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A Story of Mountain Rifles, an Old Man, and a Boy

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Blog entry by summerfi posted 01-05-2014 01:04 AM 1143 reads 3 times favorited 21 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This is a story about muzzle loading “mountain” rifles, an old man, and a boy. One of the rifles is shown in these pictures. The old man was my grandfather. And the boy was me – many years ago.

I come from an Appalachian Mountains heritage where, to say it gracefully, people weren’t wealthy. I learned at an early age that if I wanted something, there was usually no money to buy it, so I would have to make it myself. I made the rifle pictured here in 1967 when I was 18 years old. I’m now age 64. The story goes like this:

I went to visit my Granddad one weekend in Fayetteville, West Virginia. To have something to do, we drove over to Hawk’s Nest State Park where there is a little museum. Hanging on the wall of the museum were several old original muzzle loading rifles – beautiful antiques in every sense of the word. Some people call them Kentucky rifles after the early pioneers of that region. My ancestors were among those pioneers. Granddad simply called them mountain rifles. He always loved guns and had done a fair bit of gunsmithing himself. I believe these were the first muzzle loading firearms I had ever seen in person, and they fascinated me. I knew I had to have one, but how? I’d have to build it myself.

I went home and started scheming and saving my pennies. It took a few months of looking at pictures in magazines and combing through every nook and cranny of gun catalogs, but finally I had a plan in mind. I saved up enough to order a .40 caliber barrel, percussion lock, and trigger from Dixie Gun Works in Tennessee. I also bought a very rough sand-cast brass trigger guard and butt plate. All the rest I would have to make from scratch.

Fortunately, my Dad was a musical instrument maker, so I had access to a fully equipped shop. I had been working in his shop practically since birth, so I had some pretty good skills by then too. Still, building this rifle was well beyond any projects I had undertaken to that point. One lesson my Dad taught me was that a person can do just about anything they set their mind to. He instilled in me the confidence that I could build nearly anything if I wanted to badly enough. As I worked through this project, he didn’t help me very much. He was busy with his own projects, and I think he wanted to give me the freedom to see just what kind of work I could produce. Of course, if I really needed him in a pinch, he was there, and I did call on him for advice a few times. Almost in its entirety, though, this rifle is the work of an 18 year old kid.

The stock is curly maple, a traditional wood for such guns. Dad always had a lot of curly maple on hand for building violins. The tree this wood came from is one I helped him cut down with a 2-man crosscut saw. It had been drying in his shop for a few years. Shaping the stock was done almost entirely with hand tools. The decorative features were my first experience at wood carving, and they are my own original design.

The ramrod is hickory, which I formed from a square blank by passing it through successively smaller round holes in a steel plate.

Except for the rough-cast trigger guard and butt plate, which I filed to shape, all the other brass work on the rifle was hand made by me from brass plate. The decorations on the patch box were my first attempt at metal engraving. They aren’t of professional grade, but they somehow seem to fit in with the theme of an old backwoods rifle.

I stamped my name and the date, Dec. 1967, on the barrel. Rather than “blued” like guns are today, these old rifles were “browned”, a similar process using a different chemical.

To finish the stock, I applied potassium permanganate as a stain, then linseed oil which I hand rubbed (i.e. polished with the palm of my hand). The picture on the left below is me cleaning my rifle, circa 1967. On the right is my grandfather many years earlier when he was about the same age.

The first time I shot the rifle I didn’t know what to expect. I actually positioned a tree trunk between me and the rifle so that if it blew up, it might take off my arm but at least wouldn’t kill me! It shoots very well and is quite accurate. I’ve taken deer and small game with it.

I felt a proud sense of accomplishment when I took the rifle back to West Virginia to show Granddad. His look of approval told me I had done well. Interestingly, this seemed to create in him a desire to build one of these rifles too. He began to make some of the parts, which I now have, but unfortunately he never finished his rifle before passing away. He took things a step further than I did, though, by building EVERY part by hand. He had very few metal working tools, so the parts he made were with hacksaw and file. I have a couple of his handmade locks that are a true work of art. Rather than the traditional leaf springs, they are made with coil springs. I’ve never seen another like them, but they work flawlessly. Pictured below are the handmade parts he began assembling in preparation for building his rifle, along with a powder horn he made. I also have a curly maple stock blank he intended to use. Perhaps one day, when his spirit moves me to do so, I’ll complete this project for him.

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. ######################################################################### Note: If you are a visitor to this site (i.e. not a signed-in member of Lumberjocks) you may see advertisements linked to some of my text. These were not put there by me. They were added by the site owners to generate additional revenue. In my opinion, it is unethical for them to modify what I have written, but there is little I can do about it short of not using this site. #########################################################################

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- "Of all the tools I own, my favorite is a good sharp pocket knife." - My Dad



21 comments so far

View Don W's profile

Don W

15019 posts in 1219 days


#1 posted 01-05-2014 01:14 AM

Exceptional rifle Bob. Great write up.

-- Master hand plane hoarder. - http://timetestedtools.com

View theoldfart's profile

theoldfart

4222 posts in 1103 days


#2 posted 01-05-2014 01:20 AM

Bob, though guns are not my favorite thing, i’ve seen quite a few and that is one of the finest I’ve ever seen. I hope you are passing these incredible skills and learning on to someone who can carry on your families traditions.

In Springfield, MA there is an armory founded by George Washington. It is now a national park and their collection is quite large. Longfellow wrote about it in a poem.There is a rather large three tier display of muzzle loaders from the Revolutionary War and Civil War. It’s a place you want to see if your ever in the northeast.

