The Army’s best combat pump shotgun is back: Inland’s reissue of Ithaca’s M37 Trench Gun.
Two top-shelf Ohio-based firearms manufacturers have partnered to bring collectors and shooters a fine reissue – I hesitate to call it a replica – of the vintage U.S. Army Ithaca M37 Trench Gun.
This retro military model is made by the Upper Sandusky-based Ithaca Gun Company for their Dayton neighbor, Inland Manufacturing. The latter is best known for their excellent reproductions of World War II M1 carbines.
The American martial tradition is no stranger to shotguns. Militiamen employed fowling pieces in battle during the Revolutionary War, and the Confederate Cavalry wielded sawed-off shotguns in the Civil War.
It was during World War I that you might say the Army got serious about shotguns. It was, after all, the biggest war they had fought to date. Close combat in the trenches, and especially night fighting, favored the massive firepower of fast-shooting pump shotguns.
Each 00 buckshot round blasted out nine .33 caliber pellets, increasing the chances of a lethal hit on the enemy. WWI trench guns could shoot exceptionally fast because they lacked a trigger disconnector.
This allowed them to fire with every pump of the action as long as the trigger was held back continuously. Today we would regard this as a safety flaw, but to the doughboy standing in an enemy trench in 1918, that extra bit of speed was regarded as an edge.
The Germans hated facing shotguns, and even filed a formal complaint that using shotguns was a violation of the rules of civilized warfare – to no avail. The trench gun was born. While it distinguished itself in battle, the trench gun was by no means a common frontline weapon. Records suggest that fewer than 40,000 were procured during the war, compared to more than 2,500,000 service rifles.
WHAT DISTINGUISHED THE
military trench gun, with its 20-inch barrel and cylinder bore, from the era’s civilian riot gun (what we would today call a tactical shotgun) was the military’s addition of a barrel heat shield, bayonet lug and sling swivels.
The 16-inch M1917 Enfield bayonet could be fitted to the muzzle, and the heat shield on the barrel was added to allow the soldier to safely grip the hot barrel during bayonet fighting. The riot gun was made for civilian troubles and the trench gun for war.
In WWI, civilian riot versions of Winchester Models 1897 and 1912 and the Remington Model 10 were modified as trench guns. In WWII, shotguns from quite a few other manufacturers were procured to meet the pressing needs of a much bigger war.
The standard models were all pump action: the Winchester M12 and M31, Remington M31, Stevens M520, and rarest of all (with less than 1,500 produced), the Ithaca M37. Still, it wasn’t enough, and the venerable Winchester M97 joined other pump and even semiauto models from Stevens, Savage and Remington to arm American soldiers for rear-area guard duty and combat action on the front lines.
Since these weapons were obtained directly from civilian manufacturers, they were usually finished in the same blued steel as civilian models. Combat use of the shotgun in WWII was largely a Pacific Theater affair, where the dense jungles and close-range encounters favored its strengths. Both United States Marine Corps and Army infantry units equipped the point man of patrols with a trench gun, and Marine units institutional memory of the trench gun’s role in fighting the Japanese in the jungles in WWII was carried over into our next jungle war against the Communist forces in Vietnam 20 years later.
By the mid 1960s, military stocks of trench guns and their M1917 bayonets were running low and new contracts were let for both. The guns came from Stevens (M77E), Ithaca (M37) and Winchester (Models 1200 and 870). The majority of these new shotguns were in the riot configuration. Trench guns from the Vietnam era are quite rare.
Those Ithaca M37 trench guns that were delivered were virtually identical to the WWII model, differing in their markings and their parkerized finish. The Stevens M77E was the most commonly issued shotgun in the Vietnam era, followed by the Ithaca M37.
THE MODEL 37 WAS BASED on John Moses Browning’s improvements of an old Remington design when Ithaca introduced it in 1937. It was a fine sporting shotgun, and proved to be an excellent combat shotgun.
It was the lightest shotgun in the American arsenal, at least a pound less than its peers, with the exception of the graceful Winchester M12, which was still half a pound heavier. The M37 was a couple lighter than the old M97.
Despite being light, it was very strong and well suited to the battlefield. The top and sides of the Model 37 receiver have no openings, so the action is much easier to keep clean because nothing can fall into it from above. Because it loads and ejects from the bottom, it was essentially ambidextrous.
It was also exceptionally strong. The inverted “U” design of the receiver protected the shooter from injury in the event of a case rupture and the barrel attached to the milled steel receiver by means of an interrupted thread like a cannon breech.
They were built to last generations, and can take a beating better than any other pump shotgun. In fact, the huge Los Angeles and New York City Police Departments eventually adopted this model for use.
During the Vietnam War, the Ithaca M37’s performance and reliability earned it the reputation for being the best combat shotgun in the Army’s arsenal.
INLAND MANUFACTURING’S reissue of the M37 trench gun has all the quality and ambiance of an original gun without the multithousand dollar price tag. Since it is actually made by Ithaca, the quality of manufacture is superb. Collectors of martial shotguns should not sweat buckshot worrying that these trench guns will be passed off as originals.
Though they are marked “RLB” with an Ordnance Corps flaming bomb on
the left side of the receiver like WWII era trench guns, the marks are not stamped in the metal like the originals are. Furthermore, the guns are marked with Inland’s name on the receiver and other historically incongruous laser engravings on the barrel indicating manufacture in Lower Sandusky, Ohio. Other differences include a 3-inch chamber instead of 2¾-inch, and, perhaps the most obvious marking never encountered on a vintage gun – the admonition “READ OWNERS MANUAL.”
As if that isn’t enough, you should know by now that WWII-era trench guns were blued, not parkerized. I guess an unscrupulous seller might change the barrel and claim this was a WWII-era M37 refurbished for use in Vietnam, but they can’t get around those receiver markings without a lot of metal work.
The reissue’s stocks are natural oiled walnut like the original military guns. The heat shield, brass front sight bead and bayonet lug look great too. I tested an original M1917 bayonet and it was a perfect fit. The slide release is on the right front side of the trigger guard. Unlike a Remington 870 or Mossberg 500, it requires very little motion to actuate.
The safety is a sliding push button type at the rear of the trigger guard. The action is smooth and solid with no ricketiness in it. In fact, the whole gun feels immensely solid. It weighs only 6 pounds, 11 ounces, but it feels like you could butt stroke an enemy senseless with it. Unlike the original gun, it will not fire continuously if pumped while the trigger is held back. Surely you had to see that coming.
Shooting the M37, you do sense its light weight in the felt recoil. The butt plate is just thin hard rubber so your shoulder gets it all. The 2¾-inch Winchester Super X and Federal Premium 00 buckshot I tested recorded average velocities of 1,242 feet per second and 1,243 fps, respectively, out of the M37’s 20-inch barrel. (Both were advertised at 1,325 fps.) The Federal Premium was much more consistent in shot to shot velocity with a standard deviation of 17 to Winchester’s 89.
Velocity was recorded at 15 feet from the muzzle with an excellent and very reasonably priced Competition Electronics PRO CHRONO digital chronograph I got from Brownell’s to replace the one I foolishly loaned to a friend who, unbeknownst to me, turned out to be a cold-blooded killer of chronographs. This one I’m keeping close hold on.
I SHOT MY TEST PATTERNS standing, offhand, at 25 yards, a range I thought would reasonably simulate a jungle encounter based on my limited experience hiking Bataan Peninsula jungle trails in the Philippine Islands.
I shot five-round test strings. That is actually all the M37 can hold if you fill the magazine and put one in the chamber. The early 1940s was not the era of high-capacity shotgun magazines. When you consider that the military rifles used by most nations at that time typically held only five rounds, a five-shot trench gun doesn’t seem that bad.
I chose standard 2¾-inch, nine-pellet loads to simulate the old brass cased military M19 loads used before plastic shells became common in the 1960s. My target was 22 inches wide by 25 inches high with a 3-inch aiming point. The cylinder bore (no choke of any kind) threw lethal patterns every time, but rarely did all nine pellets hit the target every time.
The Winchester Super X put 34 out of 45 pellets (75 percent) on the target. The Federal Premium put 37 of 45 pellets (82 percent) on the target. Both loads shot about 9 inches above the point of aim. The Winchester load seemed to pattern a bit more random than the Federal Premium, but, aimed at the enemy’s belt buckle, both would deliver devastating multiple hits to the upper body. As for the pellets that didn’t hit my generously wide 22-inch sheet, they could easily have hit another enemy soldier.
Broad patterns can cause collateral damage in a civilian encounter, but in wartime the ability to hit multiple targets with a single round is a good thing. While I see Inland’s M37 Trench Gun as aimed for the collector and historic military reenactor market, you wouldn’t be underarmed using it for personal defense. If they could fight their way through a few major wars, they’ll undoubtedly do fine after the EMP apocalypse.
The M37 shoots well, is virtually foolproof, and that 3-inch chamber opens up a lot of modern lethal and nonlethal load options. If short 12-gauge rounds will feed reliably, that might be one way to increase the M37’s magazine capacity. I know these mini-shells are made by Aguila, Herter’s and Nobel Sport, but could not get any in time to test the gun for this article.
If the M37 has a flaw, it is that in its trench gun configuration, it can’t be taken down without a screwdriver. The heat shield needs to be removed before the barrel can be rotated the necessary ¼ turn to dismount. In addition, you can’t take apart the receiver of any M37 without a long straight screwdriver to remove the bolt that holds the butt stock on.
That bolt is inside the buttstock, accessible only after removing the buttplate. On the upside, you don’t really need to take it apart to clean it. The only dirt you’re likely to get in it is some carbon from your smoking shells as they are ejected.
By design, it is a clean action. The online advertised retail price
for this top quality reissue of the M37 Trench Gun is about $1,200. That might seem like a lot to some. It’s more than your typical used civilian Ithaca Model 37, but thousands less than any M37 Trench Gun. One thing is unmistakable when you handle and shoot it. It is made as well as any gun can be made, and your great grandchildren will still be shooting it. For more info, visit inland-mfg.com or call them at (877) 425-4867.
Story and photos by Frank Jardim
Great shooting requires practice, and the CMP promotes that through their support of 5,000 local aﬃliated shooting clubs and state organizations that run CMP-sanctioned courses and competitive shooting matches across the country. That amounts to over 1,400 sanctioned matches a year attended by more than 10,000 shooters. The CMP codiﬁed the competition rules and trains and certiﬁes the range oﬃcers who run the matches. They also train and certify master instructors who teach thousands of new shooters each year using CMP course materials in more than 100 sponsored clinics nationwide.
Through their online Competition Tracker system, they maintain the match scores for every shooter in every CMP competition, as well as a listing of all upcoming matches, making it easy for shooters to ﬁnd out when and where they can compete, register for those matches, and track their progress up to the national level.
Reﬂecting its military roots, high-power military service riﬂe and service pistol competitions have always been a major component of the CMP. However, they are by no means the whole show. To paraphrase the American poet Walt Whitman, “The CMP is large. It contains multitudes.” Today, its 30 instructional and competitive programs also include air and .22 rimﬁre pistols and riﬂes.
AN EMPHASIS ON PRECISION marksmanship is the common element is all CMP matches. These are not running-and-gunning, action-style, three-gun, speed or steel matches. CMP competitors shoot traditional bull’s-eye targets at speciﬁc distances from established positions (prone, sitting, kneeling and standing), usually with iron sights. Sometimes riﬂe shooters can use a sling.
Not to diminish the challenges of other shooting sports, which often pose a high level of diﬃculty in other methods and techniques, but the CMP fosters in its competitors
a great deal of personal discipline and technical knowledge.
The CMP high-power riﬂe competition, for example, with its 200-, 300- and 600-yard stages, allows shooters the chance to develop their understanding of some of the most diﬃcult (and interesting) technical aspects of shooting. To put the bullet in the X ring, the shooter needs to understand trajectory, adjust the sights for the bullet’s drop, evaluate the wind speed and direction to calculate the required amount of windage compensation, and deal with any heat mirage that may blur the view of the distant target.
Akin to the “World Series” of shooting sports, the CMP holds their National Matches every summer at Camp Perry, Ohio. Bordering Lake Erie, the Camp Perry ranges are considered by many to be the largest and best in the county. Among the 6,000 participants from all the CMP disciplines, you will always ﬁnd America’s ﬁnest military and civilian marksmen.
The National Matches, a tradition at Camp Perry since 1907, also include top quality training seminars for novice and advanced shooters. A newcomer to competitive shooting could attend a one- or two-day CMP– USAMU (U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit) Small Arms Firing School for riﬂe or pistol (or both) and learn the basics of ﬁrearms safety and marksmanship on the spot.
I HAD THE CHANCE TO TALK with CMP’s Mark Johnson to get the scoop on what accomplishments he was most excited about this year. Johnson is not the type of chief operating oﬃcer to sit behind a desk all day, evidenced by the fact that we talked by phone as he was driving back from a CMP competition in Oklahoma.
