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John Moses Browning

John Moses Browning was the most famous and competent gunmaker the world has ever known. He was the son of Jonathan Browning, himself a highly competent gunsmith, and Elizabeth Clark.
John Moses was born January 23, 1855 in Ogden, Utah, U.S.A., where his father settled after the Mormon Exodus of 1847. It was in his father’s shop that John Moses first learned the art and secrets of gunsmithing.
John Moses, however, was much more than a gunsmith in the sense that he was much more interested in designing and building new, innovative, firearms than repairing broken ones. His first creation was a single shot rifle he built at the age of 14 for his brother, Matt.
1879 was an eventful year for the Browings. Jonathan Browning died on June 21 and, soon thereafter, John Moses and his brothers started their own shop. There they first used steam powered tools, tools that were originally foot-powered but were converted by John Moses to get power from a steam engine. That year also saw John Moses marry Rachel Teresa Child, and his receipt of his first gun patent (No. 220.271) for the Breech-Loading Single Shot Rifle.
John and his brothers began producing this rifle in their Ogden shop but customer demand soon exceeded their shop’s production capacity. They were unable to expand the “Browning Gun Factory,” as their shop was called, because they lacked the capital required for expansion and didn’t have a well established distribution channel to market their products. One has to note here that although John Moses Browning was very satisfied with the sales of his guns he was also very unhappy that the production chores and the daily work prohibited him from working on his new ideas.
A salesman for the Winchester Repeating Arms Company named Andrew McAusland happened to see one of John’s Single Shot rifles in 1883. McAusland immediately bought one and sent it to Winchester’s headquarters. The gun drew Winchester’s interest and T. G. Bennet, Winchester’s vice president and general manager, went to Ogden to buy the rights to Browning’s gun. When Bennet arrived in Ogden, it didn’t take long for the men to agree on the sale and Winchester paid John Moses $8,000 for the rights to produce the gun. The agreement was beneficial to both parties. Winchester was happy because they turned competitor into a benefactor, plus they added an excellent rifle to their product line. John Moses was equally happy because the money from the sale and the ensuing relationship with Winchester allowed him to concentrate on inventing things instead of manufacturing them.
From 1883 until 1902, John Moses Browning designed several firearms for Winchester. Some of them reached production status while others were never produced. They all, however, were ingenious and innovative designs. In addition to that first Single Shot Rifle, other guns that John Moses designed and which became best sellers were: Winchester Model 1886 Lever Action Repeating Rifle, Model 1887 Lever Action Repeating Shotgun, Model 1897 Pump Action Shotgun, Model 1894 Lever Action Repeating Rifle, Model 1895 Lever Action Repeating Rifle, etc.
At the same time, John Moses was also working on another of his ingenious ideas. He wanted to invent an automatic shotgun that would use the expanding gases of a fired shell to recock the gun and make it ready for the next shot. John got this idea while watching a friend of his, Will Wright, shoot his Browning-made rifle. A clump of weeds just in front of the firing line bent with the muzzle blast. This gave John the idea of using the gases for something productive like cocking the gun. He designed a testing gun with which he tested his ideas.
When the testing validated his theory, John applied the principle on three different guns: two machine-guns and a repeating shotgun. His machine-guns, the first fully automatic guns which used expanding gases for cycling, were later sold to Colt and the U.S. Government and served the U.S. Armed Forces through three wars. One was Colt Model 1895 Peacemaker machine-gun, while the other was the famous Browning Automatic Rifle, affectionately called BAR by GI’s. Browning’s machine-guns are still used by US and other armies around the world.
The repeating shotgun that John invented was the primary reason for the break between Browning and Winchester. When Winchester denied production of this gun, John Moses, packed a sample of his shotgun into his luggage, crossed the Atlantic, and negotiated an agreement for Fabrique National de Belgique (FN) to produce his gun. FN was then a young company in dire need of products to produce. Browning’s automatic shotgun revolutionized the hunting market. This same shotgun was later produced in U.S.A. by Remington, as their Model 11. Still later, variants of this shotgun were produced by almost all of the large shotgun manufacturers, including Savage, Franchi, and Breda.
John M. Browning was usually working on more than one project at one time. He started working on automatic pistols before 1900. He was the first to invent the slide which encloses the barrel and the firing mechanism of a pistol. Pistols of his invention were produced by both FN and Colt and they range from baby .25 caliber pistols to the .45 Government Model. The first automatic pistol designed by Browning was produced by FN as FN’s .32 caliber Model 1900. The most famous pistols of John’s design, however, were Colt’s .45 ACP M1911 Government Model and FN’s Browning High-Power Model P-35 in 9mm Parabellum. A highly decorated sample of P-35, is shown at left, while a contemporary version customized by Wayne Novak can be found here.
John Moses Browning passed away in Liege, Belgium, the day after Thanksgiving, 1926. He died of heart failure while in his son Val’s office at the FN factory. It was the last day on earth for this ingenious person who invented more firearms than any other gunmaker in the history of the world.
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What you don’t see on TV about Firefighters


May 4 is International Firefighters’ Day. After his first day on the job as a new firefighter in Asheville, North Carolina, Mike Schoeffel, wrote this essay about what he saw and felt.