Thank you for sharing both the gun and the story.

-- "Aged flatus, I heard that some one has already blown out your mortise." THE Surgeon ……………………………………. Kevin

View gfadvm's profile

gfadvm

10854 posts in 1342 days


#3 posted 01-05-2014 01:22 AM

Wow! You did a great job on this beautiful rifle. And it looks like it has received a LOT of care in the intervening years.
Great story to go with it!

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile

TopamaxSurvivor

14742 posts in 2327 days


#4 posted 01-05-2014 01:25 AM

Looks like you did a very good job. Looks like your granddad had a Hepburn. Interesting story. I’m not sure where I saw my first real live longrifle, But I know when I fell in love with them; watching Disneyland with Fess Parker playing Davy Crockett and The Saga of Andy Burnett. I shot my first one at Tenino Days in 1970. I built a similar one from scratch with parts I bought from Ted Fellowes in Seattle. It was by far the most ambitious project I had ever undertaken. A character i used to know just had to have it after shooting it. He finally made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I let him have it. I regretted that ever since.

-- "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Slyy's profile

Slyy

1091 posts in 307 days


#5 posted 01-05-2014 02:04 AM

Wow Bob, what a rifle and what a story!!! I can’t believe the level of craftsmanship that is in that rifle. What a great it must be to have this still living example of a wonderful time spent between you and your grandfather. Almost better than that is the chance to finish a project that he obviously put a lot of love into! Really appreciate you sharing this story with us, it was a great read!

-- Jake -- "Not only do we live among the stars, the stars live within us." - Neil Degrasse Tyson

View Handtooler's profile

Handtooler

1082 posts in 784 days


#6 posted 01-05-2014 02:07 AM

That is an ABSOLUTELY SUPERIOR piece of craftsmanship! And to read and realize that you undertook this task as an 18 year old boy. WOW! I just can’t imagine doing anything of that caliber (pun intended).

-- Russell Pitner Hixson, TN 37343 bassboy40@msn.com

View Insagent's profile

Insagent

51 posts in 963 days


#7 posted 01-05-2014 02:12 AM

Great story and nice buck!

View Bogeyguy's profile

Bogeyguy

468 posts in 720 days


#8 posted 01-05-2014 03:01 AM

Bob, that is a fine Long Rifle and a great tale of it’s history. Many years ago when I wore a younger mans clothes my new Brother-In-Law was in the service stationed at Ft. Bragg. He also was learning the art of making the Long Rifle from his Army Units Captain, Lou Sanchez. When he finished his tour he brought the finished “Pennsylvania” long rifle home and proudly showed it to any who would ask to see it. It was a beautifully crafted rifle and fun to shoot. Your rifle reminds me a lot of my BIL’s rifle with the hand made brass, in-lays and etchings. He died in a mysterious “accident” thousands of miles from home and I do not know what became of his master piece. I assume his wife kept it??? Who knows, maybe someday a long carton will arrive at my door from UPS/FedEx and the rifle will be welcomed home. Treasure your rifle and make sure when you leave this life that you insure it’s trust to someone who will enjoy it and pass your story down.

-- Art, Pittsburgh.

View luv2learn's profile

luv2learn

1699 posts in 954 days


#9 posted 01-05-2014 04:49 AM

Bob, what a great story your long rifle is truly a wonderful piece of craftsmanship especially for an 18 year old. But what truly inspired me was the legacy of creating your grandad and dad passed on to you.

-- Lee - Northern idaho~"If the women don't find you handsome, at least they ought to find you handy"~ Red Green

View lightweightladylefty's profile

lightweightladylefty

2644 posts in 2364 days


#10 posted 01-05-2014 04:57 AM

Bob,

What a wonderful story and the rifle . . . really fantastic. What an heirloom to pass on to your posterity. Make sure the story stays with the gun. Thanks for sharing.

L/W

-- Jesus is the ONLY reason for ANY season.

View littlecope's profile

littlecope

2907 posts in 2154 days


#11 posted 01-05-2014 06:03 AM

Great Blog and Story Bob, and that rifle is a remarkable bit of craftsmanship from a craftsman of any age!
If any one can (or should), it seems like You are the one to finish the work your Grandfather began…
Well Done (on every level) my Friend, thanks for sharing!

-- Mike in Concord, NH---Unpleasant tasks are simply worthy challenges to improve skills.

View hunter71's profile

hunter71

2007 posts in 1838 days


#12 posted 01-05-2014 01:43 PM

Bob, if 2 scripts could be written about different people, I would be the other person. Time dates, how it was built, and nice deer. Thanks for bringing back the memories. Doug

-- A childs smile is payment enough.

View Don W's profile

Don W

15019 posts in 1219 days


#13 posted 01-05-2014 02:19 PM

that is a very nice deer!

-- Master hand plane hoarder. - http://timetestedtools.com

View sgmdwk's profile

sgmdwk

259 posts in 524 days


#14 posted 01-05-2014 02:55 PM

Beautiful rifle; beautiful story. Thanks for posting.

-- Dave K.

View helluvawreck's profile

helluvawreck

15772 posts in 1518 days


#15 posted 01-05-2014 04:38 PM

I have always wanted to build one of these rifles and I hope that I will one day get the time. The one you built is absolutely beautiful and you’ve told a wonderful story as well. This will certainly be a family heirloom that will be cherished by future generations. Thanks for posting.

helluvawreck aka Charles
http://woodworkingexpo.wordpress.com

-- If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. Henry David Thoreau

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