Restoring 'Old Betsy'

Posted

It was my daddy's gun. An American Gun Co. 12-gauge, double-barrel shotgun with hammers. Passed down by my granddaddy, Arthur Geddings.

It was the first shotgun I ever fired. I shot a squirrel with the old gun while sitting in my Daddy's lap, when I was 8 years old. I've shot a lot of game with a lot of different guns since then, but none have meant as much to me. My Dad, Delaney Geddings, had many other guns, but "Old Betsy" was the favorite.

I did some research and learned that the old gun was made by Crescent Firearms Co. of Norwich, Connecticut, and distributed by H.D. Folsom Sporting Goods of New York City. The American Gun Co. was just a trade name. Crescent produced the guns between 1893 and 1930. Known as hardware store guns, they sold for about $10 to $15. Some early versions were made with Damascus steel barrels and later with higher-grade fluid steel. They were fitted with fine walnut stocks and forearms.

"Old Betsy" has the higher-grade steel barrels and can handle modern-day shells.

Through the years, Daddy collected a lot of guns. Shotguns and rifles, pumps and automatics, other doubles, some old and some new. "Old Betsy" got pushed aside. Besides, who cares about an old relic or antique when more modern and better guns are available?

Then one day the unthinkable happened. Someone broke in and stole the only gun he had out on display. It was a wakeup call.

He decided to give his guns out to family members before something else bad happened. He gave guns to my brothers and sisters. To my brothers-in-law. He gave guns to my uncles and cousins. When he offered me a gun, I asked for "Old Betsy."

Daddy had cut a small notch in the top of the stock for every buck he had killed with that "old rabbit-eared gun." The gun had character and history but had been neglected and was in poor condition. It wasn't safe to shoot, but I didn't care - I knew she could be fixed by the right person.

I also knew that I couldn't trust that gun out to just anybody, and not just any gunsmith could restore it. So I just held onto her, through my stint in the Army, moving all over the country. Through those dark days when we lost my Dad. Through all the years after, just leaning up in the closet. Almost forgotten - almost.

Then one day the answer came. I saw an article in South Carolina Wildlife magazine about two South Carolina gunsmiths, master craftsmen that could repair and restore old guns. The closest one was in Darlington, and I decided to pay him a visit. Jim Kelly is the owner of Darlington Gun Works and had been in business for more than 30 years.

Jim took the time to listen to me and understand my sentimental attachment to the old gun. He carefully examined the gun and gave me a realistic estimate for repairs to get the gun into shooting condition and for some minimal restoration.

I didn't want to change the character of the gun or make it look brand new; I just wanted it to be safe to shoot and look like it was in good condition. I wouldn't be disappointed with Kelly's work.

I got the gun back in the fall and took it with me on some deer drives. I patterned it with double ought buckshot. It shot very well, and I hoped to take a buck with the old gun. On hunt after hunt, I had close encounters but no luck. Then, on the last day of the deer season, the hounds brought a buck through the pines to me. "Old Betsy" rang true, and I got a nice eight-point buck. I got to cut my own notch in that old stock.

I, too, have collected some guns through the years, and someday I hope to pass them down to family members. It's my hope that my son will see the true value in "Old Betsy" and want to keep her around. In the meantime, I'm going to see if I can get a turkey with that old hammer gun this spring.

Dan Geddings is a weekly columnist for The Sumter Item. Email Dan at cdgeddings@gmail.com.