While he paid respectful homage to the National Matches, which he refers to as the CMP’s “crowning jewel,” it was the growth and success of the Junior Air Riﬂe Camp that he seemed to ﬁnd most exhilarating. These weeklong summer camps are held around the country with a goal to teach 9- to 12-year-olds safety and marksmanship lessons of universal value. Participants bring their own equipment and the fee is a nominal $285 per youth and $50 for their adult coach. As of this writing, 14 of the 16 camps are already full.
You might be surprised to learn that the most popular competitive shooting sport among precollege boys and girls is three-position air riﬂe shooting. Its growth shows no sign of slowing down, so this particular competition is helping to develop our next generation of marksmen.
But just because kids love it doesn’t make it a kid’s sport. The 10-meter, three-position (prone, kneeling and standing) competition is also an international sport and an Olympic event. In fact, those Junior Air Riﬂe camps that Johnson is so proud of boast multiple Olympian alumni, and two medalists, including 2016 Gold Medal winner Ginny Thrasher (see American Shooting Journal, September 2016).
The CMP actually sanctions two classes of air riﬂe competitions for juniors that diﬀer only in the equipment needed. Sporting Air Riﬂe competition uses basic target riﬂes that cost $105 to $525 and requires no specialized shooting clothing. Precision Air Riﬂe uses Olympicgrade guns that cost $850 to $1,275 and require the full complement of target shooting clothes and accessories. By the way, those prices are from the CMP online store and represent a discounted cost only available for qualiﬁed club members.
Apparently, kids are having some success convincing their parents to let them give the less costly Sporting Air Riﬂe a try (or perhaps it’s the other way around), as it has become a major entry point into competitive shooting for them. Three-Position Air Riﬂe can be a life-long hobby and college students can compete in NCAA matches or via Junior ROTC programs as well.
Another thing Johnson was really proud of was the CMP’s new Talladega Marksmanship Park in Talladega, Alabama. This is the third, and by far the largest, modern instructional range facility they have constructed, and it is the most technologically advanced in the world. The two others are 80-port indoor air riﬂe ranges at their Camp Perry, Ohio, and Anniston, Alabama, locations, where they also operate retail stores.
THE NEW MARKSMANSHIP PARK is huge, covering 500 acres, with riﬂe, pistol and shotgun ranges. At maximum capacity it could accommodate 3,000 shooters at once, and transportation around the ranges is provided.
The facility includes a 13,000-square-foot clubhouse with classrooms, lounge, and a Creedmoor Sports Pro Shop. Inside, visitors can follow the progress of competitors on monitors if the Alabama heat or humidity gets to be too much for them.
The park has an amazing combination 200-, 300- and 600yard riﬂe ranges, a 100-yard multipurpose range and a 50-yard pistol range, all equipped with state of the art Kongsberg Target System (KTS) electronic targets and scoring monitors which detect, record and display every round the shooter ﬁres. This means you can maximize your shooting practice time because you don’t ever have to leave the ﬁring line to change targets. You don’t even need a spotting scope. And, for fans of shotgun sports, there are trap, sporting clays and ﬁve-stand courses.
The facility plays host to the whole gamut of CMP Games and matches, including the popular GSM (Garand, Springﬁeld, Vintage Military) matches where shooters use as-issued historic riﬂes. The CMP knows there’s more to shooting than just the black bull’s-eyes, so you’ll also ﬁnd a wide variety of popular action shooting sports like 3-Gun, Steel Challenge and IDPA. Even better, Marksmanship Park is open to the public and charges only $20 to shoot all day.
Over the years, the CMP had often made surplus military riﬂes and ammunition available to qualiﬁed club members at reasonable prices. In fact, if you have ever heard that you could get a surplus M1 Garand riﬂe directly from the government, that’s part of the CMP program. At this point, however, virtually all of those M1 riﬂes and carbines, M1903 Springﬁeld and M1917 Enﬁeld riﬂes are sold out.
The good news is the proﬁts from the sale of those historic riﬂes funded an endowment that will keep the CMP in operation, training new generations of marksman, for the foreseeable future.
In light of the recent shift in political control since the last election, I asked Johnson if there might be some possibility of more M1 riﬂes turning up. He told me that had I asked that question six months ago, the answer would be no. But since then, one of the last great stockpiles of M1s, currently held by the Philippine government, just might be making its way home from the islands.
So keep your ﬁngers crossed, and get yourself involved with the CMPaﬃliated club in your area. Only qualiﬁed club members will be able to buy these riﬂes should they become available. “How do I qualify,” you ask? It’s very simple. Just join a CMPaﬃliated club and shot in a CMPsanctioned match.
You can ﬁnd vast amounts of additional information about the CMP and its great programs when you visit TheCMP.org. ASJ
He’s done all this research to design and build the brass catcher he wished he had during his active-duty days. The TBR Operator Model is the culmination of years of research and experimentation, and is far and away the best designed and most practical brass catcher I have ever seen.
The Operator Model retails for $220, which may seem like a lot of money. However, in testing I found its features were exceptional. For one thing, it actually catches the brass. I don’t mean some of the brass. I mean it catches all of the brass, and not just a magazine’s worth. The bag capacity is 150 5.56mm cases or 75 7.62x51mm cases. In addition, it not only catches the spent cases, but also holds them captive in the lower part of the bag, keeping them out of the action where they could cause a jam. The top of the catcher is designed with enough depth to prevent the newly ejected case from bouncing right back into the riﬂe’s action. It also has an inner fabric curtain that eﬀectively prevents the brass in the bag from slipping out the way it came in, even if the riﬂe is tilted or manipulated on the run.
AS THE NAME SUGGESTS, military and law enforcement applications were foremost in Grasser’s mind during product development. The unit is light but exceptionally rugged. The hinged, ⅛-inch-thick anodized aluminum frame serves as the rigid mounting point to attach the unit to the riﬂe and support the bag. The bag itself is made of heavy canvas that won’t melt like nylon bags. It has a zipper in the bottom to empty it.
The bag comes in 16 colors, including most common modern camouﬂage schemes. Laser-cut ABS plastic parts support and reinforce the bag and mate it closely to the receiver. The ﬁt is close, but it doesn’t come in contact with your riﬂe’s receiver very much, and the ABS plastic is much less likely to damage the ﬁnish where it does. The whole device is rigid, yet ﬂexible. If you were to fall and mash this catcher between your riﬂe and a hard place, there’s enough give in the aluminum and plastic components that isn’t likely to damage, or even scratch, anything. The unit is assembled with 18-8 stainless-steel button head screws and nyloc locking nuts. It weighs only 12 ounces.
It mounts to the front handguard on the right Picatinny rail section via an American Defense-made quick-release throw-lever. It locks securely and won’t come loose unless you press the release bar in the lever and rotate it 180 degrees. You can take it on and oﬀ in less than a second. Once on, the catcher is held in place with a ﬁve-position, tensioned, ball-detent locking hinge of Grasser’s own design. This might seem like overkill, but it conveniently allows for a choice of positions to facilitate storage of the weapons equipped with the bag in vehicles, racks or cabinets.
TO USE THE BAG, you pivot it against the receiver and fold up the plastic top of the bag so the scissor arms on each side are fully extended. The tension on the elbow of the scissor arms comes from a nyloc nut. I expect that as the joint wears, it would be a simple thing to tighten it up with a partial twist of that nut. It is elegant in its simplicity. I was able to keep my ejection port cover closed with the Operator Model attached; but whether you can or can’t do the same will depend on your handguard.
The ABS plastic top of the brass catcher is cut with a honeycomb pattern to provide strength and rigidity while allowing the shooter (or range oﬃcer) a clear view of the action and chamber at all times while the catcher is in place. An important added beneﬁt of this honeycombed lid is that gases from ﬁring are continuously vented up and out of the bag. A solid bag or box would capture the gases and force them to vent back into the action and along the side of the receiver where they could get into the shooter’s face and optics.
The virtue of a product that actually delivers on its promises should appeal to you, whether you are a Special Response Team oﬃcer who doesn’t want his team members falling on his ﬁred cases during a hot building entry, a competitive shooter, or a reloader who simply wants to recover all your brass.
For more information, you can visit the TBR website at TacticalBrassRecovery.com, e-mail email@example.com or call (502) 716-8405. ASJ
Scores of ﬁrearms-related businesses have come and gone, but family-owned Triple K has produced their American-made core product line for more than 50 years.
Many shooters know the California-based company for their popular civilian and police holsters and leather equipment, and gun collectors worldwide know them as the ﬁrst, best and often only source of replacement magazines for vintage autoloading pistols and riﬂes.
More recently, they’ve developed an equally solid reputation for reproduction rubber and wood grips and buttplates for all manner of historic handguns and shotguns. The company’s slogan is “If it’s rare, obscure or collectable, Triple K has you covered,” and they truly do. I called them once for magazine for a century-old Belgian Bayard pocket auto. Not only did they have it in stock, company president Kurt Krasne knew the part number by heart.
HIS FATHER, JERRY KRASNE, CREATED Triple K in 1963, and named it after his children – Kim, Kurt and Karen. In 1946, Jerry’s father and grandfather had started a family department store that sold inexpensive men’s clothing and World War II military surplus, and Triple K was originally an offshoot of that business. Jerry graduated from Stanford with a BA in economics and joined the business in 1952. He expanded the store to include ﬁrearms and sporting goods. They were increasingly successful, but Jerry recognized there were bigger business opportunities outside their local retail market in manufacturing.
The early 1960s were the heyday for the importation of collectible firearms, and Jerry saw barrels of otherwise great World War I-era Spanish Ruby automatic pistols coming into the country that were virtually unmarketable for lack of magazines. He decided to get into the magazine manufacturing business and sought out the skilled workmen and machinery he needed to do it.
The ﬁrst magazines he manufactured included models for Beretta 1934, Browning 1910, and Walther Model 4, and he sold them from a one-page catalog sheet. Today, Triple K makes and stocks about 1,100 different magazines, and continues to seek out vintage pistols so they can reverse engineer the magazine and add it to their line. They have produced over a million magazines and are the largest maker of obsolete magazines in the world.
Triple K’s next major product line was leather cowboy holsters and gunbelts. At the time, the Western was the most popular ﬁlm genre in America and it seemed like a good idea to feed the market Hollywood had created for buscadero rigs. Jerry bought a single sewing machine and hired a man to run it, and gradually acquired more equipment and know-how by buying out closing businesses. The family department store also had a lot of police customers from the local station on their street, and soon Triple K was manufacturing all types of leather duty holsters and equipment for law enforcement.
ALL OF TRIPLE K’S LEATHER PRODUCTS begin as 100-percent American vegetable-tanned leather hides, which are inspected and laid out by hand on pneumatic presses for die cutting, then dyed, and sewn into holsters, belts, slings, saddle bags, cartridge belts, ammo pouches, shooting bags, concealed carry purses, riﬂe scabbards, handcuff cases, baton carriers, and dozens of other ﬁnished leather products for shipment to distributors worldwide. They offer most leather products in walnut oil (brown), plain (natural), and black ﬁnishes, and in plain or basket-weave pattern.
Not only do they still make those low-slung cowboy-movie buscadero rigs, but they also make a replica of the holster worn by Han Solo in the Star Wars movie franchise. You won’t ﬁnd that one in their catalog, though; it’s one of many private-label leather products they manufacture for many other retailers, including Cabela’s.
In 2013, Triple K acquired Vintage Gun Grip Industries Inc., a Florida company that specialized in reproduction grips for collectible ﬁrearms. Vintage had even more grips products than Triple K had magazines. Each grip set is hand-poured and cast from precise molds made from the thousands of original historic grips in their reference collection. Need a set of black hard-rubber grips for your 1892 Colt New Army Revolver, Frommer Liliput, M1934 Beretta, or Remington .41 rimﬁre double derringer? Triple K will make them for you, and if you need the screw hardware, they can sell you that too. Screw hardware cost between $5 and $16.
Most grip sets cost $34, which represents the labor to make them more than the material. Many are in stock, but if they have to pull out the molds, it will take a couple days to get them poured, cured, sanded, cleaned and shipped to you. Be patient. You could not do it yourself for less or any faster.
MANUFACTURING BUSINESSES don’t typically run three distinctly different operations, but Triple K is far from typical. For founder Jerry Krasne, the business was simply an extension of his hobby, and to this day the company mirrors his passion for gun collecting, shooting and hunting. In order to make a magazine properly, you need to have the gun it ﬁts into, so Jerry sought out examples of every vintage autoloading pistol in existence and created one of the largest and most varied reference gun collections in private hands.
Eventually, he started recording information on the weapons, along with excellent line drawing, and published them in The Triple K Encyclopedia & Reference Guide For Auto Loading Guns. Now in its 16th edition, it remains a key reference guide for collectors. Looking through the book, it is nothing short of astonishing to realize that Triple-K makes magazines for virtually every pistol and riﬂe in it.
