I stopped by an elderly neighbor's house today to see how he's doing and we got to be talking guns and hunting. As we talked, he showed me some of his gun collection, most of which were scattered about the house. (His house makes mine look neat. I must show Aaron of The Shekel's wife some day so she stops commenting on mine.) As we talked, he grabbed an old rifle out of the corner and said "here. You can have this one. I bought three of them at a flea market once for ten bucks each. It's just junk now."
Under all of the crud and grime, I recognized the vague outline of an 1888 Commission Rifle. Owing to the darkness in his house, I really couldn't see it that well. A cursory attempt to open the bolt showed me that it was frozen solid. It probably is junk, I figured. But to refuse it would be rude. After a while I came home and checked it out. It looked even worse in clear light.Yeah, it's pretty bad. I can't even make out the manufacturer and date. It looks like Spandau, Germany but the date's still covered with dried gunk. I know that the first two numbers are 18. It's old.
It's clearly pretty far gone. I was about to relegate it to the junk pile but as usually happens, I got to be looking at it and speculating as to it's history and the stories that it could tell.
The 1888 Commission rifle was Germany's first cartridge rifle designed around the then-new smokeless-propellant cartridge that had been developed. It got it's name because it was the result of a program undertaken by a commission of military experts. A five-shot repeater, like many other rifles of it's day it required special clips to hold the ammunition. These clips dropped free from the bottom of the rifle when the last round was fired. In later days, many of these rifles were modified to feed from traditional stripper clips and the hole on the bottom was sealed. This one is not one of those modified rifles. It's still clip-fed. These rifles were still front-line weapons used by the Germans and their Turkish allies in World War One and the Turks continued to use them until and through world War Two.
Once I started to work on it, the bolt eventually yielded to the subtle persuasion of a block of wood and a hammer. (Fortunately it was empty.) It's now off of the rifle. As expected, the bolt head is missing. This was a common problem with this design, as the bolt head was way too easy to remove from the bolt and frequently became lost. But the mainspring still functions and the bolt might be salvageable.
The bore is full of crud but still has some distinct rifling left. It's going to take a lot of scrubbing before I can tell how bad it is, but the preliminary evaluation looks promising.
The neighbor who gave me this doesn't even remember how long ago that he bought this rifle. He just knows that it was a long, long time ago. The sad thing is, other than the bolt head and a few minor parts, it looks complete and probably worked.
It didn't take long before I made the decision: I'm going to save and restore this rifle. I'm going to make it presentable, and I'm going to make it shoot again.
Right now it's caked in a dried substance which I think--and hope--is a type of preservative grease. But it's rock solid and I haven't quite figured out how to remove it without damaging whatever finish is left. My first job is going to be to disassemble the rifle completely and then clean the parts, both wood and metal. Then I'll look at the finish and decide whether or not to apply a new one or just try to preserve what's left. Eventually I hope to get it back together, replacing any missing or broken parts, and get it out to the range for a trial. It's going to take a while and a lot of elbow grease, but with old veterans like this, it's a labor of love. This will probably be the toughest restoration I've done thus far, but I'm confident that I can save this rifle.
Scratch that. I WILL save this rifle.