I started working at Turnbull Restoration about a year ago, but of course I’ve been part of the family my whole life. Doug is my father, and over the years I’ve overheard and half-listened to dozens of stories about his childhood, his family, the hunts he went on, and the experiences he had growing his business. The stories really began to accumulate when I started working here, and I felt like I wanted to find a way to get them down on paper and share them with people who I knew would also be interested in them. Thus the idea for our blog interview series was born!
Today’s story is a timely one, about a Christmas when little Doug didn’t exactly get what he wished for from Santa.
You’ve told me a story before about one Christmas you really wanted a certain gun?
Yeah, it was a long, long time ago. I was probably 12 or so. And one of the things that I really, really wanted was a Savage 340 in .222: An old bolt-action rifle. I knew it was kind of a low-end budget rifle; it wasn’t like I was asking for a Remington 700 or a Winchester Model 70 or some high-dollar rifle. It was just a simple gun. I had made comments, you know, like “That’s really what I want!” just to be sure they knew.
So Christmas morning comes, and there’s this box, right in the corner next to the fireplace. A long, tall box. I’m like, “Whoa! Oh my gosh! I’m gonna get this! I’m actually gonna get my Savage 340!” I started unwrapping it and I opened it up and I went, “Oh. It’s not a Savage 340. It’s a CVA .50 cal muzzleloader… kit.” It wasn’t even something I could just take out, fill full of powder, throw a cap on it and shoot; I had to put it together. So I was a little disappointed, but then I thought, “Oh. Well this is still cool! I can take this and spend some time putting it together.”
So after all the Christmas presents were opened up, I took the box and went out to the shop. The shop was right out in front of the house, about 50 yards away. I sat down at Dick Collins’ workbench and started working on it. I had everything spread out and figured out what all the parts were and where they went. The first thing I had to do was start inletting the lock plate, trigger guard, and parts, so I got some scrapers and tools that I had seen Dick use over the years. I got working on it and finally got the lock in and the pins across to hold the barrel on.I actually burned in the “tiger stripes” with the torch kind of the way they would have back in the day to make it pretty. I drawfiled the barrel out, and did the browning on it.
Is this the first time you’d done any gunsmithing before?
I would say yes. It would really be my start gunsmithing. I’d done cleaning and stuff like that but actually building something, this was probably the first time.
Did your dad or any of the other guys help you out at all, or keep an eye on you?
Yes, I got some guidance from my father as well as other guys in the shop: Paul Cowles, Dick Collins, Paul Martin. All a bunch of good, good guys that worked at my parents’ shop, Creekside, in the gunsmithing department. I could always go to those guys for answers. It’s not just seeing it, but actually doing it and being able to go back to the guys to ask for advice.
Sounds like it was a couple weeks at least before you were able to get outside and start shooting.
Oh yeah, it was probably a month or two of messing around with it. And then after I got it together it was taking it out, shooting it, and trying to figure out what loads shot well. I can remember being 12 years old standing behind the house shooting across the creek at the other bank for hours. You’d load it up and have more powder in it and it’d kick like heck, and then you’d load it down and it was just a joy to shoot. There was no recoil, but BOOM! there was a big cloud of smoke that would kind of drift off. So you’d load it again and aim about a hundred yards across the creek and BOOM! again. And hit it and BOOM! just on and on and on.
Everything a 12 year old boy wants.
Yeah, exactly. You’ve got the pride and joy of building it and going out there, making noise and hitting things, and clouds of smoke. There was a lot of “Dad, I need another pound of powder! I need some more balls!” And then you’re casting your own balls, melting the lead… It was just a lot of fun. It was a neat time. And I still have the rifle. I dug it out, cleaned it up.
You can see where I used a torch to make the tiger striping. I haven’t taken the greatest of care; it’s been sitting in the corner for probably 40 years. You can see around through here some file marks on the stock. They didn’t sand all the way out. It’s not a job like I’d do today, but it wasn’t too bad for a 12 year old. It’s kind of the start of my career building and restoring guns. Boy I shot the heck out of that thing. Woodchucks and stuff, but never shot a deer with it.
I know you had an air rifle as a kid before you got this muzzleloader. You always tell the story that you would get home from school, drop your bag at the front door, grab your gun, and run out the back door.
Yep, that was a pretty common thing. Run in the front, drop the books, grab the air rifle and a bunch of pellets, run out the back door, and come home for dinner. You almost knew what time dinner was even though you didn’t have a watch. Yeah, many, many times just hanging out in the woods or walking the creek. Mud creek was a great place to spend many hours.
Did your father ever tell you why he got you this instead of that Savage you really wanted?
No, never did. I don’t recall asking, and I’m sure the answer would have been, “Well, this’ll slow you down, son.” You know, you can just grab a box of ammo and go shoot a .222, but here you’ve gotta build something, you’ve got the experience, the pride and joy of building it and seeing how things fit together. It’s a muzzleloader, it’s a one shot gun. It takes time to load them and shoot them, and you’ve gotta clean it. I think he had an ulterior motive for doing what he did, and looking back I understand and believe that was the right choice.
