1999 seemed to be a year when a mil-surp rifle buying frenzy and rising Internet traffic converged. Message boards increased in number dramatically, which offered places for the new owners of K98k's, Garand's and other fine military rifles to learn about what they had just purchased.
Keith Boell and I 'met' on such a message board. Historical Parts, owned by Darrin Weaver in Texas had a rudimentary forum where people who had an interest in K98k's and Japanese military rifles could talk about technical problems and in general, discuss their interests. Too often however, the discussions moved into areas having nothing to do with military rifles.
Keith decided to take a stab at his own K98k forum and dropped me an email about his plans. He had already communicated with Darrin about his plans and both of them agreed that Keith's concept was a good one.
It wasn't long before he had his K98k forum up and running. He understood though that without something to hold the interest of new members, the board would be a short-term item. Keith and I began corresponding back and forth quite regularly about what could be done to offer some value to board members. Value in our discussions translated to providing a basic understanding of the K98k to start with. Other rifles might follow. But his focus was on that rifle.
We agreed that basic disassembly instructions, information about the kinds of ammunition used, technical history of the rifle, etc, to start with would have to be put up on a web connected to but separate from the forum. Keith moved pretty fast to set up the web and I helped by providing some of the early drawings and documents to which he added his own.
The first year of the K98k site was a good one and Keith and I believed we were providing some benefits to K98k buyers/owners, which they might not be getting elsewhere. Not one for stagnation, Keith would regularly drop me a note asking for input on the sprucing up work he was doing on the site.
I never knew, and still do not know, how old Keith was. By inference on his part, I figured he was a bit younger than me. He told me that he was a teacher and taught social sciences and history. He seemed to have a pretty good grasp of WWII history but like many of us at present, still came across rifles he did not claim to know much about. In one case, he knew I had purchased 'Backbone of the Wehrmacht' and asked me to check on a rifle he had acquired that he knew little about. It was a Portuguese Contract K98k, and a very nice one at that. He was relieved that he hadn't gotten 'stuck' with a fake.
As time moved on, Keith asked for and received help on developing a nice section of pages with the Manufacturer's codes, rifle codes, along with more information on ammunition and equipment related to the K98.
A next step occurred after he and I discussed how much we enjoyed shooting our rifles. He complained on occasion that the weather in his area, St. John's Newfoundland, prevented him from getting out as much as he would like to. When I suggested that some kind of shooting matches might increase member interest and provide some fun, he was open to the idea and pretty soon we were pushing the idea of postal matches.
The logical progression was to the concept of an association which would evolve to a point where it would have regional and local chapters, sanctioned matches, and just for fun shoots. Keith then came up with the idea of the Mauser Shooting Society, a name with class to be sure. But after a short time, we figured that the 'SS' in MSS tied together with K98k might draw some criticism from anti-gun folks who Keith felt certain, were trolling the gun boards.
So a minor modification in the name established the MSA, the Mauser Shooting Association.
It seemed like Keith was putting more hours in at work at that time and having fewer hours to devote to the web pages and the forum. Since everything he did on the web was in html, it was time consuming. On the other hand, I used a canned program with which I could whip up a page in little time to send him for insertion in the web.
The fact that this actually created more work for Keith in that he had to figure out the code and make changes before putting up the page, resulted in the splitting up of the web pages between Keith and me, on different URL's.
I took the range and display pages while Keith managed the original K98 site and the forum. Looking back, I think giving up some of the management to a person he didn't know that well displayed his level of trust for other people.
We added technical information to the display pages, and were pleased that several individuals made important contributions to the web site, and watched the MSA grow.
We reached a small fork in the road when the MSA created a kind of administrative burden for Keith. With new members coming on board steadily, he was getting frequent and sometimes-irritable messages on the public forum about sign in problems, membership submission problems, etc. It was getting difficult for him to keep up with work and the board.
At this point, we started discussing the merits of getting more people involved. Two reasons drove the discussion. First, the MSA as an association was becoming an entity that had its authority in the members themselves. So it stood to reason they should have some say in the direction and activities of the MSA. Secondly, Keith needed some help with the message board.
Keith could be a little 'sudden' with his announcements and the posting about MSA Coordinators created a minor stir among some members. All in all however, I think people appreciated that Keith was trying to share responsibilities.
As the MSA grew, I believe Keith thought that it was getting away from him a little and that, along with his job, which seemed to get more demanding, caused him to be a less frequent contributor on the forum. I reminded Keith that the success of his concept was evident in its growth and a natural outcome of his design would be that he and I should move more to the background and the membership would take care of itself.
It is apparent that he was still coming up with ideas to improve things as recent as last year. The addition of the Club listings just proves he still had a fondness for the K98k/MSA sites.
The last real planning communication he and I had was in the Spring of 2003. At that time, we pretty much agreed that MSA was chugging along on its own, and as long as the members had a forum meeting place, lots of information about the K98k and other military rifles, the forum would be self-sustaining.
Moreover, he understood that at some point in time, the MSA members would begin to direct their own future, and the K98k site with all of its technical background, would become a resource subordinate to the MSA.
So where the MSA goes from here is really a matter for its members to think about. But the concept and development of an association of people with a special fondness for the K98k is a tribute to Keith Boell and his creative thinking.
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