Rebirth of a classic

Rebirth of a classic

Trzoniec, Stan

NOSTALGIA! It may not be what it used to be, but it seems we all have it today. Some adore old cars, many collect old toy trains, still others love the looks and feel of a classic shotgun, especially if it’s one of the great old American doubles. A relatively new firm, the Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Co., is dedicated to the preservation of this important part of our shooting heritage. CSM has resurrected the A.H. Fox line of classic side-by-side shotguns originally made between 1907 and World War II.

Company head Antony Galazan had the idea of reviving the Fox line around 1992. His first job was to convince Savage Arms, which bought the A.H. Fox Co. in 1930 and retained rights to the trademark, to sign a licensing agreement allowing him to set up new production of the Fox. Savage made the relatively utilitarian Fox Models B and B-SE as late as 1988, but had no plans to revive the A.H. Fox designs.

Galazan, whose main business is gunsmithing and accessories for high-grade shotguns, took about a year to line up the tools, fixtures and molds to make Fox guns with current manufacturing techniques at his plant in New Britain, Connecticut. Production began in 1993, with the gun making its debut at the 1994 SHOT Show.

While original Fox shotguns were made in 12-, 16- and 20-ga., the CSM version is available only in 20-ga. Today’s shooter wants a side-by-side double almost exclusively for upland hunting, and often for preserve hunting where the small gauges are more than adequate. So the small bores routinely outsell the 12-ga. when all are offered.

CSM catalogs (in ascending order of price) the CE, XE, DE, FE, and Exhibition grades. The CE is the basic model, and will set you back about $7,200. The top of the line, the Exhibition, goes above the $25,000 mark. The higher grade guns cost more in terms of time, as well as money, thanks to the additional engraving and decoration required.

While the Fox guns can be had with standard stock dimensions (length of pull, 14-1/4″; drop at comb, 1-1/2″; drop at heel, 2-1/2″), it costs no more to specify custom stock dimensions and cast-on or -off especially tailored to the buyer. The manufacturer will direct buyers to a qualified local representative for fitting, if they are not able to come to CSM’s factory.

The wood used is Turkish-grown Circassian walnut with a hand-rubbed oil finish, and the user can specify a straight, semi-pistol or pistol-grip stock. The CE grade is supplied with a splinter fore-end, while higher grades are fitted with a schnabel. Round or schnabel beavertail fore-ends can be had at extra cost, along with Monte Carlo buttstocks to complement them. Wood can be upgraded from the standard through three grades, all the way to Exhibition grade.

If you can’t make it to the factory to select wood, CSM will pick out something to your specifications or will ship the wood to your address for you to make the final decision.

Butt treatments are also at the buyer’s whim, with a hard rubber plate or solid red pad standard. A checkered butt, skeleton steel plate or heel and toe plates can be specified for a fee.

Stocks aren’t the only area for choices to be made. Guns come with double triggers, but selective single triggers are available, as are Krupp steel barrels and extra barrel sets in 26″, 28″ or 30″ lengths. The standard safety is automatic, but the buyer can opt for a more traditional manual safety. Screw-in tubes are not currently an option.

Though CSM is not a large operation, it already rivals the original A.H. Fox when it comes to high-class shotguns. Closing his eyes while seeming to reach back in time, Galazan noted that only about 700 high-grade 20-ga. Foxes were made from 1905 to 1930. Dick Perrett, CSM’s president, added that of that number, only two F-grade guns were made at the A.H. Fox plant in Philadelphia. CSM has already made eight!

After an order is placed for a new gun, it is assigned a delivery date. Two barrel tubes are joined in the tool shop, shaped and topped with a solid rib. The action requires 10-12 weeks of work, and is even a bit fancier than the original guns’, since it features the scalloped and rebated action design found only in Special Grade original Foxes.

Barrel fitting is the key job in double gun manufacture, requiring skill and experience to shape action, barrel and fore-end iron so all three work together flawlessly, while fitting so tightly that light cannot be seen through the barrel/action junction.

Meanwhile, the stock is laid out, making sure the grain flows with the lines of the gun. The unfinished action is then inletted. When the stock is almost complete, it is treated with wood filler to close all pores. Now the action comes off the gun for final fitting and roughly 150 man-hours of polishing. In this shop there is very little mechanical polishing; everything is done by men with stones, files and finishing paper.

Here the engraving starts, whether done in house or by outside contractors. CSM asks a lot of questions before any metal is cut to be sure the customer’s desires are translated into the finished shotgun. You can’t erase steel!

After the final finish is applied to the stock, checkering is cut and additional finish coats are applied to seal the wood and its checkering from the elements. The assembled gun, yet unblued, is patterned and shot through a series of tests of function, choking and barrel alignment. The last procedure is important to ensure both barrels are hitting on center–not high or low unless the customer specifies.

Back at the shop the gun is taken apart again. Barrels and small parts are blued, while the action is sent out for color-casehardening, a complicated process that requires experience and instinct.

Before the gun is shipped, it is proof-tested in a special enclosed fixture with loads that produce 24,000 p.s.i. In a final check, either Galazan or Perrett goes out to shoot and inspect the gun personally.

This brief summary only touches on the many hundreds of operations needed to take a Fox shotgun from raw material to an heirloom for the future. CSM is one of the very few companies in the world that completes the gun in-house, making 99% of all the parts included in its guns. CSM buys mainly only small items, like springs and pins, from the outside.

Most would be content to sit back on their laurels after bringing the Fox shotgun back to life, but not Galazan. U.S. Repeating Arms Co. had stopped production of the Winchester Model 21, and he had gotten wind that USRAC was interested in selling that part of the Winchester Custom Shop.

So Galazan bought and moved to New Britain all of the machinery, parts and related inventory available–literally hundreds of thousands of parts, fixtures, dies and the rights to make Model 21s. He also took the option to act as an authorized repair station for these fine side-by-side shotguns.

Barrels, wood and other parts are there, if you can handle the price. What about a new Model 21? Galazan is producing Model 21s from parts in inventory, and plans to make more parts.

Not long ago, most would have predicted that high-grade double gun production was no more than history in this country. CSM has brought it back to life, with results any true shotgun fancier can appreciate.

Copyright National Rifle Association of America Sep 1995

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