Did you ever make a gun for your dad for Christmas?
I restored his old N. R. Davis, which was his father’s. An old N. R. side-by-side shotgun that he had drilled and tapped for a Weaver K8 Power scope. It was one of those shotguns that he used to start the business of Creekside; he needed some money so he sold it. Of course he always wished he hadn’t sold it after that. Then probably five years later the customer brought it back to trade it in and he was like, “I’m gonna get that back no matter what!” He had seen the four holes and knew nobody else would have done that, so he knew it was his. The fella that bought it had shot it and bulged the right barrel just ahead of the chamber, but he still had to have it.
It was probably around 1994 that I then restored it. We put a new stock on because the stock was broken, Dick Collins checkered it, I polished it up, color case hardened it, and rust blued the barrels.
It was a neat Christmas. I don’t think he knew about it. I had it in the box and gave it to him, and he started opening it up. He had his eyes closed and he was opening it up, just kind of feeling it, and he felt the bulge in the barrel and said, “I know what this is!” It brought tears to his eyes. It was neat.
Now both of us are crying!
But you know, it’s the memories, it’s bringing back the memories. And it was a great Christmas.
Great idea! I love the stories and the history. Keep it up. You did a great job Sara!
I had an xmas like that-a brand new stevens bolt action 410. I had wanted a 12 ga. but dollars were short then.but my truck couldn’t carry the fool hens and snowshoes that I shot with it.and I was 12 as well.that was the beginning of a lifetime of collecting.thanks for the memories you brought back.
Thanks for sharing, John!
Sara Thanks for the story. I bought my first shotgun at the old Creekside store. Great to have you in the business!
Merry Christmas! Ah, you remember those Creekside days then, too! It’s great to be here.
Great story. The kind that puts a smile on my face. Your child hood reminds me a lot of my own. In the front door, drop the books, grab the old daisy BB gun and head down to the creek. Of course, all that changed the day I walked home from school and two holstein cows standing in the corral out by the barn. Dad did the early milking, but the afternoon one was mine. It was the following year that I went to work for a spud farmer that lived between our place and the school. During tater digging time I’d stop by there and pick up 2 or 3 rows of taters for him on the way home. By the time pheasant season rolled around I’d saved up enough to buy my very own 20 ga. single shot. It was a Savage model 220 hammerless and then the real hunting began. Of course, I still had those two cows.
Farm boys do grow up quick, don’t they? Thank you for sharing your memory too!
There are painters, sculptures, and then there is Doug Turnbull, every bit the artist as the others. What he does with his creations and restorations is nothing short of fantastic. Everyone says that if you refinish an old firearm you have destroyed every bit of its value. While this may be true in most cases, it is not true with Doug Turnbulll and the craftsmen he employs. What he does is recreate the original firearm he starts with. Everything is period correct when it comes to fit and finish. What was used to originally manufacture the firearm he duplicates. The end result is as true to the original as the day it was made. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Doug, may God richly Bless yours.
Thank you for your kind words, Mr. Erps! We love it when the hard work the craftsmen here put into each project is appreciated. Merry Christmas to you too!
At 87 years young I can identify with those touching stories. I hope they continue.
I got my first rifle at age 16 by setting pins in bowling alleys in the winters and caddying at two different golf courses during the summer months. It was clip feed Winchester 69 bolt action .22LR. I had to sell it for money to purchase a used Remington 722 in .244 caliber. Selling it still pains me. I should have kept it. First guns are special.
Back in the 1980s I attended the NRA sponsored two week gunsmithing course at Rochester Institute of Technology. The course was taught by Hans Whitt who was a Creekside gunsmiths and an all around great guy. Mr Whitt took us for a tour of the Creekside shop one afternoon. While there I got to see a rack full of 1886 Winchester lever rifles that were color case hardened by Doug. My reaction was, “with work like that, Doug will be in business for himself before too long.”
Thank you for sharing your memory with us, too, Mr. Myers. We’ll be sure to keep them coming! Doug and I both had a lot of fun putting this one together.
He was a wise man your father was. I did something a bit similar for my 3 sons and 1 daughter, and grandchildren. I gave them each a single shot 22 usually made by Cooey, an Ace or Canuck or whatever I could round up. they were older rifles that I fixed somewhat and I was always on the lookout for an extra one for a new child. my kids started target shooting when they could walk. it was a simple matter. remove the bolt first check for obstructions in the barrel, then load it and shoot, then check the target. fire another round and check the target. much like the muzzleloader it was slow and ment to be. the kids all shoot well and so do there kids. start slow and simple still works well in my opinion. Thanks for the fantastic read. brought a tear to my eye about your dads gun. Texas MacDonald, McKerrow Ontario Canada.
