Sunday, May 25, 2014

Winchester Model 52C

Introduced in 1920, the Model 52 was considered by many to be the first reliable .22 RF bolt-action repeater built for accuracy. Beginning in 1918, the Winchester company put Thomas Crossley Johnson and Frank Burton to the task of designing the new match rifle. Intended to replace the 1885 single-shot and appeal to the army and returning doughboys for use in target matches (and hopefully, military training), the gun went into production in April of 1920. The gun was produced on machinery originally used to build 1917 rifles for the army.

The 52 action is a rear locking, non-rotating bolt in a cylindrical receiver which is machined from a forged billet. It has dual opposing spring claw extractors which also provide controlled cartridge feeding. There is a fixed, blade type, ejector.

In 1935 the single-shot adapter was introduced. This is a dummy magazine with a shaped top, to facilitate manual loading. My rifle came with one of these as well as 2 standard magazines and a body for another single-shot adapter. In 1951 Harry Sefried's two-lever Micro-Motion trigger was introduced. Adjustable for pull-weight between 2.5 and 6 lbs, and travel between .030 and an almost imperceptible .003 inches, the Micro-Motion was an instant success, and considered the new state of the art in match rifle trigger locks. The Marksman stock, a heavy Laudensack-designed match stock with high comb and full beavertail forearm was introduced in 1936. It outsold the Standard Target Stock, which it eventually replaced. Instead of the standard stock's external barrel band, the Marksman used a light band fixed inside the squared-off fore-end; this would be replaced by a pillar mount after the war (Marksman 1A). There were two slightly different versions: the Marksman 1 for telescopic or high scope-level sights, and the Marksman 2 (1938) for standard-height sights.

I was very fortunate to purchase my rifle from a consignment at the shop. Manufactured in 1955 it came with the scope blocks and Olympic sights. I ordered a Weaver T-36 scope with 1/8-minute dot reticule and a Ken Viani mount.

View of the mount from the left...
The Viani mount utilizes the same threaded holes as the Redfield aperture sight for mounting. I was fortunate in that I got a single-shot adapter and two magazines with the rifle. The Ken Viani mount is a neat piece of work. Very well made it fits as it should and finished as it should be. I am very pleased.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Staff Sergeant James Russell Van Fossen - Staunton, Virginia and Company L, 116th Infantry Regiment

It seems appropriate on this Memorial Day weekend to remember a soldier from our area who served 70 years ago but is hardly remembered today. He might be better remembered, but I believe that his story has been obscured by the incorrect recording of his name.

70-years ago, Bill Shadel reported in an article recently republished by The American Rifleman about the exploits of a Technical Sergeant James R. Foffen of Staunton, VA. There is no such person mentioned/listed in either the Staunton area or in service records in any source that I have researched but there was a TSGT or SSG James R Van Fossen from Staunton. Van Fossen enlisted 3 Feb 1941 and was a member of Company L, 116th Infantry. A diligent search reveals that James Russell Van Fossen was born 13 Sep 1921 to Grover Cleveland Tucker and Georgia (Anthony) Van Fossen in the Pastures district of Augusta County in Virginia (outside of Staunton) and died 31 Oct 1969. He is buried in West Augusta cemetery with his wife, Helen M (Smith) Van Fossen. It is very common for both the "Van" to be omitted from family names which use it and for hand scribbled "s"s to be misread as "f". Put the two errors together and you have "Foffen".

From Mr. Shadel's report:
Technical Sergeant James R. Foffen, of Staunton, Va., was working along a hedgerow as a scout, in one of the larger fields. He spotted three Germans moving out ahead, trying to sneak along to a safer position behind the next hedgerow. Setting his sights at an estimated range of 400 yds., Foffen fired and knocked one down. The other two stopped to pick up the wounded Jerry and Foffen got in another shot. There were now two wounded Jerries, one evidently able to get away under his own power, the other, by this time, dragged to quickk cover by the third German. When our advance caught up, the man first wounded was still there.

This wasn't the only report about TSGT Foffen/Van Fossen. This report was from 29th Division - 116th Regiment - 3rd Battalion - L Company- Group Critique Notes. This critique was held at Brest, France, on 20 Sept. 44. The chief witnesses were Captain McGrath, who was not with L at that time, but witnessed the Company movements, Sgt John W. White, Sgt Herman E. Rowe, Pfc Goodwin P. Dallas, Pfc Tony J. Sokolowski, Pvt Willie J. Ortego, Sgt Joseph R. Daya and Pfc J. O. Davies. All these men were NCOs in the higher brackets by the time of the interview. They were in agreement as to facts.
A BAR man, Pfc Elwood J. Watts, in endeavoring to work up to high ground ahead of the Company, got into the road and drew direct fire. He went on frd, made a brief recon, then rtd to the Company position and told Lieutenant Ira C. Nelson that he thought he had lacated one source of fire. He then went frd again, and was shot through the knees in crossing the road. Nelson, S/Sgt James R. Van Fossen, and two riflemen went on up to him and got him frd to the high ground. There, they got a line on the enemy fire coming from an emplacement at the RJ just short of Les Moulins. They engaged, and remained there all afternoon, directing what fire they had against the enemy. The fire in the meantime had cut across their rear and they became isolated. Boat team N° 4 tried to advance around one flank toward the enemy position, but the attack wilted under heavy fire. N° 1 tried it around the other flank and was driven back. Late in the afternoon, Nelson got back to the Co line; the others remained frd, covering Watts.

