From: email@example.com (The Nashville Flash) Subject: A Colorful Character Summary: You meet the nicest people... Date: Sat, 15 Feb 1992 21:35:13 GMT
Back in the mid-seventies, when I first moved to Nashville, there were a few places where I ran into flyers offering US Army Halftracks for sale. The name at the bottom of the page was Pony Maples. Several years later, one of my buddies introduced me to his new girlfriend. We got to talking and when she found out that I was active in the Vintage BMW Motorcycle Club and "into" old BMWs, she said her best friend's father had a World War II BMW motorcycle that needed work. And that is how I eventually got to know Pony Maples.
Pony's second wife went to Czechoslovakia before they married and brought him back a wedding gift of a BMW R75m that she had found to add to his collection. The R75m is the one with the sidecar and machine guns that you see in the movies. At the time he still had a few halftracks, an old Sherman tank, and a BUNCH of assorted machine guns and light artillery. Pony could get away with this behavior because he fabricated .50 caliber machine guns for a living (besides administering the local Head Start Program).
The story of how he got where he was came out over time... along with quite a few other interesting anecdotes. Pony exemplified two old adages... "The only difference between men and boys is the size and cost of their toys." And "He who dies with the most toys wins." I saw him on a semi-somewhat regular basis for a while as I was working on obtaining various missing pieces and re-assembling his bike. Parts of the bike were sometimes in my living room. But most of it was in the warehouse where his halftracks were also being restored.
Once when I had a few friends over, I was sitting there absent mindedly fiddling with the magneto. All of a sudden, zZZAP! The thing let a blue spark fly right into my thigh. This is how I learned respect for magnetos, the power of permanent magnets, and the relation of speed (or lack thereof) between the rotor and the stator. My friends were VERY impressed with (and amused by) my diagnostic techniques.
Pony had what can only be described as a museum in his basement. He had a genuine working Norden Bombsight that he had restored, the turret gun, complete with bubble and armaments from a B17, a wire recorder with a recording taken live off the radio announcing that Pearl Harbor had been attacked, and all sorts of other wonderful things. But, best of all, were the stories that Pony told. Over the years, many have been corroborated from independent sources.
One day, while visiting Pony at his machine gun factory, I was looking at an M2 and asked him, "How far will this thing shoot?" Without batting an eye, he told me "It's effective to about a thousand yards, but will go five miles." When I said "Five MILES? Bullshit! Did you actually measure that or just calculate it?" Pony smiled one of his reflective smiles and I saw a story coming on...
The .50 caliber Browning system air-cooled machine guns are generally built to order, but production is fairly constant. Every so often, the employees all go for a field trip. They pack up a "batch" of guns (and a lot of the fellows also bring their own "toys") and they go to a bucolic piece of property on which Pony has a test range. As part of quality assurance testing, each gun is mounted to a stationary stand and ninety rounds are fired into a target some specified distance away. If they all fall within a eight inch circle, the gun is certified as meeting specifications (after magnifluxing after a 65,000 psi round) and the target included with the paperwork. After all the official testing is out of the way, everybody gets to "play" for a while.
Pony's youngest daughter had been asking him, "Daddy, when can I shoot the big gun?" Finally, Pony told her that when she was big enough to cock it, she could go along and shoot it. He figured that would be a closed subject for three or four years. Every now and again he'd see her straining at a receiver affixed to an assembly stand. Finally one Saturday, when no one else was around, he and she stopped by the office to pick up something and he got caught by an important phone call. When he hung up, she said, "DADDY! COME SEE! I DID IT!" So they went out onto the factory floor and sure enough there was a cocked gun on the stand. Being wise in the ways of the world, Pony thought that maybe she had found it this way and was being "smart." He uncocked it and told her he wanted to watch. "It's not that I don't trust you, it's just that I didn't think you had the strength and want to see your method." She pulled a stool over, climbed up, got one foot on the assembly stand, both hands on the cocking lever, put the other foot on the assembly stand, and put all she had into it... ratCHIT, she did it.
"Pony," I said, "what does this have to do with how far one of these things will shoot?" "I'm getting to that," he replied.
So the next time they went out for quality assurance testing, the little girl went, too. After all the "work" was done and it was time to "play," a gun was set up on a tripod and assorted items were used as target practice. The little girl took her turns like everyone else. Toward late in the afternoon, she sat down to take a turn. When she mashed the firing lever, the gun started to fire. Just as this happened, one of the rear tripod legs collapsed. (The lock had apparently been gradually loosening all day.) Pony was watching his daughter intently as this all occurred and in that instant of immense danger when time does the expansion thing that it does when you have a motorcycle wreck, he saw the line of slugs trace up the hill that was used as a backstop and into the air. He thought that only three or four "got away" and heaped praise on his little daughter for letting go of the trigger so fast.
That event pretty much ended the day's festivities. Thought was given to the tripod design and ideas bandied about for ways to improve it. While they were packing up the guns to take "home," the sheriff's car pulled up. "Pony," said the sheriff, "you're gonna have to quit shooting those machine guns out here." "Why," asked Pony, "did someone complain about the noise?" "No," said the sheriff, "look at THIS." And he held up a .50 calibre copper-jacketed slug that was bent at a ninety degree angle in the middle. That sick feeling (like the one you get when you go over to pick up your bike after the wreck and see it lying on its side in a pool of assorted vital fluids with various broken bits scattered around) crept up over Pony as he asked if anyone was hurt. No, there had not been anyone injured. (A wave of relief.)
Pony followed the sheriff to the country store where the bullet had landed. Two old guys had been sitting on either side of a pot bellied stove whittlin' and spittin' when the top cement block just shy of the ceiling had come crashing down and PING! the slug hit the stove between the two of them and then bounced down onto the floor where it spun around and around until it finally stopped. Pony offered to have the block replaced or else pay for the damage. The owner would not hear of it. He wanted the hole left there. And he wouldn't give up the bullet for love nor money. It seemed that what had happened that day was the most exciting thing that had EVER happened around there and he wanted the block to be missing so that folks would ask "Why?" and he needed the slug to prove the story was true.
Later, looking at a survey map, Pony measured the distance from the point where the shot was fired to the point where it landed... five miles. I wanted to go see the store with the hole and the slug, but it had burned down a couple of years after the incident. Oh well. But it sure makes for a good story.
Then there was the time Pony and a bunch of the guys got dressed in army surplus uniforms and loaded up with arms and armaments and set out cross country (avoiding paved roads) in a halftrack to see if they would get "arrested"...
And the time they got an old car and rigged it to go in a circle while they all blasted away from a "safe" distance. But the first round from the anti- tank gun sheared the steering column and it went over the hill out of sight for a while and then came flying back down the hill headed straight for them...
And the time...