by Robert Beeman
Our adventures in the international airgun market over the decades were by no means all serious. There were many amazing and humorous moments. It would seem a shame to lose the delight of this lighter side of our history just because these recollections don't fit into any of the regular sections of this website. Therefore we are sharing a few of these true stories below, and we hope that you will share our enjoyment of them: (Please be assured that we relate these reports in a positive spirit and that we do not intend to nor desire to offend anyone by them.)
The Yewha airguns were an
especially strange chapter in the history of Beeman Precision Airguns. In the
early 1970’s, when our business was still based in our home, we had a fellow,
who claimed to be a representative of the Unification Church (AKA as “Moonies” –
after their leader, the Rev. Moon, of Korea) come to our home and show us the
Yewha BBB air rifle (which I later renamed as the "Dynamite" in such places as
our Gun Digest copy) and give us an interesting set of sample Yewha air rifles.
(Dynamite, Volcanic, two variations of a double-action revolving rifle, a FWB
300 copy, and a bolt action match rifle with a spitting image FWB match sight.)
All these designs were multi-stroke pump pneumatics featuring a
pump-rod-at-the-muzzle action - the better ones had special locking foot pedals.
He explained that the BBB (Dynamite) was a .25 caliber air shotgun/rifle that
was very popular in Korea where civilians are forbidden to have firearms. He
showed us color photos of obscenely huge piles of Chinese ring-necked pheasants
killed by Korean shooting club members with this model and said that it also
could be used with a .25 caliber lead ball to kill deer. We agreed to buy 50 of
the Dynamites at $35 each complete with Ye Wha marked case, ammo belt, and
packages of shot cases and wads. He commented that he had 300 more of the
Dynamites in a local warehouse, but as our operation was still very small at
that stage, we felt well supplied with 50. As a parting joke, I said, "well, if
you ever want to sell the rest of your guns for $10 each, let us know!" At that
time, I didn’t know about the vast differences that can exist between the Oriental
and Occidental perceptions of humor.
About eight months later, at night in a driving rainstorm, we answered our doorbell to find a different, completely soaked, young Korean man, standing humbly on our doormat – looking for all the world like a drowned rat. We stared at him, wondering who and what he was - and he said "OKAY"! We, of course, wanted to know "okay, what?” After a bit of language barrier delay, we learned that he had the 300 remaining Yewha airguns in a truck outside and wanted the "promised" $10 cash for each of them right now! Needless to say, we did some hard and fast running around to come up with $3000 cash! After the cash transfer, more disciples promptly unloaded all of the hardwood cases of the rifles into our living room and then disappeared into the night!
We, of course, had some super sales of Yewhas in our newsletters for awhile, but we never did have the chance to buy inventory of the other Yewha rifle models. They did not even bill us for the samples nor ask us for their return!
The final strange twist came about a year later. A reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle appeared at our doorstep and wanted to know if we had anything to say before his newspaper exposed us as a front for Reverend Moon's Unification Church! We were stunned and invited him in to tell us what the hell he was talking about! He claimed that his sister had been taken in and "brainwashed" by that church and that he was trying to break “this cult’s” local organization and to "free" his sister. He said that he "knew" that we were members of this "evil conspiracy" because we were selling airguns made by the church and that he had discovered copies of our catalogs on the floor of a San Francisco printing press which had just been raided for using "slave labor" from the church. Seems that, quite unknown to us, our catalog printer had sub-contracted our catalog printing job out to an underground printer with incredibly low rates –reportedly using unpaid subjects of the church as labor. We wouldn't let the reporter out of our house until we convinced him that these were coincidences that did NOT prove that we had anything to do with the weird doings of any cult!
SALESMAN’S ULTIMATE NIGHTMARE
Early in the 1980s, noticing that
an adult airgun market, based largely on European spring piston airguns finally
was beginning to be important in the USA, some Chinese factories developed
the idea of selling airguns to that potentially huge market. After some asking
around, their sales leaders were told that Beeman Precision Airguns was the
largest American importer of airguns. So, they decided to send a representative
to see us, hopefully to come back with a large order.
Indirectly preparing for this moment, the selected industry representative almost certainly had been studying English and overseas business procedures for many years. Now that he had been anointed with this special responsibility, he surely went into some weeks of intense preparation – honing his English skills and practicing his sales presentation over and over – this was to be his big moment and perhaps a turning point for his industry.
At the arranged time, he arrived at my office with a sample of an underlever, spring piston air rifle, looking as calm as he possibly could – but obviously under great pressure from within. Joining me for the evaluation of the airgun was our new Vice President, the late Keith Faulkner. We had just hired Keith away from his former position as President of Webley and Scott Guns in England. Keith was an engineer by training and experience, and a very critical observer, even a bit cynical, by nature.
