Chasing Sam Hawken

The hook is set

Perhaps you know the chain of events that led to Sam  moving to the great Northwest.

It started with my unfounded interest in muzzleloading and in the hard life of the mountain men. What was it that inspired them to throw caution to the wind, say goodbye to civilization as they knew it and choose the path they did. A path that led them into the unknown to face the uncertainty, the dangers and hardships the mountains had to offer.

Why I became interested in muzzleloading firearms and intrigued by the life of the mountain man I really couldn’t say. There was just always something about the past that pulled me in. Consequently, when attending a large trade show and I happened upon a booth displaying muzzleloading rifles and other truck of that particular era, I was drawn in. The booth was managed by several people dressed in clothing of the 1800’s, the time frame in which the Hawken Shop operated when doing business in St. Louis. The shop had been in storage for many years when early in the  1970’s it was resurrected by Art Ressel, a St Louis estate buyer. He acquired an impressive collection of rifles built by the Hawken Shop in Sam’s time. With those to study and reference from and by living in a city steeped in Hawken history he was able to reintroduce Sam Hawken’s Shop to a new century.

One man in particular stood out from the others tending the booth. While I didn’t know it at the time, this distinguished looking man with longish salt and pepper hair, nicely trimmed beard and dressed to historical perfection in a fine fringed buckskin outfit was Art Ressel. He was visiting with the many people in his booth interested in the rifles and eager to learn more of the little details and nuances of a true Hawken rifle. The booth was very busy and as he talked, Mr. Ressel handed out his catalog showing the Hawken rifle, the rifle kit and many accessories the shop was offering. The catalog, beautifully done in brown tones was a reminder of the classic daguerreotypes reminiscent of a time long past. His penchant to minute details went further to reinforce the seriousness of his efforts to bring the Hawken rifle back into circulation. It is unnecessary to say that my interest was piqued and I immediately became a willing captive susceptible to the lure of the Hawken rifle

As I left the booth with my treasured Hawken catalog in hand the other exhibits in this large hall were suddenly non-existent. I’m not certain to this day if it was the historic Hawken rifle, the aura and romance created by the décor in the booth or the man in the buckskins that became entrenched in my mind. Whichever it was, the impression had been made and it stuck.

The Hawken Shop never completely left my mind and when I eventually decided to seek it out, it was gone. I probably didn’t research the proper channels and hunt for it aggressively enough so to me it seemed to have disappeared in the same clouded mystery that it first appeared. On occasion it would come to mind and I would make inquiries here and there questioning its whereabouts but always met with a dead end. Eventually it became a haunting obsession and I was determined to find it. That was when I began seriously chasing Sam Hawken.

The hunt was on

At some place and time I had gotten the phone number of a possible source for information on what might have become of the Hawken Shop.  I had, over the years made occasional calls to that number but there was never an answer and no recording yet the phone would ring each time.  It had become a habit to occasionally dial the number with no false hopes of an answer. One day, with no expectations I again tried the number.  It ranq as it always had but this time someone answered! Surprised by all of this I  still managed to ask if this person knew what had happened to The Hawken Shop. He said that his name was Art Ressel and he had the Hawken Shop, further more he was The Hawken Shop.

I can’t recall in detail just how the conversation ensued but it turned out he had put the shop in storage many years prior. A chain of events had occurred making continuation of the shop no longer possible. Not really wanting to sell and hopeful of eventually reopening it Mr. Ressel had set Hawken aside.  Finally he came to the conclusion that the reopening of the shop was a pipe dream not likely to happen in the near future.  Reluctantly, he decided to sell the Hawken Shop. He had gone that day to the offie where he very seldom went,  to start preparing to advertise it. The time had come for Sam Hawken to move on.  The “chase” was over and the “adventure” had begun.

The telephone conversation I had with Mr. Ressel on the afternoon when I finally managed to reach him was a major step forward in my search for Sam Hawken.  I had come across Sam’s footsteps on the path before me waiting to be followed and Mr Ressel was  there to lead the way.  I knew that somehow things were about to change.  Talking with Mr. Ressel was an opportunity to rediscover a trail nearly covered over by time.  Guided by Mr. Ressel I could now press on my quest to reach Sam Hawken.  Mr. Ressel’s enthusiasm was contagious and even through the phone line I knew I about to embark on a challenging journey, one that continues to this day.

The feeling that had surrounded me before at the trade show where I first entered into Hawken Shop booth was now renewed and enhanced.  The magic was still in the air.  We would talk many more times before making arrangements for a set time to travel to St. Louis and explore the possibility of moving Sam out to the Washington Territory.

I had been to Sam’s adopted city, St. Louis;  a few years earlier but at the time I had little thoughts of him and the shop.  I am not sure the Hawken Shop was anything more than a name I had heard and certainly nothing that stirred a significant interest to me.  At least not then.  I was in St. Louis for the first  time to  attend a shooting range seminar and found there was free time in the afternoons that afforded a chance to tour parts of the city.  Of course there is the arch,  “Gateway  To The West”,  the Museum of The Arch, and the Missouri Historical Society which have Hawken  rifles  on display.  Purina Farms, The Budweiser facility with its beautiful Clydesdale horses and the Old Courthouse are in St. Louis as well. The courthouse with a cupola in its center is a beautiful piece of early St. Louis Greek Revival architecture. It is quite prevalent in the early history of the city as it stood and watched the growth throughout the years.  Among other things it is known for being the place where the Dred Scott Citizenship Case was heard back in the 1800’s.  We walked on the cobblestones of the historic Laclede’s Landing district established in the 1700’s on the Mississippi waterfront.  It was a place once busy with manufacturing, shipping, trappers, traders, and a last stop for many adventurous souls heading westward.  Surely Sam had walked this same route many times as he experienced the city’s changes during his years as a St. Louis gunsmith.

