1893 Grand Exhibition. The world's intro to PBR, hot dogs, ice cream cones and the Ferris Wheel.

1893 Grand Exhibition. The world's intro to PBR, hot dogs, ice cream cones and the Ferris Wheel.
A view through the wheel. The black, horizontal line is the axle, the single largest forging to that time.
"I don't make hell for nobody. I'm only the instrument of a laughing providence. Sometimes I don't like it myself, but I couldn't help it if I was born smart."

1st Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden.
"From here to Eternity"

Paul Valery

"You are in love with intelligence, until it frightens you. For your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresistible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time."

The Wisdom of the Ages

"When a young man, I read somewhere the following: God the Almighty said, 'All that is too complex is unnecessary, and it is simple that is needed',"

Mikhail Kalashnikov
"Here lies the bravest soldier I've seen since my mirror got grease on it."

Zapp Brannigan

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Western


First, I usually try not to wax too political here but I can't help myself. McCain kicked ass in FL. The lively corpse from NY is out as is Huckleberry Hound and, even though the conservative bloggers are shitting bricks, I think this is great.
Obama would be, I think, a good choice especially since, you've got to admit, Little George has set the bar pretty low.
But, lots of Walmart-shopping, mouth breathers will vote the other way simply by reflex if he turns out to be the candidate. That being said, I'm so happy that a real grown-up has a shot at the Republican nomination. If Obama lost to that robot, Mormon, venture capitalist, I'd have to jump off a bridge. That's it. Sorry, Mad Ogre, your man's a joke. Nice hair though.
Okay, to the wayback machine. The very first sheath knife I ever owned, I don't know...45 years ago, was a Western Cutlery product.
Now, everyone remove their hats and lament the passing of Western. It was brought into the fold of Camillus in the early '90's, but we know what happened then. Done in by the likes of Spyderco, Cold Steel, et all, every knife manufacturer with any history faded into oblivion.
But I digress. My big brother and I were given "real knives" in our tender years and, even though at the time I thought I got hosed - He got what I recall as a Cattaraugus (another defunct brand) M2, while I got this skinny, little knife that was missing about 1/16" of its tip and had a funky sheath with oak leaves and acorns stamped into it.
I was probably lost in some little-bro, persecution thing.
Anyway, fast forward to 1997. Doing some remodeling work for my younger brother I found, in his wastebasket, the knife pictured at top. My old Western being lost to the ages, I latched onto this piece of "garbage" and asked why the hell he was shit-canning it.
Well, he didn't need it, didn't know what to do with it... and so on. And this is a man with a PHD.
Well, it became mine. It's a nice little shank, I believe model # L66.
However, I found myself flummoxed by the same thing that had set me wondering as a lad: How the hell did they put this handle together?
I should mention... I didn't expend major brain power on this question. I didn't care that much, but it is an interesting question. Stacked leather washers are a common handle treatment, but these look like half of them are glued onto the side of a full-tang knife. As my blogging collegues would say: WTF?
Cruel son-of-a-bitch that I am, the punch line comes later.
Western Cutlery was formed by Harvey Platts, in Boulder, Colorado. In 1911 - about the time all those Spyderco assholes' granddads were swimming around in their dad's balls.
Don't have a clue what their wares looked like at that time. All I know is: the answer to my (admittedly low-key) question was to be found in a patent, dated 1934.Okay, nothing that's going to get anyone the Nobel Prize, but cool nonetheless.
Other than the coolness factor, I can't fathom an advantage that this construction brings to the party. I suppose the steel edges of the tang may slow wear of the leather (or wood - they were designated by the letter "W") but I don't think that's really significant.
Mostly, I think the appeal was that it was different - or "exclusive" as the following WW2 vintage advertisement says.
In any case, Western was one of the many manufacturers supplying the US military during "The Big One"(who remembers "Dobie Gillis?).
They produced knives in huge quantities. They produced an M2 - with the distinctive Western, handle technique - as well as a, now very scarce, V44.
The V44 was so popular that it was also sold during the Vietnam era as a "Western Bowie", model #W49.
A large group of pics of WW2, Western knives can be seen here.One of their offerings during WW2 has turned out to be one of the scarcest fixed-blade knives of the war. Only about 1000 were produced. It was known as the W31, Parachutist.
It also holds the distinction of being possibly the smallest sheath knife issued during the war with a blade length of around 4 1/4".
Now, because this blog is all about me (fall down and worship!), you should know, I've been commissioned to reproduce two of the W31's.
Being that I'm backed-up like a transit-barracks shitter right now, things are moving slowly, but moving.
In any case. Closing, almost, with pics of the work in progress. BTW, the W31 can be seen at the above link, about halfway down.Now, really closing, a genuine rarity: A WW2 vintage, Western Bowie with a Landers, Frary and Clark, MK1 trenchknife handle; cast entirely in aluminum - including the blade. Probably made by/for an engineer who needed a non-magnetic knife.

6 comments:

Don Gwinn said...

Why do you hate Spyderco?

Cold Steel I kind of get . . . Lynn Thompson's attitude, plus their additional downturn in quality, which wasn't that great when they started.

Spyderco, though . . . they make very good stuff at a very good price. A lot of their knives sit next to a lot of old Schrade-Walden, Cattaraugus, Western and Camillus stacked leather handles. Very different knives, but very good knives.

Oliver Hart-Parr said...

Fair question Don,
Especially fair because I don't have an answer.
I'm stuck in the "old is good" world and it often sells me short.
I pretty much equate Spyderco with "tactical knives" which seems to fall in with the whole pretend Rambo mentality that's surfaced within the past 20 years.
In all likelihood I tarred Spyderco with the wrong brush and I'll check out their stuff to confirm. I'm sure you'll be correct.
It mostly stems from a forum thread I recall entitled "What if Jim Bowie had a Spyderco?"
Knee-jerk reaction on my part, with the emphasis on "jerk".
Cold Steel... Rolled stock, a CNC plasma cutter, 15 minutes on a grinder and $150. Different story. I do know bullshit when I see it.
Anyway, thanks for busting me.

Don Gwinn said...

I do believe I remember that one. I think Jim March was heavily involved, as I recall. The idea was that if Bowie had gotten his clasp-knife open in the bar, there'd never have been a "Bowie Knife," right? I guess anything is possible.

I dunno, but I like Spyderco and Benchmade an awful lot, and I have an assisted-opening Kershaw Spec Bump in my pocket right now. It looks like something Ripley would use to stab a xenomorph, but it works, and it does hold a heck of an edge.

I like the old stuff, too--I carry an old Brusletto with stacked black leather for a handle when I hunt whitetails, and I've never found the need for more. Lots of the old Schrade-Waldens, too. There's something about the stacked leather handles especially that feels right in the hand. But there's room for both ways--and a lot of junk got made back then, too. ;)

Spyderco's doing something interesting right now. They're selling "mules" in different steels. They're just large, full-tang drop-point knives with about 4" blades, and each one will be exactly the same, with the same profile, grind, shape, thickness, etc. except for the steel. The first one is in 5160. Mine arrived the other day. I don't know if I'll get all of them (depends on how many they want to sell me!) but even a few could be interesting to play with. I suspect the main thing to be found out is that the choice of steel doesn't have as big an effect as most people think.

Ghost said...

Spyderco is one of the least ATAS companies out there, in my opinion.

(All Tactical And Shit)

Well... maybe a little bit.

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