And Other Friends.
It has been a tough couple of months. On the big scene we have watched the final installment of the transition of the country from being exemplified by the attitudes and sacrifices of the unconquerable Greatest Generation to being controlled by the whining, me-first, free-stuffers. Over the past 235-plus years, America has survived many challenges mostly from without; the question is can we survive the crumbling from within?
On a more personal note, my friends are disappearing around me. One of the worst things about growing old is losing the people who have been a major part of our life. Those of you who now have grey in your hair may know the first friend. During the war John Rovick flew with Doolittle’s Raiders and survived a crash landing in the sea after the bombing mission. John had a magnificent singing and speaking voice and during the 1950s was “Sheriff John” doing a kids program out of Los Angeles.
A few years ago, he was recognized nationally during the Emmy Awards. It was most interesting to visit his home and see the pictures of all the famous people he knew having met them during his TV career. John attended our local church during his retirement years often singing solos, which would send shivers up my spine. I’m sure it was difficult for him the last few years as his voice lost its power and he eventually spent his final year in a care facility. He never lost his vibrancy or his love for country. Rest well John.
Gail was a friend I made when we moved to Idaho nearly 50 years ago. He had one of the most difficult jobs imaginable. He was a teacher, a special education teacher, or what we called in earlier days working with the mentally retarded. I can’t even imagine facing such a situation every day knowing how little could actually be accomplished. He managed to stay strong, keep his sense of humor, and the kids absolutely loved him. He did work I could not have handled. Rest well Gail.
Roger’s John Taffin Classic. Custom builder Gary Reeder went the
extra mile and delivered this Ruger sixgun extra early.
The backstrap of the John Taffin Classic Ruger is inscribed thusly.
Helen was 85 when she passed and probably did not weigh much more than her age and I doubt if she could stretch to a full height of 5 feet tall; however, she was my bodyguard. This goes back nearly 15 years when we served on the same board during a particularly trying time and a most difficult situation. We came to our regular meeting and the leadership proceeded to present us with a hit list; names of those who were no longer welcome in our presence. A letter was to be drawn up telling them this very thing and we were all to sign it. As the first name was written on the blackboard I was stunned at what was going on. When the second name appeared I jumped to my feet and said no way was I going to be part of any of this and I absolutely would not sign any letter. I also knew if I was the only one who protested I would get nowhere.
Then little Helen stood up and with three words stopped everything: “I’m with John.” That was all it took. Not only was the hit list tossed the leadership was gone within two weeks. I told Helen at the time “You had my back today and from now on you are my bodyguard.” She loved John Wayne movies and Louis L’Amour novels; it is pretty hard to say anything negative about a woman with such impeccable taste. Diamond Dot and I were her enablers delivering movies and books to her on a regular basis.
When I was a kid I remember adults talking when anyone would pass on to the effect that these things always happen in threes; and it always seem to be this way. I had my three in less than 2 months; however there was to be one more. Roger appeared in these pages several times as he was my hunting partner and often helped me test new rifles in the field; rifles such as the Ruger M77 in .243 and 7-08, the Savage .250/3000, and the AR-15 6.8 SPC “Assault Rifle”—the “no one hunts with an assault rifle”—rifle. We did very well with it. Roger was an engineer and spent much of his working life traveling around the world attending to special projects. I first met him and his family more than 30 years ago and shortly thereafter his youngest, who was in grade school at the time, adopted me as her second dad so this family was very special to Diamond Dot and I.
In 2012, Gary Reeder announced a special custom edition sixgun, the John Taffin Classic of all things. This custom .44 Special was limited to 100 examples built on a Ruger Single Action. On one side of the barrel it says “John Taffin Classic,” on the other side is my signature, and along the backstrap it says, “Good Shootin’ and God Bless.” When this was announced Roger’s kids, Crystal and Kevin ordered one for their dad and were told that the time delivery would be about 6 months; it is now 7 to 8 months. So they prepared to wait knowing they would miss Christmas but could present it to him in early 2013. In the meantime everything changed.
Roger has been battling cancer for several years and every year when we would go on our regular hunting trip after goats, sheep, and feral pigs we were thankful be able to get one more trip in. Everything seemed OK on the last trip, which we always took in June. Over the years I racked up a lot of miles flying to various hunting destinations both foreign and domestic; all were mostly quite enjoyable until the changes, which have caused me to refuse to fly at all. So my three friends, Rick, Roger, Cactus and I discovered a private ranch within a half-day’s drive. These were very special times over the past 10 years as we were always allowed to hunt on our own.
However nothing ever seems to stay the same and with the coming of a new owner to the ranch everything has changed. A lot of positive things happened including improving the roads, cleaning up, and repairing, however when we went this year we found a new rule. We were no longer allowed to hunt on our own but were required to have a guide. That changed everything. In the past the four of us rode around together in Rick’s GMC Suburban; this was a major part of our good time together. Now we were split into two groups and the close camaraderie we had shared in the past was greatly lessened.
Roger was somewhat tired during our travel and the hunt. He no longer took his customary hikes exploring the mountains, however he did fine and after we got back home they put him on some new medication which may have helped but it also made him terribly sick. Then around Thanksgiving he was given the word the medication wasn’t working. He continued to be terribly sick and unable to eat or sleep when he entered the hospital so they could drain the medication out of his body which seem to help somewhat as he returned home.
Within a week he was becoming weaker having some days that were very bad and a few good days. But what about his special gun? Six months would probably be too long to wait. I called Gary Reeder on a Sunday afternoon and explained the situation to him. “I’ll put a man on it tomorrow morning and you will have it in two weeks.” It arrived at my house 10 days later. Diamond Dot and I rendezvoused with Crystal and Kevin so the special .44 Special could be delivered. The evening it arrived via UPS had been a particularly bad day for Roger, however he was feeling much better the next day and was ecstatic when he saw his early Christmas present. Gary Reeder went the extra mile on this one and helped the family provide a special time for their beloved husband and father. It is men like Gary who make being part of this industry so special.
A few short weeks after receiving his Reeder Ruger, Roger stopped eating and drinking; it was now just a matter of time. He had made it through Christmas and New Years; he would not survive January taking his final journey Home on the 13th. I spoke at his Celebration of Life on the 21st; it was one of the most special and difficult things I have ever done.
All during this time I have been finishing up my sixth book, The Book of the .45 and it seemed appropriate to dedicate it to Roger. The first page says “To Roger Bissell, Friend, Brother, Hunting Partner and Man. Well Done Thy Good and Faithful Servant.” Rog, keep the campfire burning, the beans bubblin’, the bacon sizzlin’; I’ll see you soon.
By John Taffin
Gary Reeder Custom Guns
2601 E. 7th Ave.
Flagstaff, AZ 86004