The convention was in August and the attendees were advised it was usually  a hot and humid time of  the  year and not  especially pleasant for those unaccustomed to a climate of those sorts.   Being from Washington where  we enjoy a mild climate and rarely complain of it being  “too hot” I was a little apprehensive.  It proved to be a needless concern as the weather was quite agreeable and made for a pleasant tri.  While Sam Hawken hadn’t at that time made his impression on me, my business partner and I enjoyed the city and the historical overtones that floated on the warm summer breezes.

Neither of us had ever been of the nature to take photographs to remember people places or things and this trip was no different. Still, with the likelihood that we’d probably not visit this city again we broke rein and snapped a few shots to show others back home.  As this was a time before the influx of digital cameras being the norm we had no way of knowing that of the photos we took one was actually successful.  Upon returning and having the film developed a photo of the Eades Bridge was basically all we had.  What is now the west abutment of the Eades Bridge was once the place where Sam Hawken and his brother Jake formed a partnership in 1825.  Together they began building the now renowned Hawken rifles. Somehow that photo came through pushing all other photos aside in its drive to be the center of attention. There it was as a reminder, not of the trip to Louis but of the Hawken shop and where it had once stood.
Notice how sometimes you can be bitten by a bug and don’t even realize it. Perhaps a mosquito bite that you’re not aware of until it begins to itch and then you feel the irrepressible need to scratch it?  The scratching doesn’t necessarily  suppress the itch,  often the opposite occurs……….the more you scratch the greater the itch becomes.  That’s how it was with Sam Hawken, and still is.

There is something about a man in buckskins

Once back in Washington I found that interest still hadn’t waned and the desire to connect with Sam Hawken had not diminished. Throughout the summer Sam was ever present in my mind and by fall the need to return to St. Louis was without question. Against the advice of others sighting inclement weather for a chosen time of year a plan to meet with Mr. Ressel in December was set in motion.

Tall short fat or thin there’s something about a man in buckskins with the long fringe running down the side of his pant legs. Their shirts are often sewn of brightly colored calico, tiny little prints in reds, greens, yellows and blues and occasionally made of Onasburg. Onasburg is an inexpensive material woven of flax and popular among laborers of the 19th century. These shirts have open collared necks and bloused sleeves with cuffs secured at the wrist by antler buttons. Left untucked the shirts reach midway down the thigh and are secured at the waist by a woven sash or a wide leather belt. The leather belt that is sometimes decorated with brass tacks does dual service of holding a tomahawk, a large Bowie style knife and sometimes a pipe. Occasionally the blouse is replaced by wearing a buckskin shirt that matches and complements his pants.  It’s most often a pullover open at the neck with fringe on the yoke and across the back. The Sleeves aren’t bloused but hang 1oosely and are without cuffs or buttons. The fringe is on the inside seam of the sleeve and flows down the length of the arms. This was how I remembered Art Ressel when I first saw him standing in the Hawken booth years before. Looking perfectly natural in his buckskin attire from the sinew used to sew it together down to his moccasins he was the epitome of how most envision a mountain man.  Obviously he attained the impact he was aiming for. I remember and there are others that do as well.

As December came into being and the date to depart for St. Louis neared the excitement grew. I was happy with the thought of seeing Art again and anxiously wondered if Sam would be deciding to make the move out west.  Airline tickets aren’t always easy to schedule in the time frame the traveler chooses, so it was with the trip to St. Louis. The best and easiest travel itinerary put us in St. Louis a day earlier than the time planned to meet Mr. Ressel. With some time and a rental car, once checked into the hotel we decided to drive around and see some of Missouri.  We ended up in St. Charles that afternoon and it was a wonderful experience. The city is quaint and full of history but there was another unexpected treat. There were Santa’s walking the streets clad in costumes from different eras. Not all Santa’s were dressed in red, some wore green among other colors and then there was my favorite a Frontier Santa! You can guess the style of his attire.

The pleasure of visiting with Mr. Ressel on that trip didn’t occur.   Sam, however;  had done his work well and saw to it that Hawken Fever had set in.  Furthermore, it didn’t appear that a rapid cure was in sight and it came to mind that another trip would have to be made and it was.

As chance would have it there was occasion to soon again travel to St. Louis. The month was April and as it had before the city kindly showed us remarkably pleasant weather. We were going there to attend a convention with exhibits and meetings for an organization we had been displaying with for several years. 0f course it was firearm related. Traveling by air wasn’t nearly the ordeal it now is but there was still the need for much care and attention to be taken with our luggage. Each City that hosts a convention of this nature has different rules and regulations about how move in of materials and set up of booths should be handled. Knowing that, we always attempted to keep as many important parcels under our control as possible. Since we had firearms we thought it best not to depend on others and simply assume our things would be secure.

A good omen Sam steps in
Once back in Washington I found that my interest still hadn’t wained and the desire to connect with Sam Hawken had not diminished.   Throughout   the summer  Sam was ever present in my mind and by fall the need to return to St. Louis was without question.  Against the advise of others sighting inclement weather for our chosen time of year a plan to meet with Mr. Ressel in  December was set in motion.

 High above Sam’s city

It was a beautiful evening when we landed in St. Louis, the air was warm and hundreds of stars dotted the night sky. We waited for our luggage to be unloaded from the plane and placed on the turnstile. From there it still had to be taken to a “security” room. Here it was checked over and we were required to sign for the parcels containing the firearms for our exhibit. This was a lengthy process but finally we were aboard a shuttle on route to the hotel. Unloading all the hard aluminum double gun cases from the shuttle onto the hotel luggage cart required a healthy tip to the Bellman. He then waited for us to check in after which he would take the cart to the room. If we thought getting all the parcels from the airport and to the hotel was difficult we were in for a real surprise. Check in was by far more of a challenge. Reservations had been made far in advance and the hotel had record of it but somehow ail rooms were full. In a city hosting a convention of this size getting rooms is not an easy task. After checking around the hotel the Clerk could locate no accommodations within the city. The hotel manager came and was very apologetic noting his last resort was to put us in the penthouse suite for the night. Of course we accepted his offer! The penthouse was huge and over1ooked the Mississippi and the arch “Gateway To The West”! DO I dare thank Sam Hawken for this amazing mix up? Perhaps he wanted to be up high to look down on his city and the area where the Hawken shop once stood.