Magazines vary in cost but generally run around $38 to $44 for the rarer vintage guns. These are usually made up in runs of 40 to 50 magazines and stamped from laser-cut blanks, which are then hand-welded. I asked how many years it would take to sell 50 1910 Izarra magazines, and Kurt informed me that sometimes he is quite surprised at how quickly what seems like a lifetime supply is depleted. They will sell one or two now and then, and out of the blue collectors can start ordering ﬁve at a time and then the company has to make more. Fortunately, their manufacturing process is now so reﬁned they can quickly set up the tooling to efficiently make small runs.
Magazines for more common guns generally cost less because they make a lot more of them and use more efficient production methods, like ﬁne blanking and automatic welding. For example, a standard magazine for the 1911 Colt is $16 and $30 for the German P08 Luger. Triple K also has magazines for weapons still in current production (for example, Glock, SIG, Beretta, Smith & Wesson, AR-15 and AK-47). They stock no fewer than 17 different magazines for .45 ACP Colt 1911s.
For more information, visit triplek.com, or call (619) 232-2066. ASJ
The M240 was designed in the 1950s, and manufactured by Fabrique Nationale (FN) for the Belgian military as the FN MAG 58. It was eventually adopted by the armed forces of Britain, Canada, Australia and many other nations. Rather than sheet metal stampings, its receiver is made of heavy machined steel components riveted together like vintage Browning machine guns of the previous century, such as the M1919 series light machine gun and M2 .50-caliber heavy machine gun.
The United States military ﬁrst took an interest in the weapon as a coaxial machine gun for tanks in the 1970s. It was very successful and proliferated on various vehicle mounts through the 1980s before it was employed in a ground role.
BOB LANDIES of Ohio Ordnance Works (OOW) in Chardon, Ohio, outside of Cleveland, specialized in making semiautomatic versions of historic American machine guns like the Browning Automatic Riﬂe and M1917 water-cooled heavy machine gun for collectors. So when the M240 was seeing heavy use in ground combat against Iraqi troops and later al-Qaeda insurgents, Landies hatched the idea of making a semiautomatic version to satisfy shooters in the military collector market. Following a year of design and development work, OOW patented the M240 SLR (Self Loading Riﬂe).
There’s nothing about the military’s FN gun that’s cheap, and the same holds true with its replica. That’s reﬂected in its $13,917 retail price. But before you have an aneurism, consider that you can’t own a real military full-auto M240 because there are virtually none for sale to civilian collectors. The closest thing to it would be a vintage original FN MAG 58, but that gun looks different and is going to start at $100,000 anyway. So, if you must have a shooting replica of the iconic, battle-proven M240 light machine gun in your collection, you’re already shopping in the luxury gun market.
The Ohio Ordnance Works model will live up to expectations. It comes in a custom hard case, and the color instruction manual is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Be warned, this gun is addictively fun to shoot. However, if you have the coin to buy it, you can probably spring for the ammo and other accessories without too much ﬁnancial strain.
There hasn’t been any good bargain military surplus 7.62mm NATO around in a long time, but relatively cheap, steel-cased, berdan-primed offerings from Russian makers Tula, Bear and Wolf can be had for as low as 37 cents a round in 500-round cases. Brass-cased, boxer-primed Winchester or Federal ammo sells in bulk for 75 to 85 cents a round in the typical military 147-grain FMJ load.
Each M240 SLR comes with 5,000 M-13 disintegrating links, which ought to be a lifetime supply for the average shooter, assuming you take a minute or two to recover them off the range with an old speaker magnet after you shoot. Making up your belts can be done by hand while watching TV, but it is faster and easier on the hands to use a special tray-like belt linker that loads 20 rounds at a time. Expect to pay around $200 for one of these, but the time saved will be well worth the price, and OOW makes a very nice aluminum belt loader for $225.
WITH A FEW 250-ROUND belts loaded up, I headed to Knob Creek Range in West Point, Ky., southwest of Louisville, to test out the M240 SLR at various ranges out to 300 yards using the built-in bipod and excellent iron sights. When the ladder rear sight is folded down, you aim through an aperture machined onto the back of it with settings up to 800 meters. Beyond that distance you can ﬂip the ladder up and there are graduations up to 1,800 meters.
When the ladder is up, the rear sight changes to an open “U” notch machined into the ladder slide. The front sight blade is quite narrow, which I liked because it didn’t obscure my target and allowed for more precise aiming. All of your elevation and windage adjustments to zero the riﬂe are done from the front sight, and once you lock it in place, it stays in place.
The manufacturer warns that the riﬂe should never be cocked while the safety is on because it can seriously damage the trigger group. Because of that warning, I didn’t load the gun until I was on my belly ready to ﬁre, and I kept the safety off except when I had to interrupt ﬁring to take notes.
To load the riﬂe, you depress the two knurled tabs on either side of the rear of the receiver top cover to open it, and push the belt into the feed tray from the left side of the receiver until it hits the built-in stops. You hold the ﬁrst round of the belt against the stops with your left hand while your right hand pushes the cover down, snapping it into place and securing the belt in the action.
Once you’ve done this, you can pick the riﬂe up and shoot from other positions and on the move and the belt won’t fall out. Be careful to keep the belted ammo clean. Don’t drag it on the ground behind you as you shoot and move.
The riﬂe’s integral bipod is made of heavy welded stampings. It’s very steady, and locks solidly under the gas system when not in use. Since the riﬂe weighs nearly 27 pounds (a couple pounds heavier than the old M60), I used the bipod for all my testing. The broad curved buttplate sits easily on top of your shoulder when shooting prone. I grabbed the wrist of the buttstock with my off hand to hold it ﬁrmly against my shoulder.
Past experience with belt-feds taught me that the barrel gets very hot, very fast, and I didn’t want any part of my body to touch it. The barrel assembly has a foregrip in the form of a built-in lower handguard with a strip of Picatinny rail solidly screwed on the left and right side and a snap-on ventilated heat shield on the top.
A rugged carrying handle is built into the barrel assembly, and it folds down so it doesn’t obstruct the sights. Like the military full-auto M240, this semiauto version has a quickchange barrel. To remove the barrel, grasp the carrying handle and depress the small lever underneath it while rotating it into the vertical position. This unlocks the interrupted threads that secure it in the trunnion, and allows the whole assembly to slide forward off the gun for cleaning.
This should go without saying, but when picking up the riﬂe by its carrying handle, don’t touch that little lever! If you do, you may embarrass yourself by dropping the rear two-thirds of the riﬂe on the ground in midstride. A blunder like that could take years to live down.
AS WITH ANY BELT FED GUN, there’s lots going on mechanically, and you can feel all those moving parts doing their thing while you’re shooting. Cases eject from the bottom directly below the action, and the links are tossed about 10 inches to the right in nice piles. And recoil is mild enough that my 8-year-old son had no issues shooting the M240 SLR.
Unlike the full-auto version, the semiauto ﬁres from a closed bolt, and I expected that this would improve accuracy. To evaluate its capabilities, I tested Black Hills Gold .308 Win Match loaded with 155-grain Hornady A-Max bullets, white box Winchester 7.62 x 51mm loaded with 147-grain FMJ bullets and Federal American Eagle .308 Win. loaded with 150-grain FMJ boat-tail bullets.
I ﬁred three ﬁve-shot groups, each at 100 yards from the prone position using the bipod. The Black Hills match lived up to its reputation and produced an average group size of 2.83 inches, with the best group being 2.44 inches. This was despite the plastic tips getting ripped off some of the bullets during the chambering operation.
The Federal load averaged 3.10 inches, with the best group being 2.69 inches. Winchester followed closely behind with a 3.33-inch average, and the best group again being 2.69 inches.
Though I didn’t shoot as well as I could have (I was having a problem with my contact lenses drying on my eyes), that’s still some decent shooting with open sights. The riﬂe was better than I was that day, and is surely capable of more. It has a Picatinny rail machined into the top cover where the military customarily mounts optics. If I had the right scope, I bet I could have gotten the minute-of-angle performance others have found the riﬂes to produce.
You can see some great video clips and get more info about the M240 SLR and related accoutrements on the OOW website at ohioordnanceworks.com or call them at (440) 285-3481. ASJ
These reasons are also why the gun continues to be replicated by a variety of manufacturers. One of these, Century Arms, Inc., has found success with their semiauto version, the Centurion UC-9.
The original Uzi was made mostly of welded metal stampings and had a rock-solid metal collapsible or ﬁxed wooden buttstock. It featured a simple blowback design, utilizing the weight of the heavy bolt alone to keep the action locked, and the recoil energy of the ﬁred casing to cycle it. The ﬁring pin was machined into the bolt face, and the weapon ﬁred from an open bolt. Though very heavy – over 9 pounds loaded – its good balance permitted one-handed ﬁring.
This compact balance was achieved by setting the 10inch barrel deep in the stamped sheet metal receiver so its breech was above the trigger. The bolt encased the barrel breach to about the midway point and the magazine was inserted up through the grip frame. All of the mechanical operation of ﬁring took place directly above the gripping hand rather than in front of it, as on a typical, much longer submachine gun (such as the MP40). The Uzi grip was positioned on the receiver slightly rear of center to counter the effects of recoil.
The Uzi saw use in the hands of good guys and bad through the 1980s, and was a staple in movies and on TV. Anyone who remembers seeing the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan on the news knows it was used by our Secret Service too. Seemingly out of nowhere, an agent pulled one out and stood watch as other agents wrestled the attacker to the ground. It remains perhaps the second most recognizable submachine gun in the world after the Thompson.
ISRAELI MILITARY INDUSTRIES (IMI), the original maker, ﬁrst offered semiautomatic versions of the Uzi, and these guns are rightly considered the best. Other clones, both domestic and Chinese, soon followed. And, as parts kits from demilitarized IMI- and FN-made subguns ﬂooded into the American market, several other ﬁrms started making receivers for gun-building hobbyists to assemble their own semiauto guns.
Century Arms, already famous among collectors for their semiauto copies of post-World War II select-ﬁre military weapons, set about producing their own ﬁnished semiauto carbine. Their Centurion UC-9 utilizes many original-part designs coupled with an American-made semiauto-only bolt and receiver.
The UC-9 is mechanically identical to previous Uzi clones. It has a 16-inch barrel instead of the 10-inch one found on the submachine gun. One caution: 10-inch barrels for it are available on the parts market, but before installing one, you will
need to register the gun as a Short Barreled Riﬂe (SBR) with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and pay the appropriate taxes.
It ﬁres from a closed bolt using a striker and modiﬁed trigger components. The extra spring in the striker makes the bolt more difficult to pull pack than the fullauto version. The top cover is original, but the ratcheting mechanism is deactivated. That feature kept the bolt from ﬂying forward and accidentally discharging a round if the cocking handle slipped from the shooter’s grasp, and is useless on a closed-bolt semiauto.
The receiver has a rounded bar welded along the inside of the right side of the frame behind the ejection port. The semiauto bolt has a corresponding groove cut down its right side to clear this bar. Because of the bar, a full-auto bolt will not ﬁt in the receiver. The bottom left side of the bolt is milled away to accommodate the striker mechanism beneath it. The arm of the striker has a cut to engage the sear in the trigger mechanism. A portion of the bottom on the right side of the bolt is also relieved so it will clear the other side of the sear.
The safety in the grip assembly is marked only “F” for ﬁre and “S” for safe. The thumb selector is blocked internally and cannot be pushed forward into what would normally be the full-auto position, though a stamped line indicating the “ghost” location is still there.
There are a few other differences between the semiauto Uzi and its full-auto ancestor. The semi’s push pin that holds the grip assembly onto the frame is larger (9mm versus 8mm), its sear is lighter and smaller, and machinegun barrels won’t ﬁt because of changes in the mounting points. All these changes allow the ﬁrearm to be sold as a normal semiauto long gun.
OVER THE YEARS, Century Arms has received criticism regarding the quality control of the classic modern military ﬁrearms they re-engineered into legal-to-own semiautos. In their defense, much of this criticism has stemmed from a few bad apples spoiling the bunch. As any gun manufacturer will tell you, it’s hard enough making something work perfectly when you design and build it from scratch, and Century’s semiauto military clones are short-run projects compared to your typical sporting arm. It’s the difference between a few thousand units and tens of thousands.
I’ve never had a problem so serious that I had to return a ﬁrearm. I’ve heard of some over the years, but to my knowledge Century took care of each customer. And, in my opinion, on those occasions when Century didn’t get it right, they got it mostly right and it was a matter of some ﬁne adjustment to get it perfect. The way I see it, at the low price point they sell these collector ﬁrearms at, mostly right is still a bargain.
THE ACCURACY OF THE UC-9 I tested surprised me in light of the short sight radius and less than comfortable metal stock. The rear aperture is set for 100 and 200 yards, but elevation and windage are easily adjusted at the front sight and I zeroed for a more realistic 50 yards for my testing. I set my chronograph up 15 feet from the muzzle. The UC-9’s weight made felt recoil light.
The most accurate load during testing was Federal American Eagle 124-grain FMJ, which averaged 2.38 inches at 1,232 feet per second, with the best group being 2.25 inches. All of the other loads I tested were 115-grain FMJ, and I achieved the following results:
CCI Blazer Brass averaged 2.59 inches at 1,396 fps, with the best group being 2.31 inches. Black Hills averaged 3.66 inches at 1,382 fps, with the best group being 2.19 inches. Winchester USA Forged steel case averaged 3.63 inches, with the best group being 3.75 inches, and Remington averaged 4.59 inches with the best group being 3.75 inches.
