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Over a three to four year period, I probably traveled to every small town and down every dirt road in Indiana looking at trees (not always walnut). Meeting up with landowners at a given place and time (no cell phones) and finding the right road (no GPS) was a huge problem. You should have seen some of the directions--both written and spoken. “Now y'all come to a corner and Mabel’ll have a sign in the yard that her house is for sale and you take the right there and go to the curve. My woods is on the left and as you come to it you'll see a big pile of snow the county dumped there.” (Did I fail to mention that it’s June now?) “Walk down into the woods and the tree is right in front of you. You can't miss it.” I learned that that statement meant we definitely would miss it.

The next problem was, how do you get the grafting wood (twigs) from the tree top to the ground? City trees were easy—we could use pole pruners, but most of our selections were up to 120 feet tall and the first branch at perhaps 50 feet. I wasn't too thrilled at the prospect of climbing a tree that tall to get a twig. In the southern pines, the technique they used to obtain grafting wood was to shoot it out with a .222 rifle and hollow point shells. You can imagine what the reaction was from the Purdue administration when I put in the purchase order for a rifle and ammo. You would've thought I was trying to get CIA clearance, but we prevailed. I doubt that many of you have fired a .222 rifle, but it has a real kick and is as loud as a cannon. We often fired this thing fairly close to housing, and it usually took many shots to bring down the coveted branch with twigs attached for grafting. If the wind was blowing, there were times when a full box (20 shells) would be expired before bringing the branch to heel. The other problem was that as the branch ricocheted down through the tree (the best branches are at the top of the tree, of course) or neighboring trees, they usually would get hung up half way down. This necessitated the pruning of the lower branches with more bullets. We learned that small diameter twigs were hard to hit and you got few grafting buds per shot. So we went for the 2-4 inch diameter branches, and if we could get one down, we would have enough twigs to make several grafts. Considering that we shot something like 250 trees, the public reaction was fairly quiet. Only one time did the police intervene and that was, of course, near the Purdue campus involving Purdue's finest--the Purdue University Police Department.

It was early spring, and we were trying to get some twigs to force male pollen shedding, so I called the Purdue Police Department and told them (as I had before when collecting grafting wood) that we would be doing research in McCormick's Woods shooting black walnut trees to get twigs from the tops of the trees. The chief said “OK”-- after much arguing about, “You’re doing what?” and that he would inform the officers on duty.

We found our tree and began blasting away. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something large moving and so did Bill. Masters was still trying to shoot down branches and Pennington got a very nervous look on his face. Suddenly we were surrounded and “drop the gun” rang out. It became obvious that about 10 uniforms with drawn guns were moving toward us through the small trees that were just beginning to leaf-- out. First, you have to know the times and circumstances. On our side, four young guys (yes, I was young then, too) and while Bill and I looked sort of normal; that is, short hair and small builds, Chuck at 6-5 and 250 lbs. (ex-football lineman) with beard, mustache and long hair, and Steve fairly good size, with long black hair looked a little intimidating. Of course, we all had scruffy blue jeans and flannel shirts on, and with my youthful appearance, I'm sure they were thinking, “Oh sure this guy is a prof?” Because back then, professors were seldom out of a suit and tie. Also, this was 1969-- the height of the anti-war- hippie movement. The only real anti-war incident at Purdue was an attempted bombing of the ROTC building which occurred just a month or so before we were found shooting in the woods. Also, considering that, as fate would have it, Purdue President, Hovde was participating in his favorite pastime—golf---on the golf course just about 100 yards to the south of our location. Our perspective, of course, was a little different. We see cops surrounding us with drawn guns. They approach and say, “What the hell do you think you're doing?” “Well”, I calmly explained, “We are shooting branches out of black walnut trees”. Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounded? I told them we had permission. They replied that the chief told them that there was someone from forestry who had permission to shoot in McCormick's Woods. I said, “Yes, that would be us”. He said, “This is Stewart's Woods. McCormick's Woods is over there behind Hovde’s house. I said, “No, go out to the edge of the woods and look at the sign you just passed by.” While at gunpoint, we all did that and sure enough, the sign, in foot- tall letters, said “McCormick's Woods”. So with some embarrassment and much apology, he gave back the gun and said that we really shouldn't shoot that close to the golf course. And we never did again.

© 2010 Purdue Number One

© 2011 Walter Beineke
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