The Gumball Saga

Siebel-Gumball Model 223

I bought this gumball machine several years back from a yard sale in Boulder.  It’s a little nicked here and there and was missing it’s top connector-thingy.  For several years now I have imagined filling it with bullets as a sculpture.  Well, little did I know.  A few weeks back I stopped into Dick’s Sporting Goods and asked to see what they had in the way of bullets.  “Do you have a license?” they asked.  “Why no,” I said, “but show me what you have anyway.”  So I looked at the 22s which were too small, ignored the shotgun shells which I didn’t want, then he showed me the .223s which were shiny and pointy and about 2″ long.  He explained they were out of stock on many of their other bullets these days.  So I thanked him and went home and began wondering how someone without a license could get bullets for a sculpture.  I needed nice shiny real-looking bullets.  One wouldn’t want old, dirty or used gumballs from a gumball machine, after all.

A day or so later I wandered over to the Easthampton Police Department and told the woman I would like to speak to someone about ammunition.  About 10 minutes later a policeman came out to speak with me.  Easthampton is a bit of an arty community so he seemed to be anticipating I might have an arty question about ammunition.  After a few minutes a second policeman joined him and they were both quite helpful.  I could get a license.  It would cost about $100, plus the cost of a firearms safety class and take a couple months at best because there was a backlog in the system.  After a while we all realized that even if I got a license I couldn’t exhibit the bullet-filled gumball machine unless the gallery had a dealer’s license, and I couldn’t sell it to anyone unless they had a license too.  And though I had googled BLANKS the night before, I couldn’t use blanks without a license either as they can be lethal at close range.  I needed to look for DUMMY bullets.  Many thanks later I walked home and started googling dummys.

Which is when I found this nice one-man business in Ohio who makes dummy rounds from all the components of real ammunition, minus the gunpowder, plus he drills out the explosive charge on the bottom.  (I hadn’t even known there was an explosive charge on the bottom.)  If the dummy rounds are for display only then he will provide them to you minus the two drill holes he otherwise puts into the sides to make them immediately identifiable as dummys for those who use them for gun testing, not gumball machines.  I ordered 100 .223s.  Five days later they arrived.

Next, no matter how much I stuffed the center of the glass with other things to fill the space, there was no way 100 bullets were going to come close to filling up the glass, nor could I afford as many dummy bullets as it would take.  Plus, they just didn’t work as well visually as I had imagined.  The bullets were nice and shiny copper and brass but they were pretty boring with the yellow machine.  So: gumballs.  I found a candy store in a mall south of here and hand sorted out every red, pink and orange gumball they had in their bin.  The scale tipped out at $60 in gumballs.

And suddenly it worked.  It was bright and shiny and colorful and as odd as I had hoped.

One more thing though.  Because the explosive on the bottom of each bullet had been drilled out, I had to fill it in again and paint the filling so the bullet still looked real.  Elmers Glue did the trick with a metallic paint on top.

Finally, after it was all finished and photographed and ready that I learned that .223s were the bullets used in the Sandy Hook school shootings. They’re the ammunition for a Bushmaster rifle.  Maybe other rifles too.  I still don’t know too much about guns.


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