Added to museum: 1/10/07
Robert A. Talbot displays a couple of his fine replica guns carved from wood. The many pieces exactly duplicate the original gun parts made in metal. Even the springs are wood, yet the gun functions just like the real one...with the exception of actually firing bullets. Mr. Talbot displays a Walker revolver in his right hand and a Remington in his left. (Click on photo to view a larger image.)
This autobiography was obtained with permission from Ken Lewitzka.
Robert A. Talbot was born 23rd October 1925 at Sylvania, New South Wales, Australia, on the foreshores of Botany Bay, where the Christmas tides flowed into the bottom of our land.
My Uncle Jack lived next door with my grandparents. He was a very good woodworker, mechanic, bricklayer and builder. He built wooden model sailing boats for us three boys to sail on those waters. He built many toys for us such as aeroplanes, cars and cowboy guns. The guns were simple wooden shapes with a cotton reel for a cylinder and a nail for a trigger.
Because of my love for all things mechanical it wasn’t long before I was following in his footsteps. Times were hard, material and tools were scarce. I learnt to make my tools and to salvage timber that floated across the Bay from the boat builder’s yards, and so, managed to turn out reasonably satisfactory models. Boyhood friends were of the same making and we encouraged each other. One of them, Roy Craven, and I became almost inseparable and very competitive. We built boats, sailed and fished the beautiful waters of Botany Bay and Cronulla, as well as building model aircraft. He is a very talented man and he still designs and builds boats. He and his sons hold many records in offshore power boat racing craft that he built. Roy is a lifetime friend.
We both attended Hurstville Central Technical Trade School where we became skilled in wood and metal working, fitting and turning as well as trade drawing. Our masters were fine teachers, encouraging and demanding high standards, and we responded well. In a semi-rural area firearms were commonplace. I had joined the Rifle Cadets at thirteen, training with and shooting the service rifle. As was common practice, I took it home with me after parades and target practice. We learnt self reliance and responsibility at an early age. My interest in firearms and aircraft were now firmly set and along with my love of wood working became a combined lifetime pursuit.
By this time I was back to my wood work and
guns, collecting and restoring antique and collectable firearms. I joined the
Metropolitan Rifle Club and shot full bore rifle at the Dean Range. Not
satisfied with my rifle’s performance I rebuilt it! As my work came into demand
I built rifles for other shooters, many of whom achieved success around the
By this time I had moved to the power tool industry as the Service Manager of David Trembath Agencies, whose reputation in this trade was very high, and I remained for the next 10 years. Back problems forced me to give up shooting and seek a different style of employment. I went back to producing wooden model handguns. They were accurate in detail, had some working features and attracted much interest. One was even featured on the front page of The Advertiser, the major Adelaide newspaper.
They were very labour intensive so I stopped making them when I started my own business restoring antique firearms, stock-making and building custom rifles and shotguns. My work was in demand and many fine arms were produced. One set of rifles were used to hunt in Africa and many shotguns and rifles have done well in competition. In the last couple of years before retiring and coming to Victor Harbor, I built some more of the wooden guns on request from old customers. I also wanted to use up the walnut off-cuts that I could not bear to throw away. The demand for them continued until I officially retired from my business.
After trying to retire to idleness I began to toy with the idea of concentrating on revolving arms and making them fully working. I even thought it might be possible to make wooden springs. After a challenge from a friend, followed by lots of failures, the first fully functional model was produced and with further refinements the techniques developed became practical.
Now at 77 years of age I am still capable of setting myself high standards. I am now producing work that even I could not imagine was possible in the past. With the outstanding work of my computer graphic friend Ken Lewitzka we are now able to realize my ambition of displaying my pieces to far more people. He tells me that he has scoured the Internet and has not been able to find anything similar. We believe this work is unique and to me this is exciting beyond my wildest dreams… well beyond the ones I had as a boy when I picked up my penknife and started to whittle my first cowboy gun.
A display at the Victor Harbor Winery. Mr. Talbot reproduces every detail down to the rifling in the barrel. He had to make special tools for each revolver as some are right hand some left and then there are all the various calibers. He does the rifling at the start of making the revolver as tooling the rifling in the timber has broken some barrels, hence he does it before he goes too far.
Ken Lewitzka helps Mr. Talbot publicize his work
I first met Mr. Talbot when he came into our copy shop with some photos he wanted to enlarge so he could make up a display book of his hobby. I could not quite understand his craft from the photos, so asked him to bring in a piece of his work for me to digitally photograph so that I could prepare a quality colour laser print. Well, as they say, seeing is believing.
Mr. Talbot returned with his 1851 Colt Navy pistol in an elaborate display case. The craftsmanship, the detail and the colour and grain of the timber were something to behold. I immediately said, "I want one!", then asked if he could also do an 1863 Remington. Mr Talbot agreed and explained that at that time he had few orders so it could be completed in about four months. It was evident that a great deal of work went into each piece and that took time.
