Another gun mystery

Hunting seasons are opening so it’s time to talk about guns again. My gun business, or rather hobby, is still moving along at a mildly encouraging pace — buying old guns, fixing them, then selling them so that I can do it all over again. It’s a great way to tinker on antique mechanical things without breaking the bank.

I’ve even developed my own style. At first, when acquiring an old gun, I would “clean it up.” The stock would be sanded and the metal would go out to the shop for the wire wheel treatment. Nowadays, the emphasis is on restoring safe operation while preserving the gun’s appeal as an antique. The Old Hippie even takes an interest in this part of the process, which delights me to no end. (In the early days of the tractor repair business, we also repaired heavy trucks. After being conscripted to help install several large, greasy truck transmissions, she has become wary of assisting me in my endeavors.) Often, these old guns hold mysteries that can be fun to unravel.

The current project is a 12-gauge break action single shot. The barrel was shortened, perhaps to achieve a certain pattern for shooting matches. I’ve been running into a lot of this barrel customizing. Some barrels, of course, are simply sawed off to the minimum legal length of 18 inches with home defense in mind. More often, though, these barrels would be shortened, say, from 30 inches to 24. Another theory is that they were shortened to fit in a gun rack in the narrow truck cabs of the 1920s and 1930s. Given the wear and tarnish on the replacement bead on this shortened barrel, this customizing probably took place prior to 1950.

I test fired the gun from the shoulder using a low-brass target load. The breech flew open. Well, I thought, that’ll teach me not to get cocky and fire a strange old gun from the shoulder without first testing it with the usual vise and lanyard method. I was making plans for the complete disassembly of the gun’s action but some oil and compressed air got all the parts moving again and the problem went away.

The stock and forearm were heavily wrapped in old cloth electrical tape. A fellow gun enthusiast, Abraham Toothman, stopped by and we sliced away at the tape, which revealed more tape and even patches of roofing material. With this much repair and reinforcement, I expected the forearm to fall off and the stock to crumble into kindling. Toothman laid claim to the lace-up recoil pad and the slip-on shell holder from the stock and I agreed.

Strangely, though, with the tape and other material gone, we found that the forearm was held securely in place and that the dark walnut stock had only a superficial crack. The tape and shingle strips had been added to increase the bulk of the gun — another mystery. This gun seemed to have been customized for some specific purpose — but what was it?

In the past, readers have been helpful in clearing up these gun related mysteries and a little help here would be appreciated. Please reply through the letters to the editor section, as other readers may be interested in the outcome of this mystery as well.

The old Hippie (aka wife Stephanie) showed me how to remove the tape residue using vegetable oil, a soft scouring pad and lots of patience. This process removed the residue without disturbing the patina of age. I’m very pleased; I may let her change the clutch in her pickup, too.

I’ve given up the handgun part of this little adventure. There are more legal complications to buying and selling handguns than there are with sporting arms. For example, I can legally buy, sell and trade nonfunctional handguns and handguns made before 1898. Relatively modern nonfunctioning handguns worked their way into the collection and, through my efforts, became functional but cannot be sold legally  — now what?

As I worked on the Kubota L-2900 of a new customer near Leesburg, Va., he chanced to ask if I had any other business interests. I told him about the gun thing with the required exaggerations and asked if he would like to see the collection that was currently on the Old Black Truck. He seemed very interested so I spread the collection of revolvers, semi-automatic pistols and shotguns on the truck’s tailgate/workbench.

As he looked the guns over, I asked from what occupation he had retired since he had obviously done so quite comfortably. “ATF”, he replied. As we conversed further, I soon gave up any hope that he may have been a retired automatic transmission fluid salesman. He assured me that I hadn’t done anything illegal — yet. Talk about a shot across the bow. I’ve since been disposing of these handguns legally by trading them to licensed dealers for sporting guns.

Well, I’ve got plenty of shotguns to hunt with this year. I grew up in a state where, for the most part, only buckshot was permitted for deer hunting. Rifled slugs became legal in the mid-1970s. What I’m saying here is that I’m used to hunting with shotgun slugs which is part of the reason why I let deer get close enough to bean with a rock before attempting a shot. Another consideration is that most of my hunting land opportunities are in Virginia where shotguns are still in vogue.

I probably won’t get to hunt this year, though, because, as always, the Old Hippie has both freezers chock full of fruit, garden veggies and meat that was on sale cheaper than we can raise it. Maybe she’ll save me some space for next year.

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