Rusty Mitchum may be funniest man in Tyler.
I am not sure he tries to be a comedian. It just more or less happens.
I first met Mitchum when he went to work for The Sportster. Somewhere along the line after listening to one story after another I realized he knows how to tell a story.
It helps that he knows and remembers everyone, and apparently hasn’t forgotten an event that happened to him or them.
More importantly he never lets the truth stand in the way of a good tale, but the listener never knows when fact ends and fiction begins because he strings it together so well.
One classic Mitchum story is over the years he got glasses, then started to lose his hair and eventually had to get hearing aids. He said at that point his wife, Janet, asked, “What’s next?”
“Depends,” he replied.
“Depends on what?,” she asked again.
Then there was the time after he and his dad, Rayburn, hauled a cannon from Tennessee in the trunk of a Cadillac, he was questioned by Tyler police for shooting it off in what is now The Woods. Unsure of what to do with a high school kid with a cannon shooting golf balls, they told him just to call the department before doing it again.
Back in the 1980s I tried to interview him for a story about killing a wild pig, something that was uncommon in those days. Mitchum didn’t have time for the interview but said he would write down something I could use. It was so funny that it led to him writing something that we called a regularly irregular column that appeared in this paper from time to time.
Those yarns eventually led to a more permanent gig in the Lindale News in which he tells Rusty stories, somewhat true life adventures.
I asked him once if a story was made up and he replied with a non-committal, “You think.”
“Writing is my therapy to keep the voices away,” he said.
Mitchum’s day jobs have almost always involved the outdoors. He started his working career washing cars and trucks at the Brookshire’s warehouse, which was outdoors.
Then there was a stint in the unclaimed freight business at the old Allen Sales store on Old Chandler Highway, but when that door closed another opened in the outdoors industry for real.
“You know that old saying it is not what you know it is who you know, that has gotten me through my whole life,” said Mitchum, remembering how he called on old friend Terry Cooper, then president of The Sportster, to help him get a foot in the door in retail.
The year was 1984 and Mitchum begged his way into a position as the armory supervisor. In short time he found himself promoted to store manager and eventually buyer for what had become a small chain of sporting good stores in Tyler, Longview, Waco and Dallas.
“That might have been what took them into bankruptcy,” Mitchum quipped.
He eventually left the company to work for a sporting goods wholesaler before finally finding his long-term niche as a sales rep with the Evans Group. That until Thursday when he officially retired. Mitchum spent more than 19 years traveling the back roads of Northeast Texas and Arkansas selling to hunting gear mostly to mom-and-pop stores. With his gift for gab, it was the perfect job.
A Tyler native, Mitchum grew up on Lindberg Lane just off Troup Highway in what was then the country. The woods that stretched to Shiloh Road were his stomping grounds where he and friends played and as they got older shot guns.
“We had an old tree that we literally shot a hole through it. My dad said it died of lead poisoning,” he recalled.
Already interested in guns and hunting, Mitchum really became hooked after finding an old Shooters Bible in the woods where it had been dumped as trash.
“I thought it was the greatest book in the world. I tried to take it to church because it said it was a bible,” Mitchum said.
He found the book amazing because of the variety of calibers and brands that he had never seen at stores in Tyler like Mac’s Gun Shop, Reynolds’ Gun Shop and the old Gibson’s Discount Center that was located just a few miles from his house on Beckham.
“I couldn’t believe they sold a .458 bullet for $1,” he remembered. “I guess that was my start to becoming a gun nut.”
Mitchum’s youth came during a special era for hunters in Tyler with the local gun stores operated and frequented by hunters and gun fanatics like himself. Mitchum was a regular at Mac’s where his mother, who he described as an eclectic collector, used to trade with store owner Richard McBride. He and his dad would regularly drop by Reynolds to shop and talk.
It was Gibson’s where he personally made his first purchase.
“I used to go up and buy .22 shells from them even though I was too young to buy them. I got them because my dad’s cousin worked up there and he knew my dad didn’t care if I had .22s,” Mitchum said.
Mitchum has seen the shift to big box stores, but is still prone to visit the smaller gun shops, the one’s he called on as a sales rep for years. Stores like Mac’s, Noonday Gun Trader and Porter’s.
Mitchum said in retirement he is going to keep writing, try to clean up his 20-acre farm, take the grandkids swimming in the pond and hope his wife, Janet, doesn’t find more reasons to kill him.
I am not sure if that last part is made up or not. Knowing Rusty it is not.
Have a comment or opinion on this? Email Steve Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Facebook at TylerPaper Outdoors and on Twitter @tyleroutdoor.