The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Slingshots and Whirligigs

By Sophia Servis © 1990

Issue: May, 1990

Instructions for making Slingshots and Whirligigs.Instructions for making Slingshots and Whirligigs.How times have changed! I empty my son's pockets to do the laundry and find cassette tapes and pocket calculators. When my mother did the laundry for my brother and me, she found slingshots, whirligigs and the pocket knife that was used to whittle them.

Slingshots were very important in those days. They were the most formidable weapon a rabbit, squirrel or bee's nest ever encountered. We were serious hunters. My brother was anyway. I was too faint-hearted to shoot furry creatures, too afraid I would hurt them, but my brother had true hunter's blood flowing in his veins, and sometimes even managed to bring home supper.

As far as the bee's nests were concerned, they were open season. Have you ever been stung by a hornet or tried to milk a cow whose udder has been stung by bees? If you have, you'll understand why my brother and I declared war on any bee other than our hives of honey bees.

When we attacked a bee's nest, we did so at a safe distance of 15 to 20 feet. We shot our rock into the nest, turned and ran as hard as we could for a few feet, then hit the ground, tummy first, so the bees would fly over us. We waited for the bees to settle back into their nest, and returned repeatedly for more attacks until the nest was destroyed.

Despite our tactics, we sometimes got stung, and once when my brother didn't hit the ground quickly enough, he was counter attacked. He had bee stings all about his face and head so that he looked like something from a scary movie with his eyes swollen closed, one side of his lips much larger than the other, and numerous lumps and bumps about the face and neck.

By far the best and safest target for a slingshot we found was a Prince Albert tobacco can atop a fence post. The flat, rectangular can was bright red with an oval black and white picture of Prince Albert in all his regalia sitting in the center just asking to be toppled from his haughtiness. We kept a supply of cans on hand and were ready for a competition at any time with friend or foe who happened along with his own weapon. Many were the disputes settled in those days with just such a contest.

Making a slingshot was serious business. It sometimes required days of scouring the woods to find just the right Y-shaped branch to make the base. Then we had to talk Daddy out of his oldest and most patched car inner tube and find just the right shoe tongue to make the pouch that held the ammunition. Grandpop's shoe tongues worked best because they were made of very soft leather, but as we wore out sling shots faster than he wore out shoes, they were hard to come by. When we had all the raw materials together, it was time for the pocket knife to be wielded with an expertise equaling a surgeon's scalpel.

Whirligigs were another matter. They were not weapons, but made strictly for competition and fun. Made from an empty sewing thread spool cut in half, the shaft was whittled to a point at the end where the spool was cut in half. Then a stick was whittled to fit and driven securely through the hole in the center. When this stick was whittled to a fine point, the whirligig was ready for a test spin. Boys, and occasionally girls, as in my case, could be found competing with their whirligigs wherever there was a flat, smooth surface to spin them on. The whirligig that spun for the longest length of time was the winner. For the loser, it was back to whittling improvements with a pocket knife.