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Before & After: Restoring A Veteran's Memory

Before & After: Restoring A Veteran's Memory

(Photos by Michael Anschuetz.)

His friends called him “Fudd,” a name Donald Rollo embraced during high school in Manito, Illinois. Yep, it’s the same name borrowed from “Elmer Fudd,” the Looney Tunes cartoon character. In part, Rollo’s nickname was inspired by the cigar he’d often be seen chewing on, and the gun he carried afield. It is also believed that he once fell and yelled, “Awe, Fudd,” and the name stuck. He was full of life and adventure, so much so that he ran off with Marie Havens to Corinth, Mississippi, where their parents’ permission wasn’t needed to marry. Back home, they didn’t attend the same school and, despite being married, didn’t live together until after they graduated in 1958.

That July, Fudd joined the U.S. Army and was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for training. When he was authorized leave, he hitchhiked in uniform back and forth to see Marie on the weekends; you could do that back then. Fudd was then sent to maintenance training for fixed-wing and rotary aircraft before returning home to Illinois to get Marie in January 1959.


Together, the Rollos were assigned to Karlsruhe Army Airfield, Germany. There, Fudd and Marie welcomed their son Donald, “Donnie,” in August ’59 and daughter Denise in ’61.

After a short time spent training at Fort Leonard Wood, the Rollos returned to Germany in 1962 where Fudd was stationed briefly at an airport in Stuttgart. In fact, the Rollo family was often relocated. They left Germany for Fort Eustis, Virginia, and to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where their third child, David, was born in October 1963. There, Fudd was assigned to a U.S. Army Special Forces Command (Airborne) and deployed to Vietnam in 1966. He didn’t talk much about his tour, but soon after his return he transferred to the U.S. Air Force.

Pvt. Donald Rollo at Fort Leonard Wood
Pvt. Donald Rollo at Fort Leonard Wood circa 1959.

TSgt. Rollo was immediately assigned to an air base in Athens, Greece. The entire family continued to live there for four years while Fudd was sent to Udorn Air Force Base in Thailand as part of a Special Operations Wing. When in Greece, they’d take short trips to Europe and Turkey. The Rollos returned home to farm in 1971. However, with 13 years of service between the Army and Air Force, he decided to reenlist with the U.S. Air National Guard in 1978 until he was finally discharged in 1985.


Though Fudd’s military career was colorful, I’ve found that his story is relatable to many servicemen of his generation. When he left the military, he farmed and worked at a powerplant, and enjoyed hunting, fishing and baseball when time would allow it. I met him only once, unfortunately, in a hospital just before he passed away in 2009. I was new to the Rollo family then, but I was tasked with helping my father-in-law Don sort through his father's personal effects, which included a Winchester Model 94 in .30-30 propped up against the wall of a closet. The levergun was neglected and in rough shape with rust growing in and around the barrel. Its hard use was concealed by rattle­can spray paint.

“Here,” Don told me, “You take it. Maybe you can fix it up and get it shooting someday.”

Donald Rollo
Rollo holding his son Donnie in front of barracks at Karlsruhe, Germany in 1960.

The Winchester Model 1894

Winchester purchased John M. Browning’s patent, which was granted on August 21, 1894. The new model was announced in time for the November 1894 catalog. It required only a few minor changes to facilitate manufacture and became the first lever-action repeating rifle designed for cartridges loaded with smokeless powder. Factory records show that the first delivery of Model 1894 rifles was made on October 20, 1894. The two, new, smokeless cartridges were the .25-35 Winchester and .30-30 Winchester.


The Model 1894 was the first sporting gun to pass the 1,000,000 mark. The millionth Model 1894 was chambered in .30-30, engraved and presented in 1927 to President Calvin Coolidge. The 1½-millionth Model 94 was presented to President Harry S. Truman on May 8, 1948, and the 2 millionth was given to President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953. Production passed 3,000,000 in 1967, and the 3½ millionth Model 94 was made in 1979, selling at auction for $18,000. It was a record for a factory-new Winchester centerfire rifle.

Donald Rollo
Spc. Rollo circa 1965 at Ft. Bragg before deploying to Vietnam.

When the New Haven Arms plant was sold to Winchester employees in mid-1981, they formed the U.S. Repeating Arms Company (USRAC) and licensed the Winchester brand from the Olin Corporation that still manufactures Winchester ammunition. At that point, nearly 5 million Model 1894 rifles had been produced. The ’94 was the most successful centerfire lever-action ever produced by Winchester.

Under control of USRAC, there were several changes made to the Model 94. In 1983, the angle-eject (AE) receiver was introduced to meet the sales challenge presented by the also-popular side-eject Marlin Model 336, which allowed the top mounting of a scope. Hence, USRAC drilled and tapped the Model 94’s receivers for top-centered scope installation using low rings. Each carbine also included a screw-on thumb hammer extension for right- or left-hand use with a scope.

