Adventures with Clothes Pin Weapons

by David Thomson

Sent to Mom on Mother's Day, 12 May 2002

A pivotal part of my childhood revolved around a universal household item often used for guns, grenades, and practical jokes - clothes pins.  As a kid, clothespins were marvelous toys.  For much of my childhood, we didn't have a dryer, so Mom used clothes pins to clip clothes to the clothes line to dry.  (I hated to use the word "clothes" three times in that last sentence, but I had no good alternatives.  Sorry, Mrs. Barton.)

Young whippersnappers these days with their newfangled dryers have no appreciation for the utility of good old-fashioned wooden clothes pins.  (Well, not that old-fashioned, I mean the newer kind with a spring.) They are standard equipment for building blanket forts and tents as they clip sheet corners to chairs and tables.  This skill came in handy later (5 Nov 97) when I set up tents for a seminary lesson on King Benjamin's speech.  They also are essential for holding authentic Superman blanket capes or medieval cloaks around your neck, since they look a lot like the clothes pins that the Knights of the Round Table used to hold their battle garb in place.  In a pinch, they will even substitute for fringe on a cowboy or Indian wardrobe (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.  Deidre and I outside.  Since my hat lacks real fringe, I make do with clothes pins.  (E:\images\boy\photo3.gif)

When Deidre and I were about 10, we had clothespin wars in the end room downstairs (of Yale Avenue - now a girl's bedroom and a sewing room).  That was the room where we did most of our indoor playing - roller skating, two square, and other games.  If you pinch the handle of a clothespin in the jaws of another, they both stay open until they are disturbed (see Figure 2).  Then they fly apart and snap shut.  Mom had a clothesline in the endroom with a bag of clothespins, so there was a plentiful supply.  Deidre and I would secure ourselves behind our barricades with armed clothespin grenades and then throw them at each other.  Mostly they just made a snapping sound and flipped away, but with extraordinary luck, they would clamp onto the enemy's shirtsleeve or maybe even part of their anatomy.  Being obedient children, we dutifully put the clothespins back when we were finished, though somebody - and my memory is fuzzy on this person's specific identity, but let's just say, for sake of argument (and because it's my story) that it was Deidre - "accidently" put loaded clothespins back in the bag, where they clamped onto the next happles person to insert his or her hand.  Who could have guessed it would be Mom?  She was a good sport about it and we were delighted that our trap actually worked.

Figure 2.  A clothes pin grenade.  In World War II, many men were crippled or killed when this vicious device clamped onto their earlobes.  (E:\images\clothesp\dcp_0883.jpg.)

One amazing use for clothes pins, one that I've never seen or heard of other than from Dad, is making guns.  Dad taught me to make them about the time he taught me how to carve a slide whistle from a willow branch.  You make the gun by separating the two halves and cutting a notch in one.  Then you tape the halves back together, and attach the spring sideways to one half.  You cock it with a popsicle stick, load it with a small pebble, and fire it by pushing down on the spring.  (See Figure 3.) It will eject a pebble 20 yards, if you're lucky.  I was thrilled and played with it for hours.  Mom was less thrilled, her bag being the only clothespin supply, but she was, again, a pretty good sport.  I once shot at and actually struck a black bird perched on a power line at Grandma Thomson's farm.  I though I was hot stuff, and you could argue I was, since clothes pin guns generally lack both range and accuracy.  The bird just laughed and flapped away.

Figure 3.  A clothespin gun cocked, loaded with a pebble, and ready for bird hunting.  (E:\images\clothesp\dcp_0893.jpg.)

One of our favorite tricks was to put clothespins on people without them knowing it.  Then everyone else would chuckle as the victim walked around with a clothespin hanging from a shirt or belt loop.  Once when Dad was washing dishes Deidre and I attached a string of about ten across to his shirt tail.  He pretended he didn't notice and we thought we were so clever.  In reality, if he didn't start to feel the accumulated weight pulling down from behind, I'm pretty sure he at least noticed the whispering and giggling.

In 2nd grade, the clothesline was an equally vital part of my existence because it was the antenna for Dad's crystal radio.  The Pink House (361 1/2 South 1st East in Rexburg) had a garage Mom and Dad walled shut with cinder blocks and used as a food storage room.  They were diligent in keeping an emergency supply as the prophets taught and we had some kind of food storage in this and every home I remember.  Mom also used the room to dry clothes and Dad used her wire clothes line as an antenna for his crystal radio.  When he was a boy, he built several crystal radios and I remember once seeing his box of hand-wound wire coils, headphones, and cat whisker diodes.  All four kids slept in the same room and it was great fun.  Sometimes it was too much fun and Mom and Dad's solution to keep us quiet and get us to go to sleep was to send me to the garage. I was the oldest and was therefore responsible, I guess.  I'm not sure if I was really the troublemaker or not, but the solution of sending me out appeared to be effective   That was fine with me, because Dad's crystal radio was on the floor, right next to my sleeping bag.  The strongest radio station was KRXK and I lay there with Dad's black headphones, listening to "Uncle Albert," "Ride, Captain Ride," and other songs until they played the Star Spangled Banner and signed off the air at 10pm.

Years after all this, and realizing that we had severely depleted Mom's supply of clothes pins, we gave her a new batch and labeled each one "Mom."

Mom's Rebuttal

May 13, 2002

Thank you for the delightful Mother's Day present. I always remember the significance of my clothespins labeled "Mom" as I use them. They still have plenty of uses, mostly for things like bread sacks, but we usually include them in the supplies for trips, and always find various uses for them. I wish I still had an outdoors clothesline. I just can't decide on a practical place. Do you share these stories with the other kids? They would probably all enjoy them. Your story brought back lots of fun memories. I wonder if you remember having a crystal radio when we lived in the prefabs in Logan? It seems like the bed springs helped as a antenna. That's the same time Dad and Scott Grover had some kind of communication device between our apartments. I think you probably built at least one crystal radio yourself? Just for historical accuracy, the cinder brick wall between the garage and bedroom in the pink house was there before we rented it.

I am anxious to see what can be done with pictures from the digital camera. If you want more ideas for some to print, let me know. Don't you think you should print at least one black and white negative, and maybe a color picture?

We got a postcard from Katy, sent when she was visiting from back East. Maybe the idea is spreading?

I think about you often, and continue to hope and pray for the best for you.

Love, Mom