The room was only for the night and the next morning we would have to leave the penthouse and be moved to other accommodations in the hotel. The following day however the manager decided to let us remain there for the entirety of our convention.

The convention was good with lots of new products to view and a chance to touch bases with old friends and colleagues. Being in such a controversial industry its encouraging to be around others with shared views and are supportive of our right to keep and bear arms. It would be hard to come away from these conventions feeling anything less than energized and armed with new found hopes for the future of our Second Amendment. The St. Louis convention stirred up those emotions and more. My enthusiasm level was at its peak surpassing any previous years. I had to wonder, was it the convention and it’s attendees, was it the St. Louis setting or was it Sam Hawken that was creating this positive “let’s push forward” drive. Happily this euphoric feeling didn’t dwindle when the conversation ended.

Can’t get you out of my mind

Taking the day to explore the countryside and small towns of Missouri  had been fun and very interesting.   The visit to St. Charles  at a time  when  it was dressed in its holiday finery was pure happenstance  and our good fortune.  While the entire adventure had been great it paled in creating the excitement that was felt knowing the next day was the meeting with Mr. Ressel to discuss Sam Hawken’s future.

Being  a long time St. Louis  resident Art Ressel really knew his way around the city so to make things easier he offered to pick us up at the hotel to take us to his office.  I had only seen Art in buckskins and was pretty sure he didn’t  motivate around  the city in mountain man attire so we relied on his description of the car he would be driving  to know when he arrived..  We waited in the lobby of the hotel till we saw the car drive up and  we walked out to meet him.  There were no buckskin clothes but it was undeniably Art’s smile and twinkling eyes that came forward .  He was smartly dressed and looked quite dapper but something  was odd.  Looking  down where I had once seen moccasins there was instead a plastic bag tied around his foot.   Seems his little sports car had a leak and water was coming  thru and dampening  his foot.  Hence the plastic bag.  I suppose that was an ingenious modern  mountain man’s solution to a troublesome problem.  No matter, we were off on our way to immerse ourselves in talk of and dealings about Mr. Hawken.

In his office Art had put out a sampling of all the parts that he had tooling for and used when  he had found and brought  Sam Hawken and his rifle back to life.  These were all used in the lost wax casting process of making parts. This was a procedure  we were quite familiar with as that was the process we were using for other parts we have made.  It was exciting to see it all so complete in detail.  One thing of particular interest was the Hawken lock plate that when cast still showed the name T. Gibbons.   Mr. Gibbons was a lock maker of the time and  a source of locks for The Hawken Shop  in the 1800’s.   As we talked and Mr. Ressel shared his knowledge of Sam the gun builder and  Sam the man we seemed to make a connection.  Reluctant though he was to let Sam go Art knew Mr. Hawken was ready to move on, to continue to another place and once again build his well known half stocked plains rifle.  Sam was going to Washington State.

The time spent during the day with Art Ressel just wasn’t enough to satisfy the griping desire to Iearn more little intimates about Sam. Art understood our enthusiasm having been down that same road himself and was quite charitable in sharing information with us” Still, it had been a long day and Mr. Ressel had other business to conduct so he returned us to our hotel suggesting we get together for dinner.

It might he expected when going out to dinner in St. Louis it would be for some St. Louis favorites, barbecue, toasted ravioli, a dessert of gooey butter cake and other fare the city is known for. This was not the case, we went out for Chinese and it has to be some of the best I have ever had. Dinner was phenomenal while the company was gracious, charming and indeed entertaining. We had a chance to do a lot of “Talkin Hawken” but Sam wasn’t the only star of the evening, he shared the spotlight with Mr. Ressel. Dinner afforded us an opportunity to get to know Mr. Ressel which in itself was and education. We found Art to be quite diverse in his knowledge not only of Hawken history but he was well versed in St Louis lore as well. We exchanged notes, names and updates of people in our industry that Art was acquainted with from when he was displaying the Hawken Shop. At long last we resolved to call it a night but we did so with plans to get together the next day and help Mr. Hawken prepare for his trip.

The exciting realization that the next morning we would be preparing Mr. Hawken for his trip west had all the makings for a sleepless night. Sam had been west before but only as far as Denver……this time he was going all the way to the west coast. Morning finally came and together with Mr. Ressel we returned to his office where he kept the Hawken goods in a storage building out back. We had with us everything we needed to wrap and secure the rifle moulds to place on pallets ready for motor freight pick up. Sam would soon begin his travels.

We pulled up to the office and as we got out of the car Arts face lost all color and he had an expression of complete disbelief. We looked over in the direction of Mr. Ressel’s gaze and saw immediately what had brought on his shocked look. His full attention was captured by the aged storage building where the moulds were stored that was secured with a lock and chain across the door… old wooden door Unable to cut the lock or chain an intruder had entered in through the door by beating a hole in the center The place where Art thought Sam was safe had been breached” We all Iooked at one another with a sense of fear and dread” Fear of the unknown and dread of what we may or may not find. Was Sam still there? Could he have been kidnapped? Or….not wanting to venture West had he escaped? With our breath held and fingers crossed we advanced forward.

We were undaunted in the quest to reach our destination—Sam’s Hawken Shop Moulds—and as we neared the door we had nothing but attaining that goal in our minds. We had no precautionary thoughts of our safety and the fact that we were in a somewhat questionable part of the city didn’t cross our minds. The area had changed from the time Art had opened his office there and as he seldom frequented the place he had paid no heed to the decline of the surrounding properties” Upon seeing the storage building for the second time it was evident it was easy prey. The structure was much more dilapidated than I had noticed before and with a closer look it was plain that not much effort had been needed to break in the door

We stood outside the violated door quizzically looking at one another and silently wondering  what our next move should be.   Now was a fine time to give thought to the possibility that someone could be inside waiting to ambush us.  Then we realized that was a foolish thought, how would anyone possibly know we would be coming?   Besides, if the intruder had found anything he wanted it was likely he would have taken such and now be long gone.

