Wednesday, June 13, 2018

From the Pages of Flintlock Magazine: Lehigh & Sunbury Guns by Brent Gurtek

To begin, I've been interested in the Kentucky Rifle since high school, in the early 70's, when I ran into a copy of C. W. Sawyer's book "Our Rifles".  Originally from northern Ohio, I made many treks to the Log Cabin Shop. They were my first personal introduction to muzzleloading & the rifles themselves.

After completing a mechanical engineering degree at Fenn College, I moved to French River, Minnesota in 1985 & built a colonial home, complete w/ period furnishings.  Then I turned my attention to my first passion, Kentuckies, constructing 3 such rifles between 1993 & 1999.  To date, I've completed 14 Kentuckies & 1 Northwest Trade Gun, all intended for sale.  Legally, I'm French River Muzzleloaders, LLC.

I consider myself a beginner with much to learn.  Currently any engraving on my guns is done by Micheal C. Hayes or Bruce Lepage.  I'll be taking an engraving class at Conner Prairie this fall & hopefully then I can execute the simpler folk art motifs, as a minimum.  Also, this July, a chip carving class at Davis & Elkins College in W. Virginia will allow me to begin using that technique.

I've come to focus presently on Lehigh & (what I term) Susquehanna guns.  (I believe many people refer to the latter as Sunbury guns & perhaps I should also.)

In the near future I'll be offering a York rifle closely patterned after one by Jacob Ernst & pictured in H. Kaufman's "The Pennsylvania/Kentucky Rifle"(plates 129 and 184).  This  Ernst gun is as perfectly proportioned as any formal York example I've seen.

Thus far, I've made my guns using pre-carved stocks from patterns of my own manufacture.  The Ernst gun will also use this approach but its pattern will be very close to the intended final shape.  My Lehigh & Susquehanna patterns are left sufficiently bulbous to allow for interpretation on a gun-by-gun basis.

I further intend to make earlier Lehigh guns as my skills improve.  Doubtless they & my usual later rifles will, at times, be done form a blank.

After the introduction in the early 80's of Dr. Shumway's excellent references I developed a fondness for Federal Period Kentuckies.  This ended after  approximately a decade when I returned to favor specific later rifles; J. Kuntz, N. Hawk, H. Albright, S Miller. 

Late-Golden Age Kentuckies have regrettably earned much of the artistic criticism leveled at them; they seem to exemplify the habit of many creative fields which hit a pinnacle & then degenerate.  'Tis sad.  However I'm convinced that a few makers persisted, as named above (though there were others), and they achieved a degree of design perfection that at least equaled earlier work.  The Lehigh & Susquehanna/ Sunbury schools, ca 1810-1830, have an undeniable potential for artistic achievement clearly evidenced in surviving examples.

As stated on my website I try to make authentic rifles while retaining the same level of design freedom as open to the original makers.  In point of fact, this goal of authenticity is not met to my satisfaction on the Lehigh end, but I'm getting closer.  My last two schimmel guns, one still in the works, are  good interpretations of J. Kuntz, w/ a mix of other true Lehigh features.  But my Susq/Sun guns are true to form & period correct, I'm happy to report.

Some of my Lehigh guns tend to have a lot of drop in the butt, averaging 4".  In this way they are like many original late-period Kentuckies; 45 caliber or under, light recoil, the butt resting just outboard of the shoulder joint, the head held more erect.  (This combination of gun shape/shooting position persisted into the cartridge period with the off-hand Ballard, Stevens & Maynard guns, etc.  The cheekpiece becomes more of a chin piece, especially if the tang sight is set for long range.  I like the feel & flavor of shooting in this manner - the way many fine marksmen did in a bygone era.  I'm something of a Maynard-aholic anyway.)

Through time I will further introduce some Lehigh pistols, again after Kuntz, & though it's out of the scope of Kentucky Rifledom, a range of percussion arms which will include an underhammer design.  There will also be some Kentuckies made with old locks &/or barrels, as these components come into my sphere.  I intend to continue at this activity long enough to do all these things, & more, many times over.

Copy by Brent Gurtek.
Flintlock Magazine 2002 Volume 5 Number 1.

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