It’s been a while since I last posted. Funny how life, and all the ups and downs that may accompany it, sometimes interferes with the creative fun. My apologies for my neglect.
This week’s post is based on a personal experience, one that I will always look back on and smile. Hope you enjoy.
Thanks for stopping by.
Although my maternal and paternal grandfathers came from different backgrounds and earned their livings in completely different fields, both of them were sportsmen. They each loved the outdoors, camping, hunting, and fishing. Coincidentally, though my grandfathers’ last names were Miller and Schmitt, both of their first names were Louis. And though both men were alive when I was born, unfortunately, I can’t remember one of them by anything other than a photograph.
Mom’s father, Grandpa Schmitt, died two years after my arrival. Several years later, my grandmother decided her house was more than she could handle—or wanted anymore—and moved in with Mom, Dad, me, and my two brothers. To say the least, three adults and three young boys living in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom bungalow was a cozy arrangement. Good thing we’d added a room where the kids slept.
The fun thing was––besides one bathroom––when Grandma Schmitt moved in, many of Grandpa Schmitt’s treasures came with her. One of those treasures was a well-used, 1874 Whitney Phoenix, single-shot rifle. Because Cowboys and Indians was a popular genre on TV and in the movies, and something we kids frequently mimicked, my brothers and I often shouldered the old rifle, pretending we were back in the Old West, taking down ferocious critters and notorious outlaws.
Now, ask anyone who hunts, target shoots, or uses a gun professionally and they’ll surely tell you that dry-firing any pistol or rifle can damage it. My father told my brothers and me that very thing––numerous times. Did we listen? Well, those who remember their childhood responses to much of their parents’ sage advice already knows the answer. As a result, the Whitney Phoenix’s hammer, firing pin, the walnut stock, and the butt plate suffered irreparable damage. After all, as kids the word antique meant little more than something old and cool to play with. And it’s not like you can just bop on down to the local sporting goods store and by replacement parts for a gun built in the late 1800s. Were he around to witness our carelessness, I’m certain Grandpa Schmitt would have doled out the reprimands. Then again, were he around at the time, we wouldn’t have had the rifle to abuse.
Grandpa Miller was taken to the hospital following a car accident in the early 1950s. The incident left him with limited mobility. Because Grandma Miller had passed in 1945, the wreck also robbed Grandpa of his independence. When he sold his residence and relocated to an “old folks’ home,” some of his treasures found their way to our house as well.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, Grandpa Miller was a sportsman, but he was also a machinist and a craftsman. When he moved, his fishing gear, his machinist’s chest, and many of his tools found a new home in our basement.
Each summer afterward, Dad became a fisherman. He, my brothers, and I used the antiquated gear and ultimately purchased more-modern rods, reels, and lures to better pursue our latest fair-weather hobby.
Because mechanics and working with my hands came naturally to me, using Grandpa Miller’s hand tools was a regular occurrence. I became as familiar with the contents in the drawers of his machinist’s chest as I was with the contents of the drawers in my dresser. After a while, I also became as handy with the tools as he was. At least, I liked to think so. Although he lived to be ninety-nine, due to his limited mobility, Grandpa Miller seldom witnessed the projects I completed with the help of his equipment, but he was always glad to know his tools were still being put to good use.
Fast forward to the new millennium, to 2016. My grandparents, parents, and siblings have all passed away. As a result, many of the family treasures I remember so well have been handed down to me. Two of those treasures are Grandpa Schmitt’s Whitney Phoenix rifle and Grandpa Miller’s machinist’s chest. I’d taken possession of the rifle years before my father’s passing. As an adult who appreciated the antique weapon for more than just an heirloom, its state of disrepair bugged me. Knowing that I was the primary cause of the disrepair, perhaps some of my irritation was due to unresolved guilt. Regardless, eventually the damaged weapon bugged me enough to do something about it.
For weeks I plotted in my mind how I was going to make things right. I needed hardwood for the stock, a hefty piece of blank steel for the hammer, and steel plating for the butt plate. A downed oak tree and a chainsaw served to supply the seasoned wood. Rummaging through a bin of scrap metal rewarded me with the remaining materials. A visit to the internet provided ample photographs of the same model rifle in a more pristine state. I was ready.
Roughing out and shaping the stock came first. Once that was accomplished, I had to machine slots in the wood where the stock fitted up the receiver. Grandpa Miller’s machinist’s chest provided the end mill to cut the slot. A visit to the tool store provided the mill vise to clamp and position the wood in order to successfully complete the task.
After carefully working the end mill through the wood and then pausing to measure the depth and width of the slot, it dawned on me: I was repairing my grandfather’s rifle with my other grandfather’s tools. A reverent feeling coursed through me as if the hands of both grandpas were touching my shoulders and smiling with pride. With a tear seeking its release, I looked to the heavens and smiled back.
For the next two days, I worked on the rifle, finishing the stock, and then cutting, shaping, and polishing the blank pieces of steel to form a new hammer and a new butt plate. Because the rifle was supposed to have a peep sight but never had one since I first saw it, I made one of them, too. With all the components fitted and functional, I stained the stock and re-blued the metal. As each step was completed, my grandfathers’ presence and approval seemed to accompany the process. Upon assembling and admiring the revitalized weapon, I was rewarded once more with the sense of my grandpas’ pride and the visualization of their smiles.