The hole in the door was significant and offered ample room for entry. Since Mr. Ressel had been inside  before he had some idea of the lay of the  land so it stood to reason that he go in first.  The building had no electricity, the only significant light was what came from the hole in the door.  Towards the back of the building a tiny bit of light filtered in  through the gaps between the boards that were attempting to  disguise themselves as walls.   It wasn’t a place  one would want to be on a night with a full moon shinning light through the cracks casting eerie shadows on the walls. Needless to say the building was in a sad state of decline.  Once through the entrance it took a few minutes for Art to get his bearings and adjust his eyes to the semi darkness.   After a bit of bumping into and tripping over things he called for us to come  in.  We stepped through the door to find there were boxes stacked everywhere making  it difficult to motivate around in the semi darkness.  It was immediately apparent that there was no one waiting inside.   Mr. Ressel  poked around a bit not recalling exactly where he had put Sam’s things but was pretty sure they were there, somewhere.  It would be futile for us to attempt to help in the search not knowing quite what we were looking for.  Still it seemed only right to make an attempt.  I had wandered just a few feet into the darkness when I turned and bumped into what was the shape of a person.  It gave me quite a start but thankfully turned out to be only a cardboard cutout.  In the dim light It looked to be an exotic dancer.  I asked Art about it and after  taking a moment to recall he gave a lighthearted laugh and said that was exactly what it was.  He offered no further explanation  and I didn’t ask.  Perhaps it was something he thought Sam might like  for  company as he waited in the darkness of the dilapidated  building wondering  where his  next  adventure might take him.

It was nigh to impossible to be able to tell just what was in the building but there was a lot of it. There were boxes of various shapes and sizes but there seemed to be no structured organization  to the  collection of goods.  At that point I felt doubtful that Sam was there and even if he were how would  we ever locate him?  With a little more stumbling around, tripping over things and  toppling several skyscrapers of boxes to the floor Art came across what we had all come for.  Stacked in the corner just inside the entrance we had come through  Art saw what he thought was the tooling needed to allow Sam’s rifle to  again be offered to the general public.   We were like children on Christmas morning finding packages and being anxious to see if they held within the things we had been hoping for.  Art decided to go to his office in search of a flashlight to help us better see what was there.  He returned shortly not only with a flashlight but amazingly he had also found the key to the  lock holding the chain across the door.  Being able to remove the chain enabled us to open the damaged door all the way letting in more light.  The light from outside shone on what appeared to be the tooling we had come for.  With flashlight in hand Mr. Ressel made closer examination of the things  we hoped  were the moulds.  After a few seconds he turned  to look back at us with a smile both of relief and success.  Sam was still around and with some dusting off and tender loving care and patience  The Hawken Shop could once again go about the business of building the half stocked  rifle for which he had become renown.   It was certain now, Sam was going to Washington State.

WAGONS HO       Or    WESTWARD BOUND    Or        In  the words of  Horace Greely  ” Go west  young man, go west”

The day was young, the weather was fair and we were  ready  to get Sam’s things packed and set to go.  We got out boxes and protective wrapping and began putting a parcel of items  together that would be traveling by motor freight to Washington state.

In taking  extreme care to shield the shipment from harm everything was packed to the point it was probably over done. Now that we had the moulds and it was certain we would be shipping them to Washington we wanted to do everything we could to guard them from any potential damage.  After quite some time of packing and repacking we were  finally satisfied that everything possible had  been done to assure the utmost protection was provided.   Now on to the next step.  Each piece was carefully placed and secured on a large pallet to await pick up at which time Sam’s Hawken Shop would begin its journey.  The preparation for the trip was exciting and stimulating  but there was still a  thread of anxiety present knowing the pallet would be traveling alone across country and out of our control.

I told myself there was no need to worry, Sam had traveled before.  The fact that he had only been as far as Denver shouldn’t be a major concern,  Washington state wasn’t all that much further..  Well, maybe it was but I felt cautiously confident that things would be just fine.  Then I wondered if the truck with The Hawken Shop on board would be going thru Denver.  What if it did and Sam decided to stop and stay in that city?  After all, he had spent some time there before so what if……………, I told myself to dismiss that thought everything would go just fine.

The next  morning it was time to board a plane and head back to Washington  state and back to work.   The trip had been wonderful and flying during the Christmas holiday wasn’t the nightmare people claimed it to be.  As the plane took off flying over the city where the Hawken Shop was waiting on a shipping dock below I had a feeling of calm accomplishment.  The time frame from the first encounter I had  with the Hawken Shop had been long but the outcome had been well worth the efforts made to seek it out.  The quest was complete,  but little did I know the expedition itself was about  to begin.

Now, back  in Washington state and back to work!  The trip had been interesting, fun and productive.  The only thing left to chance was the waiting for the motor freight to come.  Once here I could relax knowing that my “impossible dream” was in fact possible.  I no longer felt the pressure of having a time frame, real or imagined to  find and secure The Hawken Shop.  The  acquisition was complete and all that was left was to wait  for its arrival. Once here this business from out of the past could be pursued leisurely with no time schedule to bring it forth until comfortably ready.  Or so I thought.

