Y WONDERFUL wife, Carol, knows that my love affairs have been going on for a few years now. She says that since my "girl friends" are my side-by-side shotguns, it's OK. So when I broke the news to her that I was having another "affair," this time with (Amazing) "Grace," she only raised her eyebrows and gave me that all-knowing grin that only a loving wife of twenty-nine years can give.
So why fall in love with an Ithaca, you ask? Why not the Fox, or Parker, or L C Smith? Some would say that they are much prettier and more desirable, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Frankly, I think you could chalk it up to fate, and back then, the price of an Ithaca was much more affordable. I hadn't appreciated Ithaca's simplicity, strength, and beauty until I held an Ithaca classic double. In fact, I hardly knew a thing about Ithaca shotguns. But that first time I picked one up, it felt so at ease in the hand and came to the shoulder with effortless motion. And there were the symmetry, balance, and flowing curves. I've been smitten ever since.
There was this original Ithaca field grade 12=bore that led me down that lustful road to beautiful guns. I had it rebuilt into a custom-grade, complete with top-grade walnut and excellent full-coverage engraving. It's a beautiful piece, one that I enjoy using and admiring. Her name is Beth.
Then there's the two-barrel set in Sousa grade, a .410 with extra 28-gauge barrels, named Susie and Sue. This was an expensive affair — it cost me two of my other guns!
Recently, and long after Ithaca classic doubles closed, a set of 20-gauge barrels and frame came into my possession. Oddly, this was the beginning of the seduction to own a Superlative class, or "bespoke," ICD gun — and I was clueless to the seduction! This ICD is one of, if not the last, ICD to be built in the Superlative grade. The Superlative grade was the top grade of ICD and was really a fully custom-made gun.
Gunter Pfrommer was at once the "go-to guy" to custom-build this gun — to stock it and to do everything but checker and engrave it. He would be the gun-maker to see the project through. Gunter is my good friend who, fortunately for me, lives nearby. He is a Master gun-builder from Ferlach, Austria, who worked at ICD and knows Ithacas very well. We have collaborated on several projects, including the rebuilding of Beth. I knew that he'd put together a great team to build this custom gun.
Once we had the metal, we needed stock wood. We got it through www.hunterbid.com, an online auction house specializing in Turkish walnut, and purchased it from Chiron, Inc., which owns Hunterbid.com. Once I had it in hand, I knew that I was being seduced and falling in love. We knew what we had to do — pull out all the stops and build a bespoke gun with all the trimmings. This was no ordinary blank; it had everything in it and all in the right places. This project was beginning to look like the tale of feeding a mouse a cookie; you know: then you have to give him milk, and on and on it goes.
A "bespoke" gun is a very special gun that has been crafted for one person. This was mine and therefore has my cast, drops, length of pull, and pitch measurements — done expertly by Gunter. He didn't have a duplicator or pantograph to shape and inlet that block of wood; he just took the blank and hand-cut it! It was a sight to behold as he hand-sawed, cut, and filed the block into a stock. The embellishments and style were done at my direction, but with the ever-vigilant eye of Gunter to ensure proper form.
I say "at my direction." but it was truly a collaboration that made it come together so beautifully. Each member of the team was given the freedom to be creative. My only direction was that it was to be elegant and graceful.
The straight grip has been said to be the best for double triggers, but I think that it lacks grace. I opted for the open semipistol grip, ending in a round knob. This shape gives form to function and grace, and it greatly enhances the options for checkering.
The semibeavertail fore-arm was selected instead of the usual splinter fore-arm. I believe that it gives better handling qualities to smaller-gauge barrels. Like the grip, it also gives more surface and options to checker. Here, Gunter deftly shaped it to flow harmoniously from the wrist to the frame to the barrels.
I also asked for it to be slightly longer than standard to blend smoother to the thirty-inch barrels. We also wanted a different treatment to the fore-arm's end cap. On Ithacas, the end is usually graced with an ebony triangle insert. We decided on steel, and Gunter shaped it slightly differently, into the same shape as the trigger bow. Steel, unlike ebony, could then be engraved.
On the other end, we found wonderful color and smoky lines in the butt. Our original thought was to use a leather-covered recoil pad. But then we saw that the beauty of this wood extended to the butt. It just couldn't be covered up! We changed to engraved toe and heel plates and checkering of the remaining wood. Like the mouse fed a cookie, this project keeps asking for more, more, more!
Now, about the team that Gunter put together to build (Amazing) Grace. Jack Jones, formerly of Victor, NY, and now back home in Virginia, was commissioned to do the engraving and gold inlays. Jack had engraved Susie and Sue. I worked with Jack to develop the engraving pattern, but Jack saw what was needed and laid-out the first pattern, which was the one that we stayed with. Our mantra was elegance and grace. He was given the daunting task to do full-coverage engraving in a very short time.
You see, I planned on introducing my new "girl friend" in the Gold Medal Concours D' Elegance at Sandanona, New York, in September; a mere seven months away! That plan meant that he had only about two months to engrave it. However, Jack accomplished all this on time and with aplomb. The finished work was 'way better than I could have imagined!