The thing they don’t tell you about a dead body is the way it just lies there. You can give a human being in cardiac arrest chest compressions, you can breathe for them, you can inject them with fluids. But if none of that works, the body will just lie on the floor like a sack of rice. You’ll have to step over it as you pick up trash from the used medical supplies strewn across the room.

The unceremonious finality feels insensitive to the recently deceased, but the person is gone. You’ve done everything you could. There’s no need to prolong it: clean up and move on. Ignore the nonperson lying at your feet, the thing that was alive a few minutes ago but is now just a body.

They don’t tell you about all of this because they couldn’t accurately describe it if they wanted to: the ribs breaking under the pressure of your palms. The air making a fart noise as it exits the lips. The AutoPulse hammering the human chest like a piston into Jell-O. The sweat, the smells. And then the dead body just lying on the floor as you toss needle wrappers into a trash bag. “Thanks for your help,” the paramedic says. “No problem,” you respond. “Thank

This was my first major call as a firefighter on my first day with the Asheville Fire Department in western North Carolina. It happened on my first 24-hour shift. I ran three routine medical calls the day before, went to sleep, woke up, and prepared to go home at 7 a.m. But at 7:05, a cardiac arrest call came in, and my replacement hadn’t shown up yet. I hopped on the truck, and off we went toward the residence of the future dead body. The other back man on the truck had just arrived and jumped on, still wearing street clothes. He pulled on his turnout pants as we sped down the street. I was in a blue, department-issued uniform.

The human being we raced toward was not in good health. He was perhaps in his 50s and overweight, and fast-food wrappers and old food were scattered all over his apartment. He’d called 911 to say he was having heart problems. When we arrived, he was lying on his side in bed, a phone resting on his left ear. He was breathing, barely, maybe three times per minute. His laptop was playing a YouTube video about alien abductions. He was in his underwear, covered in sweat. A picture of a smiling, gray-haired woman, possibly his mom, rested on the nightstand.

They don’t tell you about all of this in rookie school because the specifics defy verbalization. The academy is a kind of playhouse: all of the fun stuff — rescuing people from buildings, putting out pallet fires — without any of the real-world terror. The stakes are not high. Instructors do their best to re-create what it’s like on the street, but they can only do so much.

“Do you have street clothes you can change into at the station?” my partner asked as he squeezed the bag-valve-mask. I was busy breaking ribs. 

“Yeah,” I said.

“Make sure you decon those pants as soon as we get back. This place is grimy as hell.”

It was surreal, the way the two of us were having a casual conversation while attempting to revive a human being. That’s the kind of shit they don’t tell you about in rookie school: the casualness of it all, the way that witnessing death becomes, if not normal, routine. They don’t tell you about how paramedics crack jokes while a guy is on the verge of death. The gallows humor isn’t meant to be disrespectful, but it is a means for coping with the horror and making sense of an emotionally draining situation.

We worked the cardiac arrest for about 20 minutes before the paramedic finally called it. The automated external defibrillator, the AutoPulse, the bag-valve-mask — none of it made the situation any better. That’s when the cleanup began, with the body just lying there, as if it were another inanimate object in the room — which, I suppose, it was. I pulled the King Airway from the body’s throat. It was covered in spit and white chunks. For a second, I was worried that I might have hurt him. But then I remembered.

As I sit here now on my back porch in the mountains, images from the morning flash across my mind: my partner and I rolling the man out of bed onto a stair chair, his gut too big to lock the safety belt around, prompting him to fall to the floor with a disturbing thud. Our captain telling me to start CPR. The ribs breaking. The lips farting. The AutoPulse pistoning into Jello. The King Airway covered in spit. The animate turning inanimate.

I know I’ll witness much more gruesome scenes. More blood, gore, general chaos. Children. The deaths will pile up until they become, if not normal, routine. I’ll grow hardened but, I hope, not hard. I’ll deal with these deaths in my own way, as they occur, but this one will forever be the first. There has been a palpable shift; something fundamental has changed within me. Rookie school seems like a distant memory, even though my last day was a week ago.

When we got back to the station, the captain asked whether I was okay. He knew it had been my first serious call, so he gave me his number and told me to text him if I needed to talk. I thanked him, and when I got home, shot him this text:

“I just wanted to say thanks for reaching out to me this morning. As a guy with no experience, it meant a lot.”

To which he replied:

“It is my pleasure, Mike. We have a unique job. We see a lot of hard things, but we do it together…If you ever need to talk, I am available…You performed beautifully this morning. Particularly in a very shitty situation. Very proud. You’re welcome on my rig anytime.”

The thing they do tell you about in rookie school is how firefighting is a brotherhood. I learned that firsthand this morning.

This essay originally appeared at on March 1, 2021.

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Mike Schoeffel is a firefighter with the Asheville, North Carolina, Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in English and journalism, and his work has been featured in USA Today, Little Patuxent Review, Mountain Xpress, and The Charleston City Paper. He writes at

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