About a week after that Mr. Talbot brought in a 1915 Webley for me to photograph. I was totally amazed by his skill at making a fully working wooden firearm…with the exception that it did not shoot bullets! The detail is astounding: a functional wooden spring; rifling down the barrel; checkering on the handgrip; wooden bullets in the cylinder; and even timber screws holding the parts in place. These marvelous pieces have to be seen, touched and handled like a real gun to be believed. Having seen the Webley, and being aware that Mr. Talbot did not have many orders from his hobby, I asked if he could produce one for me as well. Two days later we sat down and discussed his making a full set of historical classic firearms for me. It would be like re-telling the history of firearms through a series of working wooden replicas.
The concept of a collection had evolved and mine will become the only full collection of its kind in the world. I see on the Internet that there are plenty of wooden toy guns available, but not accurate working replicas in wood.
Over the years R. A. Talbot has built many fine firearms including competition rifles, shot guns made for the 1958 Commonwealth Games and even a rifle that won prizes in the Bisley competitions in England. I am delighted to have met him and thrilled that he agreed to undertake such a project.
After many hours on the Internet and many emails to lots of clubs, collectors and other people around the world with an interest in classic arms or related topics, I believe that Mr. Talbot's replicas are the only ones of their kind. This set will be a truly unique collection and a tribute to his dedication and skills as a gunsmith and fine craftsman.
Mr Talbot featured on the ABC "Collectors" Program, (7th April 2006).
The largest single display of Mr. Talbot's work. (Click on photo to view larger image.)
Public Exhibition —In conjunction with the Tom Quilty Gold Cup Ride in October 2004, the collection of Robert A Talbot wood-crafted classic arms was on exhibition at the Victor Harbor Winery,South Australia. This was the only public exhibition of the entire collection held on October 15th, 16th and 17th.
The Tom Quilty Gold Cup Ride—R. M. Williams, the famous stockman's outfitter, was inspired in 1966 by the Tevis Cup 100 mile ride in the USA. He found a suitable course around the Colo area of NSW to stage a one day, on one horse, 100 mile ride. Tom Quilty, a legendary cattleman, donated a thousand pounds for a gold cup and the event was so named. The 2004 cup was held on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia on October 23rd and 24th.
Photos by Ken Lewitzka.
(Click any photo to view a larger image.)
|Some of Mr. Talbot's early models were non-functional representations like the ones shown here. As his skills grew, he made it his goal to reproduce the guns as accurately as possible, remaking every single piece of the original in wood.|
|Colt Army Revolver. The first two photos show the various components in natural wood. The third photo shows the assembled gun and loading equipment with finishes applied. The final photo shows the firearm and related components in the fitted presentation case.|
|Colt Army Conversion. Many black powder revolvers were converted by the factory to fire the more modern cartridges, and this example shows one of the ways it was done.|
|A Colt Frontier from the mid-1880's. The photos show the parts of the gun, the assembled gun and the finished display with presentation box, carved bullets and cleaning rod. This was among the last of the single action pistols to be produced. After this, most pistols were made with a double action design, meaning the gun could be fired either by manually cocking the hammer with the thumb and then firing or by simply pulling the trigger through its motion which would both cock the hammer and then fire.|
|Colt Navy Revolvers—the only set of two matching revolvers in the collection.|
|Colt Patterson showing the various components during construction. The inside workings of the Patterson had to be modified slightly from the originals, so it could be made in wood.|
|The famous Colt Peacemaker, the "six-shooter" most often seen carried by cowboys and gunfighters in movies of the old American West. This model uses a metal coil spring in the ejector as there was simply no way to duplicate its function in wood.|
|Pocket and Dragoon.
Ken Lewitzka notes that "The pocket revolver was another challenge for Mr. Talbot. Because of the size, the main spring had to bend quite far without breaking with continuous use. It works fine, but Mr. Talbot said he would not care to make another of the 'pesky little things'."
|Remington 1863 new army revolver|
The black parts are buffalo horn. These parts would wear too much in wood and a couple of trigger springs are metal. All the rest including main spring is wood. Mr. Talbot could not get hold of an original to copy this one but the workings are similar to the Dragoon. There was plenty of pictures available so with some help from Ken Lewitzka he downloaded as many pictures as possible from the Internet. As Ken notes, "We knew the barrel size, so on a computer we enlarged the pictures to scale and this gave us the measurements of all the parts. We also printed the pictures out onto a stiff board and he was able to use these as templates. In the collection this was the "problem child" as there are so few originals available."
|Robert Talbot is seen working on a replica Webley pistol
on the kitchen table. The various parts of the gun are also shown. The
final two photos include an optional rifle stock and bayonet in a
presentation case and assembled on the pistol.
Regarding the opening spring on the Webley, Ken Lewitzka notes, "I was so sure it had to break I got Mr. Talbot to make a spare wooden U spring, but the revolver has been opened and loaded hundreds of times and the spring has not broken. Why I don't know."
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