Just can’t get off the truck——–OR      Last  Leg  Of The  Journey

The holiday season was upon us and with all the activities going on that time of year It would seem the  days would pass quickly.  They did not.  The wait felt endless and while we worked Sam ‘s Hawken Shop was motoring across the country on route to it’s new locale.  The trip however wasn’t coming off as smoothly as we were expecting .  Each time the phone rang we  were hoping it would be news of Sam’s arrival.  At last  we got word.  Late one afternoon we received a call from the trucking company transporting  Sam to let us know that he was due to be in Seattle the next morning.  We were elated but the feeling was only temporary.  The caller asked where our loading dock was so she could relay the directions to the driver.  When we told her we didn’t have a loading dock an entirely new problem arose.  The Hawken Shop items were on a pallet inside a truck that had a lift made for unloading at a loading dock.  There was no way this trucking company would or could deliver the pallet.  We would have to come up with an alternative method to get Sam’s Hawken Shop the rest of the way from their dock to its final destination.  The first thought was to contact our local trucking company which we did.  This local company was rather small and wasn’t equipped to deal with the type of loading dock needed by the truck carrying Sam.  They did suggest we try a trucking company in Burlington, a town  about 40 miles from where we were.  This we did and foolishly hope again sprang eternal.  That company was  certain their lift would  be able to meet the criteria to  pick up the  pallet from the dock in Seattle.  They would bring it to their home dock in Burlington but no further, they didn’t service the island  in Puget Sound where the Hawken  Shop was headed.  So we weren’t  home free yet, there  was  still the need to get it from their dock to it’s future site. This was getting more difficult by the mile.  In times   like this the mind can play tricks and easily make up all sorts of scenarios.   I started to conjure up a tiny bit of suspicion  that perhaps Sam was changing his mind and  wanted to remain on the truck with the hope of going back to St. Louis.  Could it be he decided he didn’t want to go to the island, Whidbey Island; located in the San Juans  Islands in Washington State?  Or just maybe he was concerned that he would reach the island via a bridge above the water.  This bridge; Deception Pass Bridge at 1487 feet in length looms approximately 180 feet above the water connecting  the island to the mainland.  This is much  higher than the  Eades  Bridge in his home town of Saint Louis.  While spanning approximately 4025 feet in length it hovers over the Mississippi at a mere 80 feet above the water.  That’s less than half the height of the Deception Pass Bridge.  Maybe he was a little unsure of crossing  on a bridge so high.   Afraid of heights possibly?

It was about an hour before dark when we got the next call, the pallet of goods had been unloaded onto the dock in Burlington and was awaiting pickup.  With all these transportation changes and  delivery ending up in a town other than we had planned for we were lamenting about what to do.  We were needing  to come up with a quick solution and not a clue where to begin.  A long time friend happened to be in the shop and learning of our dilemma offered his assistance.  He had a new truck made for heavy duty work and was anxious to give it a try.  He was certain we would be able to get the pallet loaded and that his truck could easily handle the load.

It took a little longer than expected to locate the trucking agency for none of us had been  there before.  Upon arrival it became clear this was not going to be accomplished in the manner predicted., The pallet was on the dock but there was no chance of loading it onto the truck. The truck bed was just too low to match up with the dock.  Had it been  high enough we could have easily wheeled it from the dock onto the bed of the truck  with their dolly.  It seemed Sam was digging in his heels every inch of the way.  Onto the next and only plan that would allow us to complete the journey .of the Hawken Shop.  We would have to unload the pallet and move it  piece by piece to the pickup truck.

Knowing it wasn’t going to move itself we decided we may as well begin the loading.  We felt terrible for the inconvenience we were causing our friend and he in turn apologized profusely for leading us astray by thinking this transfer  would be no problem.  So, one piece at a time we carefully unloaded the moulds from the pallet to his truck.  This wasn’t nearly as difficult as we had thought when first starting.  It went quickly and in what seemed a very short time we had everything loaded and ready to continue on.  But wait,  we weren’t done  just yet; there was more to deal with.

A Welcome Surprise

Waiting for the Hawken Shop to arrive had seemed like an eternity as do  most things we are anxious for.   Now to have it sitting on the loading dock  within view was the realization of a dream I that had long entertained.  It had been exciting but also had its moments of anxiety.  We were happy and relieved once we had unloaded the pallet and the carefully packaged moulds were secured in the bed of the pickup.  Finally we  could embark on the final leg of the long journey that The Hawken Shop had begun  over 2000  miles away in St. Louis Mo.

Let’s go!

Just as we began to pull away with our treasured load an employee came running out of the bay to the edge of the dock waving his arms hoping to catch our attention.   We stopped and rolled down the window to hear “you’re forgetting part of the shipment”.  We knew this had to be a mistake, we only shipped the one large pallet.  The man insisted  there was more so we got out as he went to retrieve the remainder of our goods.  He was gone a few minutes and reappeared with what at the dimly lite side of the dock looked  to be  just an eight foot plain 2 X 10 board.  As he neared we could see it was a giant replica of a Hawken rifle.  We had heard about it from Art when in St. Louis but it was a passing conversation and  we never thought to inquire of it any further.  He had mentioned having a large figure of a mountain man standing outside his shop and we were with the understanding it had been stolen.  Apparently the man was taken but the rifle had been left behind.  This was  just too good, what a bonus!  Now we needed to find a means to anchor it in the bed of the truck but before we could address that issue we were told there was yet another item.   The man said he’d be out with it shortly and we went about tying the gun into the truck with the butt end against the tailgate and the muzzle poking over the top of the cab.  In the dark it looked a bit ominous but it was surely not going to move, it was well tied down and as we pulled the last knot as tightly as we could the man reappeared with the last of the shipment.   He was carrying  what looked like a sheet of plywood cut in the shape of an oval,  but it was much much more than that.  When he turned, the front faced towards us and even in the darkness I could see it was the Hawken Shop  sign that I had seen and admired in the Hawken Shop booth years before.  There was this perfectly designed and executed logo highlighting the name Hawken and poised below it was the rendering of a rifle and a powder horn to complete the  brand.  This was not at all expected!  It was a  complete and very welcome surprise for I  in fact didn’t know this sign still existed!  Only one  thing that could have made this night better would have been to have Art and Sam to step out  and join us as well.  Yet it felt to me they  had done just that and were there  beside us overseeing the move.