The heavy, 12-pound single-stage trigger pull was sort of like pushing a refrigerator, but once I got it going, it moved along pretty easily.
Out of hundreds of rounds shot in testing, I had a handful of failures (ejection and sometimes chambering) that seemed related to the squared-off tip of the ﬁring pin penetrating the cartridge primer. More common was a chambering failure of the ﬁrst round from a fully loaded magazine. It would commonly get hung up at a 45-degree-angle point on the feed ramp and rim in the feed lips. However, the more I shot, the less this issue occurred, and I attribute it to the old military-surplus magazine, which I neither cleaned nor oiled.
General workmanship of the UC-9 was very good despite what some web critics claim. I compared the welding on the front of the frame to a part from a genuine FN demilled subgun, and the UC-9 was just as well executed, if not better.
There’s no practical advantage to a very heavy 9mm semiauto carbine like this, but if you have pangs of nostalgia for this historically important design, the UC-9 is a worthy clone at an affordable price.
The MSRP is $749, but actual selling prices are closer to $650, and magazines are as cheap as $10 each.
For more on the UC-9 and other Century Arms ﬁrearms, visit centuryarms.com or call (800) 527-1252 to locate a dealer near you.
THE FP-45 PISTOL was inexpensive by design. Constructed mostly of welded, stamped sheet metal parts with a die-cast zinc cocking piece, each gun cost the federal government a bit over $2, boxed for delivery with 10 rounds of .45 ACP ammunition. Only 5 inches long and weighing a pound, this single-shot pistol was conceived as an instrument of chaos in the darkest times of the war. The idea seems to have originated with a Polish military attaché in March of 1942. His request for assistance with arming resistance ﬁghters in Nazi-occupied areas was important enough that it reached the attention of the American assistant chief of staff for intelligence (G-2) of the War Department General Staff. In a little over two weeks, the Joint Psychological Warfare Committee completed a detailed plan of action and recommended urgent implementation, which was supported by Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall.
They recommended a light, simple, inexpensive, powerful handgun that could be dropped from aircraft – or other distribution methods they might contrive to suit the circumstances – to litter the countryside of occupied nations. Once delivered in theater, these little handguns would subject the enemy’s garrison troops to great mental anguish because even though they would ﬁnd some of the weapons, they would never know how many they didn’t ﬁnd. Hopefully, their anxiousness would be heightened by some fatal closerange headshot casualties too. The expectation was that at least some of the weapons would be found by those intrepid souls who dared to resist the yoke of totalitarian rule forced on them by Germany and Japan.
SIX MONTHS LATER on August 21, 1942, one million FP-45
pistols had been completed. The FP designation stood for “ﬂare projector,” and was part of a subterfuge to mislead enemy spies. Manufacturing was done in total secrecy at General Motor’s Guide Lamp factory in Anderson, Ind. The assembly work took an astonishing 11 weeks. Three hundred employees worked around the clock to put together the 23 individual parts that made up each pistol in an average of 6.6 seconds. It took them less time to assemble it than it took the average shooter to load and ﬁre the weapon. It was a manufacturing tour de force, and Guide Lamp would later receive the contract to make the M3 submachine gun, which also utilized efficient welded sheet-metal stampings.
WITH 100 BOXCARS OF FP-45S at the Allies’ disposal, differences of agreement, some political and some practical, arose about how to best utilize them. In the end, the majority of the pistols were destroyed, but a signiﬁcant number – perhaps 383,000 – were at least sent to active theaters of war with no record of their return.
General Dwight Eisenhower, Allied commander in the European theater, got 500,000 FP-45s. He felt that air dropping them wasn’t a practical use of his precious air resources that were better utilized dropping bombs on the enemy. Contrary to the tales of mass airdrops, usually involving second-hand oral history from some now-deceased relative who did it, there is no written evidence showing that the FP-45 was ever distributed in any signiﬁcant quantity in France.
Ralph Hagen, in the research for his superb book The Liberator Pistol, collected and conducted many interviews with key people involved in American-, British- and even German-military intelligence and clandestine operations from the time, as well as accounts from French resistance ﬁghters. None of them could support anything other than a token distribution in the theater, if that!
Of the half-million weapons sent to England, less than 1,000 guns were sent to Sweden, and some small unknown quantity was issued for the D-Day operation. There is also one known veteran account of an FP-45 being used by a 101st Airborne paratrooper at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. He stated that he was given the pistol and an orange ﬂare cartridge to signal his position to armored American units trying to relieve the surrounded soldiers.
More of Eisenhower’s 500,000 FP45s went to the British War Office than anywhere else. The 30,000 they received went to the Suez, India and Gibraltar. What happened to them there is not known. This is the case with most of the pistols sent into the active theaters of the time. Once they arrived, any written record of how they were ultimately used has yet to be found and probably no longer exists.
IN THE PACIFIC THEATER, General Douglas MacArthur was much more interested in the FP-45 pistol than his European counterpart. MacArthur requested and received 50,000 guns in total, which he appears to have made use of. Unlike the other theaters of war, there is solid written evidence that the pistols were distributed in the ﬁeld. MacArthur himself indicated in a report that he had used the ﬁrst 8,000 guns to arm native villagers in the Solomon Islands of Tulagi and Guadalcanal. American veterans returned home from this area with souvenir FP-45s.
The pistols were clearly used by the Philippine guerillas, and I have personally found original guns there. Some were delivered by submarine. Others may have arrived by airdrop, though the complexity of ﬁnding anything airdropped into the jungle suggests that wasn’t likely. Airdrops on the coastline, however, were made.
The second largest shipment of guns from America numbered 200,000 and was delivered to Calcutta (now Kolkata), India, in July of 1944. Forty thousand went on to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and another 44,000 to Burma. The rest were destroyed after the war.
The third largest shipment was 100,000 guns destined for Jorhat, India, in August of 1943. Their ultimate destination was China. There is evidence that the pistols did make it into the hands of the locals, guerillas and bandits alike, but exactly how many will never be known. The only recorded image of an FP45 pistol in theater during World War II shows the pistol in the waistband of an Asian man in Kunming, China.
In July of 1944, another shipment of 40,000 was delivered in Algiers, Algeria, and some of these guns are known to have made their way to guerilla operations in Greece.
THE NUMBER OF FP-45 pistols actually used to ﬁre a shot in anger is a matter of speculation only. Guerillas can’t be faulted for poor record keeping. It’s probably pretty hard to write a report with a Nazi or Japanese patrol hot on your trail. But for most of my adult life I’ve wondered what it was like to shoot an FP-45. If I was a Greek partisan in Thrace, or a Philippine guerilla in Luzon in 1943, could I actually make a one-shot kill with this clumsy-looking gun? I decided to make a replica of the Liberator.
The motto of Vintage Ordnance Co. LLC is “Just like the originals, only better,” and if there was ever an antique gun that could stand to be better, it’s the FP-45. From an engineering and design standpoint, the FP-45 is brilliant. However, in the assembly department it’s often pretty sloppy. Many are quick to call the original guns junk, but I disagree. The original guns were at least as good as they needed to be and probably a little better. By the spring of 1942, the Axis powers had already conquered most of Europe and Asia. There was certainly no time to waste making the FP-45 a masterpiece of ﬁt and ﬁnish. It was actually the ﬁrst mass-produced US military small arm made of spot-welded, sheet-metal stampings. They may not have looked all that great, but apparently they all ﬁred. According to the project managers, every one of the million units built in the summer
of 1942 was test ﬁred for inspection.
In creating the Vintage Ordnance Co. replica, I worked from the original plans and corrected against the actual pistol. The existing plans alone were not enough to build an accurate replica. Inconsistencies between the ﬁnished product and the plans were often dissimilar, which was typical due to the urgency of production. Often, design adjustments were made on the factory ﬂoor and never recorded on the drawings. Guide Lamp only expected their FP-45 to have a 50-round usable life, which was plenty for its intended purpose. Collectors today would ﬁnd that unacceptable. The “Better than the originals” objectives of my project centered on using stronger, tighter tolerances, materials, precisely controlled welding and accurate headspace. All of those improvements ensured my reproduction FP-45 was strong and safe to shoot without the built-in expectation of failure that makes ﬁring an original a fool’s errand.
I made the barrel, tube strap (breech ring) and cover slide (breech block) out of 1050 medium-carbon cold-rolled steel for greater strength. It’s the same steel Browning Automatic Riﬂe receivers were made of. I tightened the chamber tolerances to meet commercial standards and addressed the terrible headspace problems of the original that allowed them to batter themselves apart under repeated ﬁring. Also, my reproduction zinc cocking piece is cast from a denser alloy for greater strength.
Cosmetically, the replicas differed from the originals in a few ways: the reproduction has a riﬂed barrel and discrete markings to comply with federal law, and hopefully prevent it from being unscrupulously sold as an original antique. I marked the serial number on the front of the grip frame and company information, model and caliber designation on the underside of the barrel behind the trigger guard. All characters are the minimum 1/16 inch high.
In the course of prototype testing, I ﬁred over 100 rounds over numerous sessions. It took a day to recover enough from the pounding this little pistol gave me to go at it again and ﬁnish the testing. These marathon ﬁring sessions with high-pressure .45 ACP 230-grain loads were the most unpleasant experience in my 30-plus years of shooting. The recoil is very stout for sure, but it is aggravated by the small grips and the grip angle. In my hand, I found that I had to angle my wrist upward to the limit of its range of motion to get proper sight alignment. I simply can’t hold the pistol tightly enough to prevent it from snapping my wrist back past that limit. I didn’t feel it so much in the ﬁrst 10 rounds, but it got progressively more painful to shoot the pistol.
Another recoil characteristic was the tendency for the Liberator’s zinc cocking piece to move backward against the spring pressure, causing the point of the guide pin to stick in either the right or left side of the tube strap. This expedites reloading, but I have no reason to believe that it was an intentional design feature. Some ultrafast video recording showed that the cocking piece’s rotation under recoil appeared to be caused by the back of it hitting the shooter’s hand.
I SHOT THE PISTOL rested for accuracy at 6 yards and later 20 with results similar to Ralph Hagan’s tests of his original gun including some random
keyholing, which he highlighted in his book The Liberator Pistol: Development, Production, Distribution. I shot two groups at each distance. Sight picture is somewhat obstructed by the guide-pin boss on the cocking piece. The cocking piece was originally designed without it. All bullets were clearly cut with riﬂing when recovered.
At 6 yards I found the pistol to shoot approximately 9½ to 10 inches above the point of aim and slightly to the right. Both groups were 3¼ minute of angle, which is certainly suitable for the pistol’s intended purpose. With a few practice shots, a partisan or guerilla ﬁghter could easily get a feel for the Kentucky windage required to put the bullet on target. I found that I could consistently burst gallon jugs of water with a one-hand hold before the recoil got the better of me.
At 20 yards, the point of impact was about 30 inches high and groups tripled in size from 8½ to 14½ inches despite my best efforts. This was clearly beyond the useful range of the original weapon, so it comes as no surprise that the replica performed in a similar manner. A target pistol this is not. The FP-45s trigger pull is not conducive to good accuracy. They take a lot of squeeze to move the cocking piece back and get the connector cammed off the sear. I measured it between 10 and 11 pounds.
At a hair over 1 pound, this little pistol packed a powerfully lethal punch. It took two shots to get the hang of it. An inexperienced shooter could certainly master it for closerange work with the 10 bullets provided. I can’t help but imagine that any resistance ﬁghter who may have fought with an FP-45 must have let out a great sigh of relief as he stooped over the motionless body of his adversary, picked up their Mauser or Arizaka riﬂe and disappeared into the night. ASJ
Editor’s note: Author Frank Jardim founded Vintage Ordnance in 2008. For more on the company’s products, go to vintageordnance.com.
One tangible connection to the human cost of the Civil War can be found in the Frazier History Museum in Louisville, Ky., in the form of a beautifully engraved Henry repeating rifle, serial number 19. The original owner was Connecticut native George Dennison Prentis, who was the editor of the Louisville Journal from 1830 to 1860 and a staunch abolitionist. After succession, he was an outspoken advocate of the Union even though his newspaper was absorbed by the pro-Confederate Louisville Morning Courier. On July 14, 1862, he wrote a report for the newspaper that praised the Henry.
“It behooves every loyal citizen to prepare himself upon his own responsibility with the best weapon of defense that can be obtained. And certainly the simplest, surest and most effective weapon that we know of, the weapon that can be used with the most tremendous results in case of an outbreak or invasion, is one that we have mentioned recently upon two or three occasions, the newly invented rifle of Henry.”
It is very likely that his Henry was a gift from the manufacturer. The Connecticut-based New Haven Arms Company hoped to make the Henry the standard-issue rifle of the Union Army and sought favorable endorsements in hopes of securing government contracts. As a matter of fact, a similar engraved rifle was presented to President Abraham Lincoln.