Ron Buck, also of New York and currently employed at Galazan's, was commissioned to do the checkering. Like Jack's, we had seen Ron's work, and it too is of the highest quality. This work was no exception — all lines are complete and straight, with no run-over into the borders. Checkering is an embellishment that if it's done extraordinarily, compliments the stock's natural beauty and adds elegance. Ron's work is a compliment to this stock!
The "feed a mouse a cookie" effect was contagious. Both Jack and Ron seemed to have caught it — both men did 'way more than I asked of them. When Jack got to see the wood and what Gunter had done with it, he knew that he should do exemplary work, and he did. Ron knew what Jack was doing, so he also put extra effort into his work.
Doug Turnbull was the only choice for case-hardening. He's the best of the best when it comes to this important process. If it's done incorrectly; warping can mar the engraving and cause the barrels to go "off face," which you definitely don't want. Even though Doug's case coloring in the hardening process is beautiful, I wanted a grey finish to show-off the engraving better and to blend with the stock's coloring. Doug also rust-blued the barrelsanother hallmark of his excellent work.
Jess Briley's company did the flush chokes to give Grace more versatility without being obvious. I have used their services many times, and it's always been excellent.
I have worked with Gunter and Ron before and own an ICD Sousa-grade that Jack beautifully engraved. Ron and Gunter were on the team to build Beth, the original Ithaca field-grade 12-gauge that they upgraded handsomely.
I don't know about you, but when the Lord was passing out "patience," I must have been absent! One of the hardest things for me is the wait. And by the calendar, this project didn't take long at all. But it seemed like an eternity before I saw (Amazing) Grace again. Luckily, I did take some digital pictures before the parts went out. One of those became the wallpaper on my computer! My wife says that I spend way too much time at it — little does she know why.
Fortunately, Jack moved back to Virginia in the middle of this project and is now very close by. On one of his moving trips, he brought the work for us to see. You know, when you send stuff out to be worked on, you aren't really sure just exactly how it will come back. It was a wonderful visit and seeing what Jack had done so far on (Amazing) Grace was 'way better than the pictures he had sent. To hold those parts again that were now engraved and gold-inlaid had an ethereal quality to it. Jack did what I hoped that he would — use his creative ability to do a better job of layout and use of gold. He said that it just grew and demanded more - more gold and more skill. I couldn't agree more. I really had a super engraver on this work. We took some more pictures before he had to go back to New York, and yes, one of those photos became computer wallpaper!
We got the wood back from Ron, and his work, too, was much better than I'd expected. Ron took the agreed-upon initiative to be flexible and slightly altered some of our layout. He added feminine curves to some borders and rearranged the layout ever so slightly to be more harmonious to the over-all project. As I said earlier, checkering can be a compliment to the gun if it's done right, and that's just what Ron did. Checkering doesn't get any better than this.
Gunter went all-out to make this a truly bespoke custom gun. He added many nuances that say excellence of thought and execution. He reshaped the trigger bow's end, put inletting cuts in the fore-arm iron to show that even it too had been treated with respect. The frame's fences were reshaped and frame recontoured for more a more graceful appearance. The safety was even reshaped. Oh, that safety! I've never seen such a unique shaping. It is so petite! His general shaping of the stock, its lines, comb-nose flutes, fore-arm — all are wonderfully graceful, elegant, and unique to this gun.
Speaking of unique — tucked inside the fore-arm is a feature that Gunter designed and completed that's rarely done and, to my knowledge, has never been done on an Ithaca. It's an off-on selector for the ejectors, beautifully done, functional, and useful. It was truly amazing to watch this master builder craft the seven parts of steel that mated and work so flawlessly. When I shoot the flurry, I set it to eject. For nonlittering, I can set it for extractors. There are many other finesse features that he incorporated into the shaping of metal, wood, and inletting that make this a very special gun to own, admire, and yes, to shoot. In addition, Gunter made a CD, complete with music, of photos that show all the steps involved in the building of this beautiful, Superlative shotgun.
Working with these guys has been an absolute blessing! Gunter was a joy to work with. He was very open-minded to suggestions, very patient, extremely intelligent, and resourceful — and wouldn't consider doing anything short of his best work. Fortunately, he's also young and will be doing his masterful work for a long time to come. He also worked with some of the finest in the gun-building business. Guys like Jack, Doug, and Ron, he knew, will always give their best. It was my honor and privilege to have had them working on this project.
(Amazing) Grace won't like her dimensions to be given out, so let's not tell her I did, OK? She's thirty inches in the barrels, 14-5/8 inches in the length of pull, and weighs a suave six pounds, ten ounces with the most beautiful curves! She also has a lovely birthmark in the faint shape of a heart, right on her -er — right between her toe and heel plates.
So now it's out in the open. I have a new mistress named (Amazing) Grace. A custom-built, bespoke, Superlative-class 20-gauge double gun. My wife knows that it will be a long affair!
PS: The Concours was filled and very well attended. Lots of beautiful guns were on display. In the category of Best Custom Built Gun or Rifle, the gold medal went to (drum roll, please) Ta DA ! United Gunworks (Amazing) Grace! I believe that it was justly awarded. Hard work does have its rewards. Additionally, we have been able to purchase a set of 16-gauge barrels from Galazan's, and now (Amazing) Grace will be a two-barrel set!
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