Have You Gymnasticated Your Gun Today?

You can, perhaps, Gymnasticating the M1 Garand via the op-rod and follower rod. Image via CMP.

Wait, what? “Gymnasticate?” What’s that?

Well, that was exactly our reaction to seeing this word in a very interesting book, Roy F. Dunlap’s Ordnance Went Up Front. Dunlap is an interesting character, about whom little is known apart from his two books — this history of his work as a small arms maintenance NCO in World War II, and a comprehensive gunsmithing manual that remains in print. Rereading Ordnance recently, these lines jumped out at us, right off of Page 94.

In the spring of 1943 an officer approached me with the idea of finding out what this M38 [German Anti-Tank rifle, per Dunlap – Ed.] could do, as he had a gun in perfect condition. I scratched my head, gymnasticated the rifle, trying to look intelligent, and finally gave my opinion it would penetrate 1/2 inch armor at 100 yards, but not much more.

Now, Dunlap went on to discover that the gun had considerably better performance than that, but what struck us funny was the word, “gymnasticated.” And Dunlap must have expected it to, for he provided a footnote:

That word “gymnasticate” may have a few of you on the ropes, but is simply an ordnance term meaning the artificial operation of the recoil mechanism of a weapon. Usually it is applied only to artillery, but is perfectly proper for any weapon operated by or having a recoil system. When you push back on the barrel of an auto loading shotgun or a Colt.45 pistol, you are gymnasticating the arm.

Auto loading shotgun? Remember, he wrote this book in 1948; in this passage he’s talking about experiences he had in North Africa in 1942 (he would later go to the Pacific Theater, putting him in position to be able to make comparisons of Allied and Axis weapons from most nations, although he only encountered those Russian small arms that were recycled for use by Germany early in the war). The Remington 58, first ancestor of the 1100, had yet to demonstrate that an effective gas-operated shotgun was a possibility. Almost all semiautomatic shotguns of the time were based on Browning long-recoil designs, and the conventional wisdom was that a gas system would not work with low-pressure and highly variable shotgun loads.

But seriously, has anyone encountered this term, “gymnasticate,” before? We haven’t seen it, but we just have books on artillery, which is not like having experience on artillery. We know we have cannon cockers in the audience. What say ye?

Meanwhile, let’s make 2017 the year in which we spread the word “gymnasticate” far and wide, in memory of Roy Dunlap, who sharpens swords in Valhalla lo these many years. And let’s all gymnasticate a gun today. The guns seem to enjoy it.

27 thoughts on “Have You Gymnasticated Your Gun Today?

  1. Alan Ward

    I think if I asked the better half to gymnasticate my personal “firearm” I would get my face slapped!

    1. Hognose Post author

      This is my weapon, and this is my gun. This one’s for fighting, and this one’…

      We leave the rest of this old shibboleth as an exercise for the reader.

  2. Kirk

    Hoo-boy… Y’all are asking for it, with this.

    I don’t know that this is actually a real, authenticated word–As in, someone’s dictionary. You go look it up on Google, and you get a bunch of hits from years ago talking about ESPN using it on a radio broadcast, or some Germans talking about how to translate it into German, apparently believing that it’s a term applied to the discussion of gymnastics… You don’t find entries for Merriam-Webster, or the OECD.

    But, it does appear to be a genuine “term of art” used by the Artillery, ‘cos I also found the following:

    MG3000 Mechanical Gymnasticator

    (December 13, 2009)

    Mandus Group was awarded a contract in March of 2009 to manufacture and install three MG3000 Mechanical Gymnasticators for Anniston Army Depot. A Mechanical Gymnasticator is a testing fixture that exercises or “gymnasticates” the recoil mechanism of a howitzer. The MG3000 has the capability of gymnasticating the recoil mechanisms of the M1A1 tank, the M109 self propelled howitzer and the M119 105MM howitzer. Fixtures for the MG3000 can be developed to accommodate all other howitzer recoil assemblies currently in use today. The ability to simulate the firing routine of the recoil mechanism in a controlled maintenance environment allows for dramatically reduced cost and turnaround time in adjusting and calibrating the howitzer recoil mechanism. Mandus Group delivered and installed the three MG3000’s at Anniston Army Depot in late October which was two months ahead of schedule. Anniston reports that the three MG3000’s are working around the clock and have exceeded all expectations.

    Soooo… Not a word that the civilians use or recognize, but something in the Ordnance lexicon. I’m not sure how the hell you adjudicate that one…

    1. Aesop

      Nice find.
      ‘s gotta be an Ordnance word; never heard tell of it in field artillery.

      You want a CWO4 or -5’s input on this’un.

  3. Kirk

    Ran that by the sister, who is just a bit “horsey”. Apparently, it is also a term used in the horse world… Couple of archaic references to it in some very old exercise manuals, as well. I have no idea why it’s not in the dictionaries, though…

    1. staghounds

      You beat me to it, I hear it used occasionally to mean “to do gymnastics” among dressage people.

  4. Trone Abeetin

    I thought it means to chew on a gymnast. A combination of gymnast and masticate. But hey , maybe that’s just my predilections talking

    1. LFMayor

      Wow, that started me having impure thoughts about Mary Lou Retton all over again! That’s some dusty archives there!

  5. Torres

    The closest thing I ever heard was to “exercise” the recoil system of an M-109 SP gun using a wrecker. I remember reading it in a copy of PM Magazine that my Dad brought home when I was about 12 years old.