Ultimately, 1,731 Henry rifles were sold to the US Government for a $63,943 (about $50 each). Far more (approximately 10,000) were bought by individuals and state regiments like the 66th and 7th Illinois and the 97th Indiana. The rifles were highly prized on the battlefield. Confederates described the Henry as “that darn Yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week.”
THE PROGENITOR of the Winchester repeaters, the Henry was a technological marvel in its time. It fired a .44-caliber, self-contained, metallic, rim-fire primed cartridge. The magazine held 15 shots, and one more could be loaded in the chamber, giving it more firepower than any other rifle on the battlefield. It was accurate by the standards of the day too, equipped as it was with a graduated ladder rear sight. Army tests showed it could keep 100 percent of its shots inside a 25-inch circle at 500 yards and a 48-inch circle at 1,000. Bullet weights were either 200 or 216 grains over 26 to 28 grains of black powder, giving it a muzzle velocity of 1,125 feet per second and a muzzle energy of 568 foot pounds. Ballistically it was between today’s .44 Special and .44-40 WCF of the same bullet weight, which leads me to wonder how much energy it had left at 200 yards, much less either of the Army test ranges. Compared to the standard rifled musket of the era, the .44 Henry was a pipsqueak, and that insured it would never be selected for general issue to troops. However, at ranges of less than 100 yards the Henry’s accuracy and power were perfectly adequate, and its speed and firepower proved devastating to the enemy in close combat.
THE HISTORY OF GEORGE PRENTIS’S Henry rifle is not a happy one. Though he supported the Union, his two sons, William Courtland and Clarence J., believed in the merits of the Confederate cause and actually fought for the South. William took his father’s rifle to war and died leading his troops in the Battle of Augusta, Ky., on September 18, 1862. The rifle and the sad news made their way back home to George. The Henry left his home again, for the last time, when his remaining son joined the Confederate cause. Reaching the rank of colonel, Clarence survived the war and his father pleaded that he be shown clemency. The rifle never came home. Hidden by Confederate soldiers, it was rediscovered a century later in a Memphis, Tenn. basement. ASJ
The Gunfather is about Louie Tuminaro and his close-knit Italian family, native New Yorkers who moved to Hamilton, Mont., to pursue Louie’s dream of creating the best gun store in the West, together. There are three generations of Tuminaros on the show: Louie (51 years old), the Gunfather, and Theresa (48), his wife of 24 years and who is nicknamed T-Bone; Louie’s dad Joe (77), who is called Pops; and Louie and Theresa’s kids, “Little” Louie (14) and daughters Nicole (20) and Allie (22), round out the extended family. Louie’s firearms business, the Custom Shop Inc., is a family operation and we see the Tuminaros in action working together to get things done. Louie is the driving creative force that made the Custom Shop a reality in 2007, but he is quick to tell you that the Tuminaros are a team, and moreover, he loves his team.
Louie’s focus at the Custom Shop is mainly buying, selling and restoring high-quality collectible firearms from the 1940s through the early 1980s – where there’s strong nostalgic interest – as well as sought-after out-of-production classics like Colt’s snake guns: Python, Cobra and the Anaconda. In addition to all of this, he wanted to do for firearm enthusiasts something akin to what custom-car shops do for car buffs. The firearm restoration services he offers are extensive. Louie is particularly passionate about restoration work because, from his point of view, he isn’t working on just any gun. The firearms on his workbench are someone’s precious family heirlooms. Clients aren’t looking to increase collector value of their restored guns, but rather restore the appearance and function for personal enjoyment. They bring their treasured guns to the Custom Shop because Louie has a reputation for candid assessment of what can and can’t be achieved in a restoration and surrounds himself with exceptionally talented artisans to execute the work. When Louie opened up his shop in Hamilton, which is located in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley of western Montana, he discovered a wealth of local talent that shared his interest in this level of firearms work and perfectionism – people like Pam Wheeler, the checkering queen, who has been hand cutting checkering for 30 years.
Louie and Pops are both self-taught gunsmiths and do most of the typical mechanical repairs, fine-metal polishing and refinishing in house. They also have their own stock-duplicating machine that can reproduce any gunstock accurately. Though they can make any gunstock for a customer, Louie explains that it isn’t always economically practical. It requires lots of hand sanding, inletting, fitting hardware and finishing. The result can be a stock that costs more than the rifle it’s being installed on. On restorations, they will try to preserve and repair the original wooden stock whenever possible. They keep duplicated stocks, identical to the factory originals and fitted with original hardware, for the more common collectible rifles – for example pre-64 Model 70 Winchesters – on hand all the time. When more elaborately figured wood blanks are used to make stocks for the highest grade rifles, prices can run up to $3,500, but that’s not a lot when the rifle is worth $15,000. The Custom Shop sells several stocks a week, mostly to customers who have had theirs broken during the course of shipping by common carrier. In addition to the stocks Louie crafts with his own hands, he has scores of new old-stock-original replacements for top-end Browning, Sako, Colt Sauer, Weatherby and J.P. Sauer and Sohn‘s rifles ranging from $400 to $3,500.
Louie says he got his love of shooting and skills from Pops. They were a working-class Long Island family. They weren’t poor, but they didn’t have much money. Louie and his little sister Lisa walked to public school, and their parents taught them traditional values, the importance of hard work, integrity and respect. Pops made a career with the Ford Motor Company in sales, and once Louie turned 10, Pops brought him to work every Saturday to help out washing cars and doing the jobs a kid could do. Louie developed a serious love for cars at that time, which he still has to this day. Pops taught him what a proper work ethic looked like and encouraged him to develop skills with his hands. Together these things led to a healthy confidence and a liberating realization that he could do things for himself.
For teenage Louie, the realization came the day the water pump on his 1972 Chevelle Super Sport quit. Instead of taking it to the repair shop, Pops took Louie to the auto-parts store and let him fix it for himself. When Louie reached his early 20s, he asked Pops to help him get an entry-level job at an auto customizing shop because the creativity and variety of the work was irresistible to him. Within two years Louie was managing the place. It was during this time that he met Theresa, who changed his life for the better in countless ways. They were inseparable and a perfect match. Louie calls her his rock. A rock is the best foundation to build on, and build they did.
It wasn’t long before Louie decided to go into business for himself. The work ethic, skill and confidence he learned as a boy continued to pay off and he soon had the largest car-audio equipment business in Suffolk County, N.Y. It was the first of many successes. Theresa would later manage their sports bar while raising their daughters. Pops, in addition to being a car man, was an avid gun collector, hunter and competitive pistol and shotgun shooter. Louie grew up watching with curious fascination as his father worked on guns on the kitchen table. When he got old enough, he was working beside his father, and the two enjoyed being a part of the shooting and hunting fraternity, which is large and vibrant in Long Island despite what anti-gun politicians from New York would have you believe. They hunted and vacationed in upstate New York, and Louie quickly got Theresa enthusiastically involved in the shooting sports too. When the kids came, they were naturally raised as shooters. The family hobby laid the ground work for the family business to come.
Louie had actually entertained the notion of going into a firearms business for several years before the golden opportunity finally presented itself. He’d made a lot of contacts in the community through the course of buying and selling guns that interested him, but it was the sale of his business that was the major catalyst for the career change. For the first time in his life, Louie had financial resources and time at his disposal simultaneously. At that time, Theresa had concerns that the neighborhood they lived in and loved was not headed in a direction they wanted for their children, and Louie had been charmed by the West during the time he’d spent hunting there. One day, Louie just walked through the front door and told Theresa that he thought they should consider moving to Montana and open a gun store. She was looking for houses on the Internet that same night. Theresa’s support buoyed Louie up for this bold move. Truth be told, the prospect of leaving everything they had known behind them scared her, but she had confidence in her husband, and saw a great opportunity to grow as a family. Pops, by then retired, was likewise supportive. Louie did his research and planning with their help and they left a life on the Atlantic shores of Long Island to set up a new family business venture in Big Sky Country, in full view of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. “We grouped together as a family and ran this company,” Louie told me. “We started it, designed it and created it. We did everything as a family. I consider us all a part of this.”
The Custom Shop, as a physical location, is an artistic expression of the family. It was intended to look as if it had been in business on that little old-town street for a century. The interior was built with reclaimed lumber and decoratively peppered with just enough taxidermy and vintage Western decor to give it a 19th century style but with a modern flair. Custom Shop’s signature 10-foot outdoor-sculpted sign featuring a huge Colt cap-and-ball revolver next to the words Custom Shop was the product of Louie’s imagination and several months work.
As a business, Custom Shop became a huge success with international clientele. A great deal of that comes from the Tuminaros’ basic business philosophy. “We put all our heart into what we do,” Louie says. “A lot of our business is repeat customers and referrals because when you treat somebody right, you’ve got them forever. It’s very important that you win the trust of your customers. The only surprises I want my customers to have are good ones. If I say a gun is 98 percent, it’s probably really 99 percent.”
Seventy percent of Custom Shop gun sales are via their website, which is exceptional because each firearm they offer is presented for online customer inspection using five to 10 excellent digital photographs. These images are professionally staged and extremely detailed. Derek Poff, the man responsible for them and a show regular, has 20 years experience behind the camera.
While Louie and Pops are working on guns or away with little Louie scouring gun shows and estate sales across the country for marketable firearms, Theresa is the public face and voice of the Custom Shop. When you call, you talk to T-Bone. If you want something, you’d be wise to tell her because when she says that she’ll be on the look out, she’s 100 percent serious. She created and maintains what she calls “T-Bone’s Watch List” located on a corkboard behind her desk. When the boys bring home the gun you want, you will get a call from her and the first right of refusal. This takes a lot of mental energy and time, but it shows just how seriously the Tuminaros take customer service.
The Tuminaros are all NRA members, and Theresa came up with the slogan “Family, Freedom and Firearms” to describe the things that are most important to them. The thing that sold Outdoor Channel on The Gunfather was that it is really a case study in successful, multi-generational parenting. For the Tuminaros, shooting and other outdoor sporting activities were the family recreational outlets, so it was a perfect fit for the network. Viewers enjoyed the insights into the firearms business, but the more compelling aspect of the show was the genuineness of the Tuminaros just being a family. Louie says, “We love Outdoor Channel for letting us share our family with America. They don’t script us. They let us do what we do. What you see is who we are. When you see me kiss my father and tell him I love him when he’s leaving, well, I do that every day.” When viewers see Louie put aside the gun business for an afternoon to support his son in his first paying job outside the family, it is very clear that The Gunfather puts being a father far ahead of guns. Family comes first, exactly like Theresa says.
If all this sounds refreshing for television, by all means tune in to Outdoor Channel on Monday nights at 8:00 p.m. to watch the second season that started on Dec. 28. If you want your family heirloom firearms restored or to buy or sell collectable guns, contact Theresa. If you become a fan of the show, and I suspect you will, make sure to thank her because she’s the one who made it happen. The day Louie walked in and said “I think we should be on TV,” she got on the phone and cold-called Outdoor Channel, miraculously got connected to a show producer (that just doesn’t happen), and won him over on the idea of a program about their family. Is it any wonder why Louie has been so successful? Between Theresa and Pops, how could he fail? ASJ
Editor’s note: You can visit the Custom Shop online at customshopinc.com.
Posted in Hollywood and Pop Culture Tagged with: Allie Tuminaro, Brownells, Browning, Colt Sauer, Derek Poff, Frank Jardim, Gun Shop, J.P. Sauer and Sons, Little Louie Tuminaro, Louie Tuminaro, Montana, Nicole Tuminaro, Outdoor Channel, Pops Tuminaro, Sako, T-Bone, Television Series, The Custom Shop, The Gunfather, Theresa Tuminaro, Weatherby
Story and photographs by Frank JardimKnowledge is a fleeting thing if steps aren’t taken to preserve it. Whether it’s building the pyramids or a family recipe, if knowledge isn’t passed on to subsequent generations, it is eventually forgotten and lost. Thirty-four years ago, the passionate desire to preserve the 18th century gun-making techniques, by which American longrifles were handcrafted, led to the creation of an extraordinary training seminar by Professor Terry Leeper, Ph.D., of Western Kentucky University (WKU) and master gunmakers Wallace Gusler and Jon Bivins. Three years later the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association (NMLRA) began cosponsoring the seminar and it remains the premier resource for serious subject-matter students. While classes are technically challenging, the instructional team has years of experience at meeting both the basic and most advanced skill levels of the participants. It is serious scholarly instruction in the true master-and-apprentice style.
Prior to every seminar, the instructors assemble a study collection of original and contemporary black-powder firearms (frequently valued in excess of a million dollars) for participants to examine and learn from hands-on investigation and observation. A glance over the five-volume Journal of Historical Armsmaking Technology that grew out of the early seminars indicates the depth of knowledge available for the asking. If you want to learn how every part of a firearm was made over 200 years ago, how to make the tools and dies required and what materials were used, there are instructors at the seminar who know.