Fudd’s rifle is a USRAC-era Winchester Model 94 Ranger in .30-30 wearing serial number 5,472,XXX. The Ranger series appeared in 1985 and was distinguished by a hardwood stock and forearm. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to determine a USRAC rifle’s exact date of manufacture, as the company’s production records are not readily available. But, since Fudd’s rifle lacks the cross-bolt hammer-stop safety introduced in 1992, we can place its manufacture between 1985 and 1992.

Winchester Model 94 Ranger
Winchester Model 94 Ranger, .30-30 Win.

USRAC went bankrupt in 1989 and was bought by Belgian-maker Fabrique Nationale (FN) in 1992. FN instituted CNC technology to Winchester’s manufacturing, and the traditional half-cock safety notch on the hammer was replaced by a cross-bolt safety that allowed the guns to be sold internationally. The safety drew enormous criticism, and by 2003 FN moved the safety to the tang behind the receiver. The last New Haven-produced Model 94 left the plant in 2006, and U.S.-based Winchester firearm production ceased.

The discontinued Ranger was an ideal model for whitetail hunters. Mounting a scope to a rifle became popular, and the early Rangers lacked the crossbolt safety FN added. It was handy, weighing 6 pounds, 4 ounces, and had an overall length of 381⁄8 inches with a six-round capacity in the tubular magazine. It’s 13½-inch length of pull meant that it comfortably fit most shooters, like most ’94s. There was also a Model 94 Ranger Compact with a 16-inch barrel introduced in 1998, but it featured the loathed crossbolt safety and was canceled in 2004.

Winchester

Lohman Gunsmithing

My father-in-law’s next birthday is near, so I set out to restore Fudd’s rifle months ago. It wasn’t easy to find a restoration service, but I found one while getting to know Houston-based gunsmith Brian Lohman. Lohman Gunsmith is, perhaps, best known for manufacturing custom Model 1911 pistols and suppressors. However, he is also recognized by many for being a restoration specialist. There are few gunsmiths who will touch flood or fire projects, but he has been doing them since 2012. (I stand corrected: Lohman did his first metal and wood gun restoration for a 4H project while he was in 5th grade. He earned a blue ribbon.)

I sent Fudd’s Model 94 Ranger to Lohman Gunsmithing, and days later he called to accept the job. In addition to restoring the barrel and action, refinishing the barrel with slow-rust bluing — almost a lost art — and nitre bluing the small parts, Lohman also offered to color-case harden the receiver with a proprietary formula that includes bone and charcoal. A clear coat is applied afterwards to ensure the case-hardened colors never wear off.

The Model 1894 never had case-hardened receivers as a standard feature. However, I was told by the Cody Firearms Museum that, according to Winchester’s records, a small number were actually case hardened. From 1916 to 1963, levers were listed as case hardened, and hammers by this process from 1916 to 1934. Given the 1980s vintage, I felt that it wouldn’t be intolerable to Winchester collectors if I were to dress up this project.

Lohman’s gunsmiths removed the paint and refinished the hardwood, staining it with a dark walnut finish. While scrutinizing the markings, I remain impressed that the stampings and engravings remain as sharp as they are. Typically, sanding prep before finish work dulls the corners and reduces the legibility of the factory type and markings. The woodwork now exceeds the USRAC quality. Each mating surface was blended perfectly to both ends of the receiver and tang. The transformation of this rifle is remarkable.


Creating an Heirloom

Lohman Gunsmithing turned the Model 94 Ranger project around in just a few months. A gunsmith sent me photos of various processes with updates on our timeline along the way. I cannot understate the professionalism of their service and excellent communication.

With months to spare, I received the Model 94 Ranger in better-than-new condition. It was hard to keep the rifle a secret from Fudd's son Don, but I used the time to further study Fudd’s story. He was older than his years, and he rarely talked about his nearly 20 years of service. Nevertheless, he was affected by it for the rest of his life.

Few Winchester collectors would regard Fudd’s rifle a “treasure,” but the values of vintage Winchester Model 94s and a few commemoratives often exceed the ability of many to afford one. However, while working on this project, I found many decent USRAC-made Model 94s priced between $350 and $450 in gun stores and online. According to the 41st Edition Blue Book of Gun Values, a perfect-condition Model 94 Ranger has a value of $435, which is the least amount when compared to other Model 94 variations. Fortunately, a rifle such as this is worth saving because it keeps a veteran’s memory alive in the form of an heirloom. The sentimental value far exceeds what anyone outside of the Rollo family would pay for it, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

For those interested, Lohman Gunsmithing can custom build a similar vintage-looking heirloom, fully functional and ready for the field. The pleasure it can give is no different than the millions of Model 94s that have gone before it.

Winchester Model 1894 Ranger

Type: Lever action
Cartridge: .30-30 Win.
Capacity: 6+1 rds.
Barrel: 20 in., 1:12-in. twist
Overall Length: 38.13 in.
Length of Pull: 13.5 in.
Weight: 6 lbs., 4 oz.
Stock: Hardwood, straight grip
Sights: Post (front); U-notch, leaf spring, adj. (rear)
Safety: Internal hammer block
Original MSRP: $386
Manufacturer: U.S. Repeating Arms Co. (1985-2006)
Restoration: Lohman Gunsmithing, 832-849-0009, lohmangunsmith.com

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