I’ve always been in the habit of addressing people I’m not in frequent contact with as Mr. or Mrs. and Art was no different.  To me was Mr. Ressel.   One afternoon while with him in St. Louis he hinted that he was somewhat suspicious of people who referred to him as Mr. and wasn’t always comfortable in trusting them.  That night when the big gun and the Hawken  sign arrived unexpectedly I figured he must have decided that we could be trusted and  from that time on Mr. Ressel was no longer,  Art had taken his place.  Now  with Sam and Art  ever subconsciously on our minds  we could take the  Hawken  Shop to its new home on Whidbey Island and go about preparing to once again have the Hawken rifle  to share with the general public…in time.

Appropriate  Accommodations For  Sam

Riding shotgun in the pickup truck from the loading dock in Burlington headed for Whidbey Island  with the Hawken Shop on board was an uplifting experience.  The rushing around to have the moulds safely captured in the truck bed, the crisp cold night air and the mysterious arrival of the Big Gun along with the Hawken Shop sign was groundwork for a natural high.   The excitement  and enthusiasm created an exuberant effervescent feeling that was followed up, with exhaustion.   The warmth of the cab of the truck coupled with the hum of the engine on the trip home relaxed us enough to realize how tired we really were.

Finally, we had crossed over Deception Pass Bridge  onto Whidbey Island and in minutes we were parked and ready to unload our treasure.   We weren’t about to entertain any ideas of putting Sam’s goods in a storage shed.  One close call like the one in St. Louis and the possibility of  loosing all was a fear we didn’t want to chance realizing.  No, we had to find a good secure place.  Then it came to us as if a hint from Sam himself.  We’d cache the tooling  in the vault where we keep our black powder magazine.  Surely Sam would have approved of that and we were confident his things would be safe there.   So this we did.

Sam visits the foundry

The holiday season was still in full swing and we had the best present ever there in our vault.  The foundry that casts parts for the items we were currently manufacturing was in a town about 70 miles away.  While it was a large company we had come to know the manager and office employees and many of the work crew quite well.  We had prepared holiday mugs filled with Christmas candy for the entire foundry  and arranged to take them down Christmas Eve Day.  Being excited about our new acquisition  we inquired if we might bring along one of the moulds to show them.  We were curious to know if our moulds would be compatible  with their machines that would be used to make wax castings of our parts to later be put into metal through the lost wax process.  If not comparable we would have to find another source  for our castings.  They agreed to have a look and so off we went to the foundry parts and Christmas mugs in hand.

It turned out that  our moulds would work just fine with their machines.  The foundry was shutting down for the Christmas holiday thru New Years  so we wished them a Merry Christmas and. a Happy New Year and headed back  to the shop.  We were  eager for the next trip at which time we would pack up all the moulds and deliver them to the foundry.  The next step then was to get in line and await having some parts cast.  We were excitedly looking forward  to the upcoming year and finding the time to get a real feel of Sam’ s  HAWKEN  Shop.  We wanted to know as much as possible of Sam Hawken himself and to learn all the little idiosyncrasies that make a Hawken rifle  indisputably a  Hawken.   How were we to know this new year would be an adventure we would long remember.

The Calm  Before The Storm

The trip  to the foundry just before Christmas Day had been positive  and very encouraging.   Along with us we took one of the Hawken Shop moulds so we could see if they were going to be compatible with their wax machines. We were issued safety protection  and escorted to  the part of the facility where the wax machines were in operation.  The crew chief  took the mould to one of the machines and after a little turning and manipulating it around he acknowledged  that our moulds would work.  Even better, no alterations would be needed.   We had a short conversation of how many different moulds we had and a projection of approximately how many pieces of each part we would need.   All of us were aware that guesstimating  how many of each part to order would be difficult.  Until they had an opportunity to actually make a few waxes off of our moulds it would be hard to tell.  Even with that it would still be only a guess until they could cast the parts in metal.  Some  moulds were designed to cast more than one of the same item at a time.   The spaces in the mould for the cast parts are called cavities.   one cavity mould casts one part where a four cavity mould would make four parts. Some parts are  complicated in shape and are more difficult to make than others. While a four cavity mould casts four parts there’s a chance only one or two would actually come out  and be acceptable for advancing to the next step.  Casting.  With all these variables we knew there would have to be a trial running of each part in wax and then into metal before any firm  numbers could be compiled.  It had been a good and informative visit  and we left feeling we had made quite an advanced step forward towards once again putting Sam’s rifle back on the market.

So much had occurred in the previous few months that we looked forward to a couple of days  during the holiday.  We could take that time to  gather together our notes and organize our lists in the order which we would proceed with our newest adventure.  This was going to be an on going project that we were looking forward to, one to be enjoyed and not rushed.  Something that, for a change; we weren’t  going to have to be dependent on like we were with our other businesses.

We decided to take the days between Christmas and the New Year to catch up on orders we had open from our other businesses. These few days would give us time to get on top of any back orders we had pending but also a little free time to do whatever.  .  Whatever turned out to be a day on the range shooting black powder rifles.  Our arsenal consisted of a Jonathan Browning Mountain Rifle, a T.C. Renegade, Seneca, Cherokee and a T.C. Hawken.  It was great fun and exciting too knowing that one day in the future we would bring an S. Hawken  rifle to the range as well.  We had no idea how soon that was to be.

