The Wheaton Rifle Club, Inc
Byron E. Putman
January 1, 1964
The Wheaton Rifle Club traces its roots to three men who found pleasure in the age-old sport of shooting. During the early 1930's William Blase, an ex-marine rifle instructor and Bernie Kline of Wheaton used to meet at the Fred Muser farm two miles North and one-half mile West of Wheaton. The three would spend Sundays shooting.
During the winter, they fired from Fred Muser's barn at targets set in the barnyard. Later, they set up an outdoor range in Muser's orchard, shooting down a lane between rows of apple trees.
The Wheaton Rifle Club was formally organized in 1937. Fred Muser, C.H. Millar, William Lofgren, Max Ernst, Lee Fleming, Bernie Kline and Byron Putman were the charter members. The Club affiliated with the National Rifle Association of America in 1938.
The Club set up a range in Muser's orchard with eight firing Points, four points at 50 yards in one lane and four points at 100 yards in the next lane. The targets were illuminated for night shooting.
The Club's first outdoor tournament, called the "Night Owl Special" was fired late in September, 1939. A total of 68 competitors fired, on what turned out to be a rather cold night. The course of fire was the Dewar Match with metallic sights. Lew Mason of Aurora was the match winner with a score of 400-30x.
The match went into the early morning hours. At approximately 1:30 a.m. the girls who were serving lunches ran out of coffee, and at a time of considerable demand. However, they retrieved the coffee grounds used earlier in the evening and made a final pot. The brew was hot and the taste-- well, who cared. Several of the shooters carried a cup of hot coffee to the firing line. They would fire a few shots and then take a swallow or two of coffee. The last shot of the match was fired at about 3:00 a.m.
Prior to this most successful and unusual tournament, in the late summer of 1938, the Club members had constructed a building shell, 16 x 18 feet, at the edge of the orchard. Four adjustable port holes were cut in the West wall of the building, from here, illuminated backstops were set up outdoors, 75 feet away for gallery shooting.
This, too, was sometimes a rugged experience. I can remember shooting one match during a snow storm. It was not too bad until someone would open the door, then we would get a blast of cold air in our faces.
In 1939, the Wheaton Club initiated the organization of the Western Rifle League. Aurora, Fox Valley, Wheaton College, Maywood, Forest Park and Wheaton were the charted member clubs. Lew Mason of Aurora was the first league president and Harry Tevis of Fox Valley was the first secretary.
The Club was chartered as a non-profit corporation in 1940. At about this time, due to a misunderstanding with Fred Muser and Robert Murray, the Club moved their activities. They shared an indoor range with the Fox Valley Club. The range was located in the basement of a tavern in Batavia. In 1941, the Club negotiated with Wheaton College for the use of their four-position indoor range.
Meanwhile, in the early spring of 1940, Eigil Peterson and I rented a three-acre lot on North Avenue for an outdoor range. This lot is now our Club location. After paying the $20.00 annual rental for the land, the Club treasury was completely empty. Eigil Peterson asked eight members to loan the Club $5.00 each for the purchase of several steel plates and some fence posts to construct a backstop. The money was to be refunded if and when there were funds in the treasury to do so.
The eight members who each advanced $5.00 were Axel Gordon, Dave Parsons, Morris Hawkins, R.W. "Dick" Calkins (the cartoonist of the "Buck Rogers" comic strip), C. Curtis, W.H. Blase, C.H. Hanson and Byron Putman.
Eigil Peterson hauled the steel to the range on a borrowed four-wheel trailer, from his shop in Chicago. The backstop was partially completed when a county inspector stopped by to see what we were doing. He demanded that the Club have a "use permit", C.H. Hanson was dispatched to the county court house to purchase this "use permit." The cost was $2.00. This has turned out to be the most important and valuable document the Club has ever obtained. This permit is now kept in a safety deposit box. It spells out our right to use the range even though the zoning has changed. The area is at present zoned for business and residential.
I purchased the original three acres of land in 1940. During World War II, ammunition was difficult to get. Axel Gordon, who was employed by Mr. Morton as the superintendent of the Morton Farms, moved in with a tractor and plow and plowed up an area along the West property line. A number of club members each staked off a small area and planted Victory gardens. Hand cultivating the gardens became the major activity until ammunition returned in good supply.
The club grew in members and the college range soon became too small for our group. In 1945, the Club made arrangements to share with the Lombard Club their nine-firing point range, located under a drug store in Lombard.
