December 22, 2014

Elyria
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Giving children a shot at the ‘good old days’

ELYRIA — Maybe it takes a little kid in an ol’ grandpa’s body to show folks how just how much fun the old days could be.
“That’s how I stay young,” said Ted Dowdell, of Elyria Township. “I’m just an old great-grandpa who never really grew up.”
Dowdell, 85, is hoping to transport Lorain County youngsters back to the “old days” with his years-long labor of love: The BB Barn, a rootin-tootin, country-western BB gun range he constructed in a pole barn at his Griswold Road property.
“Mostly, it’s so the kids can have some fun that they never had before,” Dowdell said. “Like I had when I was a kid.”
The BB Barn is outfitted with a 27-foot firing range where youngsters can drop by to pop off shots from one of eight Red Ryder BB guns supplied by Dowdell.
And the whole thing is free.
“All they have to do is call a week ahead of time to schedule an appointment,” Dowdell said, adding that shooters’ parents must first mail a $10 check payable to the ALS Association, a nonprofit that researches treatments and cures for Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“If they don’t show up, I send the check to ALS,” said Dowdell, whose wife died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. “If they show up, they get their check back.”
Dowdell said he shelled out just $500 to purchase supplies to create the BB Barn, which looks a bit more eclectic than the BB-gun ranges at summer carnivals.
The range itself is coated in carpet — picked up on curbsides during trash day — to eliminate ricochets. The gallery’s wall looks like something out of Applebee’s or TGI Friday’s — there’s a country-western throw rug, a few bull horns, a Red Ryder BB gun box.
There’s also a slew of rules posted throughout the range: Don’t leave the gun safety off, never leave a gun cocked, and so forth.
“Kids pick up on this fast,” Dowdell said. “They listen to everything you tell them.”
Standing at a set of wooden stalls positioned outside the barn door, the mini-marksmen can fire shots at hanging cottage-cheese containers, pop cans, Styrofoam squares and other odds and ends.
Dowdell installed every safety feature imaginable, including PVC-pipe barriers between each of the eight different shooting spots, so children can’t point their guns away from the shooting range. The guns are also tied to the posts, and shooters are required to wear provided goggles.
While some folks might brace for criticism for teaching kids to shoot, Dowdell said he’s not worried.
“I can take the heat,” he said, smiling. “At my age, why should I worry about what people have to say? I’ve always been a controversial person anyway.”
Contact Shawn Foucher at 329-7197 or sfoucher@chroniclet.com.

071707firearm.jpgcarl sullenberger / chronicle
Mr. Dowdell has designed in safety features, including restriction of the direction the gun can point and a cocking mechanism.