Ted Kalvitis - Far Muse

“Wascally won-eared wabbit,” I muttered to myself in my best Elmer Fudd (Mel Blanc).

I was walking to my truck carrying a newly purchased “rabbit ear” 12-gauge shotgun along the sunny, tree-lined main street of — oops. I almost let the cat out of the bag. The unnamed Virginia antique gun dealer asked that I not disclose his identity as the purveyor of my newly acquired discounted prize.

I guess that he feared that having handled such an ugly gun could tarnish his upscale image. With a high-school-locker-room gray receiver, a rusty barrel, a grotesquely oversize homemade forearm complemented by a heavily taped stock, ugly indeed.

At least the tape is of the old-fashioned cloth electrical type rather than modern plastic. Examples of classy gun repair that I’ve owned include a stock repair made of tightly wound silver wire.

Another fix consisted of old-time copper roofing material and tiny tacks. Sometimes, an ancient, well-contrived repair can be part of the beauty of an antique firearm.

This isn’t one of those times.

I remember another turn-of-the-last-century 12-gauge shotgun that I acquired. It was taped very generously. I started to cut away the tape to find more tape and even strips of asphalt shingles under it. When I finally got down to wood, there were no cracks to be found anywhere on the stock or forearm.

The reason for this unusual customizing still remains a mystery, though it does cause me to consider the possibility that the tape on this “new” gun may serve a purpose other than crack repair.

Perhaps someone needed more to hang onto while his right thumb competed with the strong spring of the large side-lock hammer.

Yes, hammer — as in only one. Unlike every breech-loading break-action rabbit-ear shotgun, this 12-gauge is a single.

I’m leaving the tape alone for now.

Antique Power photographer, Karley Mothershead is coming by soon to shoot a tech article. Maybe I can convince her to apply her art to old guns as well as antique tractors and trucks. I don’t want to spoil the “before” shot.

The Old Hippie (aka wife Stephanie) presented me with some metal polish and suggested that I polish the gun’s less photogenic side, the side without the hammer.

The dull gray paint turned out to be tarnished nickel plating which came alive with an antique gloss. The polishing also helped to expose the old gun’s manufacturer’s markings, ”Forehand and Wadsworth,” and the patent date, August 16 1881.

This date hints at the possibility that the barrel is designed for old-fashioned black powder and its reduced barrel pressures. However, the usual twist pattern of a “Damascus” barrel is absent as are such words as “laminated” stamped into the barrel or breech.

The barrel does sport the phrase “Fine Decarbonized Steel.” I guess that means that the steel is heated until the carbon ignites; then what? Is it quenched in a manner to attain a specific hardness or allowed to cool slowly and anneal?

Apart from the common misconception, annealing has less to do with hardening metal than softening it to a degree, making it more pliable and resilient, or to make hard metal workable prior to re-hardening. Thirty-one years after this gun’s manufacture, the benefits of decarbonizing steel would be demonstrated most dramatically.

Some metallurgists believe that the HMS Titanic’s hull could have benefited from the procedure and would have simply dented rather than shattering. It’s also been my experience that the further east we go, the more carbon is in the steel produced.

We reach the extreme in Japan; notice how quickly such things as adjustable 3-point hitch stabilizers seize up on Japanese tractors. This is apparently due to excess carbon content. You just can’t beat Yankee steel.

Minimal pitting inside the barrel might recall corrosive primers, but is not enough to suggest a black-powder history. All of this emboldened me to put 3 12-gauge skeet loads through the old rabbit-ear single.

I found the gun to be a rather comfortable shooter, but I’ll look it over for telltale proof marks before putting anymore high-pressure smokeless rounds through it.

I’m not a gun collector, nor much of a hunter now that our venison-loving children are scattered hither and yon. Somehow, the deer in our meadow have caught on to this trend.

The bucks and even some of the bossier does stomp their front hooves at me when I get too close. One young buck pranced away like a high-stepping Royal English parade horse — quite proud of himself — I might guess.

My gun collection, for want of a better term, is a constantly changing inventory. Still, I try to maintain a core of old and interesting firearms.

I’ve even given away several guns that were too “moderne” and uninteresting (Uninteresting to me, that is. The young lads on the receiving end didn’t seem to mind.)

The position of the resident 12-gauge was formerly held by a nice Remington 870 Wingmaster, 1960s vintage. (I sold it to Just Pawn It in Capon Bridge — check it out; it’s a beaut.) But every gun owner has an 870.

By allowing this rare and unusual Forehand and Wadsworth to take the Remington’s place, I get to realize some profit that I can plow back into my antique gun habit while still maintaining 12-gauge capability, for what it’s worth, that is. Our meadow often hosts a flock of wild turkeys but, of late, I’ve been finding them more interesting alive than in the freezer.

I checked my 35th edition of The Gun Trader’s Guide for any information on Forehand and Wadsworth. An earlier edition probably would have been more forthcoming, but the book did make mention of Forehand and Wadsworth in a footnote.

The footnote directs the reader to Harrington and Richardson: “One of the oldest and most distinguished manufacturers of quality rifles, shotguns and handguns.” Very commendable qualities in most instances, but to one seeking the quirky and unusual it spells b-o-r-i-n-g. Just another H&R? I’ll try my best to ignore that as I endeavor to help this old 12-gauge single-barrel rabbit-ear regain its lost curb appeal.

Perhaps after some cleanup and refurbishing of the old Forehand and Wadsworth, Elmer Fudd himself would lay down his iconic double-barrel in favor of this “wascally won-eared wabbit.” 

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