That sounds like a great way to get kids interested in shooting. Thank you for sharing!
Now it’s 3 years since i wrote the first message and getting close to Christmas again. While warming up my hands from working outside i was reading the news and saw this. Last nite I finished up yet another Cooey “ACE 1” for my newest Grandson Mason MacDonald. It needed the stock repaired, a proper read site put on and the safety sear replaced. I could of repaired it but being in a hurry I just replaced it. Its good to go for Friday evening. Thanks for sharing again Sara. Texas MacDonald of McKerrow Ontario Canada. http://www.texasandsons.com
It is a pleasure to read to Doug’s recollections and take a trip down memory lane. I would enjoy reading additional stories. I have enjoyed Doug’s work on a Cooper M57M Western Classic and a USFA Single Action. My wife just bought me the crown jewel of my collection – a Turnbull C engraved Open Range Single Action. Accurate and gorgeous. A pleasure to own. Keep up the great work.
Thank you, Mr. Cannata. We’ll keep the stories coming. Doug has a lot more stories where that one came from!
Doug, I had a small gun shop in early 1960s, your Dad would call me to if I had a certain gun,I had a 9mm Luger he wanted to see, we shot it out of door of the small bld. That might have been the start of try before you buy. Be out Fri. to pick up sxs Sam worked on for me.
Great story! That very well could be. I know that was a well-loved feature of Creekside. We’ll see you tomorrow!
I remember Doug’s father Terry well. I used to drive up to Creekside at least once a month and purchase a rifle or pistol if I could afford it. Terry all ways treated me well. I even flew up in my Cesena 172 and landed on Creeksides runway. It was a thrill. Some Saturday’s I came down with my two sons and Terry all ways let us try out a gun or two at the range behind the store. I miss Creekside, Made gun collecting very enjoyable. Thanks to all and Happy Holidays.
I imagine there aren’t too many stores these days you can fly into! Thanks for sharing your memories.
Great job Sara.
I have fond memories of Creekside Gunshop . My father bought a Remington .222 there we used to shoot muskrats with. Later I purchased my first shotgun there, a used Ithaca 12 gauge semi auto. I later traded that back to Creekside for a new Winchester model 120 pump 12 gauge. I still have that weapon. It’s never let me down. I miss the shop and the range.
Knowing your track record in the woods I’m sure that shotgun has put a lot of meat in the freezer. Thanks for sharing, Gary!
Thanks for sharing. Great read. I feel we all can relate to this great Xmas tail in someway. Happy Holidays y’all
Thank you for this interview , I enjoyed it and hope there are more . Turnbull’ s is awesome I appreciate their work .
Thank you, Eddie. We’ll keep the stories coming.
I have drooled over photo’s of the magnificent guns restored by Doug for years! I’ve an old Parker VHE that I’ve had for years sitting in my closet! I’ve been afraid to ask for a restoration quote because I fear I would probably want to have it done! I know the price would destroy my budget and may impose future hardship, but? I would love to have the thing looking like some of those I’ve seen on your website, and be able to enjoy it for a while, and then pass it along to one of my sons! Ima thinkin!
You’re a good women Sarah!
I used to live in Victor and Canandaigua, NY about 20 years ago and I remember Creekside, just off the north side of the Canandaigua/Bloomfield road. I was impressed by the store when I first saw it and you guys had a little bit of everything. I was living there when the store closed, a little bit of a sad event because of what the area was losing, but I have been amazed at what you have managed to build next to 5 & 20. No longer a local area business, but one that has national appeal. The quality of your restorations is the best, and you can tell the professional mindset that is behind the work just by looking at it. That is what has made Turnbull a huge reputation in the firearms industry. It is easy to see there is passion behind the finished results, and it is not just business that drives Turnbull. Congratulations on making that little shop such a success and in creating heirlooms for future generations while restoring existing heirlooms to better than new condition. Everything bearing the Turnbull name is a thing of beauty and is destined to be cherished for years.
Thank you, Steve! We hear so often how much Creekside meant to people. We’re glad we can keep the tradition of the firearms industry alive in our little town.
Great story Sara, I got the pleasure of meeting your father at the Shot Show this year in Vegas then seeing him back in Indiana at Ron O’Dell Gun shop ( TopShot). I had him sign my 45-70 lever action. What a great man and I enjoyed speaking with him.
Thanks, Todd! Glad you two got a chance to meet!
I too remember “Creekside.” The first time I found Creekside as a teenager it was in a very small building, seemed barely larger than an “out house.” It got quite a lot larger over the years. After relocating several times before ending up in Maine, return trips to Rochester always included a stop at “Creekside.” It was a sad day when I found out that “Creekside” had closed. I still have several guns that were purchased at “Creekside.”
I wish “Turnbull” a most successful 2022.
Cumberland Foreside, Maine