MANKATO, Minn.-R & R Tire Shop owner Rex Macbeth had had enough. He eyed the dirt-stained men across the bar. They seemed too interested in his poker game. The third hand in a row without a face card? Someone was cheating-he was sure.
Mr. Macbeth threw his cards onto the wobbly wooden table, shot out of his chair and started blasting away with his Colt .45.
In a little over 20 seconds, 12 silhouetted figures had been shot.
Not good enough for a ribbon, though, the 61-year-old Mr. Macbeth admitted. Some of the hombres in his newly formed cowboy-action shooting club are even quicker.
The Mankato-based dealer has been running his new and used tire store for the past 15 years, including five in the early 1980s from his garage. But he's been interested in Old West history and antique guns even longer.
As a young boy he lived and worked on a Minnesota farm, spending most of his free time watching Western movie after Western movie. At the age of five he was a good shot with his .22 rifle. At nine, he had his first shotgun.
It wasn't long, however, before he began to realize something was wrong about those Westerns.
``Working on the farm, I was dirty before breakfast and all those glamorous movie stars weren't,'' he said. ``At seven I figured (the movies) were pretty unrealistic. I wanted to learn the true West.''
Now, when he's not working at his three-bay outlet, he's learning history or attending meetings of the National Outlaw & Lawman History Association and the James-Younger Gang-two groups of people dedicated to preserving gunfighter history.
Perhaps surprisingly, that's quite a few enthusiasts.
Mock cowboy-action shooting events are popping up across the country. In Mankato, the group Mr. Macbeth organized last year claims 20 members who function as a division of the Key City Conservation Club-a parent organization that provides insurance and 80 acres of land for the shooting contests.
Once a month, members of the group devise simulation shooting exercises that reward contestants for hitting silhouetted targets as quickly as possible. A poker game gone wrong and ``Cowboy Trap Shooting''-a modified version of the sport where the shooter has no idea when the bird is going to be pulled-were among the events included this year.
Mr. Macbeth's love of the Old West goes much deeper than playing an adult version of Cowboys and Indians, however. In 1990, he published a book of poems he wrote about true-life gunfighters and currently is selling an audio cassette version of his work.
``I think everybody, regardless of what job you're into, needs a way to deviate their minds from their work,'' Mr. Macbeth said with his friendly, joking disposition masking his admiration of some of the country's all-time scoundrels. ``I think the study of history, no matter what time (period), is a good thing to consider as a hobby.''
Mr. Macbeth's ``dream'' is to create an Old West mu-seum he could take on the road, showing families his collection of about 80 antique guns-not rare, exotic pieces, but ones ``the average person would have had.''
That won't happen, however, until he retires in four years-that is, if his tire dealership doesn't get the drop on him.
``I'm trying to grit my teeth and hang on,'' he joked, and then mentioned that R*&*R Tire has been ``doing well'' lately.
It's just that the competition-including Tires Plus Groupe Inc., Tire America and a new Sears, Roebuck and Co. outlet being built down the road-is cramping his tires-and-wheels-only service shop's profits.
It's a good thing for them that-these days at least-you can't just mosey into a tire outlet and shoot it up.