Posts Tagged ‘Larry Hannusch’
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
A number of our blog readers suggested this report in various different ways. GunFun1 asked about the darts that might have been used in the old Tyrolean bugelspanner I wrote about. What did they look like, and why were they so accurate? He also talked about making a bugelspanner room in his house, where he could shoot the bugelspanner to his heart’s content.
Several others asked about the darts and wondered why I thought darts were more accurate than pellets. Today’s report is not about the darts, although I must share some exciting news with you on that front. Larry Hannusch, who is without a doubt the leading writer of vintage and antique airguns, read about my bugelspanner and is sending me some original pre-war darts that I can show you. So, there will be a Part 2 to that report, thanks to Larry, who also helped me remember how to disassemble a bugelspanner. I hope to take it apart for you and show you the insides in the same report.
But let’s go back to the notion of a bugelspanner room. That put me in mind of my past experience with guns — indeed, all of it. And that brings me to the story of how I became who I am.
Where it all started
I started out very young, as I’m sure you must have guessed. I was a very curious lad who was also quite naive — more prone to believe legend and myth than facts. I wanted Paladin to be faster on the draw than anyone else. I wanted Superman to be real (I mean the real Superman, George Reeves, who was killed June 16, 1959, by a 9mm bullet in the head under suspicious circumstances). And I sort of liked guns — sort of.
Then, I was given a subscription to Guns & Ammo magazine as a Christmas present. On the cover of the first issue was the picture of a zimmerstutzen rifle. Inside, I read the story of shooting these curious parlor rifles on cold winter evenings high in the alps. I guess that shooting was very similar to the circumstances under which our parents walked to school — uphill both ways for 10 miles and always in the snow! For some reason, when you talk about target shooting in Germany it’s always associated with beer and it’s perpetually winter.
Whatever the magic was, I was smitten. I wanted a zimmerstutzen in the very worst way! Maybe that’s why I considered a career in the Army and embraced my first overseas posting to Erlangen, Germany, a suburb of Nürnberg. I knew I was going to northern Bavaria, so I pictured all the men wearing lederhosen and the women in dirndls. In my mind, Chevy Chase’s European Vacation was about right.
Well, culture shock set in when I saw what Germany was really like. I felt like a refugee from Afganistan when walking amongst those upscale, sophisticated Deutchlanders, whose spoken English was better than mine! I spent nearly 4 years there and never saw a vintage zimmerstutzen, though I saw plenty of modern ones made on .22 rimfire bolt-action rifles. I lived in the hometown of the famous BSF airgun factory for 42 months without knowing it; and when I returned home, I was no further along in my quest than before I went.
But once back in California, I did buy a German Aydt falling-block rifle chambered in .22 long rifle. It was a Tyrolean-style rifle. too, just not in the traditional 4mm zimmerstutzen caliber. So, I set up a Sheridan target trap (Sheridan once made a .22 rimfire trap) in a schrank (a freestanding cabinet that serves as a closet in Germany) in the living room of my government quarters at Fort Knox. Then, I stood in my dining room and fired CB caps into the target from about 19 feet away. This was all offhand, of course.
The very target trap and schrank at which I shot back in the 1970s. I kept the schrank and the trap but sold the rifle. Where are my priorities? Zimmerstutzen target came from collector Gary Staup.
The 4mm zimmerstutzen cartridge (left) is dwarfed by the .22 long rifle cartridge.
The rifle had a 5-lever double-set trigger, which was especially fine. And its 28-inch barrel ate nearly all the discharge sound of the CB cap cartridges I shot, so it was quiet enough for indoors. I’m describing to you my “bugelspanner room.” I didn’t shoot when the family was home, for safety reasons; and, in truth, I didn’t shoot this way very much. But in my mind, I’d finally gotten my zimmerstutzen. All I needed was a keg of beer in the dining room!
In those days, I didn’t take very many pictures, so there’s no picture of that gun. But it looked very much like my new Bugelspanner, so I’m sure you can fill in the blanks.
