took an ax from his pack and started to carefully remove the wood that held the old revolver tight. “If I can get the remains of this old pistol from the tree,” he thought, “what a gift it will make my young son.”

A warm Chinook wind began to blow.

A GIFT PISTOL– Part 2 of 3

Laying, looking straight up the tree, his memory returned, dreamlike, to 1871 when working as a hunter with the Hayden Expedition in the Yellowstone country he had gotten lost in a sudden snow storm. On foot, he had wandered for days without food. Tired, cold, and hungry he was laying down out of the wind next to a log in a snowless spot under a snow laden spruce. Suddenly he heard a twig snap. Peeking over the log he spotted a coyote sniffing out a blowdown just 5 yards away. The song dog, intent on his search for a meal, never saw the man. With eyes fixed on the unsuspecting coyote, Tex’s cold fingers found the gift pistol tucked in his belt. Mustering up the strength to hold the gun steady across the log he made the all-important shot – the coyote fell!

A few days later, safely back at the expedition camp; he was laughingly called the “coyote eater”. Deep inside he knew the gift pistol had once again made the difference.

“Coyote eater”, a grin came across his bloody face, “I thought it was rather good.” Then his thoughts returned to the present.

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A GIFT PISTOL – Part 1 of 3

His mind seemed to be racing in circles. “This monster on me — it’s not moving — it must be dead!” Bent, twisted, and lying part of the way under 450 pounds of muscle and hair, Tex freed his right arm. Slowly he wiped the dark red ooze from his mangled face.

His flickering thoughts told him that the sulfur smell still lingering in the cool Alaskan air meant the Colt “Forty-Niner” had done its job. “Where’s my pistol,” he mumbled as he slowly felt around his right side. Suddenly his hand felt the smooth walnut grip. A slight grin passed on the pain-numbed face. “There you are little friend, looks like you’re gonna be with me to the end,” he said as his trembling hand gripped the familiar pistol.

Pulling the old handgun closer to his body, Tex’s mind slipped into the past.
He could never forget that special day. It was his seventeenth birthday. His dad had just returned home from the Civil War and had given him his first real gun, a genuine Colt – a model 1849 pocket revolver. There were several things that made this revolver special to Tex. Its model number was the same year as he was born; his dad had taken it from a captured Union officer and this alone made it a conversation piece, but more important, the gift pistol implied he was a man. He could drive the longhorns “up North” with the other men.

On that drive the “Forty-Niner”, as he fondly called his pistol, spoke only two times, but those two times saved his young life. Trying to bring in a half wild longhorn, Tex’s horse was suddenly turned upon by the heavy horned bull; horse and rider were sent sprawling. Tex could taste the dirt as he pulled the pistol and sent two .31 caliber lead balls into the forehead of the enraged bull.

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