Our plan to get back to our usual work routine on the day after New Years found us being a bit lackadaisical.  We had managed quite well in keeping  our work schedule consistent aside from the day we spent on the range.   Back orders had been filled and we would start putting together current orders when we resumed  work on January 2nd.   We were in a rather lethargic mode starting with the previous  evening watching old movies  and kind of enjoying them.  We switched channels back and forth watching cities prepping for celebrations, busily setting up the fireworks  with New Years Eve just a day away.  We checked up on the news from time to time and looked in on the weather channel showing us how fortunate we were to be living in such a moderate climate.   Seemed there were heavy snows in a lot of the East, ice storms in the Midwest,  airports with delayed flights and road closures throughout the country.  Nothing that unexpected.    It had been an evening of old movies where the endings can easily be figured out before they’re even halfway over.  There no surprise  local weather reports and the typical world news made for a  run of the mill evening.  None of us at the shop were much for celebrating New Years Eve with watching parades and such although football games would be on.  Yet, better than sit idle glued to an easy chair all day we decided that we’d shoot muzzleloaders again.  We had so much fun earlier in the week and it wasn’t all that often we had the range all to ourselves so this seemed a viable plan.   With that decision we took just one last flip thru the channels before calling it a night.  World news showed the turmoil increasing in several areas the year  grew closer  to an end.   The holiday preparation for fireworks continued on and the Rose parade was feverously making adjustments to the various floats preparing  for the upcoming parade.  The weather across the country remained as it had the last time we channel searched.  Our local weather was typical for the time of year, the Space Needle was readying itself for New Years and all was status quo.  There was news of a fire in an industrial complex between Whidbey Island and Seattle with reports of no known injuries as everything had  shut down for the holiday.  It was after midnight and New Years Eve day was upon us.   With just a short time left to be decadently lazy we ended the evening  with plans to  spend time on the range the next day and then quietly drift into the New Year.   We had no reason to think and no way of knowing that this New Years Eve Day would be a major turning point for the future of the Hawken Shop

New year, New beginning

Our plan   to spend New Years  Eve day  firing our muzzleloaders, making a bit of noise and just enjoying the day. was a good means to keep us from  succumbing to the urge to carry on with work as usual.  We were pleased with our decision justifying  it in our minds  by convincing ourselves that it was work related.  One of our group would bring his  mid size cannon that would aide in the celebration with loud noises.  The cannon was made to shoot loads but we shot only paper as the sound effects were all we were after.  Other people in the area within our hearing  range started early with sporadic bursts of noise that would continue late  into the evening welcoming in the New Year.

It was mid morning when we finally left for the shop where we would spend the better part of the day.. We often ended up at the shop on holidays even  if it was for a short while.   On this particular day we would toast the New Year with   sodas and snack on  chips and dips.  Occasionally we would do a cook out of hamburgers and the like but we all agreed to save that for the next holiday.  We entered the shop and were met with sympathetic gazes hovering in a field of gloom  and doom.  We inquired of what was wrong, what had happened?   There was silence as they glanced   at one another each was hoping someone other than themselves would speak.   The words finally came.  “the foundry called”.   “On New Years Day?”  II questioned.  “I thought they planned to be closed for New Years.  Do I need to call them back.  “no ” was the extent of the answer.  “What did they want, did they leave a message?”  Again the “no” came followed by an explanation of  such magnitude  I could only stand in disbelief  as  the story unfolded .  Seems  there had been a fire, a large fire that had done significant damage to several out buildings on the premises of a large industrial complex.  The little out buildings  weren’t all that had been  touched by the fire.  As the flames raced wildly on they headed for larger trophies, the manufacturing entities in the complex were subjected to the attack as well.  The fire department sent out all of its trucks while trucks  continued arriving from neighboring departments to assist in  attempts to tame  the out of control blaze.   The firemen fought hard to halt the fire from traveling further as fears of it reaching   a major portion  of the town were unleashed.   After many long, tense hours they  managed to get the fire under control.   Unfortunately  they were unable to stop it from reaching some of the larger buildings as it leaped from one structure  to another.   I listened intently to  every word as the story was relayed.  I knew what was coming next, knew the words that were about to  be spoken, words I dreaded hearing.

Alarms had gone off in the larger buildings alerting the fire department of the need for assistance.   Unfortunately  that was after the fire had torched several of the outbuilding which had no alarms.  The response from the fire department  was swift and they quickly rushed forward to address the  undeterred flames.  They were able to corral the fire in a small and concentrated area but not before a few flames had reached  out and ignited the roofs of some of the larger buildings.  The firemen were quick to act and were able to extinguish the roof fires before irreparable  damage was done.  Yet there was one building a little farther away from the rest that they had been unable to reach in time.  It was the foundry that produced all of our castings and housed all of our moulds.  The major portion of the building was engulfed in flames and as smoke billowed out into the night air there was nothing that could be done, nothing to do but watch.

This was the fire we had seen on the news but hadn’t  realize just where it was.  We had  watched long enough to know there were no casualties and that the fire had done a great deal of damage  with losses in the millions of dollars.  The reports from the media were that the  clean up process would take a long time and would be the demise of some of the businesses not able to afford rebuilding.  As we had watched the local news in the wee hours it never crossed our minds that we were in any way involved.

New Year’s Eve had come and gone  and New Years  Day arrived with no celebration.  New Years, a time to leave the past behind and push forward  into the future.  This was easier said than done.  The past had been a time of building up business and improving upon products  our company  manufactured.   We were  establishing good and faithful clientele as our goods met and often exceeded their expectation.  Now, here in the present, in this New Year the anticipation of growing the business had literally gone up in flames.  With nothing other than the few parts that were on hand  there was little we could do.  The ax had fallen, the other shoe had dropped,  the chair had been kicked out from under us and any other cliché that fit.  In no uncertain terms we were dead in the water without a lifeboat  in sight.  It would do no good to sit and dwell on an occurrence over which we had no control, the outcome was what  we had to contend with.  And we did.