The Chinese sales representative showed us his gun. We were not too very enthusiastic – its tolerances and detailing seemed far below the level of our German and English imports. Still the representative, surely more than a bit concerned by our cool reaction, continued his demonstration. He assured us that we could import such rifles for about seven dollars each. We knew that a few minor importers were selling such guns in the USA for about $39.95 – less dollars per gun than we were used to – but representing a profit percentage that was worlds above our other imports. However, we had dedicated ourselves to the concept that the Beeman label would represent “Quality First”.
The idea was presented that perhaps we could sell such airguns under another name, just as Sears sells their best tools under the Craftsman name, but uses the Dunlap brand for those customers who are more concerned with price. So, the sales presentation continued, but with more perspiration showing on the visitor’s forehead.
We asked if could specify changes in design and features. No problem, he eagerly replied. We asked what minimum order would be required to make the stocks to our design instead of the rather crude pattern of this specimen. We knew that gearing up stock making machinery usually required a minimum run of one thousand to ten thousand stocks. He really surprised us by saying that the minimum order would be one. He explained that his factory did not yet have automatic stock shaping machines – each stock was handmade – but this was cheaper than machine made because even the shop foreman earned less than $35 per month! So, if we wanted, every stock could be different!
Then Keith began to look at technical details. He wanted to know if the rifles had an “anti-beartrap” mechanism – a system which would prevent the cocking arm from flying up and injuring the gun, and possibly the shooter, if the trigger were accidentally released when the lever was down. He asked the representative if he understood what an anti-beartrap mechanism was. Now, quite animated, the agent assured us in rising volume and increasingly accented English: “Oh, yes, yes, I understand; we have very fine anti-beartrap mechanism”. The strain on his English ability was beginning to show and he clearly was ever more tense. He was reaching hard to find the right English words and sentence structures to express himself.
Keith, ever the doubting engineer, wanted a demonstration of the anti-beartrap mechanism. So he asked the representative to cock the gun, but to leave the lever hanging down after the piston had fully compressed the mainspring and engaged the sear. The agent quickly cocked the gun and he stood there holding the rifle with its cocking lever loosely hanging down. Keith asked him to now pull the trigger to show us that the lever would not slam upward. Slowly, with his eyes very, very wide, the sole representative of his industry, many thousands of miles from home, the fellow squeezed the trigger. Suddenly, there was a loud metallic sound – the lever flew up, snapped off, arched across the room and clattered to the floor, and the sudden impact of the bear trap action caused the stock to split into two pieces in the representative’s hands.
He looked down at the lever on the floor near the president’s desk and the pieces of the stock in his hands and very calmly uttered a perfect English language response:
IN GERMANY, THE GETHUNK IS EVERYTHING
In the 1980s, Beeman Precision Airguns decided to add precision firearms to its line of imported guns – a step which led to the company being known as Beeman Precision Arms for some years. The news of this spread around the IWA show, the big international shooting trade show held every year in Nürnberg, Germany. Several European firearm companies came to see us at our temporary office at the Wischo display. Among the visitors were representatives of the Mauser company, then the makers of the famous Luger pistols. They asked us if we would try to sell several presentation model Lugers that they were having trouble moving – at four and five digit dollar prices. There were less than a dozen handguns – but they were a stunning sight: real ivory grips, deep ornate engraving, gold or silver plating, precious metal inlays, etc.. They offered to send the guns with us at no cost or outlay on our part. We would only need to return the unsold guns at the next IWA show and pay distributor cost for the sold specimens. How could we refuse a 100% consignment deal?
The piles of governmental papers were drawn up, Mauserwerk employees walked the papers through all the necessary approvals, and we checked these lovely guns through to the San Francisco airport. They soon became a very popular display in their locked, glass case in our big Santa Rosa retail showroom – our local business featured not only Beeman airguns, but about 70 brands of firearms – so we had an excellent traffic of firearm enthusiasts. During the time before the next year’s IWA show, about half of these elegant pistols were sold – generally going to some investor’s vault. Finally, it was time to return the unsold pistols to Mauser. As we prepared to leave for Germany for another IWA show, our purchasing department obtained all the necessary U.S. State Department papers for the next international transport of these weapons.
We checked the carefully padded, securely locked, briefcase containing the remaining super Lugers on our Lufthansa Airlines flights to Nürnberg. Mrs. Beeman and I had a delightful, uneventful flight to Frankfort, Germany. We transferred there to a local Lufthansa plane for our short hop over to Nürnberg. We buckled down in our seats and waited for takeoff. But nothing happened; the plane just sat there. Finally, Lufthansa agents came on board and told us that we would be taken at once by a fast Lufthansa bus to Nürnberg. They were very brusk and without discussion – it clearly was close to unthinkable that a Lufthansa plane would not work! They told to get off the plane and claim our luggage from the luggage that had just been offloaded from the defunct plane onto the runway surface. As soon as the small group of passengers had gathered their luggage, Lufthansa agents went ahead of us – we were a walking wedge, spearheaded by a "V" of Lufthansa officials who waved aside security officers, customs men, everyone - until we reached the curb of the local street and boarded our very own Lufthansa bus. I never even thought about the fact that no German customs agent had looked at the papers that I was carrying for the pistols in my briefcase. Remember that this was well before 9/11!
