Transcript of podcast:
Voice: Kassadee Paulo
Fulton, a small city in Central New York, is filled with lots of surprising history linking the city with the larger world outside its boundaries. This is Kassadee Paulo with Oswego County Today, and you’re listening to Fulton, New York: A History, a podcast dedicated to sharing stories of Fulton. In this episode, we have history buff and L.C. Smith gun enthusiast Les Weldin to talk about Hunter Arms – a factory in Fulton that made a famous gun brand from 1889 until 1949 when a section of the first floor of the factory collapsed.
Voice: Les Weldin
My name is Les Weldin. I am a Fultonian. I grew up in the Town of Granby and went to school in Fulton, and started out at Oswego State, met my wife and we decided to stay here in Fulton, New York. My background in history is that I loved it in high school, and when I retired, I was able to spend here at the Fulton Historical [Society] Pratt House. Along with that, I was a hunter and I had several guns, and around 2004, I purchased my first L.C. Smith gun. And why I did that was I love guns and it was produced in Fulton. So it ties me with some passion that I have with the history of Fulton.
Now, Hunter Arms was established in Fulton around 1889, and it came about from the Hunter family out of Sterling, New York. The father, the patriarch, had six sons. He was quite an entrepreneur and he wanted to get his sons into businesses. At the time, he was trying to make a gun with a Fultonian named Comstock, who had a design for a double-barrel shotgun.
Just about that time, L.C. Smith in Syracuse, New York, was making an L.C. Smith double barrel shotgun. L.C. Smith guns are American made and were known as one of America’s best, if not the best.
The reason for that is they patented what they called the rotary locking bolt, which locks the barrel into the receiver and keeps it tight. Prior to that, the more you shot of a side lock or a box, they would loosen up from the vibrations. And of course, now you might not be shooting where you really want to be aiming. But this rotary bolt locks that barrel in and keeps it tight. So the gun was known as the ‘gun that never shoots loose.’ Every gun had it. Every grade had it, from the field grade on up through. It wasn’t just a special for the upper end. It was so it made them very popular. It made them a very well-known gun that became known worldwide. And dignitaries overseas purchased them. President Roosevelt had one. Annie Oakley had one. Babe Ruth had one. John Philip Sousa had one. Other movie stars and some of the famous trap shooters in the time of the early 1900s shot L.C. Smiths and won several classic trap shoots.
“L.C. Smith: The Legend Lives,” made, a book from John Houchins, I consider the Bible because it will give you the whole history of the L.C. Smith gun right from the Syracuse factory right on up through. It talks about Hunter Family. It talks about the appengineers and patents that they did. And then it has a wonderful picture display of all the guns right from the ones produced in Syracuse on up through. And then, after many, many pages of going through the guns of the different eras of the guns, there’s history of the memorabilia and the diagrams and serial numbers that you can research along with that.
Some other members of the L.C. Smith Association have written books on hammer guns, and Jim Steinbeck wrote a book on the production records. So another source of finding out when your gun was made, when it was shipped, etc. etc. You can go all the way to requesting a research letter from the Association and they will send you all the pertinent information that they have on that gun. It becomes, if you keep up with the gun and go to for resale value, it adds another $100 to the resale value.
My interest, my special interest, would be to someday to have a specialty in every gauge from the .12 gauge, which I already have, on up through the trap, the skeet, the 16 gauge, the 20 gauge, and the Holy Grail – .410 specialty, which is probably out of my reach, but who knows? I love that grade; it’s about the third or fourth grade up from the field grade and it’s got some very nice engraving on it that doesn’t have the gold or anything, but very nice scenes and is obtainable by me to hopefully get that goal. I know that I’ll never be able to get up to the Premieres and the Deluxes and Crowns, but that would be a very special thing for me to have a specialty in every gauge. We’re looking forward to that.
L.C. Smith, he wanted to get out of the shotgun business and get into making typewriters – the L.C. Smith typewriters. So, the opportunity arose that the Hunter Family could purchase the machinery from the Syracuse factory. They built a factory in Fulton, New York, just North of the Oneida Street bridge and brought the machinery down, brought a lot of employees in and established the Hunter Arms factory.