During the summer of 1948, construction was started on the present building. The general understandings was that the club members would have no financial interest in the property, that they would assist in its construction and, in return for a reasonable rental, have a club home as long as the owner, Byron Putman lived. Both parties have, to date, carried out their gentlemen's agreement in a most satisfactory manner.
The construction of the "building was a most interesting and happy experience. The memories for those who took part will last "until death do us part." It did something toward creating the deepest of friendships and loyalty between those who had a part in its construction. The digging of the foundation trench actually started on Sunday, May 9th, 1948 by Warren Knight, LaVerne Voigt, Richard Leake and Byron Putman. It was cold and it drizzled most of the day. After five hours of this, with no time out for coffee, every one wet to the skin, called it a day and went home. The following Saturday, Stanley Elsy, Robert Wempe, Axel Gordon, Eddie Bent and I completed this part of the job. By fall, the foundation, underground plumbing, heating pipes, (2000 feet of one inch pipe, bent and placed), concrete floor and the septic field were completed. The floor was covered for the winter. The next year, on Saturday, March 5th, 1949 the actual laying of the cement blocks was started. At this stage, one could begin to see some results after a hard day's work.
The three trusses for the roof were laid out, cut and drilled in my basement. They were taken to the job on a trailer, piece by piece, re-assembled and hoisted into place by the bull strength of enough people taking part and with out the aid of any hoisting equipment. I shall never forget the day the roofing boards were put on. It was May 15th. There were fourteen people working, most with hammers. It kept several busy just pushing up boards. Every one was happy and no one seemed to get tired. Lunch time, from dinner pails was a happy and satisfactory experience.
I shall never forget one incident. Axel Gordon and I were doing some finishing work on the roof when a man drove in and wanted to buy the property. After he was finally convince that it was not for sale, he then tried to engage us to build him a place just like it. He said," It is just what I want as a "business place."
There are several points I want to make clear to those of you who have joined the club since this time. (1). ALL of the work was performed by club members. (2). None of us had had previous experience in cement finishing, block and brick laying. There were no so called plumbers, electricians or carpenters in the club, BUT WE GOT THE JOB DONE. There was not a nickel's worth of employed labor on the entire project.
The lot cost me $550. It is 2.97 acres in size. The materials for the building came to about $11,500. The building was designed by a fellow employee, Mr. Leo Young, an architect and myself. After we had worked out the general plan, his supervisor, a shooter also, permitted him to prepare the detail drawings, which took him about four days.
There were a total of 25 people who had a part, during the two years in the construction of the building. The amount of hours put in totaled 2,103. This is equal to one man working 8 hours per day for a total of 263 days on the job. Mary Putman and Miss Barbara Elsy, a junior member and representing the weaker sex, together put in a total of 8 days of work, heavy work, such as removing top soil, puddling cement as it was being poured and helping to grade the fill gravel.
It is my hope that when I am unable, due to old age to care for the property, that you, as a club can take over the ownership, carry on and maintain the high standards of the Wheaton Rifle Club that it has enjoyed to date. I have not been interested in capital gain on the property. I have turned a deaf ear to several opportunities. Shooting is a hobby with me. I like people. Mary, my wife and I like to share what we have with others, and what a nice activity it has turned out to be for one on retirement. I hope that there will always be many of you nice people to enjoy it with me.
Those who made a substantial contribution, in labor toward the construction of the building, in addition to myself are; Axel Gordon, Robert Wempe, Everett Schreiber*, Stanley Elsy, Edward Walker, Ken Ewing, Hubert Deal, Richard Hood, Fred Borgfeldt*, Warren Knight, LeRoy Horton, LaVerne Voigt, Morrice Hawkins, Richard Leake*, Barbara Elsy and Mary Putman (*) Now deceased.
The building was placed in service during the outdoor tournament in June, 1949. The DuPage Archers, a separate organization immediately became tenant users of the premises, paying rent to me and thus contributing considerably toward the operating cost of the building. They have been the perfect tenant. They have cared for the building as if it was their very own. They have been most understanding of my problems as an owner.
Edward Walker, a commercial artist was requested to design a club emblem. His first design ended up in the fireplace. He was challenged to come up with something new and different from what other clubs generally had. In about six weeks he came up with the present BULLDOG Emblem. Everyone was thrilled with his design and it was immediately adopted. It has attracted nation wide attention.
