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Potato Shooters

My grandparents, Frederick William and Helen (Crafts) Job retired toSaugatuck. He was an attorney in Chicagoand they had owned a cottage in Macatawa from theturn of the century until the middle 1920s when it burned in one of the bigfires. During the summer my mother and her sisters would board the trolley(Interurban) at Macatawa and get off at Saugatuck'sBig Pavilion for weekly dancing.

 

Grandpa was about to retire when the cottage burned and, because thewhole family liked Saugatuck, he had a big frame house built next to All SaintsEpiscopal Church and retired to it in 1927. The house has gone through severalowners and is now owned by the church.

 

We loved our vacations in Saugatuck and it was at their retirement homethat he taught us grandchildren how to make potato shooters. Back in 1932 or1933 it was the depths of the Great Depression, and although pea shooters wereonly 10 cents and a supply of hard peas another dime, they were considered tobe rather expensive; especially as you could shoot a dime bag of peas in a fewminutes.

 

To make potato shooters, Grandpa would first take us to the beach wherewe gathered sea gull feather quills. Then, at his garage work table he'd snipoff the quill part, ream it out with a pipe cleaner and send one of us to thekitchen to sneak out a couple of potatoes. He'd peel them and we were ready forthe fun.

 

You'd stick the quill into the potato and pull it out with a quicksideways motion. A bit of potato would stick in the quill. You'd put the otherend into your mouth and blow suddenly with some force. If you did it rightyou'd get a good distance with the potato bit.

 

The potato shooter had several advantages versus the pea shooter. Thepotato shooter and the ammunition were literally free, the potato pellets wereharmless (a shot pea could seriously damage one's eye), and because thepotatoes were starchy, the bit usually stuck to whatever they hit. This last

was both an advantageand a disadvantage. They stuck to what they hit and so the one who got hitcouldn't very well claim a miss, but we'd sometimes shoot potato bits insidethe house and they'd stick to lampshades and windows. Grandma would see themand immediately holler:

 

"Frederick,you take those children and those nasty shooters out of the house, and STAYOUT!"

 

In spite of those little unpleasantries, wehad a lot of fun with those potato shooters invented by a really"great" grandfather.

 

-- Robert H. MersbachJr.

 

Bob adds,"After my grandfather died in 1935 potato shooters sort of died out, andthey were not resurrected until at a family get-together in 1990 we tried themagain with some success.

Saugatuck - Douglas

History Book Shelf

[Featuring publications on area history, both present day and in thepast. Offeredas a guide and inspiration to those who peruse used book stores.]

 

Oliver, AndrewEarly Days in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan (n.p. n.d.[1909?]) 105 pp., b x 9 inches, hardcover, photos.

 

One of the rarest books with Allegan County historical information. The author came to America from Scotland in 1837. He stopped firstin Chicago, then fishedthe Great Lakes from Wisconsinbefore purchasing an interest in a factory which turned chair parts andbedstead stock in Allegan in 1854.

 

Although the factory was located in Allegan he recounts several tripsdown the river on flat boats to load merchandise onto schooners anchored off Singapore near the mouth of the Kalamazoo.

 

I have never seen one of these for sale, but I know of one volume in acounty library and a second copy located in a private collection.