Retired Fire Chief Brings New Life To Old Guns

And so it was the project began.


It sat quietly in the corner of the shop, behind a group of other rifles. This was the corner where trade-in rifles that were not in the best shape were placed. This particular rifle had begun its life back in 1906, at the Savage Arms factory. It was a Model 1899, with a 24-inch-long barrel in 30-30.

This was a very popular combination for a deer rifle in its day.

I don't know why it attracted attention that day, yet it came out of its corner for examination. The condition could best be described as neglected, and I don't mean short term. The stock had sections missing on both sides from the top tang, back over an inch. The finish was almost non-existent on the receiver, and very poor on the barrel, and yet still, there was something there.

I am sure that there are similar rifles in the corners of any gunsmith's shop. Trade-ins, broken-parts guns, guns too expensive to repair, and thus unwanted. Every now and then comes a time when a project seems like the thing to do. So it was destined to be with the Savage.

So, what to do? How to resurrect this old hunting companion of a time long ago? Its original iteration did not seem like the way to go. As we talked about the project, some pieces seemed to come together.

Criteria included compact, fast handling medium big bore, powerful and a mix of old and new seemed to blend well.

Caliber was the first component we explored. What would work in that action without a large amount of work (this idea would later present challenges). The medium large bores contained a mix of old and new, and during the perusal of the loading manuals, Gunsmith Pat Knight found a very interesting anomaly.

The dimensions of the old (1876) .38-55 Winchester were amazingly close to those of the much more recent (1978) and more powerful .375 Winchester. Power levels precluded mixing them in old Winchesters as the design would not handle the pressure (except for the heavily reinforced "Big Bore 94" which was introduced with the .375 Winchester cartridge).

AAnd so it was that the project began.

Mike Berger and Kelsee Haws

Editor's Note: I first knew Mike Berger through my late daughter Lisa Brookes-Haws, a retired firefighter/EMT/911 dispatcher and trainer. She was so pleased that her own daughter Kelsee Haws was beginning her fire-science program at Central Valley Institute of Technology (CAVIT) under the excellent guidance of Chief Mike Berger.

Fast forward to 2016 - Sadly, although her mother Lisa died before she could see her daughter's graduation, Kelsee did graduate from CAVIT in May of this year. And, Capt. Mike Berger, who had been an inspiration to her and many other students, fulfilled his promise to himself to retire from teaching and the fire service to concentrate on the hobby ("project") he mentions above.

Our family knows that his guidance through some difficult times were a huge help to Kelsee as she completed her program. We are forever grateful to him and look forward to many more articles that will take us further into his project.


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