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Muzzle Blasts Online
Muzzle Blasts Online Cover
Dec 1998/Jan 1999 Volume 3, Number 6

Hosting an Entry level Gunmakers Fair

How does a dream get started and how do we allow it to become reality? For the past several years many discussions have been held here in the Great Northwest about getting people started building muzzleloaders. This portion of the country, like many other areas, boasts several top-quality gunmakers who have been creating these works of art for many years. The issue at hand, however, was how to get more people interested in carrying on this tradition.

Ron Scott, in central Oregon, with help of many of his good friends and fellow craftsmen, hosts a gunmakers fair every spring that has grown from just a handful to well over thirty people in attendance. Even at that wonderful event discussions were still heard about how to get more people interested and involved. How could that kind of success be duplicated?

The presenters from left to right: Ron Scott, Dave Rase, Bill Sick, Dave Dolliver, Mike Keller, Don Reimer, and Chip Kormas. Mike is holding the Hawken rifle Hershel House built for the Pioneer Video. This rifle is owned by Dave Rase.

After we had talked for several years, 1997 became the year for something to happen. Several of our local gunmakers were contacted and strategies were discussed. A nucleus was soon formed, made up of Mike Keller, Bill Sick, and Chip Kormas. Although I have yet to build my first gun, I have attended Ron's fair several times and been scared twice off projects I had hoped to build. I felt that qualified me to organize an event designed for folks like me; entry-level gunmakers who have a strong desire to create their own firearm.

This core group met several times and discussed locations, tried to find a time of the year that would not conflict with other activities, and developed an agenda. The place turned out to be Bill's barn, and the time was the first weekend of November. This weekend fell midway between Washington's early and late deer and elk seasons, and as it turned out, it offered some of the best weather of the year. We had clear skies that made it great to sit around the wood stove at night and allowed us to open the barn doors each day to let in fresh air and warm breezes.

Our concept and agenda were simple: what questions does the first time gunmaker ask? We would try to answer these questions over two days of discussion and lectures. As our format developed, specific topics were identified. We would break our discussions into two days with the lots of time for attendees to handle different examples of firearms and ask questions. We also decided that this should not be a one-time event; we decided to host this event annually for at least three years.

Local gunmakers were asked to provide information and present lectures on different topics. Dave Rase from Bremerton, Washington and Dave Dolliver of Shelton, Washington volunteered, along with Ron Scott and Don Reimer of Albany, Oregon and our original core group. This provided the attendees over fifty years of experience building firearms.

Plans were finalized and the word was spread. How could we advertise this event? We distributed flyers at local clubs and rendezvous; however, as expected, word of mouth proved to be the most effective. As we all know, enthusiasm is catching, and enthusiasm was certainly growing for this event.

In order to keep people together the core group decided to offer camping space and food for everyone. The barn offered plenty of room for those who cared to bring a sleeping bag and a cot; Jim Kelly offered his RV to visitors from out of town, and areas were established for anyone who wanted to set up a tent. Menus were made and shopping lists written.

Mike Keller presenting information about the "Golden Rule" of firearms architecture.
(Ed. Note: Those interested in having the "Golden Mean" explained may wish to read the "Stump the Experts" column in the September, 1998 issue of Muzzle Blasts.

We also would need support from the gunmaking industry. Letters asking for catalogs and donations for door prizes were sent to many of the excellent suppliers. The response was truly astonishing. Discount coupons, catalogs, and other items arrived almost daily in the weeks before the event. I could not write enough about how grateful we are for this support.

As the weekend grew closer calls came in to reserve spaces and ask questions. Materials were gathered and attendee packages were assembled containing catalogs, discount coupons, and supplemental materials for the presentations. Bill's barn was cleaned out, tables and chairs were borrowed from the Paul Bunyan Sportsmen's Club, lights were hung, and display racks were built. We were ready to see if our dream would become reality.

On the first day, Saturday morning, people started arriving. All of the presenters showed up with many of their past projects and materials for display. Over 65 guns were available for the attendees to examine and handle. Ron Scott even showed up with several original, early-1700's Jaegers. Coffee and muffins were served and things started happening.

We started off by introducing each other and discussing how to develop a vision for a project. Then Mike Keller shared his learning about the history of the English firearms industry and its influence in America. He covered both military and sporting firearms as well as the trade market to the colonies and Europe. Ron Scott discussed the German influence and passed his originals around the room for all to handle. Those in the East may have the opportunity to handle firearms this old more frequently than we do on the west coast; but what a thrill to handle a gun over 250 years old!

Dave Dolliver discussing the "Golden Rule" of architecture by describing tools similar to calipers found in old gunshops to establish the 3-5 rule.

After a lunch of hamburgers grilled by Bill and Dave Dolliver, Don Reimer and Dave Rase discussed suppliers and what's currently available. With the growing interest in custom firearms the availability of quality parts has grown by leaps and bounds. The new gunmaker can often become confused and lost in piles of catalogs and brochures. Ron and Dave certainly helped everyone to make heads and tails out of who is making what. Bill Sick and Mike Keller ended the first day's discussions by showing the tools each feels is necessary to have when getting started. Bill even showed everyone the kitchen table he started on and told us how he had to clean his work area up every night so his family could eat the next day. We all sat down to a fried chicken dinner and gathered in small groups until well after midnight.

Sunday morning brought hot coffee and pancakes cooked by Bill and his wife Helen. With more hot coffee the day progressed with discussions by Dave Dolliver and Mike Keller on sequencing of steps when working from a blank and finishing techniques that can be used. Mike is a student of building a gun with a planned patina, and Dave believes a gun should earn its wear. Both are correct, and the discussion was very enlightening. Our fair and the weekend ended with everyone helping clean up and getting their guns and gear loaded into their trucks.

Upon looking back at the event one has to wonder if we did fulfill the original dream: getting some new people interested in building guns. If getting seventeen people together for a weekend; if having six presenters displaying their past and present work; if having over 65 guns on display; if getting donations, brochures, or catalogs from fifteen or more manufacturers and suppliers; if groups gathering to discuss gunmaking; and if attendees' promises to show up next year with their own guns is the reality of the dream, then we made it.

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