The bus delivered the passengers right to the doorsteps of their respective hotels. What a delight, no waiting for luggage, no hailing an airport cab into town, etc... After sleeping off our jet lag, Tosh and I headed off to the Messencentrum – the big convention hall which houses the IWA convention. Not wanting to be responsible any longer than necessary for the thousands of dollars worth of ornate Lugers in my briefcase, I headed for the Mauser display. I was warmly greeted by a tall, lovely lady who handled the international gun transfers for Mauser.
The Mauser lady escorted me into a back office and I showed her that the guns were in perfect order. I handed her the U.S. State Department transfer papers for these deadly “weapons of mass destruction”. She started to smile broadly, but then blurted out: “Wo ist der Gethunk?” – Where is the Gethunk? – the Gethunk word cannot be translated – it is local gun trade slang for the sound that a proper German official makes when he stamps his big official rubber stamp onto your papers. She did not see any sign that these handguns, so very, very highly regulated in Germany, had been officially entered into Germany! She said that it was impossible that I was carrying pistols around town that had not been officially approved. I told her that Lufthansa had waved us past the customs officials and that I had not received any “Gethunk” on my weapon transport papers. She had been standing, with an air of great confidence, the picture of a solid Teutonic lady with a job of great responsibility and importance. However, as soon as she realized that she was holding unapproved weapons, her knees apparently went weak. She sat down very quickly and said that this was IMPOSSIBLE, that I MUST go back to the German Customs Office in Frankfort and get the papers stamped before she could touch the guns.
Knowing that to carry out her request, I would have to travel part way across Germany, wasting a day, to say nothing of the fact that I would have “contraband” weapons in my briefcase, and feeling that certainly she, and other high Mauser officials, could work this out while the guns sat securely in their safe, I rose and said: “Thank you very much for the opportunity to have had these fine guns, they are again in your keeping, I’m sure that you can take care of this”.
If you had seen the look in her eyes as I left the guns on her desk, you would not have thought that the Gestapo had been disbanded decades ago!
OKAY, WE CAN TAKE A HINT!
Mrs. Beeman and I have a special feeling for the American-made HyScore Air Pistols, not just because of the wonderful design (can you believe that “bumper car” repeating mechanism?) but because of our special relationship with the late Steve Laszlo (founder and president of HyScore). For some reason, he gravitated to us and we became fine friends. The standing joke every time that we would meet would be him asking us “Well, do you want to buy all the HyScore pistol machinery today?”. I’d always say: “When you add a politically correct safety to the design and cut the price 90%”. (After all the good reamers, etc. were cherry-picked over and removed, the "interesting" Richard Marriott-Smith of England purchased the whole pile for next to nothing and proceeded to put out the ill-fated British HyScore pistol – still without a safety and, almost as a bid to kill potential sales to the USA, with a silencer!). As noted in the HyScore introduction in Blue Book of Airguns, Steve sent us the NIB specimens of the delightful Acvoke and Abas Major air pistols that his brother Andrew Lawrence (nee Laszlo) had used, but never acknowledged, in designing the concentric piston HyScore air pistols. He also sent us a huge box of “junk” that they had cleaned out of the “loft” – just a wonderful array of well preserved specimens of all the prototypes of the HyScore pistols, as well as prototypes of air pistols which they had never put into production – a compact pneumatic, etc. a never produced self-scoring metal target, etc. Later in 1980, Mrs. Beeman and I had the last dinner anyone had with Steve and his really delightful, very intelligent wife (staff member at NY Metropolitan Museum of Art) in San Francisco. They were on the way to Hawaii for a vacation and he died of a heart attack there. We called his NY office to find out when he was supposed to be back and asked if he was still in Hawaii. The office staff of one said “Well, I guess that you could say that!” but she would say nothing more. We learned of his death thru friends and after a couple of months to allow things to settle down – we called and asked to pay up our account – we owed in the low four figures. We were referred to his lawyer who told us, in no uncertain terms, that the Laszlo children wanted no contact with his old “gun trade” and that they wanted “our kind” to please go away and not bother them again! He said that as far as they were concerned, the accounts no longer existed. Okay, we can take a hint.
10 March 2004
 Such models later went up as high as about $150, partially because the Chinese began to realize that they could get more for their guns from the importers.