Then I got divorced, left the Army and had to sell all my guns to pay bills. Then I met Edith and got married again. Then she suggested I write about airguns and I did. Then I happened to stumble across an airgun owner who was puzzled as to what gun he had. It turned out he had a real zimmerstutzen — which I bought, tested and wrote about. While researching the topic, I met John Gary Staup, America’s foremost schuetzen and zimmerstutzen collector, and he helped me research the article that I eventually published in Airgun Revue No. 2. It was the longest article about zimmerstutzen rifles ever printed in the English language, as far as Gary or I were able to determine. And that article is posted for you on this website in its entirety.
My first zimmerstutzen, and the one that I wrote about the most. It was 4.3mm caliber and used separate ammunition.
Of course I tested the zimmerstutzen for accuracy. After searching for one for so many years, I’d high hopes for stunning accuracy. Zimmerstutzens shoot at 15 meters instead of the 10 meters we’re used to; but when I tried mine, it was on my standard 10-meter range. The accuracy wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. First, of course, those round lead balls tear ragged holes in the target paper, unlike the wadcutters that target air rifles use. The targets look worse and are much harder to score. Five shots went into about a half-inch or so.
The gun was very loud, and the velocity of the 7-grain lead balls was highly variable — from 800 to over 1,000 f.p.s. It wasn’t as pleasant as the myth I’d created in my mind over the years, which was a real let-down. Vintage target air rifles were more accurate than this thing I had been pursuing for over 3 decades. It kind of took the wind out of my sails. I did have a second zimmer for a short while; but I bought it as an investment, only, and I never fired it.
When I saw the Tyrolean bugelspanner of airgun collector Don Raitzer on display at an airgun show, my interest piqued, again. Bugelspanners are not known for their accuracy, so why was this one outfitted for extreme competition? I also saw Larry Hannusch’s Tyrolean bugelspanner at the same show and got to wondering. What were these strange things all about? Who uses a paddleboat to go water-skiing? Photos of both those guns are in the linked zimmerstutzen article, if you’re interested.
When I say things like my interest piqued, I don’t mean that the subject occupied my every waking moment. More like every couple of months I would give it a casual thought. So, things moved very slowly while these thoughts percolated on the back burner of my mind. A few weeks ago, when the opportunity to own a Tyrolean bugelspanner arose, I was spring-loaded for it.
Which brings us to the present time. I now know that zimmerstutzens were accurate for their time, but they weren’t better than the 10-meter target air rifles we have today. They weren’t infallible. And it’s my guess that the dart guns of the 18th and 19th centuries were also not as accurate as the reports make them out to be.
So, I’m still wondering why anyone would go to the effort and expense of making a dart gun with all the features of a super-accurate offhand competition gun. And I guess that’s what keeps this hobby fresh and exciting for me.
Why did the makers put so much accuracy potential into a smoothbore dart gun?
This is just one of the things that defines me. My time working as a ride operator and deputy marshall at Frontier Village amusement park in San Jose, California, is another part. That was when I read Elmer Keith from cover to cover and shot guns for a living as part of the hourly gunfights in the park. But what made me a lover of quirky single-shot rifles was my 30-year saga in search of the German zimmerstutzen.
by B.B. Pelletier
David Lurch Primary New York City gallery gun.
You readers have been very patient waiting for the next installment on this report! For that, I thank you. This project is taking a long time because it isn’t on the front burner (it probably isn’t even on the stove!) and because this is the kind of project in which you must “make haste slowly.”
Last time, I described the gun (it’s a smoothbore, so it’s not a rifle) and told you some of the general, as well as some specific, history of this particular example. Today, I want to honor Mr. Duskwight, our Muscovite blog reader who’s actively building a recoilless spring-piston rifle of his own design! Duskwight became fascinated with the performance of the Whiscombe air rifle and decided he could build one. Many of us have said similar things, but in this case the conviction remained even after he sobered up; and he’s spent many long months and a LOT of money making his dream come true.
By watching what happened to him, we’ve learned just how difficult and risky it is to build something from scratch. You don’t just tackle the technical job with all its intricacies and challenges. You also take on the entire socio-economic profile of your society, enduring substandard work, business failures, technical incompetence and on and on.
What I’ll show you today has one additional complexity added to the story. The builders didn’t have access to modern machine tools! Most of what you are going to see was made with files and hand labor. The metal hardening was done using a forge and eyeball, carefully judging the state of the metal by its color. If anything had to be timed, they did it with a pocketwatch instead of a digital timer linked to a time standard.
