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Author Topic: Interview With Dick Renwick - By Reg Darling  (Read 317 times)

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Interview With Dick Renwick - By Reg Darling
« on: April 07, 2003, 09:45:00 PM »
Interview With Dick Renwick

By Reg Darling
   Dick Renwick worked at the Philadelphia Archery School as a teenager in the mid-1940's. In 1951 he moved to Roulette, Pennsylvania and opened, what was at the time, the only archery shop in Potter and Mckean Counties.

   From a distance you'd notice nothing remarkable about Dick Renwick, but when you spoke with him, a lively intelligence sparkled in his eyes. There was a dry, subtle wit in his conversation that came more from his manner than from the words themselves--it is almost wholly lost in transcription to the printed page. Although Dick hadn’t been involved in archery for many years, there was still an obvious fondness in his voice and eyes when he spoke of it. Tragically, Dick died in a motorcycle accident not long after this interview.

What was the name of the company you worked for?

   It was the Philadelphia Archery School--I worked with them not for them. I donated work in exchange for range time and equipment three or four nights a week after school--it was about an hour's train ride from home.

When did you work there?

   I started in 1944 and left in mid-1946.

How did you first get interested in archery?

   Through scouting--being an Eagle Scout sparked my interest. I wanted to earn the merit badge in archery but I also wanted to learn more than just what I could get from reading books.

   I was wandering around town in Philadelphia when I noticed the Philadelphia Archery School on Broad Street and almost ran through the door in my excitement. I was only going to look around quickly, having a few extra minutes before getting home for supper. As you can guess those few minutes lengthened considerably. Needless to say, I was late for supper and really caught hell!

How much did a new bow cost at that time?

    About eighty dollars, for a roughed-out osage longbow. It would take another couple of hours of scraping to final?tiller it. We usually taught the buyer how to make their own strings out of a combination of cotton and nylon, too. They were endless loop strings, so the length had to be just right. You could adjust them a little by twisting them, but not much.

   We really didn't make bows to sell; we made arrows to sell. We taught bowmaking and sold roughed-out osage bows to be finished by the buyer. Occasionally we made finished bows on special order, but mostly we just made bows for use on the range. Learning to tiller a bow was part of learning to shoot.

Did you break any bows when you were learning?

   (A nod and a smile) Uh-huh. My first one worked, though. It was a lemonwood longbow, about thirty-five pounds.

What kinds of bows did you make?

   All longbows and flat bows--didn't have equipment to steam and bend recurves.

Were the longbows a classic English-style D-section?

   Yeah, we called them Robin Hoods.

What kinds of woods did you use?

   Lemonwood, osage, and yew. Osage and yew are both more difficult to work than lemonwood. It's tough learning how to scrape around the knots without causing the limb to twist. I liked lemonwood because you could work a lot faster. You could almost make the whole bow with a draw knife, but with osage and yew you had to do a lot of scraping. Yew was the most expensive wood, because it takes so long to grow. You need a tree at least twenty-five years old. I saw on TV about all those yew trees being stripped of their bark and left to rot. It makes me sick.

   Yew and osage woods were much quieter. Lemonwood has a real distinctive "zang" when you shoot it.

    My only experience with hickory is that we used it for risers sometimes--we preferred mahogany though. All the bows had a glued-on riser.

Was there a special reason for using a glued-on riser?

   Yes, the deeper handle encouraged a grip with splayed fingers. That helped avoid feather burn since we didn't use an arrow rest and I was taught to use my index finger to point at the target as I drew the bow. That was one of the first things I was taught. It seemed natural. How long did it take you to learn to point your finger at something? If you can do that, you can shoot a bow, instinctively, without a sight.

What kinds of tools did you use?

   Scrapers, draw knives, and a rattail file to cut nock grooves and shape risers. You can make a wood scraper from a piece of half-inch hacksaw blade: you have to cut it off square; don't put a beveled edge on it. For final tillering, especially with osage or yew, you have to go real slow and careful. Don't scrape off a shaving--that's too much--you just want dust. We only used sandpaper to sand between dips. We finished bows by dipping them in a tank of lacquer, the same as we did with arrows. Just rubbing them by hand with paste wax probably works as well, though.

