If only our guns could talk...
by Larry S. Moore
Every antique gun has a story. Some of that story is recorded in various production and sales records. Far too often records, especially on our "Dear Elsie's" (LC Smith Shotguns) are lost or destroyed. Much of that story rests with the owners who used the gun for hunting, the shooting sports or perhaps their job. Artifacts are perhaps left along with the gun to pique our interests. In far too many cases it is too bad the gun can't talk. I'm sure the stories, even for the most humble shotgun, would be fascinating and great pieces of our history.
Such is the case with a trap gun that was purchased at the Ohio Gun Collector's Association show last July. The LC Smith Collectors Association had a wonderful display at that show. It certainly seems over the last two or three years that more LC Smith guns surface in July than at any other show date. This particular gun is a trap grade and was offered along with a silver plate engraved "Frank Limpert, Hicksville Ohio". So just who was Frank Limpert, where the heck is Hicksville Ohio, how good a shot was he to win this plate and when was it won?
While I didn't buy the gun, another LC Smith Collectors Association member did purchase it. Since there was an Ohio connection to the gun, I began researching possible sources of information. I checked several old trapshooting publications, books on the Grand American Trapshoot and the "Road to Yesterday" which details the accounts of many of the great historical shooters. I also checked through the Amateur Trapshooting Association online records. I came up empty, which only increased my curiosity.
A request to the LC Smith Collectors Association Research Division yielded the technical information about the gun. It is a LC Smith Crown Grade, 12 gauge trap configuration, with Hunter One Trigger, ejectors, vent rib, beavertail fore end, Monte Carlo Stock and 30" barrels. When it was sold in 1929 the retail price was $338.30; not a cheap gun in the day. The gun was consigned to the E.A. Wadsworth Company in August 1929. It was sold to W. Bingham Company, Cleveland, Ohio on December 13, 1929. There are no additional records to reveal how the gun may have traveled from Cleveland to Hicksville. That's about 200 miles using today's interstate system but no doubt a much more scenic route along the byways of 1929. The gun did show some wear indicating the owner had shot it on a regular basis.
The next easiest part was locating Hicksville, Ohio. It is in Defiance County in the northwestern part of Ohio very close to the Indiana border. This area remains rural with agriculture the primary industry. It has a history of various shooting sports and shotgun activities as did many rural communities in Ohio. This is rural small town America. Surely someone still living there would know Frank Limpert and, hopefully, the gun. The search for information was about to become real fun.
Where to start? The availability of information via the internet certainly speeds finding information. I decided that in a small town the police chief and village clerk are two people that might know all about the people of their town. So I started there. While the clerk didn't know Frank Limpert, I was directed to the local funeral home and a real estate agent. Of course, those make sense also. Both knew something about Frank Limpert but not any details regarding guns or trap shooting. But they gave me plenty of additional leads. And so the chase for information went through several sources including a retired eye doctor and historian; some distant nephews that inquired about buying the gun; and ended at the local NAPA store. I emailed and talked to a number of people with each adding a little bit to the picture of who was Frank Limpert. Unfortunately, no one was able to pinpoint specific information on the LC Smith trap gun or the silver plate.
I got a picture of small town Ohio where everyone knew their neighbors and the great local shooters of the day were celebrated. Ray Aarrants proudly displayed his 1921 trophy from the Toledo Shoot in the Hicksville Tobacco Store window. Much to the amusement of the local wags someone assembled a collection of tin cups, cans, an old lamp and a pop-gun in the other store window. Needless to say Aarrants was not quite so amused. So it is with shooters who always want to have a good time!
Another report was also provided from an undated local newspaper clipping: "Boys, you simply must take off your hats to M. S. Hootman, the Hicksville high gun, who went straight for 106 targets Monday afternoon at the Casino traps, where the west Toledo Gun Club is staging the Ohio State Trap Shoot and broke 140 out of his first 150 targets. This big, husky dead shot is not unknown to trap shooting fame, by any means. He is the Grand American Handicap Winner and two years ago took the State shoot at the Casino grounds where he on Monday made such a splendid record."
These reports indicate that the plate labeled Frank Limpert, Hicksville, Ohio may well have come from the Toledo gun club where the Ohio State Trapshoot was being held. It may have come from another club in St. Joe, Indiana, about a dozen miles from Hicksville, where locals regularly gathered to shoot. Frank Limpert was originally from Garrett, Indiana. In any case we may never know as these records, like so many associated with our Elsie's, are simply lost to time.
I can say that Frank Limpert and his brother were rather amazing men. Certainly they loved their family and their community. They were self-sufficient and independent people. They were entrepreneurs, inventors and machinists. Interesting enough Limpert's nephews operate the local NAPA store today. They still have the progressive reloader the pair made utilizing the flywheel from a Model-T. The retired eye doctor reported that Frank and his brother were patients many years ago. Frank's brother had many specific glasses for his work as a precision machinist and to see into the bore of his guns. I learned that Frank retired from the US Post Office. The machinist brother retired and opened a shoe repair business in Florida. Somehow I can visualize the business being needed to fund the year round trapshooting in Florida. I heard stories about the gentlemen in their later years, perhaps not being able to walk as far hunting as they had in younger days, cruising the country roads around Hicksville in a 1963 Lincoln with suicide doors. Each with a shotgun out the window at the ready should a groundhog or fox be spotted within range!
I learned that following Frank Limpert's death many of the guns and shooting artifacts were purchased by one individual at auction. There is apparently some disappointment that this individual ran up the prices to the point many in town couldn't afford them. The estate of this person is quite likely how the LC Smith gun made it from Hicksville to the OGCA show in Wilmington.
It's clear that this Elsie was owned by a man who was a very good shot and loved to shoot! If she could only talk, I'm sure we would hear some amazing stories from yesteryear. It was reported that the Limpert's loved fine guns so I am sure the quality and shooting ability of the LC Smith was appreciated.
As a final note the current owner, Frank Finch, reports, "I took the gun to the Hunter Home Coming as a possible display gun with its silver trophy award. At the Pathfinder's shoot, I was persuaded to try shooting it in the "50 bird Trap Event". Without previously shooting the gun, I shot 44/50 with it!! I can see how Frank Limpert won that silver trophy."
Outdoor writer and hunter education instructor Larry S. Moore is a long-time volunteer leader for Buckeye Firearms Foundation and winner of the 2005 USSA Patriot Award, the 2007 League of Ohio Sportsmen/Ohio Wildlife Federation Hunter Educator of the Year and the 2010 National Wild Turkey Federation/ Women in the Outdoors Hunter Education Instructor of the Year.