Days Gone By The Falls - Six pack of friends

by John Wirth

Growing up on Fond Du Lac Avenue in the 1950s there was never a shortage of neighborhood boys to hang around with.

My older brother Mike, the tallest in the photo, had two very good friends both his age, Dave and Bobby, who both lived on the east side of the Main Street hill.

Bobby lived on the north corner of Spring Street and Dave lived in the very last house on the bottom of Main Street. I, the shortest in the center of the photo, also had two good friends. Duane is his real name, but everyone called him Butch, and the youngest of the six pack was Paul. Both were younger than me and they lived next door to each other on Green Bay Court, which was only a short walk across Highway 32 in back of our houses.

When our neighbors had their grandchildren over to visit we had even more friends to play with, but the six of us were the ones that always played together.

Our yard seemed to be the center point of our activities. It was an acre and shaped like a piece of pie. The northern end of our property was right at Highway 32’s curve. The Verifine Dairy thought that was a good place to put one of their large signs. My folks gave them permission to install one for a small annual fee. The next year Budweiser asked to install another one next to the Verifine sign. The extra cash came in handy, and the signs provided two great targets for us.

We loved to shoot at the tin signs from our backyard with our BB gun. Between the signs and our backyard was my mom’s large garden, a good 175 feet of separation. We would spend hours firing at the signs and then wait for the BB’s to hit the tin. It was a game to see how far away from the signs we could get and still hear the shots hit the signs.

When we got bored with the BB guns, we had three apple trees in the yard that produced sour, wormy apples. The apples proved to be just as much fun to toss at the signs, and they made a much louder sound when they hit.

Because the distance was really too much for us to throw the apples that far by hand, we found that using a three or four foot long small branch from our box elder trees made a great apple launcher. Sticking an apple on the end of a stick and whipping it towards the signs made apple throwing a breeze, and we always had plenty of apples. Over the years the backs of those signs were full of dents both large and BB shaped. The fronts still looked shiny.

I’m not sure how we came up with the next bright idea for fun, but one of us found out how to make a strike anywhere matchstick gun out of two clothes pins. We would take a spring loaded wooden clothes pin and remove the spring. Then it was a matter of re-assembling the spring onto one side of the clothes pin.

We had to do some minor trimming of the pin, plus we needed a one-piece conventional clothes pin to hold the match. Back then as well as today, the wooden matches could be bought that would strike anywhere, like the old cowboys when they struck a match on their boots. We loaded the match in the gun tip first, and when it was ejected it lit.

The matches were cheap and we loved firing our match guns at each other. After all, you had to be really close to each other to even hit someone, and what could possibly go wrong?

We never had anyone get burned. However, we did start some small grass fires, but then again we were all about fires back then. Thanks to Youtube there are instructions on how to make a strike anywhere match clothes pin gun. They are simple and fun to make.

Of course we had BB gun fights How we never hurt anyone is anyone’s guess. We did remember to wear heavy jackets and tried never to hit anyone in the legs, arms or head. As I recall we only had one or two of these stupid fights until my mom saw us, and that was the end of it.

Sign shooting was okay, but a gun fight was out of the question. So not to have our BB guns taken away we never even thought of doing it again.

For my birthday one year, I wanted a bow and set of arrows because I wanted to learn how to shoot arrows. I received a really nice wooden bow and six arrows with target tips. They came in a nice quiver that I attached to an old belt and flung it over my shoulder. I enjoyed target practice using old cardboard boxes. Painting a target on them made it even more exciting.

When I got tired of just using boxes, we got a few bails of straw from our neighbor farmer, and I set up my targets with a backdrop for the arrows to stick in.

You would think we would be satisfied with just shooting arrows at targets, but knowing adventureseeking boys, we had to find another thrill using arrows. When we tell our children and friends of our stunts as boys growing up in the 1950s, they are either amused or amazed that we’re still alive.

Our dumbest and most dangerous idea was to see how many arrows one of us could shoot straight up into air at a time. Naturally I did this once when I was by myself in the backyard and I got about three of them airborne. Keeping an eye on them they came down away from me as I ran under an apple tree. It was fascinating to me how high they could go and how they would just disappear blending into the blue sky.

One time, when I tried shooting a couple of arrows straight up one of the arrows came streaking down on one of my mom’s hotbed windows. The glass just shattered, but I told Mom it was a stone that broke it when it slipped out of my hand. Not a big deal, and she bought my story.

One day we had the “gang” over and they wanted to see the disappearing arrow trick I had been telling them about. So here we were six of us on the backyard waiting for me to shoot some arrows in the air and watch them disappear.

I forget how many arrows were in the air, but things did not go well for our friend Paul. Even trying to take shelter under either our cherry tree or one of our apple trees proved not to be a sure thing. An arrow struck Paul in the head, and thank goodness, it was a blunt target arrow or Paul would not be around today.

There was blood aplenty, and we thought Paul was going to die. With luck, it glanced off his skull and stuck under the skin not penetrating the skull. Needless to say we were all really scared and with Mom’s help, Paul was patched up and taken home. Never again did we ever think of doing something that stupid again.

To this day when I talk with Paul about our play days on Fond Du Lac Avenue, the subject of arrows in the air always seems to come up, and he has the scar to prove it really did happen.

By John Wirth formally of

1026 Fond Du Lac, Ave. now living in Largo, Florida since 1970


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