Gaines Blackwell grew up in the country on a large farm. He never had a BB gun. He was raised a hunter, and his family ate game often, but it was taken with firearms. The first thing he got to shoot was a 22 LR and then a 410 shotgun. For years, he taught architecture at a university. At 62, and living on 1/2 acre, he became interested in airguns and bought a Diana 48, thinking it shot an 8 grain pellet at about 900 fps, roughly 20 percent of the power of a 22 LR.
“That almost ended my interest in airguns,” Blackwell says. “I didn’t know anything about springers, and when I shot it, it bucked and kicked and rattled. What saved me is that I found the Yellow Forum and started to read. After two or three months, I bought a long stock R 7 — used but fine for $200 — and had it sent to Russ Best for a tune. I still have it, and it completely changed my views of airguns.”
He adds, “I read Mike Driskill’s lucid posts and found a HW 55 M next, then a FWB 300S which started me on the path to collecting.” His interest grew in older German springers, and he developed a great network of friends all over Europe and even in Pakistan. He looked for earlier and earlier examples of HW’ 55’s and particularly Walthers.
“I liked their fit and finish and especially their size because they fit my frame,” he says. “It probably sounds ridiculous or even arrogant to some but I do don’t have a firm count how many guns I bought. I probably have 12-15 HW 55’s and several dozen or more older Walthers, a total of about 65.”
Blackwell’s best find was a HW 55 DST (dual set trigger). He did not know they existed until he discovered one. Within a month he found another — both from Germany.
He says, “To this day I now know of two others, one in the UK, the other in The Netherlands. My other more endearing find was a pair of HW 55’s in a small German town. One was an “M”, serial # 711, and the other a Tyrolean serial # 37363, both very early examples. I got them from the son of the original buyer who had shot and maintained them for 50 years with not a speck of rust and in perfect order. They are my favorite guns.”
What surprised me in talking with Blackwell is that finding a new-in-box example of a vintage air rifle is not his favorite thing. “New in box guns make me nervous,” he says, “I’m always afraid I’ll put a scratch on one.”
He adds, “I do not seek perfect guns, nor beautiful wood, though I have found both. I prefer well cared for well used original examples, especially showing some variation done by the factory. I search for parts to get all in good condition but rarely shoot anymore beyond keeping them lubricated and working.
“What I have enjoyed the most was finding guns – the thrill of discovering them. I used to hunt, via Internet, all over Europe, and 95 % of my collection was sent directly to me. I really enjoy my network of foreign friends which now transcends airguns. In turn I have sent many US collectable airguns overseas. Overall it has been a most satisfying hobby.”
Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.
- Jock Elliott