Every year several of the best contemporary artisans/artists who specialize in making guns and related accoutrements in the manner they were made over two centuries ago, gather and spend nine to 10 days passing on that knowledge for the 50 to 70 students who attend.
Professor Leeper believes the success of the seminar stems from their focus from the very start in 1981 on getting world-class instructors. This year the House brothers – Herschel, Frank and John – along with Ron Scott, Mark Silver, Jim Kibler, Jack Brooks and Lally House taught nine different courses. In the past, Wallace Gusler, John Bivins, Lynton McKenzie, Monte Mardarino, Lewis Sanchez, David Wagner, Ron Ehlert, Jim Chambers, George Suiter, Jay Close and Gary Brumfield have all led classes.
The courses are intense and the days commonly run 10 hours. All but one of the courses are taught in the WKU industrial arts shops used for technical education labs on the Bowling Green, Ky., campus. The only exception is the Southern rifle-building class taught by the House brothers in the famous Woodbury School of iron-mounted gun-making in Woodbury, Ky., where they have several coal forges set up for students to learn and practice hand-forging iron parts.
The seminar is organized around three-, six- and nine-day classes, the longest generally focusing on the building of a complete firearm. Nobody can take it all in during one seminar, which is why many students opt to return again and again.
In the nine-day courses, the prerequisite parts (lock, stock and barrel) are usually brought to class either by the student or instructor. From a practical standpoint, there isn’t enough time to make every small part in class, so trigger guards, patch boxes, buttplates, nose caps, thimbles and the like are usually provided too. This allows the students to focus their limited class time on shaping the stock correctly (referred to as its architecture), proper placement, inletting and fitting of the various parts, and then finishing and decorating the wood and metal.
Herschel House was involved with the seminar from the start, and he and his brothers are the only instructors who teach the iron-mounted gun-making techniques prevalent in the mid- to late 18th century of the central South. The Houses set up three coal forges where students heat iron bars and hammer them into the raw shapes from which they will file out their own buttplates, trigger guards, lock plates and related stock furniture.
The atmosphere during the House course is like stepping back in time. The workshops are tucked into the forest and two structures that the students use are historic log cabins. I watched a dozen students beating iron bars into shape on the anvil, rasping out the first stages of their stock architecture, roughly grinding their newly formed iron parts to shape on an ancient bench grinder powered by a 90-year-old, single-cylinder engine, forge-welding their trigger-guard parts together, fine-filing the details of their metal stock furniture, and then locating and inletting them into their stocks. While this was going on other students were making knives, petting the many dogs that lounge around the area and firing rifles at targets in the woods. Throughout the day, the House brothers circulated continuously among the students, answering questions, demonstrating techniques, and providing guidance. To promote discussion and the exchange of knowledge, students and instructors ate their meals together on site either outside or inside one of the original log cabins. One student was living there during the entire seminar in the same cabin’s loft.
Master gunmaker Jack Brooks of Englewood, Colo., brought 40 years of experience to lead a nine-day course in stocking a Revolutionary War (circa 1775) Christian Springs-style longrifle. Brooks has extensively researched and documented the original weapon, which is heavier, plainer and more robust than the Golden Age longrifles of the postwar period. Students had to order the lock, stock blank and barrel in advance of the class while Brooks supplied them with reproduction rough castings of the trigger guard and buttplate, as well as patterns and photographs of the original historic rifle. In this challenging course the student’s form and inlet the massive rough-cut stock blank, file the parts to shape, and ultimately fit them to the stock. Not every student will complete the project during the seminar. The objective is to complete the most difficult parts of the project under instructor guidance and finish the fine details at home.
Brooks became interested in building long rifles as a college student in 1971. After graduation he worked as a chemist for the Environmental Protection Agency. His fascination with the American Revolution and the artistic elements of gun-making increased over the years but the pivotal moment came in 1976 when he was offered $1,200 to build a rifle for the bicentennial. He jumped at the opportunity and never stopped building.
Ron Scott, a long-time instructor at the seminar, believes its merit comes from more than just the exchange between teacher and student. The interplay between students is of great value because they learn from each other. Scott shared his gunsmithing expertise on European firearms in his course, designing and building a 1770s’ period fowler or rifle in the Parisian Rocco Art style. He conveys to students the architecture of the different schools of European gunmakers who worked within a rigid guild system, as well as the technical details of how they executed their work.
At the conclusion of the course, students know what the Old World masters made and how they made it. Scott provides the parts needed for the projects, including replicas of the highly decorative cast parts. He uses silicon molds to capture every detail of the original investment cast parts. These are ambitious projects!
Joe Valentin, a retired dentist from Marlette, Mich., has been a regular seminar participant since 1983. The artistic quality of historic guns appealed to him and drew him away from his previous hobby of target shooting with black powder rifles. He taught himself the decorative arts of engraving and gold-leaf application, and used these skills to finish last year’s seminar project, an ornate German holster pistol. Before the gold could be applied, the raised edges of the design were undercut and the flat surfaces covered with tiny “teeth” formed by gently tapping a pointy metal punch with a mallet, first in one direction and then another. This creates an array of mechanical connections so the back of the soft gold foil can adhere to it when it is hammered against them with a wooden punch.
At 40 years old, instructor Jim Kibler is one the youngest professional full-time longrifle gunsmiths, and an alumni of the seminar. He built his first longrifle in his late teens before college and didn’t build another for 10 years because he was too busy working as an engineer for the automotive industry. Longing to make a move towards gunsmithing as a vocation rather than a hobby, he took the loss of his job during the recent economic recession as a sign to do it. He taught a three-day course on the drawing and design principles for carving and engraving longrifles and a six-day course on the fabrication of rifle-stock furniture in sheet brass that covered patch boxes, inlays, thimbles and stock nose capes. I watched him expertly hammer out a nose cap from a cut brass blank in minutes, stretching and compressing the metal in a die of his own making to make a perfectly formed part.
One of Kibler’s students is Justin Chapman, the military programmer for Colonial Williamsburg, a historic city, whose job includes the building and repair of the reproduction weapons used by historical interpreters. He comes to the seminars for professional development and has built 10 rifles in last three years.
Master builder Mark Silver who made a career making custom sporting rifles before shifting to longrifles, also taught two classes. In a three-day course, his students learned their choice of American- or European-style silver- and brass-wire decorative stock inlay techniques, beginning with the making of the specialized tools and ending with the final finishing. Silver’s six-day course focused on both incised line and relief carving that commonly adorned both American and European guns.
Lally House, renowned authority and practitioner of the nearly lost Native American art of porcupine-quill and moose-hair embroidery, taught back-to-back classes for beginning and advanced students. They learned every step of the process, short of catching their own porcupines and moose. Instruction focused on traditional designs, materials and dying techniques to maintain the authenticity of the art form.
Tom Greco attended the Woodbury School iron-mounted gun-making seminar and felt he learned more in two weeks with the House brothers than he had in 25 years on his own. During my interviews with seminar participants, I found this type of high praise for the instructors common.
You may be asking yourself, “What would such and experience cost me?” The three-, six- and nine-day classes cost $360, $720 and $1,080, respectively, plus the cost of class materials. That’s no more than a cheap AR-15. If you want to learn how to build longrifles, there is no better way to do it than under the guidance of
At least 30 former seminar students have gone on to build rifles of such fine quality they were deemed worthy to include in the traveling Minneapolis Institute of Arts exhibition in 2003. Another five former students now build longrifles full time. Today, most seminar participants are middle-aged or older, with the time and money to devote to studying the complex and interdisciplinary art of building longrifles. Professor Leeper along with Herschel House and many other aging masters expressed to me the need to get younger people involved in the seminars to carry on the tradition for another generation.
They encourage men and women with passion and talent to make themselves known, as a lack of financial resources will not be an obstacle to a dedicated student. ASJ
Author’s note: For more information on the 2016 seminar, contact Professor Terry Leeper at Terry.Leeper@wku.edu.
Posted in Black Powder Tagged with: American Longrifles, Black-powder firearms, David Wagner, Frank House, Frank Jardim, Gary Brumfield, George Suiter, Herschel House, Jack Brooks, Jay Close, Jim Chambers, Jim Kibler, John House, Jon Bivins, Journal of Historical Armsmaking Technology, Justin Chapman, Lally House, Lewis Sanchez, Longrifle Building, Lynton McKenzie, Mark Silver, Monte Mardarino, NMLRA, Professor Terry Leeper, Ron Ehlert, Ron Scott, Wallace Gusler, WKU, Woodbury School
The Little Badger’s overall design principal is minimalistic. The Chiappa engineers gave the little gun everything it needs but resisted the temptation to load it down with things it didn’t.
For example, it has no foregrip other than four 4-inch pieces of Picatinny tactical rail attached to the flats of the barrel shroud. They form a good gripping surface and give the shooter a place to mount a 4X scope and perhaps a tactical light for hunting nocturnal creatures, like raccoons and opossums. If you mount a scope, the factory offers a horizontal bar you can attach to the grooved thumb portion of the hammer that lets you cock it from either side of the scope. Also, there is no safety other than a half-cock notch on the hammer. A survival rifle should be rugged, and mechanically simple. The Little Badger fits the bill.
The factory sights are M1 Carbine-style fixed front with an adjustable rear. The large knob allows for precise click adjustments for windage, and elevation is adjusted using a sliding rear aperture that has six different positions, four of which are numbered, but this slide can easily be pushed out of place if you aren’t careful. The sights, like the rail, ammunition holder and buttplate, are made of plastic, which didn’t appeal to me, but this is not an expensive rifle with an MSRP of $225, and they worked fine. My only concern is that they might not prove durable enough for long-term field use. Then again, my testing was not destructive and these parts might prove fully adequate. The rifle’s receiver, barrel shroud and trigger guard are made of hard zinc alloy. The hammer, trigger, action-release lever, extractor, all the screws and pins, barrel and wire buttstock are made of steel.
The wire buttstock was surprisingly comfortable, and its length and comb height can be adjusted to a limited degree by loosening the screws that hold the left and right sides of the receiver, pulling the upper and lower legs of the stock in or out, and then retightening. I found that my eye naturally lined up with the sights, so I didn’t change a thing.
During accuracy testing, I shot from a sandbag rest at 25 yards. To get shots on my point of aim, I set the elevation slide to “2.” My best results came from Winchester 22LR, 36-grain, copper-plated hollow points, which turned out an average group size of 1.42 inches and an average velocity of 1,199 feet per second, measured 12 feet from the muzzle. A close second was the Federal Lightning 22LR 40-grain, solid lead bullet, which turned out groups averaging 1.54 inches and an average velocity of 1,204 fps. I experimented by plinking with a mixed bag of loose ammo that I had accumulated over the years and found that the rifle seemed to shoot quite well overall. I started to feel as though I couldn’t miss with it, which I credit to an excellent trigger. This is a survival rifle with a target rifle’s trigger. It breaks crisply at just under 5 pounds. Tin cans, milk jug caps, broken PEZ dispensers and squirrels, beware! There is a new sheriff in town and it is a Little Badger.
I had a lot of fun shooting this rifle. In the process of evaluating it, I concluded that this is a great rifle to teach youngsters to shoot with. Its small scale and light weight made it easy for them to hold. It is a single shot, which takes a lot of the is-that-magazine-empty anxiety out of the instructional process. Using the round ammo holder in the stock, young students feel they have responsibility for their rounds, and allows you to visually keep track of it so no one ends up having unauthorized ammo for show-and-tell back at school. We all know these days that that will lead to expulsion from school for the student, and potential life imprisonment for you.
In many respects, this rifle is a reincarnation of the old Quackenbush and other youth bicycle rifles. Inexpensive, small, light, collapsible for easy transport and intended for fun wherever a kid’s (or grown-up’s) feet might pedal them, this type of rifle was very popular around 1900. The Little Badger even comes with its own light nylon backpack carrying case, adorned with a Little Badger head. The Chiappa Little Badger is a kid-sized gun that any boy or girl could easily learn to shoot with, and then keep for the rest of their lives. ASJ
Author’s note: You can get more information on this and other Chiappa products at Chiappafirearms.com
Since medieval times, journeyman artisans have made miniature weapons as demonstrations of mastery in their trades. Miniatures were also made as easily transportable sales samples. The majority, then as now, were created as art objects for personal enjoyment and for wealthy patrons. In 1973 the Miniature Arms Society (MAS) was established to bring builders, collectors and enthusiasts together in the tiniest niche of the arms collecting hobby. Based in the United States, the club has about 300 members worldwide. They share a common appreciation for artistry and fine craftsmanship. The art is not solely in the decoration of the miniatures, though some are magnificently embellished with engraving, stock carving and precious metal inlays just like real firearms. A large part of the artistic achievement is in the technical mastery needed to recreate a full-sized object in miniature. You don’t need to be an artist to join MAS; you just need to like miniature arms. Neophyte collectors and builders will find wide and enthusiastic support from fellow members. Every year since its founding, club members exhibit examples of their best pieces at the NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits.
