ARTICLE

April Fools; Not Really

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With the weather already playing warm temperature jokes on us, it might seem that April 1 has come and gone.

Not so. Check your calendar. April Fools’ Day is Sunday. So, be prepared.

Three years ago, Shirley Mills of Keota was not. Her son, Bob, who was always up for a good joke, was. And since he died of cancer late in 2009, at 54, Shirley always fondly remembers her son’s jokes this time of year.

As Shirley recalled in a story written by the Washington Evening Journal that she just forwarded to me, she awoke that morning to sunshine and a strange scene in her backyard. A raccoon stood on its hind legs washing its front paws in her birdbath. It was so cute she grabbed her camera and took a picture. Then, in the background, beyond a garden bench, she noticed a coyote stalking the raccoon.

Oh, no, Shirley thought. She called her husband, Tom, who grabbed a BB gun to scare off the coyote.

Then, Shirley looked again. So did Tom. Both the raccoon and coyote seemed frozen in time.

"I just couldn’t believe it," Shirley says. "We laughed and laughed."

It seems Bob, who had visited his parents the day before, set up his April Fools prank that night before leaving.

"I’m Irish and French," says Shirley, 84, "so, yeah, it has been known for me to do something."

She loves to write letters and include witty and funny sayings she’s collected. One method she uses is to write in circles on the envelop so anyone who sees her message will "have fun" reading it.

"I enjoy doing it because I enjoy giving people a laugh," says Shirley, who will celebrate her 60th wedding anniversary on Aug. 24.

And that’s no joke.

Also no joke is the latest creation by Francis Lebeda — a ring gun.

As Francis puts this gun on his ring finger, it appears to be a relatively large flat-faced gold ring a man would wear.

But, when he turns his hand over, there’s a complete gun mechanism in the palm of his hand — a plunger, a 5-shot cylinder and a little trigger.

"There’s only a few of these and they’re in collector’s hands," he says. "You won’t find one."

Originals, a century or more old, can sell for up to $13,000.

Francis will sell his brass and steel replicas for $2,000 each, as soon as the idea clears the liability and ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) approval hurdles.

"It’s a very, very expensive cap gun," Francis laughs.

Yep. While gamblers reportedly wore ring guns (the name George H. Duval, a famous riverboat gambler, is engraved on the face of his prototype) to shoot small lead balls if there was trouble at the card table, Francis’ gun fires only blanks. It uses those little red plastic caps for fancy cap guns.

Good thing. If his gun fired bullets, you could easily shoot off your little finger or hit something by accident since the accuracy is suspect.

But Francis, always fascinated with stuff his father, Paul A. Lebeda, built at Lebeda Engineering (85 years old this year), likes to play with ideas as well as fabricate custom machinery and parts. He made eight ring guns before he got one right.

"I almost gave up," he says. "But, hey, this is fun." 

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