Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 3, 2013

Collecting history

Passion for military artifacts drives collectors

Mike James
The Independent

ASHLAND — A casual question about his crumpled cap launched Adam Childers into a detailed comparison of Civil War era headgear.

Childers, who spends some of his weekends as a historical reenactor, was outfitted in authentic Union Army garb Saturday. Doffing his cap, he identified it as a bummer, which to those who know their chapeaus is a shako without the internal stiffeners that make it stand up.

Instead, it plops down on the head like a frog on a stone.

Childers had more to say about kepis, slouch hats and other toppers worn in the 1860s, but demonstrated one practical use: Civil War soldiers didn’t have much in the way of pockets, so if they were in the field and happened on, say, an apple tree, they could eat a few and stash the rest inside their voluminous hats.

It’s that kind of arcane knowledge that military collectors carry around along with their artifacts, and most of them are eager to share what they know with the rest of the world.

Childers, along with his friend Bob Lowe, were among the exhibitors of military antiques at the riverfront for Ashland’s Veterans Appreciation Weekend. They brought a selection of hardware, including a collection of World War II era rifles and carbines.

Being interested in history is like handling fire, Childers said. “Once you get burned, you stay burned,” he said. He has been accumulating military items for years, he said. Some are family items, like a knife his uncle carried while in Germany.

To Tom Wilson of Huntington, collecting is a narrowly focused undertaking. He collects mainly arms manufactured at the Harpers Ferry Armory.

That means most of his collection dates back to before the Civil War, because the armory operated from the turn of the 19th century until 1861, when Confederate soldiers captured its machinery and shipped it south to make guns for their own army.

He has a number of guns designed by John H. Hall, noteworthy for a number of firsts, among them the first to be made with interchangeable parts.

His oldest gun is a musket made in 1812 and possibly used in the War of 1812.

The stock of one of Wilson’s guns is stamped to indicate it belonged to the Overland Mail Co., which is pertinent to Wilson because he is a retired postal worker.

Having artifacts like that tends to send history buffs off on tangents — Wilson brought a map showing the company’s St. Louis to San Francisco route through the southwestern desert.

Collecting firearms requires more than money, because there are fakes and reproductions out there among the true historic relics. It requires research, caution and experience, according to Wilson. “Before spending any money, read, read, read and go to shows and look,” he said.

“With time you develop a feel and you know what to look for and how it should look,” he said. “A lot of people are not patient enough and they get stung.”

The weekend also included firings of  a reproduction Civil War cannon owned by Marshall Steen, and a free meal for veterans and their families.