    No gymnastic action, just exercising. I was probably the only 12 year old that knew this bit of preventive maintenance and of course, you had to love Connie Rodd…

  6. Badger

    That is a crackerjack word; elegant in the economy of communicating its meaning. Did it not exist (as for that writer at The Lightbulb Moment minus One) it would have been necessary to invent it. I will happily pass this down to a couple generations this year.

  7. Dyspeptic Gunsmith

    Yes, I’ve heard it before, as uttered by a gunsmith and safety instructor who was an old Army artillery guy. He’s long since (decades ago) passed away, but he used to mention the word when telling people how to check a semi-auto rifle or shotgun for being unloaded.

    I thought the word rather bizarre at the time, and haven’t heard anyone else use it since.

  8. Keith

    In all my reading over the years I’ve never encountered the word before. I guess it’s true you learn something new every day.

  9. Sando182

    I’ve never heard or read it before either but it’s the kind of thing that as soon as I saw you use it, it just made sense. Sorta like the ‘word’ gunna – as in I’m gunna gymnasticate my 1911 today.

  10. Mike in Canada

    Forgive me, but some clarity if you would…

    This is not the same as opening the action as one would normally. This is instead to cause the action to operate via the means of some internal part that will allow the action to move.

    I just want to ensure I have this correct before I show off with it.

    This is an amazing website.

    1. Kirk

      From what I can ascertain from the context, it’s mostly a term meant to describe the process of exercising the recoil systems on big guns via external mechanical means, vice actual recoil.

      I know that when the artillery guys talk about “exercising” the guns, they’re talking generally about a relatively sedate affair, where they’re winching the tube back in the recoil cradle against the springs and hydraulics. If you’re “gymnasticating” the things, maybe that implies a more accurate and dynamic actuation of the recoil gear?

      That reference I quote above sure makes it seem as though this is a “thing”, but the details of which we’ll have to wait for one of the “big ordnance” guys to weigh in on with.

      I did see somewhere where someone was talking about “gymnasticating” a pistol, in order to speed the break-in process. From that, one might infer that to gymnasticate a weapon is to fully replicate the recoil process without actually firing it, vice merely exercising the thing by pulling the slide back a few dozen times. So, a “pistol gymnasticator” might be something that struck the face of the breech to replicate what happens when the cartridge fires…?

      It’s an obscure and archaic term, and I really don’t know how it should be used or defined. My copy of the OECD sadly does not include this term, soooo… I’m clueless.

  11. 6pounder

    It’s not in the Hardee artillery manual either, too early. However if you don’t stand outside of the wheels during live firing, as per the manual, the recoilling piece will damn sure gymnasticate you and anything else in its way.

  12. James F.

    I don’t know a lot about artillery, but I do know a lot about Google searches, and for that matter, etymology.

    If you search in Google’s book search, you come up with many results for “gymnasticate”, “gymnasticated”, and even “gymnasticator”, almost all having to do with ordnance engineering.

    The basic idea is to rack the action of a piece of ordnance a thousand or ten thousand times without firing ten thousand rounds (expensive and noisy) to see if breaks. Of course, eventually the makers will wind up actually firing 10, 000 rounds through whatever it is, in which event it will find new and interesting ways to break, but at least the springs will up to par.

    They are still using gymnasticators to test artillery parts. In 2004, a paper talked about using one to test an XM183 gun mount.

    The old books mention using a Riehle or Olsen testing machine to do this.

    The Olsen Testing machine first appeared in 1880, invented by a Norwegian immigrant named Tinius Olsen:

    “From the 1850’s on, various devices for testing materials had been developed, but the goal of a truly universal testing machine proved elusive until 1880, when Philadelphia engineer Tinius Olsen, a Norwegian immigrant who had just lost his job, devised and patented what became known as the Little Giant. Here at last was a machine for tensile, transverse, and compression testing united in a single instrument. Olsen’s mechanism was to become the ancestor of all testing machines subsequently produced around the world, while the company Olsen set up to market his invention continues in the testing machine business to this day..”

    They’re still in business (link in nick).

    “The company that he started in 1880, now in its 133rd year of operation, is still run by his descendants – now in the fifth generation – and still continues to provide innovative solutions to testing problems.”

  13. Pathfinder

    I have a copy of “Gunsmithing”. I will have to get “Ordnance Went up Front”.

    Didn’t know the other one existed. Thanks.

    1. Hognose Post author

      I found a leatherbound copy from the Firearms Classics Library on either Amazon or ABEBooks. I have had good luck with the Firearms Classic Library editions, which were printed in the nineties. Most of them are kept in good condition by their owners.

      1. Pathfinder

        That’s where I got my copy of “Gunsmithing”. I had a subscription(I’d guess you’d call it) to them years ago. Found a Firearms Classics Library copy of “Ordnance” on Amazon last night.

        Firearms Classics Library had lots of books that nobody had ever heard of, but tons of great information. And all of the so called gun people today think that they have come up with all of this new stuff.

      2. Daniel

        That is where I found my copy of Ordnance. I found an older NRA printing bound in a green leather (pleather).

  14. Nynemillameetuh

    I gymnasticated a Russian today. More specifically, a Russian born in the Molot plant. Easily the tightest (okay, that was a little vulgar) Russian I ever met. She was a mail-order bride from K-Var.

  15. Cap'n Mike

    “And let’s all gymnasticate a gun today. The guns seem to enjoy it.”
    I cant help hearing in my head Frank Costanza saying “Thats Perverse”

  16. Steve M.

    Fantastic! Another oddball word to add to the repertoire. These are great for troubleshooting equipment in the middle of the night when the guys are all a bit off from too little sleep and too much coffee.

    Just told my wife about it, the word is now being over analyzed….

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