I SUPPOSE THERE are times in a collector's life when he should consider cleaning out the accumulated “stuff” he has scrounged over the years. Maybe even more than once. The true and dedicated collector, no matter how narrowly focused he is, always acquires gear that really doesn't fit his tidy plan to own an example of every variation of, say, the Trapdoor Springfield or the Broomhandle Mauser.
There is the unfocused collector — better termed a gatherer — who just buys neat stuff because it tickles his fancy at the moment. It's tough to keep on the straight and narrow when there are fantastic deals to be had.
- However, when first smitten by the gun bug, and until one realizes he really wants to be a collector, our subspecies gathers a variety of pieces just because we like them. We are, at first, the unfocused collector. There is nothing wrong with this. Until you know just what it is you want to pursue, you should try to examine as many types and makes of guns as possible. Automatic pistols, for instance, is a pretty broad field. It's wise to narrow it down and we all try to do that but somehow get sidetracked.
So, there really are times when a housecleaning is in order, sometimes under duress, sometimes just to begin again in another direction. Equally there are those guns we simply can't part with because they have great sentimental value. That's what I'm confessing here.
I have five guns I will never sell. I may someday decide to present them to a loved one, but never will I simply trade them for cash or other guns. I'm a sentimental kind of guy who has gotten a lot of enjoyment from these guns, the kind of memories that can't be replaced. So I'm keeping them, and I'm also going to tell you about them.
I don't know how many folks can claim to still have their very first real firearm, but I can. There's nothing real special about it except it is the first one I ever owned and that's good enough reason to be proud of it.
- In my growing up years we had a neighbor, a very quiet and gentle man who made Kentuckys and Pennsylvania long rifles and was immensely proud of what he crafted. Sometimes he'd let my brother and me see a just-finished gun. We thought that was pretty neat, but what really got us bunched up were the World War II Mausers and a 1903 Springfield he had squirreled away in a corner.
We also spent a lot of time with a monthly wish book, The American Rifleman, the neighbor passed on to us. Just about that time, the war surplus ads began running in profusion and they drove me nuts. Here was a genuine “U.S. Army Model 1917 – Cal. 30-06” rifle that had just arrived at Ye Old Hunter's place “Virtually unfired. Fresh from Government Cases.” Holy Cow! But they cost $27.95 and that was more than I could muster. However, down the page a little farther was something more my speed, the “Pancho Villa Specials,” 7mm Remington rolling blocks, and the advertising hype was enough to get my blood boiling.
“Yes, here it is, the original ‘gun crank condition' [whatever that was!] 7mm Remington. You can almost see the finger prints which the former fanatical owners pressed into the wood as they realized the jig was up. All guns practically complete. Pre-oiled and ready to clean up.”
I was hooked. Especially since they were affordable — even for me —at the same price of hamburger then — 92 cents per pound. That came to $8.28.
Well, I sold a lot of newspaper subscriptions that summer and did every thing I could to earn a couple of cents toward that rifle. I had to have it. Somehow I did manage to scrape together enough to order it, and waiting for the Railway Express truck to drop it at the door was sheer torture. When it did arrive I was in ecstasy – my very own real gun with an intriguing history. Why, Pancho Villa himself probably held this very gun while riding through the desert with Black Jack Pershing hot on his tail.
I spent hours cleaning that gun and must have gone through 100 yards of emery cloth to get the rust and pitting to disappear. The ad copy writers didn't lie – it was “ready to clean up.” And I hadn't even noticed that line about the guns being “practically complete.” Fortunately, my own artifact seemed to have every part it was made with still firmly attached. The wood was nearly black from dirt and oil, but somehow I managed to get it light brown again, and filled in the worm holes and deeper gouges with Plastic Wood. A can of walnut wood stain served to even the color out, and what better thing to top it all off with than spar varnish! After all, those fancy new rifles were all shiny, so why not my newly restored prize?
Along the way I shot the old Remington quite a lot with penny-a-round, cracked-neck UMC ammo of uncertain vintage. I didn't know any better and most of it went “Bang!” with authority. Those that didn't gave interesting pauses between the time the hammer fell and the gun went off. I spent many an hour cleaning and oiling the neat old gun, and rode many a trail with Pancho and his gang. This rifle is an old friend.
- A year or two down the road, my thoughts turned to a 22, but not just any one would do, because now I was reading Boys Life magazine and in there spotted the Marlin Golden 39A lever-action rifle with a tube magazine. I was cutting grass for the neighborhood and earning a pretty good buck, so I figured I'd go for the Cadillac of 22s. I talked my Dad into buying it for me with my money – about $60 – and, since the catalog house selling it was in Chicago, he brought it home on the train one evening.
I shot my first game with that rifle on that same farm later that year. Now proficient with the gun, I was allowed to take it out to scout the sand dunes for Indians. I saw no Native Americans that afternoon, and the settlement seemed secure for a while longer. I did see a large mole running from hole to hole in the sandy soil. I waited for him to sit still long enough, and he did, and I touched one off and nailed him.
The Marlin was missing something and that was a scope, so I tried selling greeting cards because the Marlin-brand scope was a premium you could earn. It was amazing how many neighbors had just come from the drugstore where they'd bought cards just like those I was selling. And my parents and relatives didn't need any because there weren't any birthdays or holidays coming up soon.
In the end, my mother took pity on me after a few sale-less weeks and bought all the cards, bless her heart, and I was able to get my scope. And that near-50-year-old Marlin won't be leaving this gun room. Check back soon for Part 2 of this article.
Author's first gun is this Remington rolling block in 7mm Mauser, bought mail order from Ye Old Hunter for under $10. After a lot of elbow grease and emery cloth the ol' gun shined up well and shot pretty good.
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Marlin's Golden 39A was a lot of gun for about $60, even 40 years ago. Thousands of rounds have been fired through this one and the action is butter smooth.
This article appeared in the Gun Digest 2000 annual book — Search this issue and all 65 years online at Gun Digest Research!