And the design came from someone’s head! There probably were no drawings in the “factory,” which was really just a quiet workshop. If they required anything to go by, there were possibly pattern parts that journeymen makers copied. While it’s true that what you are going to see is very simplistic, don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s simple to do! Each part has to fit, and each part has a specific job to do if the whole item is to work as intended.
Enough talk, let’s see what this baby looks like. The first thing I will show is the new crank that Dennis Quackenbush made for the rifle.
Like the gun itself, this crank looks deceptively simple. It’s just a gear and a handle to turn it. Yes, but that gear isn’t as simple as it appears. Dennis has made cranks like this before, so he thought this one would be straightforward. He asked me for the width of the hole the gear fits into, as well as the width of a second hole on the inside of the gun that serves as a bearing for the crank once it’s inserted. I gave him those two dimensions, and within a month he sent me a pinion gear with instructions to try to fit it to the rack gear inside the gun.
I did, and it was a no-go. Dennis thought it would simply be a case of cutting a new gear that had more teeth; in his experience, these gears had one of only two different numbers of teeth on the pinion gear. Unfortunately, that wasn’t it, either! We were stumped. He had to see the gun.
We met at this year’s LASSO shoot, and he got the chance to examine the gun. When he did, he discovered that the rack gear in my gun is different from any other he’s seen. Apparently, David Lurch, who made the gun, had a better idea. He filed the rack gear teeth on a bias; as the crank is turned, the handle is also pulled tight against the mechanism because of the angle of the meshing teeth. A straight-cut gear cannot mesh with teeth cut on a bias, even when the number of teeth are the same because they aren’t set at the correct angle.
This time, Dennis took the gun home with him so he could cut the new pinion gear to the corresponding angle. He delivered the new crank assembly at the Malvern airgun show, and as you can see, it fits perfectly. He intentionally did not harden the new pinion gear because he wanted it to be the sacrificial part on the gun. The gun’s rack gear is hardened. If anything fails in operation, it’ll be this gear, which can always be remade. But he didn’t stop there.
The crank Dennis made fits the gallery gun very well. It’s still shiny, but I will take care of that with a browned finish later.
The crank turns the pinion gear, which engages the rack gear attached to the piston, withdrawing it as the springs are compressed.
Dennis contacted collector Larry Hannusch, who was kind enough to disassemble one of his Primary New York City gallery dart guns and remove the double volute spring mechanism so Dennis could have a look at it. Larry had seen my gallery gun at the Malvern airgun show the year before and was quite taken by it — as most collectors are. It’s not that this is an especially beautiful example, or that it’s extremely rare. It’s just that each one of these guns was made by hand, so every one is a collection unto itself. Just as Duskwight will be forever proud of all the effort he puts into his new rifle, so we can appreciate all the labor and skill that went into making one of these dart guns in the 1860s.
Larry brought the spring mechanism from his gallery gun and Dennis took measurements. He plans on making a new double-volute mainspring assembly for my gun. This will be the first time he’s made one of these springs; and to my knowledge, it hasn’t been done in recent times. It’s very possible that someone has made one and just not written about it, of course; but as far as I know, this will be the first time a double-volute mainspring has been made and documented in modern times. The documentation is important. How are we going to know about these old dart guns if we can’t test them? And nobody seems to be writing about them, so I guess I’m going to be the first one.
Last year at Malvern, Larry Hannusch showed me how to disassemble my gun. It proved about as easy as disassembling a Garand, but I had shied away from trying because of the age of the airgun. I really thought the gun would be fragile. But after seeing how things go together and how robust the parts are, I have confidence that I can work on this gun just as easily as I would a modern spring rifle.
A gallery gun works just like any other spring-piston airgun. The piston is driven forward by springs, rapidly compressing air in front of it that pushes the dart out the barrel. The big difference in this Lurch gallery gun is that the piston is very large (over 1.5-inches in diameter), and the piston stroke is quite long (about three inches). Those volute springs I thought were so fragile are probably far more robust than coiled steel wire springs. Seeing them up close and examining their potential travel gave me a new appreciation for the ingenuity of these old gun makers.
This is a gallery gun piston with its two volute springs and a spring guide that you cannot see. Notice that this piston seal doesn’t look like mine, which you’ll soon see. Mine is a replacement that needs to be trimmed.