In 1952, Robert Wempe and I saw the need for, and the possibilities of printing the sighting bull on the 10-bull, A-l6 target. It was the general rule to attach sighting bulls by clips or staples to the side of the regular target. This was always a big job and very unsatisfactory to the shooter. We made up several arrangements and submitted the present A-17 design to the NRA. Thus the 11-bull, A-17 target was born. We started printing and selling this target to promote its use and adoption. Bob and I had much correspondence with the NRA about the target and in 1957, it was finally adopted. The NRA issued us a license to print and sell it as a fully OFFICIAL NRA target. This has been a source of additional revenue to our club.
The club conducted registered, outdoor tournaments each year through 1959, discontinuing them only when a home was erected north of the backstop. This suggested that, in the best interest of the club, they should be discontinued. The club has conducted a registered gallery tournament each spring, since 1950.
Club teams have won three NRA sectional matches, two at Michigan City, Indiana and one at Davenport, Iowa, and have placed as high as 10th place nationally. They won the ILLOWA Gallery League Championship several times and in one year took both first and second. The club has won the Western Rifle League Championship in 1940,42,43,44,47,50,53,54,55,56,58,59,60,61,62 and 63. The Tribune Trophy for the State Championship Team Match has been won many times.
In individual accomplishments: Elbridge L. Lord won the Outdoor Smallbore National Championship in 1937. David Parsons, in about 1941, was in a three way tie for the National Junior Championships, 4-position, fired at Camp Perry.
Byron Putman won the U.S. Cartridge Trophy Dewar Match at Camp Perry in 1940, and the Illinois State Outdoor Championship in 1948 and 1949. He won the Illinois State Gallery Championship in 1953 and fired on the U.S. International F.I.D.A.C. Team in 1938 and 1939. His latest win was the Becker Chapman Post Rifle Club, any sight Tournament held at Waterloo, Iowa, June 23, 1963.
Robert H. Wempe won the Wisconsin State Championship in 1952, the Illinois State Championship in 1957, 1959 and 1960, the Michigan State Championship in 1959 and the Indiana State Championship in 1963. Bob placed 25th in the Grand Aggregate at Camp Perry and shot on the International Dewar Team in 1950 and also, won two individual matches.
Hubert H. Deal was the winner of the Wisconsin State Championship in 1953.
Clarence A. Ardelt won the Illinois State Gallery Championship in 1962. In any gallery tournament, his name could always be found in the top five or six places. Bud is one of ONLY two who have ever shot a 200 in our Western Rifle League competition.
Byron Putman, in 1957, initiated the idea of classes for juniors in Safe Handling of Firearms and Basic Marksmanship; the first class was started in December, 1957. He added a new innovation of requiring that either the father or mother of the junior shooter must attend the classes and participate in the exercises.
The idea has become very popular. And, it has become an excellent "farm" system for the club. The better shooting prospects are invited to join the club, if interested, and some fine adult shooters, as well as juniors, have become club members through this program.
Since the first class in 1957, eighteen classes have been completed, with a total of 288 juniors and parents having taken the course.
In the fall of 1960, a Junior Division of the Club was organized and affiliated with the NRA. The initial membership was 17. One of the top shooters from this Junior Division, John Writer, set a New National Junior Record at Camp Perry in 1961. He fired a score of 394 in the 40-shot, 4-position, 50-yard metallic sight match. The former record had been 391. In 1963 John won the Minnesota and Illinois State Gallery Championship, tied for high civilian in the NRA National Gallery Championship Tournament.
He placed 2nd at the Bristol, Indiana Outdoor Position Regional and in doing so, set two new Junior National Records of 782 for the metallic sight course and 786 for the any-sight course. Both courses were 20 shots in each of the four positions. In August of 1963, John won the National Junior Outdoor Position Championship at Camp Perry, Ohio. John had a great career as a junior. He is now 19 and an adult.
It is now January 1, 1964. I plan to add to this story as time moves along. Keep your eye on Andrew Holoubek. He got his start in one of my classes. He was a charter member of our Junior Club. He is just 17 and at the Rockford Gallery Tournament recently, he came in 4th place in the Grand Aggregate, just 3 points behind the winner, J.T. Bertva, the top shooter from USAF International Rifle Team from the Lackland AFB, Texas. From this Tournament, Andrew was awarded a total of 8 trophies. Yes, keep an eye on this boy. He will be very much in the news in the chapter yet to be written.
I hope that I have not missed anyone who should have been mentioned. If I have, I am very sorry. It surely was not intentional.
Byron E. Putman