Were the bows ever backed?

No, no backings.

Did you prefer longbows or flat bows?

   The longbow is the best to shoot. Flat bows had a habit of breaking without warning. When a longbow fails it'll chrysal or split. If you check your equipment, the way you should, you'll catch it before it blows.

   A thirty pound lemonwood longbow is the best thing for a beginner. At thirty pounds it's easy to correct bad habits. You can work up to whatever weight you want later. For me, I wouldn't want much over forty pounds, even for hunting.

   I think the perfect bow would be a centershot takedown -- centershot so you wouldn't have to be so fussy about spine and so the fletching wouldn't contact the hand.

   People started really getting interested in recurves around 1945. There was an article in Popular Science about how to make your own wood-fiberglass laminated bow.

Were all the school bows made there, at the school?

   No, we bought bows from Ben Pearson, too. They were self bows, thirty-five to forty-nine pounds.

Was the emphasis at the school on hunting or on target archery?

   Mostly target and field archery. After the war we taught blind vets to shoot; they shot blunts, and we used 4'x8' sheets of galvanized tin for targets. Different scoring rings made a different sound when they were hit. Some of them were really good.

What about arrows?

   That's what I enjoyed most--making arrows, fletching and cresting. We had two four-foot round tables that pivoted, like a lazy Susan, with two-and-a-half dozen fletching jigs set at an angle all the way around. One guy could fletch five dozen arrows in an evening. The jigs had different receivers for three, four, and six fletch. I liked six fletch with 1/2" x 3" feathers. You know, when Flu-flu's are made right, they have six fletch with opposite helical; so, on an aerial shot, when the arrow starts to lose speed, it'll actually turn and come part of the way back like a boomerang.

What kind of shafts did you use?

   Port Orford cedar. They came packed tight in a cardboard tube they were forced into, and didn't need to be straightened. I never saw any that were barreled or tapered. A few people used footed shafts, but you had to make them by hand and you could only make a couple of them a day.

   Sometimes we'd turn down the end of a shaft to the size of a .22 bullet, leaving a blunt shoulder, and put a spent .22 shell on it. It wouldn't skip or burrow under the grass.

   We finished the shafts by dipping them in clear lacquer, but we crested them first to keep the color from coming off on the arrow rest. A lot of the customers had their own personal crests, and those were kept on file. Testors liked us - we used a lot of their paint cresting arrows.

Did you use self nocks?

   No, plastic index nocks.

How about fletching?

   We got whole, split, barred turkey feathers from Jersey. We used different shapes, but the shield cut was the most popular. I don't think I saw parabolics commercially until the mid-fifties.

Did you ever meet any of the archery "greats" from that period?

   I met Howard Hill in Washington state around 1946 or 47-- before I went in the service. He was shooting a short film on archery. We heard about it and went down to check it out. I got to meet him, but didn't get to see him shoot. He was very much a gentleman.

Did you stay involved with archery after you left the school?

   I went in the service after Philly. When I got out I moved to Potter County and opened my own shop in Roulette, in 1951. At the time, it was the only archery shop in Potter and McKean Counties.

   I sold Bear and Pearson recurves--liked Bear the best because I didn't have any trouble getting them. Their service was the best, so I tried to steer customers to Bear. I used a Kodiak. I had a few Centuries -- they were fast but they didn't hold up like Bear.

What was the name of your shop?

   Dick's Lock Shop. I did locksmithing, too.

Did you make bows?

   A few--takedown longbows. I used three sleeves--a main handle section with a metal sleeve that the upper and lower limb sections were inserted into. The sleeves had a flattened shape so they couldn't turn. I always wanted to invent a true centershot longbow, but with wood; using metal would seem like cheating.

Did you ever try a compound?

   No, I remember when they first came out. They just seemed noisy to me.

You were in prime whitetail country. Did you hunt?

   After I got out of the service I tried hunting with a rifle; but I got tired of getting shot at, so I never got into hunting. I made a lot of hunting arrows for other people, though.

   I used to get a hundred cedar shafts for $19.00! Arrow making was always my favorite part of archery. That's the only thing that would interest me now. I used to go into my shop and just sit and inhale the smell of cedar. That smell has all my memories. That smell is archery to me.

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