I am convinced that Staff or Technical Sergeant James Russell Van Fossen was the person mentioned in both incidents. I think that he should be so remembered and honored for his service.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Snakes do not scare me but they have my undying respect!

When I was a kid I was told this story (the teller of this tale was well regarded and later died when he canoe went over a dam and he was trapped underwater at the base of the dam and drowned). ---- He was fly fishing down a stream in WV and came upon a young boy (about 8-9 as I remember it) also fishing. He noted that the boy was fishing worms and asked how he was doing. The boy said he was doing ok (I guess he showed him his fish) but that the worms were biting something fierce. He was 100 yards further when it dawned on him what the boy had told him and he headed back to help the boy. Unfortunately the boy died. These were reputedly baby copperheads.

When I was a kid about 4 years old maybe a bit younger, I do not recall my sister being there, my parents and I were hiking up near Dolly Sods in WV. I was running ahead down the road and seeing something in the road jumped over it. Curled in the middle of the road, the snake promptly rattled after I landed on the other side. I remember Mom and Dad hurrying up the road to keep me away from it (they had seen me jump it).

We saw many snakes in the woods but because it was ingrained in us to look before we stepped or put our hands someplace we were never really in danger.

One time at FT A. P. Hill we were doing a training exercise and as I moved back along one of my squads to enforce the movement interval I noticed a snake stretched out parallel with the trail alongside the squad. They were a bit bunched up but the tail was at one end of the second fire team and the head at the other end. I had a couple of guys in the squad who were deathly afraid of snakes and we did NOT investigate to discover what sort of snake it was. I just hustled them on down the trail. Later that second team leader told me that he'd seen the snake but had the same thought I'd had about our two fellas with the snake phobia and kept quiet. He got an ice cold Coke at the break (I tried to keep a couple in my ruck to reward the soldiers).

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Neighborhood "secrets"...

New neighbors running the re-opened Thornrose House at Gypsy Hill at 531 Thornrose Avenue caused me to recall what I'd been told of the history of the neighborhood. I have seen one photo of the land before these houses were built across the street from Gypsy Hill Park (at 531, 543, 549 and 561 Thornrose Avenue) but no others. If any exist I certainly would like to see and scan them! Anyway, something was not right about those stories. I had researched the family who built our house and so knew some of the background which didn't jive with the supposed background of the builders.

After visiting the re-decorated B and B next door, I was moved to do some investigative work on the neighborhood and specifically, 531 Thornrose Avenue. This is what I have discovered so far.

531 was apparently built in 1911/1912 by Powell Goodman Stratton whose family were wholesale grocers in Staunton. Powell and his brother Richard Haygood Stratton, apparently took over the grocery business from their father. They were quite well-to-do for the time. Richard moved into 561 Thornrose at about the same time that Powell built 531. Of course, when Powell built the house the address was given as "Thornrose Ave near city water works". Not very precise and probably not needed due to the limited number of dwellings out here. The city water works was, at that time, right across the street about 100 yards from the house. Later the address was given as 523 in 1914 and then, finally, as 531.

So, by the late 1920s all four of these houses had been built and were occupied by Powell Stratton (531), Emmett Frank Fishburne (543 built in 1926), Sidney Erastus Matthews (549 built in 1925), and Richard Stratton (561). All were very well to do and with the elegant park just across the street this was an "upscale" neighborhood. That was quite a change from the industrial feel of the area which had been (after being a farm) home to a tannery and the water works. The value of 531 in 1930 was given as $20,000 or about $284,000 in 2014 dollars. The other homes were valued at $13,000 ($185,000), $10,000 ($142,000) and $18,000 ($256,000). In 1926 the Robert E. Lee High School was built facing Churchville Avenue next door to 561 Thornrose (on the other side of DuPont).

In 1936 Powell died and his widow, Irma Lang Stratton (daughter of Henry Lang, the jeweler), apparently sold the home and moved to 522 Frederic Street and went to work as a bookkeeper. The new owner was George Herbert Spalding.

George had immigrated from England, been a baker in Beckley and was a naturalized citizen. He was married to his second wife Julia and they lived there with their daughter Ethel Louise. However, it seems the house didn't suit because, although they were there in 1940, they were living in Norfolk by 1944. In as much as George was retired by that time I don't know why they moved. George listed an income of $6,000 a year for 1939 (about $102,000) but no job/business/work. That was very good for the times as there were many in Staunton who show no more than $300 income for all of 1939.

So who bought it after the Spaldings? I don't know, yet.

Apparently Powell's death affected his brother's fortunes as well as he and his family moved to a much less expensive house at 307 Glenn Avenue where they lived in 1940. Their former home at 561 was then occupied by John and Maud Snyder, both age 54. John apparently had a hardware store and his recorded income for 1939 was $5000. John and Maud moved to 561 from Fayette Street and were still living there in 1942 when John registered for the draft. John died in 1947, Maud in 1955.

Except for the two Stratton brothers, none of these people were closely related which is at odds with the stories I'd been told about the neighborhood. At least some of the story is now right. More would take a look at the courthouse records. We'll see.

Another interesting thing, several of the daughters of the residents of these 4 houses served in WWII. Margaret Wheeler Stratton (later Conway) was a communications yeoman in the US Navy. Ethel Louise Spalding trained in the Cadet Nursing Corps as did Sue Barret Stratton (daughter of Richard Haygood Stratton at 561 Thornrose). This is not without precedent in the family though as Richard Stratton served in the Navy as a storekeeper in BOTH WWI and WWII.