The first gun I ever remember was my great-grandfather's Belgian double barrel percussion shotgun. I still have it today. I remember taking it to grade school for "show and tell" day. Can you imagine doing that today? When I was about 12 years old, I got my first .22 rifle and started reading outdoor magazines. Ned Roberts was the gun editor for the old Hunting and Fishing magazine from Boston. Occasionally, he would write about muzzleloaders. It interested me enough that I bought a nice little 13-gauge London made percussion shotgun. Still have that one too! It cost me $5.00. I was about 15 at the time. Shortly after that I acquired a .69 caliber Springfield smoothbore musket.
I moved to Seattle when I was 17 years old, and really got into guns and shooting, but not black powder until about 1951, when two friends got original cap and ball revolvers. I shot them, but never got very involved. In 1960 one of my hunting partners bought a .40 caliber Dixie squirrel rifle. It was ugly, but shot pretty well. He took a 2 point buck in the Teanaway with it that year. That gave me the bug, so I made a pistol; pretty basic construction. Around 1962, I bought a British half-stock percussion rifle at a gun show. It had a two-groove .62 caliber barrel. Wouldn't shoot, so I sent it to Roy Southgate in Tennessee, to be relined to .45 caliber. Now I had a shooter.
In 1963 I opened my shop, planning to do general gunwork and custom stocks. The next year we formed the Cascade Mountain Men club. About the same time one of my customers asked if I could make a Hawken rifle. I took on the job, and by today's standards it was probably pretty crude, but for the time it wasn't bad. The availability of parts was pretty poor. The only butt plates and trigger castings were cast iron. I broke a butt plate, while fitting it to the stock. Bob Roller made good locks and Bill Large made barrels, with patent breeches fitted but not very authentic. The double set triggers were filed out by hand. The plans I got from Golden Age Arms left a lot to be desired. Soon I got another order from a club member. This one was for a longrifle. I started thinking that this was more interesting than installing recoil pads and scopes. I made a couple more rifles, on speculation and sold them right away.
Parts and information were getting easier to obtain. I began collecting books on muzzleloading. I was still fabricating some small parts like ramrod thimbles, nose caps, etc. Some of the early parts suppliers were Roy Keeler, Jesse Booker, Harold Hess and Log Cabin Sport Shop. I got locks and triggers from Harold Robbins, Russ Hamm and Doc Haddaway. By about 1970, I decided that I would get out of the modern gun business and disposed of that inventory. I started stocking muzzleloading supplies. In 1971, Ike Bay, Frank Straight and I went to NMLRA matches in Friendship, Indiana. By that time I had completed my 100th rifle, a Lehigh Valley rifle. I was buying my stock blanks from Don Walp of Indiana. I had started advertising in "Muzzle Blasts" in the late 60's. I was getting gun orders from all over. I didn't have much competition in those days. I was building up my parts and supply inventory and even put out a catalog. I was so far behind on orders that I dropped my advertising in "Muzzle Blasts."
In 1974 I started my Beaver Lodge rifle project. These rifles were based on Ohio rifles. At first I only made half-stocks, but later I made full-stocks; right and left handers and both flint and percussion versions. Two people who helped me a great deal with their writing at this time were John Baird and Mike Nesbitt. I became a distributor for Sharon rifle barrels and kits. By this time, about any component to make muzzleloading guns was available. Some of my old suppliers had disappeared or sold out, and so I had to keep looking for new sources. I used L & R and Shillinger locks. Sharon folded up in 1978 and I got the distributorship for Green Mountain barrels, which I still have today. Around 1980, the whole business was slowing down. The Bicentennial was over and the Mountain Man and Hawken phase was fading away. The people wanting guns got a lot more knowledgeable and discriminating. The market was also getting saturated with commercial guns. There were some pretty good semi-mass produced products and of course a lot of imports.
I've concentrated on what I called affordable guns, something you could carry in the woods and not be afraid to use. I have also made some fairly deluxe pieces. Some customers wanted more than one rifle. Two men in Chicago, each had 8 rifles made over a period of several years. I do wish I had kept better records of who got what kind of gun, where they lived, and when it was delivered. I built rifles for people all over the United Sates, a few in Canada and 3 rilfes that went to Germany. I've probably made just over 550 muzzleloading guns since that first hand crafted pistol. Fewer than 5 or 6 were made from kits. I have certain favorites, such as Lehigh Valley and Bucks County longrifles, sliding wood patch boxes, Ohio State rifles like Vincents, and full-stock Hawkens. I like both flint and percussion, but probably shoot percussion a lot more. My favorite rifle was made in 1967. I wore out the original Bill Large barrel and replaced it with a Green Mountain Barrel, and it still shoots a lot better than I do. I like .45 caliber rifles.
Now, after 37 years of bending over the work bench, my body is falling apart and it is time to call it quits. I have a lot of my own projects that I want to complete. A double flint rifle, some black powder single shot cartridge rifles and my "32 Ford Roadster that nees to be put back on the road. I've never made a lot of money, but I never asked anyone else for help. I have never regretted the decision in 1963 to start my own business. I've sure made a lot of friends.
Resource: Contemporary Longrifle Association Member.
Contact Ted Fellowes (Deceased) at:
9245 16th Ave., S.W.
Seattle, WA 98106