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My Mentor – Robin C. Hale

My Mentor–the condensed version.

A long about 1989, when I became serious about building the  “East Tennessee rifle” in earnest, it was realized that my knowledge and skills were severely deficient.  No individuals were  living near by who could provide any assistance or guidance, so I contacted known makers outside of Iowa.  Unfortunately, no one was really interested in giving me the time of day for reasons of their own.  But one fellow told me about a paper, Tennessee Rifles, that had been prepared for a presentation to collectors by a certain Robin Hale, and the fellow thought a copy could be obtained from Mr. Hale for ten dollars.

It took a couple of weeks to find Mr. Hale’s particulars before a telephone call could be made.  He answered the phone in a very quiet and pleasant manner, but rather indifferent and business like.  I explained what was my desire and inquired about the aforementioned paper.  Yes, a copy could be Xeroxed and sent to me for $10, but he didn’t really feel that I would get any benefit from it.  He gave me a few tips and pointers in general and said that were I really interested in East Tennessee rifles, he was inviting me to attend one of his gun shows in Knoxville, Tennessee as his guest, but the general public was not invited.  My reply was that I’d see what I could do about it.  Other than that, I was just a business customer to him.

Following that conversation, work commenced making a hand made barrel.  Nothing was known of this almost lost art, so the trials and tribulations began ganging up on me.  The only weapon in my arsenal was DESIRE.  A 400+ pound piece of curved steel from a conveyor removed from the Maytag Company was obtained for the kingly sum of five bucks.

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Someone could stand on one end and the thing wouldn’t even rock!   The trials and tribulations began once again, but I persevered to the point that a 40 some inch long octagon tube, 13/16′ across the flats, and in .40 caliber was the result.  It then needed boring.  Another bug-a-boo.  An elderly neighbor sold me an aging and humongous chest brace for $2.  After considering selling my soul to the Devil, started using it, making longer drill bits as the depth of the hole increased.  It literally took days.  It hurt.   Blisters on my chest and hands abounded.  I was dumber than the proverbial rock, yet that one word, DESIRE, was still with me and somehow managed to complete the bore.

A flyer for the gun show arrived in one morning’s mail.  A thought raced through my mind about finishing the barrel in time to take it to the show in Knoxville.  The barrel needed rifling and I was running out of time.  The booklet, How To Build The Antique Rifling Machine, by Joseph Seabolt was available from Dixie Gun Works.  What the hey.  It was bought, studied and a rifler built from it.  The only deviation from his instruction was that of a cutter head I designed.  A video was filmed by a friend as I, and with no further instruction, and Granddaughter Kacie, rifled that tube from Hell.  Viola!  Success!  The efforts paid off!  We did it by ourselves with NO electricity!  I was one proud puppy.

The wife and I flew to Knoxville, rented a car, got lost, but managed to some how find the show at the stated Motel.  I met Mr. Hale near the door, introduced myself and the first words from his mouth were “I figured I’d heard the last of you.”  The barrel & video were handed to him.  He listened carefully as I rattled forth the details of my ordeals and accomplishment.  He kept the barrel and walked away after telling me to go inside and look around. He’d be back.

Wow!  Look at all those l-o-n-g guns!  Mesmerized is not too far off an accurate description of the moment.  Lunchtime and no Mr. Hale.  I met Jerry Noble and cigar.  We chatted for a bit, filling me in on the latest gun gossip about some of the attendees and some who were not there.  He bought me a Coke.  Still no Mr. Hale.  I was getting tired, had only spoke to very few others and was looking at someone’s powder horn collection when my sleeve was tugged on.  It was Mr. Hale and the famous Jim Chambers from Foxfire V!  Jim said he’d never rifled a barrel before, but found nothing wrong with what I had done.  A copy of the video was given him and he and Bob Roller viewed it when they returned home.  On a side note, in later conversation, we realized that I used to fly Jim’s mail to his company in Vietnam!

Robin stated that he thought I was just another one time wannbe gun builder.  A CVA kit assembler looking for a hand out.  He was pleased with what I had done and then proceeded to walk me through the details of each and every East Tennessee rifle at the show.  He down loaded as much as my swimming head could handle.  I returned home with even more desire and determination than what I started out with.  Letters were exchanged over the years and more information passed down.  He sometimes told of his personal efforts at building, some dos and don’ts, who might be able to help out in other aspects of building, and of builders whom he respected and who he no longer felt were “purists” but now only “money hungry”.  Sometimes I’d phone and his wife would answer.  Once in a while she’d tell me that she’d just taken chocolate chip cookies from the oven and would I want some?  You had to like her.

I had dedicated one of my books to him and in the last letter received from him surprise, thanks, and an apology due me was written.  He was rereading the book and noticed that I had dedicated the book to him years earlier and he had somehow over looked that. He was surprised and then felt guilty for not thanking me sooner.  It was an unexpected honor for him, one that he felt he didn’t do anything to deserve.  I replied to the contrary and asked a few questions.  Those questions were never answered for he passed away in  December of 2001.

He was to me, the only man who got me started and gave encouragement after encouragement.  Others did help later on, but I wouldn’t be where I am today were it not for his kindness and generosity.  May he rest in peace.