Ted Kalvitis - Far Muse

The name Remington conjurs up 19th Century scenes from the western United States. These come to mind whenever I handle a Remington rifle or shotgun.

These images probably have more to do with cowboy/painter Frederick Remington than the firearms manufacturer. Hence the romance, however irrational it may be, that I feel surrounds antique Remington firearms. (It would appear that the Winchester Repeating Arms logo is a detail from a Remington painting.)

I’m intrigued by the sight of the rows of antique flintlock and percussion rifles along the east wall of C.S. Arms in Upperville, Va. The low afternoon sun pours through the plate glass windows of the 1830 store building subtly illuminating the centuries-old wood and iron.

These guns look so natural in this setting — as if they had grown there from seed or rootstock.

There are also varying degrees of this natural look to be found in the shop’s “bargain basement.” It’s these fixer-uppers that I particularly enjoy, largely because they lead me into adventures where I see new places and meet new people.

I was directed to a tall Remington rolling-block rifle in the 2-figure price category. The gun’s metal showed a pleasant patina of age without becoming a “brown gun.”

The wood resembled a sun-bleached oak railroad tie in a coal yard. The butt plate was rusted through, presumably due to the corrosive properties of sweat.

Shop owner Cliff Sofia explained that quite a number of these rifles, made in 1902 in 7mm Mauser caliber, were sold to the Mexican Army around then. My mind started humming Willie Nelson’s “Seven Spanish Angels,” then switched to “Poncho and Lefty.”

(I would later check my copy of “Uniforms of the World — 1700-1937” to find the Mexican figure for 1900 holding one of these rifles. This rifle was also made in 30-30 Winchester, 30-40 Krag, 303 British, 32-40, 32 Special, 8mm LaBelle, 7.62/54R (Russian 38-55).

Still not satisfied with this selection, a local fellow had his rolling block re-barreled to a .444. I cocked back the hammer. There was a slight resistance and a muffled click from the trigger sear.

With a thumb securely holding the hammer back, I pulled the trigger. Nothing. That the rifle’s main spring was missing was verified by the open screw hole behind the trigger guard.

I also noticed that the front sight was missing - a picked-over parts gun.

I hemmed and hawed.

“It sure would make a good story for the Single Shot Exchange”* suggested C.S. Arms shareholder Bret Lawler, apparently sensing another free national plug.

— Sold.

Indeed, the mainspring had been pilfered. So simple and sensible is the construction of the 1902 Remington that a mainspring was easy to visualize.

Thus I was able to pick it out of an exploded diagram at Solenburger Hardware’s gun shop. Yes, Solenburger’s, the historic local hardware store founded in 1888, now has a gun shop and a gunsmith, Jim Cunningham.

“Of course you know that you can purchase this part cheaper online.” Jim suggested.

Well, no, it really hadn’t occurred to me. I’m a devout brick-and-mortar store patron. I value life experience over convenience and prefer to support the regional economy.

Anyway, it’s worth Solenburger’s modest markup to be able to chat and cut up with Jim and manager Seth McManagle and to examine Jim’s antique works-in-progress.

About a week later, the Remington’s new mainspring arrived at the store.

On my workbench, the gun went together like ABC blocks. The threads in the hole that receives the bolt that holds the mainspring turned out to be a common size.

However, after running a tap through to clean out the rust, the threads appeared to be too loose to be anchoring so much force.

Using a round-headed machine screw, I inverted the original arrangement by running the screw up through the trigger guard and putting a nut and lock washer in place to hold the spring. There, that’s not going anywhere.

The nut and lock washer are out of sight inside the gun. As for the machine screw, it’s made less visible through “antiquing”. The screw is first heated red hot to remove the zinc plating, allowed to cool for a few seconds to avoid over-hardening, and then tossed into a can of nasty drain oil.

Replacing the pilfered front sight wouldn’t prove to be as simple. A quick glance at the mounting block for the front sight told me to order a dovetail-mounted sight.

Wrong.

The sight arrived and I was determined to bring the Remington and the new sight to the little antique truck-and-tractor shop at Hanging Rock, assemble them there and then try out the gun at our informal range at the foot of the hill.

It soon became apparent that the sight was not going to fit. Still, with the sunlight pouring through the window onto the old oak boards of my workbench, a 65-year-old Chevrolet truck behind me and a file and vise close by (maybe too close), I proceeded to make the incorrect sight un-returnable.

It soon became obvious that this modification just wasn’t going to work.

And that’s where we are now; orders go out and a variety of incorrect sights arrive. So, I’m asking the shooting public’s help in obtaining the correct front sight

Otherwise, I’ll probably grind the sight mounting block down to a shotgun bead and fabricate a rear sight to match. There’s no hurry, though, since lately I’ve only been shooting blanks.

A gun that looks this “rustique” should, methinks, also smoke in order to complete the image. (If the foregoing causes the reader to think me eccentric, remember that the Master Oddball, Mark Twain, was alive when this gun was made.)

Idle moments at the Romney shop found me pulling the bullets out of several shells, then filling the primed 7mm Mauser casings with old-fashioned black muzzleloader powder. These blanks are then capped with a makeshift wad.

This arrangement proves useful for entertaining gun-savvy guests and chasing cats and deer away from the beans n’ taters and homegrown t’maters. Well, if there isn’t romance, I guess there’s poetry.

* The Single Shot Exchange is a monthly journal and emporium devoted to antique and classic firearms at P.O. Box 391, Lamar, Mo., 64759; phone 803-628-5326; email singleshotex@earthlink.net o  

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