The rear spring has been removed, and you can now see the spring guide that sits between both springs. Notice the piston rod is the rack gear that the crank works with to cock the gun.
Here you see how a volute spring works. It’s a coiled steel bar that’s pulled into this cone shape before hardening. It’s incredibly strong, plus it has a huge length of travel before becoming fully compressed.
This is the piston assembly with springs and spring guide. The tiny notch seen on the side of the piston rod opposite the rack gear teeth is the sear notch, properly called the “bent” at the point in time this gun was made. That’s what the trigger holds onto!
Are you enjoying this so far? Well, there’s more to come. Now, I’ll disassemble my gallery gun and show you the parts we’ve been talking about.
The compression chamber simply unscrews from the action of the gun. There’s no fastener holding the two assemblies together other than the threads seen here. You can actually see the color-hardening of the piston rod that has the rack gear teeth, but I’ll show it closer.
The rear screw is removed from the triggerguard, which is then unscrewed from the action. The front of the hand-filed brass guard is a screw!
Two screws are removed, and the wooden butt is separated from the action. You can see the rear of the piston rod in this view.
In this view, you can see the entire piston rod. The sear notch is also visible, opposite the rack gear teeth. Each gear tooth was filed by hand. Notice how much excess leather hangs down from the piston head.
The piston rod was hardened to a medium blue, which is pretty hard! The excess leather on the seal really stands out.
Here you can see that the gear teeth were cut on a bias to pull the cocking crank tight into the gun when it’s wound.
The side of the brass triggerguard still shows the marks of the maker’s file that shaped the piece to fit the gun after it was cast.
Well, that’s what the inside of a 150-year-old handmade airgun looks like. Dennis is going to make a pair of volute springs for me, but in the meantime I may try to get the gun operational with a coiled steel spring. It won’t be ideal, but it may provide me with a platform for testing the darts that I’m going to have to make.
The caliber appears to be exactly .25, as a .256 bullet will stop after entering the breech. So, I may be able to find large .25-caliber pellets that fit, and there may even be a .25-caliber dart I can find.
The bore is pretty ugly from the neglect of more than a century, so that will be my next task. I don’t know when I will return to this airgun again, but you can rest assured that it’s in the queue.
I found my silver dime!
In other news, my silver dime has returned! It was hidden under a Post-It note on a desk I’d used temporarily when changing computers several weeks ago. So, you will be seeing silver soon.
by B.B. Pelletier
I wanted to follow up with this second part right away to keep the lesson together and fresh. Yesterday, when I closed, I mentioned some huge pitfall to be avoided, so let’s begin there.
Avoid modified airguns if you want to get your money back! There are a few exceptions that prove the rule, but let’s explore this first. Any modification will sit well with the one who did it or for whom it was done and a percentage of the general public, but the rest of the folks won’t like it. For example, barrels cut short to boost velocity in spring guns. It doesn’t pay to do this and it often ruins accuracy, but the flat truth of it is, it makes the gun no longer standard. Do you want a Beeman R1 with an 11-inch barrel? Most people don’t, and if you buy one you’ll soon find that out.
Avoid guns that have been modified/gunsmithed by their owners. That 2240 with the 14-inch barrel, the custom wood grips and the dot sight might make you all warm and pink inside, but it won’t ever be worth what you have to pay for it. Buy it for yourself if you want, but don’t try to fold it into this buying plan, because it won’t hold its value.
One exception to this that proves the rule is the LD modification of the Crosman Mark I. That’s a safe investment as long as you buy it right. But the same sort of thing converted by Joe Blow isn’t going to carry water. So, in general, modified airguns are money pits.
Guns in poor condition
I see it all the time. Some dealer unrolls a blanket with the battered and rusted components of a gun that would have great value if it were in nice condition. Then he hunkers down over the remains of his former treasure and demands top price for something that belongs in the parts pile.
Condition really matters in airguns, as it does in most other hobbies where collecting is involved. The only way out is when the gun is also valued as a shooter, such as the 124 I mentioned yesterday. My rusty find for $35 had value as a shooter but never as a collectible. A sale price of $185 might be possible for a slicked-up shooter, but don’t even think of trying to get $200 or more. On the other hand, an excellent condition 124 with a rotten seal should still bring $250. Condition is everything.