The miniature arms hobby is as broad in historical scope and variety as the arms industry itself and includes everything from bows and edged weapons to artillery. Firearms make up the largest portion of the hobby and span muzzleloaders to machine guns, with Colt revolvers and Winchester lever-action rifles being the most popular.
Some makers produce scale live ammunition with which to fire their tiny guns. Miniatures are not considered firearms unless they are chambered in a commonly available cartridge, like .22 Short, for example. Miniature cartridge-powder charges and bullet weights are scaled back to match the size of the weapon, which sometimes results in velocities that are too low for accurate fire despite the efforts of builders to cut precisely scaled rifling into their barrels. Many miniatures are nonfiring.
Some makers work traditionally, you might say even primitively, measuring and scaling with mechanical instruments and using tiny hand-made tools. Others use sophisticated computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines to cut each piece and 3D printers to make molds for casting parts. Between these two poles there are a lot of little manual lathes and tabletop milling machines tucked into garages and basements where talented amateur and professional machinists test their skills making these little weapons.
Each miniature gun project requires careful hand finishing. The parts must be fitted and polished, and all the subtle surface details recreated, including any markings and decoration if desired, before they are hardened and given their final surface touch. A great deal of the work needs to be done under magnification. Consider how small the decorative engraving on a one-eighth scale pistol would be and you will understand why working under a microscope is necessary.
Scales vary widely. The most popular among collectors are those in one-third and one-fourth scale, which can retain complete functionality and sometimes even fire custom-made miniature live ammunition. Miniatures that fire conventional ammunition, usually half scale, are treated as pistols under federal and state law.
As the scale shrinks below one-quarter, it becomes increasingly difficult to fashion moving parts and some function is often lost. Certainly full functionality is possible in the smaller scales, but that kind of tiny precision work can get as physically delicate as a watch movement and very expensive. MAS member, director, and advanced collector Ted Campbell Sr. explained, “The smaller the scale gets, the greater the skill required to build it.” That’s why one of the favorites in his collection, which hovers around 60 pieces, is an amazing one-eighth scale brace of 1851 Colt Navy revolvers in a fitted case with tools made by the late George Jones, a renowned miniature firearms maker. Each fully operable pistol measures only slightly more than 1¾ inches.
Also among Campbell’s favorites are two machine-gun miniatures. His tiny one-fifth scale MAC-10 machine pistol was superbly recreated by an unknown maker. It lacked only the logo and markings, which Campbell had engraved by Roger Sampson, a known master engraver. It is not uncommon for builders to collaborate on projects.
Campbell’s miniature World War II British Sten MK2 submachine gun made by Leon Crottet of Switzerland actually fires in full-auto mode. However, since it uses a completely unique and custom-made miniature cartridge, it is not subject to the National Firearms Act (NFA) regulations that a genuine 9mm Sten would be.
One significant aspect of the miniature arms hobby centers is on pinfire guns. These popular novelty pieces have been in production continuously since the late 19th century and include replicas of period weapons, as well as unique designs. They were handmade as well as mass-produced examples. Unlike other miniatures, all pinfire guns are intended to fire blanks, live ammunition or sometimes both. Their tiny cartridge cases are straight cylinders, sealed on one end, from which a miniscule pin protrudes. When the miniature gun’s hammer strikes, it drives the pin into a primer within the case to ignite the main powder charge. Loaded with a lead bullet about the size of a number 9 shotgun pellet, the popular 2mm pinfire round is about .078 inches wide and less than a quarter inch long. They are about as loud as cap guns, and were never really considered serious defensive weapons. A Victorian-era gentleman might use one as a fob at the end his watch chain to delight children.
Collecting miniatures rather than real guns will not save you money in the long run, but it will at least save you space. Quality of workmanship is the single most important factor in establishing value, followed by relative rarity. The closest thing to production-made miniatures are those produced by Miniart in Russia (now out of business) and Aldo Uberti S.p.A., famous for their full-sized replicas of 18th century Colts, in Italy. Though they are of excellent quality and workmanship, they are also in relative abundance compared to the work of master craftsman David Kucer of Montreal, Canada, Fred Crissman of Pennsylvania or the late Tom Weston of Mexico City, Mexico. For example, a one-third scale 1873 single-action Army Colt revolver made by David Kucer will sell for $4,500 when one can be found. The same model in 47-percent scale made by Uberti retails for only around $650 and can be bought just about any time.
The value of any miniature is enhanced by the appropriate accoutrements. Examples include fitted French cases with their numerous compartments, bullet molds, powder flasks, holsters, slings, silencers, cartridges and even manuals.
The making of a miniature gun requires broad talents. Virtually every part of it must be fabricated from scratch. You don’t necessarily need to be a gunsmith, but the gunsmith’s skilled hands and affinity for the mechanical are prerequisites for making a gun of any kind. Many miniatures past and present have been created with just hand tools. To sculpt, checker, decoratively carve grips and stocks and build fitted cases, woodworking is required. Those fitted cases were always equipped with locks so you might find yourself becoming a locksmith along the way.
Many novice builders start with Derringers because of their mechanical simplicity. A Remington single-shot, vest-pocket Derringer was MAS member Bob McGinnis first successful project, and it took him 100 hours of work to complete. Since then he’s made a literal handful of Derringers and wants to move on to more advanced projects like a Remington rolling-block rifle. Though McGinnis started building the traditional way, he is not your typical miniature builder. He began working in the tool and die trade in 1959 and spent 25 years in his own shop building precision-injection molds for the plastics industry before retiring and passing the business to his son. He didn’t know there were miniature gun makers until 1989 when he read an article inGun Digest. He joined MAS in 1993, and through its members gained access to a huge body of invaluable institutional knowledge and building experience. Reflecting on his 22 years in MAS, he told me, “I had the pleasure and good fortune to learn from some of the finest craftsmen in the world, and hope someday I can pass on what I learned to younger craftsmen and artisans so they can carry on this wonderful art and hobby.”
By contrast, 92-year-old David Kucer knew he wanted to make miniature guns since childhood. He first saw them as part of a traveling show while on a family trip to New York City in 1935. Coming from a family of metal workers and having access to tools in his father’s shop, he made his first admittedly primitive mini when he was 12, with a barrel fabricated from a piece of a quarter-inch bar stock he scrounged in a junkyard. That first project showed him that he lacked both the right tools and sufficient skill. By the early 1950s he had both. His interest in miniature firearms was forced to lie dormant while he finished high school, worked in the family business and served his country in the Canadian Army as an armament artificer from 1942 to 1946.
His first satisfying miniature gun was a one-quarter scale M1911, like the one he carried throughout the war. During the process of building this first piece, he designed and built each tool, which he continues to use to this day. The bulk of the metal work is done on his one-third scale custom vertical mill and a pantograph-engraving machine he modified to cut parts into three dimensions. A pantograph is used to accurately trace the shapes of parts while simultaneously
In his 60-year career he’s made 80 different miniature gun projects totaling over 400 pieces, most of them built after 1970 when he went into business for himself. By 1975 he was building miniature guns full time and was eventually joined by his son, Zavie, who works by his side every day. Customers expect to wait a year between creations, as his work is of such extraordinary excellence it has been exhibited in seven museums, including the Royal Ontario Museum, the Royal Armouries of H.M. at the Tower of London, and most recently the Montreal Museum of Fine Art.
You can see some of the work of David and Zavie Kucer and many other builders at the NRA Annual Meetings in Louisville, Ky., next year or at the Craftsmanship Museum in Carlsbad, Calif., where over 50 pieces are on loan from various makers and MAS collectors. MAS publishes the Miniature Arms Journal quarterly for members and offers several publications for sale, including two by MAS journal editor Bob Urso: The Tiniest Guns and The Odd & Curious Guns, Knives and Drawings of Herschel Kopp. The former is a detailed catalog of historic pinfire guns and the latter is a wealth of information for new builders. MAS American dues are $45 the first year and $35 annually for renewal and include a subscription to the magazine, as well as access to the clubs extensive collection of plans for aspiring builders. ASJ
Posted in Handguns Tagged with: 1873 Single Action Army Colt, 9mm sten, Aldo Uberti, Bob McGinnis, COLT Revolvers, David Kucer, Fist Pistol, Frank Jardim, Fred Crissman, George Jones, Leon Crottet, MAC 10, MAS, Miniature Arms Society, Miniature guns, Navy, NFA, Roger Sampson, Ted Campbell Sr., Tom Weston, World War II British Sten MK2 submachine gun
By first appearances, Gabrielle Pitre is a typical American teenage girl, but behind her bubbly good-humored demeanor there is intense personal discipline and mental focus that has allowed her to master not one, but three shooting disciplines.
At 18 years old she is one of the youngest high-power rifle competitors to hold a master’s classification in long-range rifle shooting. The long-range Palma course of fire is shot with iron sights from the prone position at 800, 900 and 1,000 yards. That, by itself, is a significant accomplishment, but Pitre is also a high master (the highest level of achievement) in midrange rifle competition. Without getting into the details of how it’s calculated, a midrange high master scores 98.5 out of a 100 possible points on average. Midrange is shot in the same manner as long-range, but at 300, 500 and 600 yards. What makes this more amazing is that four years ago Pitre had never even picked up a match rifle.
There are many local clubs and match events, but the Camp Perry National and the Palma regional matches reign the highest in the US. The rifles, in this ultimate sport, must use high-power and center-fire calibers, and since Camp Perry was established in Ohio in 1907 for military marksmanship training, many of the events at the national matches require shooters to use a military-service rifle. These rifles are typically modified for improved accuracy.
Looking back over the last 108 years that the national matches have been held there, bolt-action 1903 Springfields, M1 Garands and semiautomatic M14 rifles rose and fell from dominance. For the past 15 years, variations of the M16 rifle have held competitive supremacy.
In addition to a rifle capable of sub-minute-of-angle performance, success at the highest levels of competition requires keen eyesight, minute muscle control and the ability to judge and compensate for the effects wind and mirage will have on bullet impact. The average deer hunter seldom thinks about bullet drop or wind because it simply doesn’t matter that much at ranges less than 100 yards. When a competitive marksman fires a bullet at a 44-inch black circle with a 10-inch center X a half a mile away, it takes that bullet nearly 1.5 seconds to get there. A lot can happen in that time and the competitor tries to predict its path.
Pitre told me that learning to get the dope (adjust your aim for range conditions) is the hardest part of long-range marksmanship. Flags on the range are used to estimate wind speed and direction and shooters use high-quality spotting scopes to study the mirage. She explained her techniques to illustrate the process.
“I try to find one or two flags about halfway to the target that are easy to watch. I want to be able to see every move the flag makes up and down. I also watch for any changes in the flag’s angle from the pole; all of this tells me if the wind has changed direction. The flags that are closest to the firing line do not matter that much because the bullet has just left the barrel at full velocity and can buck the wind pretty well. The flags near the target do not matter because by that time it’s too late to do anything. By picking a flag around the middle I can split the difference.”
“A mirage is the visual distortion of the target caused by heat coming off the ground. It varies with temperature, humidity and ground cover. I use my spotting scope to evaluate it by looking at a flat surface like the top of a target berm. The mirage makes the target blurry, and in the worst cases, it can completely wash it out. If that happens, I rely on my natural point of aim to get my bullet on target. When I set myself up to shoot, it’s critical that my body is properly oriented toward the target so that my rifle is naturally aimed directly at the bull’s-eye when I lock into a firing position. It doesn’t matter if I’m shooting at the 50- or 1,000-yard mark, I always do this.”
There are so many variables to account for that long-range shooting seems like a scientific discipline. To a degree it is. However, as Pitre pointed out, the proof is in the shot. “Flags and the mirage can lie,” she says. “You figure it out after you take your shot. Then you adjust. Conditions can and do change in the time it takes you to move your eye from the flag to the sights. At times the sudden wind changes can be enough to blow you off the paper.”
The remarkable thing about Pitre is that she participates in these sports not to be the best, but instead to simply do her best. A person who finds delight in doing their best is never troubled by the ugly side of competition. They are too busy having fun to begrudge another competitor’s better scores. Pitre also enjoys coaching new competitive shooters to develop good habits and improve their skills.
Born in Michigan, but moved to Alaska as an infant where she lived until she was thirteen, Pitre cannot recall a time when she wasn’t shooting. Some of her earliest memories are of riding over the empty tundra with her father on a four-wheeler. He let her shoot his pistol once they were safely away from inhabited areas. Though her father was a Marine Corps rifle instructor and competitive shooter, her older sister Natasha was actually the motivating force who drew Pitre into the shooting sports. As a kid, she wanted to do everything her big sister did. When Tasha took up competitive shotgun shooting, Pitre wanted to do it too. When she first tried out, she was only seven years old and could hardly hold the shotgun up. She missed every bird and the coach suggested she come back in a few years. Instead she went home and started working out to build up arm strength with 3-pound weights. Three weeks later she tried again and broke all but one. By eight years old she was competing. Pitre and Tasha soon became a sibling shooting sensation in Alaska. This culminated for Pitre when she was selected for the Alaska all-state team to shoot sporting clays in the women’s division. It was extraordinary for a 13-year-old to be chosen for a slot normally filled by the best adult women shooters in the state. Pitre had found her passion on the sporting clay field.