At the Hunter Arms factory, they started producing the L.C. Smith shotgun. Why it was the L.C. Smith shotgun was because the arrangement with them was made was that L.C. Smith was to be engraved on every shotgun, although Hunters were producing them. So, from there, the Hunter factory and the six sons also got involved into making bicycles for a short while, for I think around five years and also started producing the Hunter fan, which also became known worldwide, the same as the shotguns. The fans were shipped all over the world and the shot guns were shipped all over the world.
This brought to Fulton an established factory that at one time employed up to 400 people was the mainstay of the commerce of Fulton, gave employment and jobs to several Fultonians. And out of that, they started producing several grades of guns, 10 to 12. From the field grade, which most farmers and people that needed to hunt and shoot food to survive, they could afford that gun. And then there was different grades all the way up through – the Ideal specialty, Crown, Monogram, Premier, on up to the Deluxe.
The Deluxe and some the Premieres, well actually, go back down to above the Crowns, were all special order guns. The field grades, they would produce and send out to hardware stores, places of sale, and then go for there. But anybody could request a special gun. So, the Deluxe guns, because they were engraved by Al Kraus, they were made to order, sometimes took several years to produce because of the engraving. And the customer could specify what they wanted engraved: dogs, animals, etc. They only made 30 Deluxes. These Deluxes are very sought after. Some of them have three different types of gold in them.
And we’ve been fortunate enough to have three out of the 30 come back home to visit Fulton. One came several years ago; it was a 16 gauge Deluxe that, they only made two .16 gauges, so that makes it even more special. The next year, the owner put it in an auction and it sold for over $200,000. When it was originally produced, it probably only cost maybe $1,400-1,500, maybe up to [$]2,000, and now it’s worth over $200,000. So, that’s a little bit of the history of the Hunter Arms factory and what they did.
All together, there was close to 500,000 L.C. Smith in Fulton guns. The Fulton gun was a box lock instead of the side lock, and they didn’t have to have the L.C. Smith printed on it, but they were a well-made, cheaper gun that less-income people could buy and use. Al Kraus was their master engraver. He was quite a painter; his paintings are sought after.
Out of this whole interest in history of the Hunter Arms factory, what they produced and my membership with the L.C. Smith Collectors Association, the Historical [Society] was approached by members of the L.C. Smith Collectors Association to have some sort of recognition of the Hunter Arms factory and L.C. Smith. So what came about from that was that members would come in to Fulton, bring their L.C. Smiths, display them at the Pratt House and shoot them at Pathfinder Fish and Game Club, just South of Fulton.
It started out slow, started out in October and we had rain and it was cold, so we switched it to September, picked up a few more people, then we moved to August and it seems to be growing every year. We actually have members of the Hunter family come back to visit. Jim and Teri Hunter come from Detroit; he’s a great great grandson of one of the Hunter brothers. Barbara Rodsworth, she’s the great great granddaughter of one of the Hunter brothers. She comes. And we get L.C. Smith members and people coming from Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts. And there has been a couple years when a couple have traveled from Alaska, and one year we had one from California. So, it’s becoming quite popular.
I’m very excited about we’re coming up with our ninth, which will be August 23 and 24. The displays will be at the lower level of the Pratt House. We invite people to come in, look at the displays. The people can vote for their choice, the mayor will vote and the Hunter family will vote. At the awards banquet, they each will – each of the winners – will receive an award for the people’s choice, mayor’s choice and Hunter’s choice. At the shoot, we do trap, skeet, five stand and last year we added sporting clays. We give out first place, second place and third place trophies at each event and then a high overall. Along with that, I personally make a souvenir for every shooter and for every displayer so that no one goes home without an award. It’s been growing in popularity. Last year we had three sheets of people that came through the Pratt House, so that not only perks the interest of Hunter Arms and the L.C. Smith guns, but they get to see what else is at the Pratt House and enjoy the historical providence of Fulton, New York.
Voice: Kassadee Paulo
That was Les Weldin from Friends of History In Fulton, which is based out of the J.W. Pratt House Museum on South First Street. If you now have a bigger interest in the history of Hunter Arms and L.C. Smith, go to the Hunter Arms Homecoming August 23 to 24 at the Pratt House and Pathfinder Fish and Game Club. Thank you for listening to this month’s episode of Fulton, New York: A History.
Music: Traveling to Louisiana by Lobo Loco