Let’s look at some other things to be on the lookout for. Rarity is one. If a person tried to sell you a 1953 Corvette in nice shape are you smart enough to know what you’re looking at, or are you a person who thinks that somewhere along the way somebody stuck a six-banger engine in this Vett to save on gas? Because the first several years of Corvettes all have six-cylinder engines; but if you don’t know that, you’re oblivious to their value.
What do you do when someone hands you a Brown Pneumatic in the box with the instructions that look like blueprints? What’s one of those worth? Or a guy has two Winsel jet-powered pistols in boxes he wants to sell for $25 apiece because he can’t get them filled anymore. What are they worth?
Collector Larry Hannusch owns this beautiful Brown Pneumatic air pistol in the box with the original instructions. This is such a desirable airgun that it heads the Vintage Airguns Forum page.
Ever see one of these? Would you know what to do if you did see one for sale? It’s a Winsel.
Or, you walk into a consignment store, like a friend of mine did a few years ago, and there sits a Quackenbush Lightning with a $500 price tag on it. The store owner researched Quackenbush airguns on Gun Broker and he found that Model 1 and 2 guns bring $400-500 in good condition, so he figured this one should do the same — whatever it is. Actually, this Quackenbush is one of the rarest of all airguns, at least as rare as a Plymouth Iron Windmill BB gun that predated the First Model Daisy wire stock gun. Wes Powers said he only knows of half a dozen Lightnings that still have their rubber-band-propelled sliding rear chamber that builds the compression. So, here sits a gun worth, conservatively, $5,000 to $10,000, and however much more the next ardent buyer is willing to spend to get it. Do you know enough to spend the $500 to buy the gun, or will you wait and ask somebody days later, only to find out you alerted the neighborhood and the gun is gone.
Knowledge is power
In this business, you have to know the merchandise, and the Blue Book of Airguns is a great place to begin. Yeah, it’s full of contradictions and errors and omissions, but there’s nothing else on the market to replace it. And the people who criticize it the most are the same ones who won’t give you a straight answer to save their lives. So, buy the freakin’ book and be done with it.
Along with that, the more you know about the shooting sports in general, the better off you’ll be in this business. I have a library filled with old Stoeger catalogs and Gun Digests from decades past that tell me things about airguns that no other books contain. I go to gun shows and talk to the guys who have a couple old Crosmans on their table.
Maybe, if I do that, one of them will level with me that he has a Sheridan under his table that looks different than the modern Sheridans. It has a big aluminum receiver! Trouble is, it won’t hold air when he pumps it, and he doesn’t want anyone to get a bad deal from buying a gun that doesn’t work.
A fine Sheridan Supergrade needs to be cocked to hold air. But how many people know that?
I’ll buy it because I happen to know that the Sheridan Supergrade this guy has under the table has to be cocked before it will hold air. That’s what I mean when I say knowledge is power.
Don’t do this!
The kiss of death at a gun show or an airgun show is to insert yourself into the conversation between two people talking business. But why does it continue to happen? I’ll be closing a super deal and some motormouth will queer it with his comment about the gun I’m trying to buy. It doesn’t take much, because when a deal is closing either one or both the buyer and seller are as nervous as a teenaged girl on her first serious date.
The proper etiquette is to wait for the conversation to stop before asking one of the persons, now disengaged, your question. There’s no call for a smart remark in this situation. Save that for the party at the roadhouse this evening.
Now that’s not to say that you can’t follow a guy who’s trying to sell a gun you want to buy and stopping him in the aisles, but wait until after he’s left the dealer’s table.
Do make the shows!
If you really want to go far in this hobby, you owe it to yourself to make the airgun shows. Especially the really big one in Roanoke, which will be happening this month on Friday, October 22, and Saturday, October 23. That’s where all the action is. This is where I once saw a $60,000 military Girandoni change hands for $3,500 in the aisles. This is where three BB guns once sold for in excess of $40,000. This is where Robert Beeman once walked the aisles (when the show was in Winston-Salem) and Olympic double gold medalist and current CMP chief, Gary Anderson, once had a table. People fly in from around the world. If airguns are your thing, this is the show to attend.
You don’t have to have a table to have fun at this show. And by all means come on the first day when the dealing is the hottest. Here’s a flyer on the show with all the information.And if you do come this year, please stop by my table and introduce yourself. I’d love to meet you.