There was a time when the shooter and hunter had little trouble locating a gunsmith. It might have involved rebarreling or a repair but they all did that work. Military guns were common back then and it was common to see a Springfield stock cut down or the bolt bent so as to work with a scope sight.

Dick Melon is the only old-timer that I know of who is still with us and he is retired. Steve Malyuk Sr., and the Carl brothers have gone to that shooting range in the sky. I believe the only true gunsmith in the city of Washington is Fred Carper, whose shop is on West Chestnut Street in Washington.

Fred is doing quite well and word does get around but rarely 300 miles from the city of Washington. Many times, one will see a Carper-built custom rifle as a prize at a National Rifle Association banquet. Even with his fame, Fred was surprised when he greeted an obviously new customer at the door. The first words out of the stranger’s mouth was. “I hope you are Fred Carper because I just drove 300 miles to see you.”

It seems the man at the door had a fondness for old Winchester 1890 pumps and a .22 was given to him by friends. The rifle, while functional, was a basket case and the gift was more of a joke than anything else. But the owner was now looking for a competent gunsmith to restore the gun to a like-new condition. The fellow had been advised to bring it to what they considered one of the best gunsmiths in the Eastern part of the country, Fred Carper.

I happened to be there and we exchanged handshakes as the man introduced himself as Tom Buffenbarger, a retired president of the machinist union. For some time, Fred operated a small machine shop near his new business, gunsmith. The government passed the American Free Trade Agreement which put many small businesses under and Fred was one of them. Closing his machine shop after 25 years of business meant he had to find a new way to make a living, so the gunsmith shop was a natural.

Mechanically, the Model 1890 was all right though the barrel needed to be relined. The cosmetics were a disaster. After Carper’s work was done, the rifle was one a person could be proud to own. Fred’s work on Buffenbarger’s Winchester led to an agreement to build a rifle for a fundraiser held by the Union Sportsman’s Association. Buffenbarger agreed to pay for the parts necessary to build the rifle and Fred agreed to do the work.

I am not the least surprised at Carper’s work being appreciated even 300 miles away. At one time, he refinished a lever action rifle of mine and after he was done, you could never tell it was refinished. A far more difficult task for Carper involved a Colt Python. These things are highly prized by collectors and are perhaps the highest valued hand gun made in the 20th century. It seems the owner had stored it in the factory box and put it away. Every now and then, he would open the box and check for that collector’s nightmare: rust. None appeared so the Python stayed put.

Well, a couple of years later the fellow took the revolver out of the box where it had laid for years. To his shock, the underside which contacted the box was covered with rust. Listening to my advice, we took the now not collectable Python to Carper. I didn’t say so but my hopes of restoration were not too high. You see, it is all but impossible to match the Royal Blue used by Colt on this high grade model. A couple of months later, we went to Fred’s shop to pick up the refinished colt. To my surprise, the job Fred did was one of the best gunsmith jobs I have ever been involved with. I defy anyone, except an absolute expert, to tell the gun was redone.

  • We all talk about the drop in hunting license sales but it seems to me that there were fewer anglers on local streams than usual. Maybe it is not a loss in hunter numbers but a loss in persons who enjoy the outdoors. Of course, the monsoon weather we have been experiencing might have something to do with it. But there are a lot of trout still swimming around.

George Block writes a weekly outdoors column for the Observer-Reporter.

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