Had the family stayed in Alaska, Pitre and Tasha would still be shooting clay birds. However, work drew their family to Washington state, and an area with virtually no opportunity for them to continue shooting in shotgun competitions. Tasha gave up the shotgun sports and took up small-bore rifles, but Pitre refused to lose hope, and she was rewarded with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It turned out that while in Alaska, her growing skill with a shotgun had not gone unnoticed. Shortly after the move she received an invitation to shoot in a competition for future Olympic competitors. Her first instinct was to pursue the sport she loved, but the timing was wrong. Her family had just moved and the price of success would mean a huge disruption in their lives, including another move for her to the Olympic training camp. After a family discussion, Pitre concluded she was not willing to put herself or her family through those trials.
Instead, in 2011 she joined her sister at an NRA small-bore rifle qualification program. This is shot with .22 rifles from four positions (prone, sitting, kneeling and standing) at 50 feet. Within a year, both had reached the highest qualification, distinguished expert. Thanks to exceptional coaching and mentorship, Pitre was introduced to match rifle and long-range competition. Both sisters decided to take up the more sophisticated challenges of service-rifle competition, and so the family started an annual ritual of packing up to spend a month-long summer vacation at Camp Perry so the girls could compete in the national matches.
When the family moved to Kentucky, Pitre refined her long-range shooting skills and garnered sponsored support from Pelican cases, Nightforce optics, Lapua bullets and brass, Vihtavuori powders and ESS eyewear. She also started her own blog called From-the-line.com, where she freely shares her competition experiences. Her accomplishments are too numerous to list, but by the end of 2014 she was the Kentucky state long-range champion, long-range junior champion, midrange junior champion and took 1st place overall, making her the top junior shooter in the state. Thus far in 2015, in addition to several first place finishes in local matches, she attended the East Coast Palma Championships and took first in the master class and high junior overall.
When she graduates high school this year, Pitre plans on joining the Air Force to work in dog training and handling. She has a love of K9s that rivals her love of shooting sports and serving her country would simply continue a multi-generational family history of patriotic military service.
I think the USAF would do well to put her on their rifle team too. ASJ
Posted in Women and guns Tagged with: Camp Perry National, ESS eyewear, Frank Jardim, From-the-line.com, Gabrielle Pitre, Lapua bullets, long-range shooting, Nightforce optics, Palma regional matches, Pelican cases, Vihtavuori powders, young competitors
Photographs by Rick Lambert and John Oliver
Two centuries ago, just as today, most tradesmen were simply mechanics who churned out serviceable work to meet commercial demands. True artists were few and far between, but it is the artists’ imagination and skill that allows them to make things of exceptional beauty and genius.
Frank and Lally House are artists. Though they specialize in traditional trades of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, their work far exceeds that of typical artisans. Frank creates Kentucky rifles, tomahawks, swords, knives and powder horns and Lally works with brain-tanned deer
hides and 18th century dyestuffs to create a nearly lost Native American Indian art form of porcupine quillwork and moose-hair embroidery. Both create almost all of their art from raw base materials in the same manner as they were created centuries ago. When not creating, you might find Frank and Lally at the Contemporary Longrifle Association (CLA) gatherings, an organization dedicated to preserving the knowledge of American gun makers and associated arts from colonial times through to the early republic. Recently, the Houses shared some of their observations and experiences as artists who might just have been born 200 years too late.
American Shooting Journal How did you get involved with creating historic weapons and accoutrements?
Frank House My older brother Hershel started this all off. He was born in 1941, so he’s somewhat older than I am, and my younger brother John and I spent our young life watching him work, hanging around his work bench, burning up all his coal in the forge and turning all of his scrap wood on the wood lathe and all that stuff. So, we’ve been in this since we were kids. Hershel started building rifles full time in 1966 and then founded the Woodbury gun-making school with hard work and dogged determination. His greatest contribution was inspiring those of us who grabbed that torch. He’s got a great imagination; never followed somebody else’s lead, and I picked that up from him. It’s one thing to copy a knife or a rifle or tomahawk, but it is another thing to come up with the concept from scratch and design your own artwork, your own engraving patterns and your own patch boxes and architecture. The tricky part is keeping it historically relevant.
ASJ I’ve read that the drop in demand for gun makers after the wartime needs of the American Revolution led to an increase of competition amongst craftsmen.
FH Absolutely! Competition and isolation fed a lot into that. Sometimes these guys were secluded in their own little enclaves and they had to rely on their own inspiration. They couldn’t go down the street to someone else’s shop and borrow their pattern. They had to develop their own styles.
ASJ How do you go about creating a rifle?
FH I have to come up with the concept first. I have to say, I want to create a rifle from this period in this caliber for this client who would have to come into my shop. He might want a .50-caliber rifle to hunt bear with or a target rifle that he’s going to take to the local shooting matches to impress his friends. I have to put myself into that frame of mind. I try to build a rifle based on what I would have had to look at, say, Thomas Simpson’s work or John Wilson’s (gun makers from eras gone by). What would I be building if that was my input? If that was what I was looking at and that was what I was seeing and surrounded by, what would I do? How would I make my work different, but still influenced by these guys? That’s the mindset I use.
ASJ In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, weren’t rifles a means of displaying a man’s social standing?
FH At that time there weren’t many ways of demonstrating your wealth; one was your plantation house. People always misconstrue the meaning of that. It just means a large farmhouse. A man’s house, horse and rifle were the only ways he had to show who he was, and they took a lot of pride in those things. Now we have cars and speedboats, new iPhones and flat-screen TVs.
ASJ The depth of your historic research is impressive. You’re more informed on early American history than my university professor.
FH I quit school in my junior year of high school, and I enjoyed it so much I went back for my senior year and quit again. Some people are cut out for academia and I’m not one of them. However, I’ve been exposed to historic weapons and accoutrements for 40 years. I’ve been a full-time artist since 1988 and Lally since 1990. I do a lot of restoration work on original weapons, tomahawks, the whole thing, so I get the opportunity to handle and take pieces apart to see how the work was done. It all contributes to education.
ASJ Neither you nor your brothers started out doing this. How did you come to the decision to make your living creating historically inspired pieces of Americana? I read that you were a boilermaker – nothing seems farther away from being an artist. The boilermakers I knew were rugged, plain-spoken union men who liked sports and drinking beer.
FH I still like sports and drinking beer [smiles]. My father was a boilermaker and my grandfather an iron worker. We came from a long line of heavy construction. I was actually national graduate apprentice of the year in 1985 among all the new journeyman in the country. I was a good boilermaker. I was a wonderful welder, but there’s something that won’t come out in a welding rod. There’s something in you that absolutely has to come out. You can’t help it and if you don’t let it out, you’re a miserable son-of-a-bitch.
ASJ Did your father think you were crazy quitting a good-paying union job?
FH Yep. My father never had an artistic bone in his body. He was one of the hardest working men I’d ever met. My mother was artistically inclined. She was a country music songwriter and musician.
ASJ Hasn’t this type of gunmaking always been a custom business, with clients coming in with their special requirements and having their rifles made to order?
FH Yes, but our work is in such demand, actually, that as long as it’s good it will sell, and our work is always good. We simply don’t turn out substandard work. We spend the time. That’s one reason we’re not as financially successful as some people think we should be, but no weapon leaves our shop until it’s finished. At this point, hell, I could take ten rifles to a show and probably sell five of them, maybe all ten, but then I only make two a year.
ASJ To say your work is good is quite an understatement. You don’t just make rifles either.
FH I also do restoration and knife work and a few other things. Hershel makes guns in addition to his knife work. John is primarily a knife and sheath maker and Lally is “eye ball” deep in her porcupine-quill work and moose-hair embroidery.
ASJ So there aren’t now and never will be a whole lot of House rifles out there?
FH Nope. Never will be. Hershel in his career, early on, did a lot of simpler, plainer mountain rifles and things like that to pay the bills getting started, but after he got his legs under him and got his mojo working, he slowed down. These guns are a tremendous amount of work. One of the things that makes this a very difficult occupation is that you literally have to master six, eight, 10 different vocations to be able to build a rifle from start to finish by yourself. You have to be a pretty damn good blacksmith, an architect, and you have to do some engineering work because all the mechanical aspects of the rifle have got to work. You have to be a foundryman, a carver, an engraver, a silversmith and a goldsmith. There’s a whole lot involved in making a rifle, and it takes a lifetime to master it. That’s one reason there’s not a lot of people who do it. If you’re talented enough to build a rifle from start to finish, there are a whole hell of a lot of other things you can do that can make a whole lot more money. I’m just being honest.
ASJ The rifles you make now are not the basic weapons that the
average guy looking to hack himself out a homestead on the frontier would buy. They are the high-end
pieces that would have been commissioned by the most successful and wealthy landowners. Back in 1790, fine guns like that would have taken a master gunmaker a half a year to build too.
FH Exactly right, and that’s one reason why these really great rifles are so rare. Because there wasn’t a great deal of them built to begin with. Only a handful of really great guns have survived.
ASJ You have a depth knowledge of American culture that most museum professionals will never have. How did you and Lally get involved with Hollywood, where they have a reputation for never letting the facts get in the way of a good story?
FH It’s a strange story. Randy Wilkenson, a friend of ours in Los Angeles who was working on the film The Patriot, brought in a rifle I’d made him and a horn strap that Lally made for a prop department show-and-tell where the director looked over all the props to decide what he liked and didn’t like. The director said he wanted our pieces for the movie. Wilkenson said he couldn’t have them because they were his own personal pieces. The director asked him, “Well, who made these, because I want them to do this for us.” That’s how it started. Then Mark Baker (a subject matter historian and writer) and I went down there and did the gun training for Mel Gibson, Jason Issacs, Heath Ledger and all the actors, and did a really good job for them. They got my name in their rolodex. We went from there to Master and Commander and Pirates of the Caribbean and even Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, for which Lally and I did all the monkey war clubs, spears and staffs props to give them an aged Neolithic look. I’m up to 16 shows now. Some of them major, some of them minor but all of them pretty big productions.
ASJ Lally, it seems to me that an unfortunate byproduct of today’s vast world market is that it has cheapened the value of handwork of all kinds, including art. What would have been a prized possession a century ago is now something you buy at the dollar story. Have you observed this too?
Lally House Yes. An example is Native American beadwork, which was once a highly collectible American art form until the Japanese started making loom beadwork. That changed the whole game for the really good bead workers out there. Because shop owners and importers brought in cheaper Asian-made products, people started to feel that the American handwork wasn’t that important of an item. I’m so glad they don’t do anything with quill work or moose-hair embroidery.
ASJ Embarrassed to admit my own ignorance, I had never heard of this art form until I saw your work.
LH Porcupine quill and moose-hair embroidery were almost extinct as art forms by 1800 when European-made glass beads became the dominant trade item with the native tribes on the America frontier. It’s not hard to understand how this almost happened 200 years ago. A handful of brightly colored glass beads was easy to store and the Indians didn’t have to do the preliminary work that goes along with quills and moose hair. Imagine having to trap the porcupine, pluck and clean the quills, gather the natural dyes and dye the quills before you can even get started.
ASJ So, porcupine quill and moose hair embroidered items were commodities?
LH The pre-1800 eastern woodland Indians commonly used quill and moose hair embroidery to decorate their personal items. Since it was so popular as a decorative art, it was a highly valued trade item between individuals and tribes. They made a lot of what we would consider tourist-souvenir decorative items, like wallets that would be hung on the wall to hold important personal items, pin cushions, eye-glass cases, picture frames and anything you can imagine that a European or Native American might want. More traditional items would be powder-horn straps, hunting bags and knife scabbards.
ASJ How many artists still do this type
LH There’s probably less than a dozen of us who do Eastern Woodland Indian-style work. Of that dozen, maybe five or six of us make our sole living this way. For many, many years, I was the only person using all-original 18th century natural dies, the same dyes used in early settlements and
ASJ How did you get started in this esoteric art form?
LH I grew up in Louisville. I had a great history teacher in 4th grade who sparked my interest and I learned how to do research from some elderly ladies in my local branch library. I found a book on quillwork and the rest I had to learn from studying surviving pieces in private collections and museums. My main goal is to ensure that this beautiful and culturally important
art form is kept alive. We aren’t just in jeopardy of losing an Indian art form, we are in jeopardy of losing a uniquely American art form. ASJ
Note: Those interested in helping Frank and Lally House preserve our nation’s history through the living art of its craftsman and women should consider supporting the Contemporary Longrifle Foundation. You can get more information at their website at ContemporaryLongrifleFoundation.org.
Posted in Hollywood and Pop Culture Tagged with: Contemporary, Contemporary Long Rifle, Dawn of the planet of the apes, Disney, Embroidery, Frank House, Frank Jardim, Kentucky, Lally House, Long Gun, Master and Commander, Moose Hair, movie, Porcupine Quill, Rick Lambert Photography, Rifle, The Patriot