Moving 25,000 rounds of .30 cal.
Long ago and not so far away.
I do NOT know the politics, or the logistics of the deal, but I do know it was 100% legal, and that the ammo originally came from CMP. I think somebody from another club who had a huge truck was involved in actually picking it up.
Larry, at the local club, of which I am a member, had just scored 25,000 rounds of .30 cal Lake City M-2 ball for the club for a good price of nothing, but we didn’t have to pick it up at Perry. Instead, we picked it up near Ft. Indiantown Gap after one of the matches they hold there for the Marine Corps League.
I had shown up because I was supposed to pick up targets for the club when I got off the boat, as I pass by the place en route home. I had called Larry the day earlier from the work to make sure this was still a ‘Go’ and he asked me to grab the targets and meet him at a club in the Indiantown Gap area. He explained that he wanted me to tail him back to Pittsburgh.
Larry’s truck at the time was a ¾ ton, but the ammo was well over ¾ of a ton, and the truck was very heavily loaded. Larry used the old wreck for household chores, as he was remodeling, it wasn’t in very good shape. I was driving a1978 half-ton ton Toyota in terrible shape, except that I had just put new brakes on it. I probably couldn’t have held 500 pounds in the tired old wreck if I had to. Still, it could stop on a dime.
.30 cal is heavy stuff. This stuff came in clips and bandoliers, adding all the cans and wooden cases it was probably around 100 pounds per 1000 rounds. Well over a ton. This load of ammunition was not really unusual at the time. A lot of casual shooters were still using Garands for the National Match course, and the club sold it cheap to anyone that showed up to shoot with either an M-1 or a Springfield.
I picked up the targets at the fort, and drove to meet Larry. Upon arrival, the last of the .30 cal was being loaded onto his truck. It was then that Larry told me that he had suffered brake troubles on the way.
Great. Now we had a pair of broken down trucks, 25,000 rounds of USGI .30 cal M-2 ball and over 200 miles of bad road ahead of us. Common sense stated that we should have snagged another truck in decent shape, but neither of us were common men. We planned our March route through the back roads until we both realized that east of Breezewood, there were some pretty hilly spots to deal with. Plan A was cancelled. Enter Plan B, the PA Turnpike.
We both knew the Turnpike was a whole lot less hilly than the back roads, so it was a logical option. We agreed to stay in the right lane and run just a couple miles per hour over the legal minimum.
Off we went. Things were smooth going, and Larry had no real problems with the hills until we got to one that preceded the one we were worried about. I saw that Larry was in trouble and was managing. I slowed down, turned on my 4 ways and followed him as it took forever for him to stop. He pulled into the breakdown lane, with smoke pouring out of all 4 wheel-brakes. We let things cool down and thought out our next plan. We knew the next hill was going to be a lot worse.
Of course, a trooper pulled out of nowhere and parked behind me and approached Larry and I, who were between the two trucks trying to figure out what to do next.
“Problem here?” he asked.
“We got it handled,” I replied.
Then the trooper looked in the back of Larry’s pickup and saw all the cases of ammunition. His eyes grew pretty wide.
“What the hell are you doing with all that ammunition?” he asked. “Are those cases full?”
Larry casually explained that he was from a Sportsman’s club and we were eligible for surplus ammo for our DCM matches.
“All that?” asked the Trooper. “How much is there?”
“25,000 rounds, about enough for 4 to 6 months,” he replied.
“That’s a lot of ammo for such a short period,” he commented.
I explained that at 50 rounds per shooter, per match and about 40 shooters and 4 matches a month it added up fast and he seemed mollified. Larry offered to show him the paperwork, he glanced at it briefly and wandered over to his cruiser and left. Had he even had a clue about Larry’s brakes, we would have been in hot water.
We were in a bind and we knew it. We had to come up with another plan. We both knew that we needed brakes to get across the hilly area ahead. We knew I had new brakes.
We rooted around the back of our trucks and found what we needed, a good tow chain. We had two, actually. We both had one apiece.
It was decided that in addition to hauling the ammo, he would also tow me. I would act as part of his braking system. This really isn’t much of a change from being towed. Generally the towee is responsible for keeping the tow chain tight.
