Despite the fact that the days are getting longer, now, they don’t really seem all that long. Shadows remain long and the sun, even burning brightly, does just not kick out the warmth that it did on the other side of the Winter Solstice.
I went into the winter with about the same list of un-done projects that I did last winter except a few were added. And, so far, my completion of the list is progressing about like it did last year, too. The low light definitely affects my mood and my energy level as well.
However, a while back I was visiting with Uncle LeRoy and he asked if I wanted a “gun project” to do. He explained that his older brother, Herb, bequeathed to Leroy’s youngest son, Todd, of Cricket Bottoms fame, his “favorite” shotgun. LeRoy asked if I would take it home and work it over and give it to Todd. So, given the chance to do something for Todd, not to mention Uncle LeRoy and Uncle Herb, and a reason to do a “gun project,” I quickly agreed.
Leroy went off to the basement to get the gun and I sat there in the kitchen sipping coffee and imagining what this “favorite shotgun” might be. These folks are hardworking hog farmers so I knew it would not be a “collector’s item,” per se. I thought maybe an old double barrel, possibly, or a Winchester Model ’97 or Model ’12, perhaps. But, since it was to be a labor of love, it did not really matter. I figured if Herb thought it worthy of passing on to his nephew, then it would be a good project for me.
After a few minutes, LeRoy emerged from the basement with a tattered and torn old canvas case with leather strap and buckle closures that had long since rotted out and were hanging there. LeRoy opened the case and pulled out a single-barrel break open 20 gauge of some unknown manufacture.
The “heirloom” was a total disaster! The stock was scuffed almost beyond recognition, had a huge crack in it running from the grip to the butt, and the whole gun was spattered with specks of white paint. What the HE** (heck)! The only places on the whole of the metal work that wasn’t covered with red rust were the places under those infernal white paint specs. I looked at it in disbelief!
Uncle LeRoy lit into an uncontrolled outburst of laughter and between guffaws and gasps for breath he managed to squeak out, “What’sa Matter?”
I broke it open with some considerable effort to move the tang lever aside and to get it to actually swing open (rust and crud). I looked through the barrel. Or should I say TRIED to look through the barrel? I did make out a glimmer of the kitchen ceiling light through the tangle of cobwebs and dirt and dust and blobs of rust (under which I would find pitting – big shock there, huh).
LeRoy continued to laugh at me, or the situation, or both. He figured he had really pulled on the Old Kid. And, while he had, far be it from me to admit it, so I sucked it up and pretended with the best of my untrained acting ability. I was not about to let that S O B win. As coolly as I could manage I acted like I was studying it. I ran my fingers over the metal and the wood. I stopped now and then and scratched my head. I scratched my chin. I said over and over, “Hmmmm. Uh-huh. Well, what do you know?”
This went on for a while for the dramatic effect and to let LeRoy stop laughing. Finally, I spoke, “You know, this is a fine old piece. It’s too bad Herb let it fall into such condition. I don’t know how long it will take, but you know, I think I can get her back to being the gun that it was meant to be.”
Either my acting was working or LeRoy was too dumb to pick up on the fact that the “shoe was on the other foot.”
“Yeah, she will be a honey. I have always wanted to work on one of these but never thought I would ever see one, let alone have a chance to bring one back to life,” I exclaimed with a big ol grin.
LeRoy had stopped laughing. “So, what is so special about this gun,” he asked.
“Well, back near the turn of the century this gun maker had the whole deal really coming together but his factory burned to the ground and he lost his oldest son in the fire so they never went back into business. There were Very Few of these made. I guess I am surprised that one could have wound up here on a farm in Iowa. They were made in Maine and then only for about 6 or 7 years. Do you think Herb knew he had a collector’s item?” I am such a BS-er, sometimes I even surprise myself.
I carefully snapped the piece of dog-dung gun shut and ever-so-gently slipped it back into the rotten, stinky, moldy, piece of dog-dung case and took it out to my pickup to stash behind the seat. I took my time going back to the house as it was now I who had the giggling fits. Back in the house I just would not let the subject of the gun come up as I was doing all I could do to not burst into my own fit of guffaws and gasps as Uncle LeRoy had been doing earlier.
I was still giggling over the whole incident until I got home and took the useless, worthless, piece of crap into my basement shop and pulled it out of the case. THEN, it hit me. I had to do something with the darn thing! Ha Ha. Not so funny. For a while, I just hid it back in the deepest darkest corner of my gun safe hoping that God would let me live long enough to tidy it up so that no one I actually know would come across it after my funeral and think less of me for even having the darn thing.
While watching it snow and blow, I took it out, tore it all apart and went to work on it with 150 grit sandpaper. I did the wood, I did the external metal. Then I took a length of dowel rod, cut a slot in one end, slipped a piece of 600 grit paper into it and chucked the other end up in a drill, squirted some honing oil on it and watched TV while I ground out the cobwebs, crud and the rust from inside the bore.
A few days later I got out some serious wood clamps and the epoxy and closed up the split in the stock forever. Some more sanding with finer paper on both the wood and the metal… and the metal … and did I mention, the METAL? Finally, I decided that this part of the job was not as much fun as I thought it would be. I got some DuraCote out and the airbrush and after de-greasing the metal parts thoroughly, set to giving it a coat – or should I say 10. By golly, the pits on the outside of the barrel started to fill in and I thought, “Wow, this is some kind of miracle goo, this DuraCote.”
Then, I turned my attention to the wood. I actually took some time and did a pretty good job but did intentionally leave the split line a little bit visible as I had decided to use the DuraCote on the stock, too, and I wanted Uncle LeRoy to see that it was still the same stock.
A couple of weeks later, the weather broke so I took it out to use as a noisemaker while my pal Slip Bobber was introducing his new Lab pup to the sound of gun shots. We planted a pen-raised quail and while the puppy was in hot pursuit of the flushed bird, I shouldered the old 20 gauge and touched her off. The dog was undismayed and I was happy the shotgun fired and didn’t come apart and kill me dead on the spot.
We planted another bird, set the pup to it, and this time I held the 20 ga out one handed and let her rip. It sort of stung my hand but I didn’t pay any attention. As we set up the next bird for Slip Bobber and the pup, I noticed my hand was running a stream of blood! DAMMMMM IT. I wrapped it up in my bandana and we kept on with the training.
Finally, I got home and went to the can and washed it all up with cold water and there in the crack of my hand – the little “Y” part – where my right thumb hooks on to the rest of my paw, was a gaping hole. I looked in there and saw dark red Muscle Tissue. I went to my doggie first aid kit to get my suture and forceps and while trying to figure out how to tie the know one-handed, and left handed at that, the wife strolled in and had a conniption! There was no stopping her. Off to the Emergency Room. A good cleansing and a few stitches later, we were out the door with a “Paid” bill for $1168 US Dollars.
A month later I had the privilege of delivering that darn 20 ga back to Uncle LeRoy and, with him, present it to Todd (aka Canis Major as he likes to be called). Everyone was properly impressed with the way the gun turned out. Upon reflection, I should have done the whole world a favor, went out and paid $400-500 for a decent shotgun, given that to Todd and threw dumped the old 20 ga in the friggin river that runs not too far from my house. And saved a nice $500-600.