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by Mike Gaddis | Oct 15, 2020 | FIREARMS, SHOTGUNS
Parker Bros.

Dove Days by Brett James Smith, 24 x 36, oil on canvas

Our quest: the old workhorse of the Parker stable, the gun that, more than any other, validated the company catchphrase, “The Old Reliable.”
For it was that of a young man, and I am old, and I have seen first-hand the burnishment of many golden years upon a dream that was gilded even at its genesis. That was further adorned upon some unforgettable day that might never have come, with the patina of consummated desire. And it is a priceless thing in the life of a man, that comes to accord worth that, even then, was unimagined. That brings it to become a part of himself. More than even the people who suffered most dearly to love him can know. A thing almost equally soulful and organic, that will not be buried or burned, as will flesh, but that will be left to carry on, treasured the more, in material remembrance of his life and times. In remembrance of who he was, the trilogy in life that was his most burning passion. Something to have and hold of himself, something of great value that will most timelessly last. The only thing that can.

It is not altogether common in this millennium to find a young man who wants something truly old. Who yearns for more of his heritage than its story alone. Who has a yearning that goes beyond family blood. Who is deeply taken with the lore and legacy of days he can never hope to live. But who dreams it may still be possible to grab hold and have a piece of them, one enduring thing, by which he can graft himself inseparably to the past, that can be passed on one day at his ebb nearly a century more endeared.

“Will the circle be unbroken…”

I value this young man greatly for that. I saw the earnestness of his longing through these old eyes, and it was if it were burning again after all these long years in my own. For I remember…I remember….

Cameron Boltes holds in hand the make of a dream, a 20 gauge Parker from the Roaring Twenties.

You see, he wanted a vintage American double gun. “Want,” being an impoverished word. A 20 gauge, as intensely as he wanted the yesterday he couldn’t have, and while he vowed to me he could be satisfied with any one of the old favored five, I knew that was not true. More than all, as I did then, he wanted a Parker.

Of course, we know, in this church and pew, the past does not come cheaply. For its disciples are ardent and willing to generously tithe to gain the Favor of the Lord.

I came to find, in fact, that he had been looking for several years, but, alas, after he asked me to help him evaluate a couple that met the scripture, I discovered what I already surmised. In such a world of religion and worship, he was woefully scarce of means, and could only look in all the wrong places.

So I went to the one man to whom he was almost closely a son, who along with myself, and financially, would be his most ardent benefactor.

“Here’s what I think we should look for,” I told him, “and, reasonably, depending on what we find, I think we’re looking at somewhere between four to seven bills.”

He shrugged, “When do we start?”

So that, secretly, our dedication to the task of birthing a dream waxed unrelenting, and it became in the end probably the most gratifying search of my lifetime. Of which there have been many.

Our quest: the old workhorse of the Parker stable, the gun that, more than any other, validated the company catchphrase, “The Old Reliable.” The graded gun that splendored all of the physical features of the higher Parker line, sans the party wood, the finer stock and metal work, and high-end engraving. Not plebian, mind you, no Parker is. Just plainly beautiful, and dignified. Not a collector-condition gun, necessarily, but a gun with honest wear, maybe, with all its original appointments, sound and tight, that could still be carried afield for a lifetime – and if respected and cared for – be bequeathed for lifetimes more.

A poignant grail, when you stop and really think about it. And finally, it had to be in 20 gauge. Not, together, an easy order, but trustfully an attainable one.

You can find Parkers, you just can’t readily find “good” Parkers. There were twelves aplenty, and a respectful number of sixteens, that could have met the basic laden. Hold on 20 gauge, however, and the field quickly narrows to meager, and the money becomes in most cases ridiculously “Parker exorbitant.” Once it was the Shotgun News that was a foremost conveyance of fine American guns; now, of course, it’s the net. For several months, I haunted every site with classic SxS gigabytes, called a number of the fine gun folks I knew. Thirteen guns later, all failing because of a dearth of originality and condition — even the “price” guns — or, ultimately, the money period, the one we sought still lay “somewhere over the rainbow.” With numerous other “feelers” afloat, but scant responders of proper ilk, I was beginning to wonder if I had been overly optimistic.

Still, where there is the will, there will be the way. No one brings a dream to ground easily. They fly high. It takes a tight choke.

“Parker Brothers:” Author, left, Cameron Boltes, right, with their Parkers, representing in longevity more than two centuries of fine American gun-making heritage.

Then, last December, Christmas looming, I remembered a place on Addieville East Farm that I hadn’t checked for a while: Robin Hollow Outfitters. I had been there, knew the folks. Their gun room is exquisite, and oftentimes replete with fine American doubles. And, lo and behold, Santy Claus came to town. There on their website, was the gun. I knew it in my bones, before I ever called Bill Hadfield, before I first held it in my hands on 3-day inspection. The transaction was neat, the shipping fleet, the price wholly reasonable for what it was.

Not long after, with proper pomp and circumstance, we laid in the hands of a young man of finest sporting order, that any gentleman sportsman of vintage manufacture could be proud of, the object of his dreams: a fine Parker Vulcan grade 20, built in the Roaring Twenties, all original in character, and near-original in condition.

I could but think of Nash Buckingham, upon a similar occasion long ago, when an old man of many years sport had placed in his hands as a lad an ancient, leather shooting ledger: “Here, Boy, I give you back my years.”

What goes around, sometimes so happily, comes around.

Overwhelmed, our “Boy” was at first speechless, the wash over his face one of consummate awe, disbelief and joy, and between the three of us, the first “words” were silent, spoken through a wash of misted emotion, and irrepressible tears.
Afterwards, to consecrate the occurrence and kindle the trilogy, we sewed together a little bird hunt – and you will, of course, think incorrectly I am sugaring the lily on this – over a dog named “Parker.” From what ensued, you could have easily concluded that the day, the occasion, the “Boy” and his “Old Reliable” were wonderfully matched by a power much beyond the three of us.

So that now, both us “Boys” carry Parkers, both the gift of a man and a dream, mine made in 1906, his in ’26. In period-heritage, over two centuries of America’s finest gunmaking between us — from the dogs and birds on the buttplates, to the sculpted shoulders of the receivers, to the period artistry of the forend irons, to the forward beads — we’re “Parker Bros.”

You can’t get much more kindred, magical or American than that.
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