A blue fog bank of cigar smoke hung from the ceiling during business hours. Tunney loved the rolled leaf, but sometimes his cigar went out when he laid it down to do some chore, and in that briefest of moments other odors would shyly emerge. It might be the smell of saddle soap on a new baseball glove, the dead mudsuckers he hadn't cleaned from the bait tank for a few days, the acrid odor of rod varnish, the rotten odor of catfish stink bait or the sweet smell of Hoppes No. 9 bore cleaner. To a young boy these narcotic smells were overpowering and lured me deeper into the confines of the store.
Tunney introduced many of us to the outdoors. That was his job and he was good at it. The more he could teach, the more he could sell, and everyone had fun in the process.
Thinking back, Tunney was the one who taught me how to repair broken fishing rods and how to rewrap the guides with colorful silk thread. With a little more effort I was making my own fishing rods with rod blanks, cork rings, guides and thread from his store.
Then there was reloading. Tunney introduced me to reloading and sold me a Mec 400 shot shell reloader. Soon I was reloading and shooting cases and cases of shells. Obviously Tunney had all the components I needed.
One time I found an old 24 gauge muzzle-loading shotgun hidden in a pile of broken fishing rods near the back door. Tunney let me borrow it and taught me how to load it. Oddly enough, he had all the percussion caps and black powder necessary to make the old fowling piece belch blue smoke. Tunney had hooked me again.
If your reel needed new line, Tunney would chuck it up in his machine and refill the spool. If the reel needed cleaning or parts replaced, he'd do that also. If your gun was broken, Tunney could fix it or send it to a gunsmith if things were really bad. If the bladder on your football popped, Tunney could replace it, along with new white lacings.
But the most important part about Tunney's Sport Shop besides the service was the bonding that took place among those who entered his store. They came to brag, to lie, to gossip and to glean information from the others present. When they left, they had all the answers as well as tackle or ammunition to go afield.
Tunney later moved his store to much larger accommodations on West Main but it was still set up pretty much the same. Harold came on board, sharing the space while offering bicycle repair, lawn mower blade sharpening and locksmithing. Harold, who had survived a deadly bout with brain cancer, added a lot of fun to the party and the two made a great team.
I saw Tunney the other night at Von's. Over 80 years old, he looked just as perky as ever and asked when I was going corvina fishing next. He said he and his fishing partner, Jackie, were going soon. His cigar wasn't present, but then that could be because Von's doesn't allow it.
The local sporting goods store has faded from our modern world. Most have been pushed aside by the larger self-serve marts that offer lower prices. As a trade-off for lower prices and unfamiliar brands and packaging, the outdoorsman must deal with department managers ill suited for the job and who don't hunt or fish. The previous week they might have been in charge of dog food, car batteries or shampoo.
Of course we are to blame. We are the ones who flocked to the big marts and chain stores, trading great service and camaraderie for cheaper prices. You and I are the ones responsible for pushing the small town sporting goods store out of business. We should be ashamed of ourselves.
Outdoor Tales columnist Al Kalin may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.