The fire had been a harsh reality and as the emblems on the scene  continued to smolder we  busied ourselves with the few parts we had to work with.  We would ship what we could and the rest we could only list as  “Out Of Stock”. We shipped  from what meager inventory was on  our shelves which wasn’t much.  We were able to fill orders for the three different safeties we  made but the rest was not so easy.  From the trigger units we manufactured we lost two different trigger frame moulds, two different  trigger  pieces moulds, two sear moulds,  with all three pieces necessary to produce  one unit .  We also produced some muzzleloading parts of which several pieces were needed to make one item.  We had percussion locks each needing  six components to make one lock.  We had breeches and tangs of different designs which were all lost as well.  There was a montage of butt plates, trigger guards, sights, nose caps, ramrod pipes, under lugs , under  lug keys, and various and sundry  other parts that were no longer.  We spent a good deal of time hoping to find component parts that we might have overlooked,  may have stashed away in a bin or drawer somewhere but  our exhaustive research  produced nothing.

We found everything most difficult, both financially and emotionally.  We tried to pass the time arranging and rearranging workbenches, shuffling papers and just generally  staying occupied hoping to have some inkling of what to do next.  We were completely at a loss as to what direction to go in  and were muddling through day by day.  Then  one afternoon the CEO of the foundry called asking us to meet with him at a restaurant in the nearby area to where the foundry once stood.  This was our first contact since the notification of the fire.  We hadn’t been able to contact them as there was no phone, no foundry to have a phone.

Perhaps  A Small  Reprieve

We met with the foundry CEO and his secretary over lunch where we would learn what the final outcome was to be.  We were pretty certain it was a courtesy lunch and would come with the apology that there was nothing that could be done.  We already knew there was no insurance so things looked pretty bleak.  At lunch we were told that there was in fact no insurance, that rumor held true.  Much to our surprise we were informed that while there was no insurance the foundry owners were going to rebuild and would have all of our tools remade.  This of course was like some sort of miracle, too good to be true.  But it was true with one little hitch that turned out  to be a major mountain to scale.  The moulds would be remade but it was going to take some time, a lot of time.   The foundry that casts our parts was quite large with many account some the size of Boeing and even Boeing themselves.  Lots of tools would need to be remade for lots of companies and we certainly were not at the top of the list.  Second problem was the shortage of good tool makers.  This was at a time before everything was CNC and 3D  and such.  Still we were  relieved that we would eventually be back in business.

The lunch was nice, casual, delivered a good message and brought us some mental relief.  We had become well acquainted with the CEO over time and after lunch he asked if we might like to see our tools.  Not even thinking that anything still remained we were curious so took him up on the offer.  We traveled to where the foundry had been and the initial sight was unbelievable.  This new modern up to date facility was little more than a rubble of concrete and metal.  The clean up had begun so we were allowed access to certain areas.  We went to where all of our moulds had been stored with many other moulds.  There in a pile on the concrete slab floor was a giant solid mass of  melted aluminum.  This had been our moulds, our source of income now gone for an undetermined time.

From out of the fire

Learning that the foundry would be rebuilding their business and replacing the moulds of all the companies that had suffered a loss was welcome news.  Yet, there was a downside.   The rebuild of the foundry itself would be swift and they would be running again in a relatively short time.   The remake of lost moulds was another issue in itself.  The foundry would have to locate free lance tool makers to undertake this magnanimous task.  They would need to be familiar with working not only from prints but from samples as well.  For our company samples were few and far between and prints even more scarce.  It was obvious this would be a long and very slow process and small customers such as ourselves would most  likely not be unable to sustain the wait.   For us  there was no choice but to continue on as best as possible and hope our endurance could see us through.

Contact was made with our customers alerting them to the situation and assuring them we would be back and supplying product but we didn’t know when.  There was sympathy from our customers as well as questions that we were unable to answer.  They naturally wanted to know an estimated time they could  expect to receive product.  We had no answer.  Some questioned if the new parts would be compatible with the parts from the old tooling.  Again we could not say.  Our accounts for the most  part wanted to and tried to ride out the storm with us but we couldn’t expect them to hold on forever.  As time wore on most all were forced to locate other sources to supply their needs.  This was difficult for them as  some had designed their entire projects around our parts  and had used them for years.  Having  to change  suppliers gave them dimensionally different  parts and ultimately they were forced to make changes in their fixtures for drilling, and tapping.  . It was a hard time all the way around and we  waited without income, each day hoping to get some news of  the progress on the rebuilding of our moulds.  It was much longer than the foundry had expected and becoming longer than we would be able to sustain.

Then, one afternoon when hope was still there but waning; we  made a chance decision.  This was the next and only step we could take, the only road left to travel.  The rose that had bloomed in St. Louis so many years before had a fresh new bud.  We were going to reintroduce Sam Hawken back into the world of the mountain man, not only in a new locale but a new era as well.   It is written that Sam Hawken  (Uncle Sam as he was fondly called) was a fearless fireman in hi is time.   It is probably good reason to speculate he helped save  many a day.   Would he be up to the challenge now of saving us?  We could only hope as we called Sam into action.

Out Of Retirement And Back At The Bench

Luckily Sam’s Hawken moulds hadn’t been at the foundry when the devastating fire occurred.  Even so, he was somehow like a Phoenix rising renewed from the ashes of the fire.  Had it not been for the fire Sam may have sat idle in retirement for many years.  As it was, we needed him and he was there for us.

Getting The Hawken Shop up and running again after several years in storage was not an easy task.  Still it had to be easier than it was for  Art Ressel  when he first revived the shop in the 1070’s.  At that point it had been stored for an even longer time frame.  In talking with Art we know we share many of the same frustrating and challenging hurdles he had encountered.   On the other side of that,  like Art we  also feel the excitement that comes with such an acquisition.

Now, onward we go with Sam and Art as we press  forward in our continuing the tradition of offering a connection with the past through this historically significant  rifle made here in the U.S.A.

We invite you to visit us at this site from time to time and join us in our adventure of communicating with the past through Sam Hawken’s classic plains rifle.  We will be sharing some little known facts about Sam and his rifle and keep you up to date as we introduce new products of a quality that would meet with Sam’s approval