Railroads played an important part in the conduct of the National Matches in the early part of the 20th century. Long before the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways became a reality, most roads outside cities were dirt, gravel or mud in the winter and dust in the summer. The few motor highways, such as the Lincoln Highway, in the U.S. were two-lane blacktop with speed limits of 15 miles per hour. Consequently, most long-distance travel, either passenger or freight, was by rail.
As a convenience to participants in the National Matches, many rail lines offered a reduced fare and would check passengers and baggage directly to Camp Perry. The final part of the trip was on a New York Central Railroad spur line from La Carne, Ohio, a few miles south, which terminated at the Camp Perry Baggage Station a few yards away from the Mess Hall where, according to a contemporary Match Program, “... competitors will be provided excellent food at reasonable prices.”
In recognition of the railroads’ importance to Camp Perry, the Ohio National Guard and the Ohio History Connection unveiled a historic marker on post on Sept. 27, 2019. During wartime, soldiers filled troop trains as they passed through the post for processing. In peace, participants and spectators arrived by train every summer to attend the National Matches shooting competition.
It is not surprising that an industry the size and importance of the railroads might have a large number of rifle shooters in its workforce. Recognizing this fact, the Pennsylvania Railroad, the largest railroad, the largest transportation organization, and the largest corporation in the world, whose budget was only exceeded by that of the federal government, endowed the Pennsylvania Railroad Smallbore Rifle Trophy in 1926.
First shot in 1927, The International Railwaymen’s Match brought railwaymen from the U.S., Great Britain and Canada together in smallbore prone rifle shooting competition until 1940. Teams of 20, with a few exceptions, who were employees of railroads within the countries represented fired under Dewar Match conditions, 20 shots each at 50 and 100 yards with metallic sights.
The winner had the honor of possessing the eponymous Pennsylvania Railroad Smallbore Rifle Trophy. Each member of the winning team received a silver medal or a bronze for second place. While the National Rifle Association may have issued an appropriate International Team brassard to U.S. participants from the start, the first mention of this award was made in the 1931 program.
The first announcement concerning the match came in the 1927 National Match program which stated that:
A team of 20 men, employees of railroads, will fire under Dewar Match conditions. Scores made by railroad men on the Dewar Team will be counted in this match. Other members of the Railway team will fire on Saturday, September 11, in advance of the firing of the Dewar. Arrangements for the match selection of the team, etc, will be made by Mr. Ebert M. Farris, N&W Railroad, Portsmouth, Ohio.
The second year of participation by the U.S. International Railwaymen’s Smallbore Match saw the team represent eleven different rail companies, with the sponsoring Pennsylvania Railroad having the largest number of participants. The match grew in popularity with Canada joining the list of participants.
In a bit of local chauvinism American Rifleman printed, at the publisher or typesetters whimsy, the participant’s railway next to his name in an abbreviated format, i.e., Penn for Pennsylvania Railroad, or N&W for the Norfolk and Western or FEC for Florida East Coast Railway. Later on, the employers were replaced by hometowns and that was also dropped eventually.
The Railwaymen’s Match was enthusiastically supported and viewed as a perfect feeder event for Dewar competition. Ebert M. Farris, the match founder, again both captained and shot in 1928. He was assisted by veteran Dewar competitors Frank Kahrs, Ralph McGarity, James E. Miller and National Champion Virgil Z. Canfield.
The match was shot early in the afternoon before the Dewar Match, with Fabian J. Paffe shooting a 395 to top the 20-person roster. The match also served as a warmup as for him as he next took to the line in the Dewar and shot a 394. His efforts, however, were not enough to lift the Railwaymen’s score above that of Great Britain.
The Railwaymen looked toward regaining the Pennsylvania Railroad Trophy in 1929 and set to the goal with a passion. Team Captain Paffe was again wielding a rifle. He had Frank Kahrs and J.C. Jensen as coaches, and they served him well. The 20 men posted a match record score of 7799 for the win. They would soon have the pleasure of prying open the wooden shipping crate when the trophy arrived back on U.S. soil. In a poetic turn, Paffe was high man on the team with a 399.
There were two historical firsts in the International Railwaymen’s Match of 1934. Mrs. E.A. Holcomb followed in the footsteps of Blanche Crossman, first woman named to the Dewar Team, when she became the first woman to earn a berth on the Railwaymen’s team. Her 395 was good for seventh place on the team putting her in a tie with her husband. In 1935 she would post a 397 for fifth place, two points behind husband. Their appearance also marked the first time a husband and wife appeared together on an international postal team match results bulletin as competitors.
Gathering on the firing line on Sept. 2, 1939 the team certainly was aware of heightened tensons in Europe after Nazi Germany invaded Poland the day before. But, with London five hours ahead in time, they could not have known that a British ultimatum to the Nazis had expired. As they set up their gear British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced from 10 Downing Street that the nation was at war with Germany.
The Railwaymen put together a stellar score of 7894 in 1939 to nail down the match and the Pennsylvania Railroad Trophy—once again adding a new match record.
The U.S. would not enter World War II for another 27 months, but with Great Britain and its Commonwealth nations such as Canada at war, the Railwaymen’s Match ended its 12-year run and became a casualty of the war, never to be shot again.
With the win, the NRA maintained possession of the Pennsylvania Railroad Trophy. But with no match, it was safely stored away. Eventually it was pulled from its shelf after 76 years in limbo, to be reassigned in 2015 for award to the National Smallbore Metric Prone Champion.