Chuck Lindsey of rural Logan County in Illinois has a lot in common with the sculptor who can stand in front of a block of marble and visualize the statue within. When he makes his own vintage firearms, he combines his engineer’s training (he is retired from Caterpillar) with an artist’s sensibilities.
Chuck Lindsey has a lot in common with the sculptor who can stand in front of a block of marble and visualize the statue within.
Whether it is a block of maple or a scrap of iron, Lindsey just shrugs his shoulders and says, “I just cut off everything that doesn’t look like a gun.”
When Lindsey, of rural Logan County in Illinois, is making his own vintage firearms, he combines his engineer’s training (he is retired from Caterpillar) with an artist’s sensibilities.
“When I was about 25, 26 years old I shot a muzzleloader for the first time and decided I wanted to start building them,” he said.
Lindsey builds muzzle-loading firearms, especially flintlocks that were in use in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
“I got interested in early (U.S.) history,” he says. “And they are accurate – we’ve hunted squirrels with them. They are not toys.”
Time and patience
But they are works of art.
Wood for the gunstock is milled from locally cut trees, including maple. Lindsey often hand carves designs into the stock, or chisels designs into the metal.
His specialty, what his friends call the “crown jewels,” are double-barrel shotguns he builds in his modest shop that’s filled with tools, scraps of metal and shavings from past projects.
“(It all happens) in this junk hole here,” he says. “It’s messy but it’s used.”
Lindsey’s projects take time and patience.
“It takes six weeks to produce the barrels,” he said. “Of course if I make the whole gun it takes longer.
“And I don’t get in a rush. If I feel like working, I do. If I don’t, I won’t. Because I’ve found out over the years you can make a lot of mistakes if you get in a rush.”
When trying to visualize some of Lindsey’s work, think of firearms like those Mel Gibson and other actors carried in the movie “The Patriot.”
The firearms are loaded with careful measures of gunpowder and lead shot. Sometimes a lead ball is substituted for shot.
Most of Lindsey’s weapons are flintlocks. A piece of flint causes a spark that ignites gunpowder in a pan. The spark passes through a hole to ignite powder in the barrel of the gun. The spark creates a roar and a cloud of smoke that sometimes envelops the shooter.
Tool for survival
On a regular basis, Lindsey and friends get together to shoot clay targets or pattern shotguns for hunting season. They want to see how evenly the pellets are distributed when they strike the target.
Lindsey has a paper target placed 30 yards away so friend Bob Linksvayer can test one of his shotguns.
Smooth bore muskets, like those used in the Revolutionary War, and were most effective at 30-40 yards. And they were fired in volleys to thin out the enemy.
“There were hundreds, if not thousands pointed at somebody,” says Joe Mangalavite who lives just outside Springfield.
Mangalavite also was on hand for practice Aug. 23.
“The Colonials and the English were on the open field,” says Bob Linksvayer, who has earned a craftsman’s reputation for making traditional archery equipment. “That was the European style of the time.
“And they fired ‘X’ number of volleys before they ended with a bayonet charge.”
“It wasn’t a very healthy place to be,” Mangalavite says.
But the weapons weren’t just for war.
“You could feed yourself with it,” Mangalavite says of the vintage firearms. “You could get small game. It will kill big game, too.”
Lindsey points to the Illinois deer pins that decorate his workshop.
“Up there are some of the pins,” he says. “Over the years I’ve killed a few deer, probably six or eight deer a year.”
He’s been hunting since deer hunting resumed in Illinois during the early 1960s.
Lindsey puts a 50 caliber Hawkins, a replica of a gun used by the famous Kit Carson, into a visitor’s hands.
“That’s killed a lot of deer,” he says.
Then he picks up the first firearm he built nearly 50 years ago.
“That one I built about 1963,” Lindsey says. “This was the first rifle I built. It is a percussion lock (or cap lock), and I haven’t built many ‘percussion lock’ (firearms) since then.
The percussion lock came after the flintlock.
“I had no tools, no nothing,” Lindsay says in his characteristic short sentences. “All done by hand. Hand cutout. Sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, sitting on a vise on a big board holding it down and cutting everything by hand and carving with a chisel.
“I did the whole thing by hand.”
Chris Young can be reached at 217-788-1528.