Cap Guns

It amazes me sometimes to think about the things we take for granted in today’s world. We talk, text or email people around the world from a little device we carry in our pockets. We scroll through hundreds of channels looking for a show to watch on television. Or to DVR so we can watch it later.

But it wasn’t always so. . . .

Kids nowadays have light wands and laser guns and all sorts of Star Wars-related paraphernalia to play with. They can be Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader or some other character from the stratosphere.

Back in the 1950s—and for decades before that—we were cowboys. Cowboys and Indians, cowboys and outlaws. Whatever.

You never wanted to be the outlaw or the Indian, because everybody loved the cowboys. You wanted to be John Wayne or Hoot Gibson or Roy Rogers. The good guys always won.

Of course, cowboys always had guns. You could just extend your index finger and let that be your gun, or you could get a stick or any old piece of wood that even approximated the size and shape of a gun. Whatever happened to be at hand.

Now and then you’d get lucky, though. Someone would give you a cap gun for your birthday.

What’s a cap, you ask? You thought it was something to put on your head that made you look like a baseball player about to spit a load of tobacco juice? Nope. Wrong kind of caps.

Caps were strips of paper that had tiny bits of gunpowder or some other kind of material in them. Actually, I suppose they consisted of two strips of paper affixed together. At certain intervals there would be a little round dimple in the paper that held the explosive.

You would load a roll of this paper in your cap gun and pull it through until one of the dimples was in the right spot. Then when you pulled the trigger, the hammer would strike the little explosive dimple, and it would make a noise imitating a gunshot.

Each time you pulled the trigger, the cocking mechanism would move the paper roll to just the right spot for the hammer to “fire” the next shot. Of course, you ended up with the used portion of the paper sticking out of the top of the gun looking kinda silly, but who cared. When it got too long to suit you, you just tore it off and tossed it.

Oops. Don’t tell any of your eco-friends we actually tossed paper on the ground. I don’t want to freak them out. But we were kids, and no one thought about such things back then.

Ø Think of your early childhood—what things would blow your children’s or grandchildren’s minds compared to their lives today?

Ø How did some of these things from childhood mold your development?

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About David N. Walker

David N. Walker is a Christian husband, father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years in the health insurance industry, during which time he traveled much of the United States. He started writing about 20 years ago and has been a member and leader in several writers' groups. Christianity 101: The Simplified Christian Life, the devotional Heaven Sent and the novella series, Fancy, are now available in paperback and in Kindle and Nook formats, as well as through Smashwords and Kobo. See information about both of these by clicking "Books" above.
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12 Responses to Cap Guns

  1. The gunpowder smell is the BEST!!
    Love Ella Fitzgerald!!!


  2. Cap Guns says:

    Preach it brotha!! This article is exactly why I started my website! When my kids fire one of their cap guns and I smell the smoke of it, brings me right back to my childhood playing out in the woods with my brothers.


  3. Texanne says:

    We never had a cap gun, but that didn’t stop us from buying rolls of caps at whatever little country store we might get into. All it takes to set off that sound and, yes, that cozy smell, is a chunk of concrete (like a front step or a curb) and a hammer.

    My grandkids would be flabbergasted at the freedom we had. Hike all over the farm? Sure. Kill copperheads in the garden with a garden hoe? Sure, what 12 year old girl can’t do that? Harvest the volunteer with a cutlass machete? That was fun, because I was young, and my knees were good. Walk three miles of dirt and gravel road to visit my friend–without benefit of cell phone or soccer mom. Distribute lye into the privy? Leave the house after morning chores, and be gone all day without an Amber alert going off. Carrying a pocket knife to school because we carried pocket knives everywhere because they are endlessly useful, and nobody got paranoid. Zero tolerance was something your parents had, not a set-in-stone excuse for school personnel not to think. Bookmobiles. Heaven.

    And cheap gasoline, so after church, if the weather was too cold to go to the lake, we could just go driving, aimlessly, to enjoy the changing colors of wildflowers or autumn leaves or winter rime. Stop somewhere pretty and whip out the picnic lunch Mom had packed, and have lunch.

    Even while we clamped precariously on the bottom rung of lower middle-class life, we had a good time. I’m not sure that kids today have a good time. Kindergarteners with play dates, third graders with daily planners, no kid without constant supervision and guarding. Poor little prisoners.


  4. Piper Bayard says:

    I loved cap guns! And, as Kate said, the smell of gunpowder. Gunpowder to this day smells like home and all things warm and wonderful.

    The thing that would freak out kids today is that we didn’t just bring our guns to school by accident when we forgot to take them off the pickup rack. We brought them on purpose for the gun safety classes. Funny, none of us shot anyone, either. Maybe because hand in hand with learning to shoot came the lesson that you don’t shoot people.

    Love the blog, David. 🙂


  5. Stacy S. Jensen says:

    Ah, the memories of my childhood will not match my toddler, who already video chats with his family in other states, uses the speaker phone on a cell phone and has digital videos and photos. Hubby and I wondered if he would ever know anything about the Lone Ranger, etc. So, we found a discount DVD and have it ready for him one day to watch.


  6. DM says:

    How you brought back the good ole days. Did anyone not have a cap gun? I can still smell that odor when you snapped several in a row. We’d hide all over the neighborhood in those days, safely, without someone yelling ‘get off my property.’ Everyone watched out for everyone’s children. Ah, nostalgia.


  7. My oldest brother had a cap gun. I forgot all about those. Wow. They smelled like gun powder if you shot off enough of them.

    I was a preschool teacher for many years and even though we had C.D. players for music time every once in a while we’d pull out a record player and play some songs from a vintage children’s album — Ella Fitzgerald. The kids loved this. One day I’d forgotten that this was the first time this class had seen the record player and they were awed. The cutest comment came from a little boy who said in amazement. “My teacher, you have big C.D.’s.”

    Fun post David.


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