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vintage clay pigeon launcher
ANTIQUE: Sometimes old barns give up their secrets. Nicholas Nobbe took apart and restored this clay pigeon launcher, which dates to the 19th century, that he found in his great-granddad’s barn.

Discovery in old barn turns into 4-H project

Throwback Tech: Early farmers liked recreation and hunting, too; this antique clay pigeon launcher proves it.

Just about the time you think kids today spend all their time on cellphones, Facebook and Instagram, here’s a story about a young man who appreciates history. Nicholas Nobbe appreciates it so much that he spent countless hours painstakingly restoring a relic found in his great-grandpa’s barn after his great-grandpa died.

The relic is a vintage clay pigeon launcher for target practice. Nicholas, a senior at Batesville High School in Batesville, Ind., was enamored by the recent find in the old barn. Once his grandpa gave it to Nicholas’ dad, the young man persuaded his dad to let him restore it for his 4-H Shooting Sports project. He exhibited it at the Decatur County Fair.

How do I know? I was the judge. Interacting with young people keeps me young and connected. When Nicholas’ mom and sister carried in the display — Nicholas couldn’t be at the judging — it caught my attention right away. It was attached to a piece of well-worn barn wood about 6 feet long and a foot wide.

“That’s the way he found it; it was mounted on that very board,” Nicholas’ mom told me. “It was all rusty, so he took it apart, cleaned it with a wire brush and steel wool by hand, painted it and reassembled it. The only thing new is the rope for the launcher.”

Intriguing history

No, Nicholas wasn’t brave enough to test if the launcher worked. But he did a fair bit of research. I added some of my own around the subject of antique clay pigeon launchers and the evolution of target practice.

The Cleveland Target Co. was making “traps,” as they were called, before 1891. According to information found on rickcicciarelli.com/ExpertTraps.html, which appears to be the authoritative site on these devices, ads for Cleveland Target Co.’s most successful trap, called the Expert Trap, appeared in 1891. The machine Nicholas restored resembles that trap and has the names of the patent holders on the base, as shown in the ad, but doesn’t have the name Expert Trap.

According to the website, this trap was made until 1966. By then the company was part of Remington. The website’s author has seen four variations of printing on the base, and all contain the name Expert Trap. But he hasn’t found one with just the patent owners’ names.  

base of antique clay pigeon launcher
STUDY THE REPAIRS: Look at the repair job around the base of the launcher. Even it is an indicator of age. Richard Beckort, Extension educator in Jackson County, Ind., was on hand at the same fair to judge garden items. He and I agreed that it looked like the base was welded or brazed with an oxygen-acetylene technique, likely meaning it predated when electric welders were common on the farm.

By the way, what did farmers and hunters use to practice before clay pigeons? According to the website, glass balls! Glass ball traps were sold in the 1880s. And before that? Companies made and sold a variety of traps to hold and release live pigeons!

Obviously, it was a different world nearly 150 years ago. Nicholas’ discovery and painstaking work in restoring the launcher sheds light on a different time in history, to say the least.  

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

TAGS: Technology 4H
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