I didn’t want to be towed off center, as the Toyota had 2 towing points on the front, one on each side, so I made a bridle out of mine. Larry hitched his to the center of his rig and we were off, driving just over 45 in the right lane. I kept the chains taut; it was a full time job. It was easy enough going up or down hills, but it was pretty tricky on the flat sections of the Pike. Larry was pretty good about letting me know what to do with a series of brake light signals.
I don’t know if it’s illegal to tow a vehicle on the turnpike, but we passed two Troopers and neither of them stopped us. I figured that if it was illegal, they just assumed we were trying to get a broken vehicle off the road and couldn’t afford a tow. The shape of our vehicles sure made it look that way.
We made it to the crest of the biggest hill and I cringed, but it was a lot worse in our minds than it really was. We went down in reduced gears and I managed to keep us both from speeding up too much. We hit the bottom of the hill and things were OK, I let up off my brakes, grabbed high gear and let Larry tow me up the slight grade. At the crest, I’d downshift to third and keep the chains taut and keep our speed down.
Then Larry signaled me to pull over in the breakdown lane. I wondered what was up.
Larry came to my Toyota and reported to me that his brakes had just gone belly up and all he had left was the hand brake. I climbed into his cab, and sure enough, the brakes were dead. The hand brake felt pretty weak, too.
I looked, and sure enough, there was brake fluid all over the right front. Then I climbed under and felt the hand brake cable, it was pretty slack. Time to rig up a cable shortener-upper. A 16d nail and a piece of wire did the trick and we were off again.
Larry was pretty slick. He knew that traffic was going to be heavy and that the secondary roads were going to be a pill, so we stayed on the Pike and got off close to another Interstate, which we could take to a spot very close to the club, which we ended up doing.
The second we got off the Pike and on the secondary, it happened. We got stopped by a local police officer for something or another. I think he thought that I was following Larry a bit too closely or something. When we both stopped, he acted a little odd until he saw the tow chains. He naturally assumed that Larry was towing me home.
I never found out what the reason for the stop was because when he looked in Larry’s truck things got pretty weird. I saw him unsnap his holster. He instructed us not to move, returned to the car and stayed behind us until another police car arrived. The other car was an obvious backup. There were two officers in the second car. We were ordered out of our vehicles. This did not look very good.
Had this been after the Oklahoma City bombing, we both would have understood what happened next. The officer that stopped us in the first place started asking us about possible ‘Militia group involvement’. This was pretty scary stuff at the time.
Another car stopped and a familiar face got out.
“What’s going on here?” asked the Sergeant.
The officer that stopped us started his spiel about armed right wing groups, case lots of military ammunition and so on.
The sergeant cut him off. “What’s going on, Larry?” asked the sergeant.
“You two know each other?” blurted out the officer. The Sergeant ignored him.
Larry told the Sergeant that we were picking up ammo for the club. The sergeant looked in the back of Larry’s truck and whistled. “DCM?” he asked, Larry nodded.
“Good load,” said the Sergeant. “How long will that last us?”
“Four to six months,” replied Larry.
“I didn’t know we went through it that fast,” confessed the Sergeant.
I knew the Sergeant; he was an occasional shooter at the club matches. He was sometimes a character at the matches. He had made me laugh more than once. Actually, he was a pretty good pistol shooter, but couldn’t hit shit with a rifle. He was one of the few regular shooters I could consistently beat at the time. He still shows up every so often and I still wax him pretty good. I think he’s retired now.
He sent the other three officers back to work. They left.
Then Larry asked him for an escort and explained the problems we were having with his brakes. He didn’t exactly say he had no brakes, but he said he was ‘having a little trouble with them because of such a heavy load’.
The Sergeant gave us an ‘escort’ to the club where we offloaded the ammunition. I wanted to give Larry a ride home and go home myself. It had been a long day, and it was longer then is should have been. The Sergeant kept hanging around bullshitting for quite a while after we got the stuff unloaded. We couldn’t leave in my Toyota because it would have started a series of questions and we didn’t want to go there.
He hadn’t asked, and we were not going to tell that Larry had no brakes.
Finally he left and Larry and I could get going.
I still wonder how we would have fared in this post 9-11 climate.
The turnpike has some steep grades...I would have shit myself with no breaks and a shit ton of ammo in the back