Jack T. Haugh — Fit & Finish to the Highest Degree . . . By Mel Hankla
Photography by Ric Lambert, Mel Hankla, and David Wright
Reprinted by permission of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association/ Muzzle Blasts magazine, July, 2008. For information on the NMLRA and other black powder topics please visit the website at www.nmlra.org
Jack Theodore Haugh was born February 1931 in Lincoln Park, Michigan during The Great Depression. He came from a farming family; however his father, not wanting to work on the farm, moved north to find work in the factories. Soon after the death of his grandfather in 1933, the Family moved back to Tiffin, Seneca County, Ohio. Jack says that during his teenage years, Ohio half stock percussion rifles were abundant and that he and his friends got great pleasure out of repairing and getting them to shoot, and the first rifles he produced were of this style.
Rather ironically, his first job was trimming trees, and just last year at 76 years old he fell out of a tree while trimming limbs and about broke his back, having to wear an aggravating turtle shell brace for several months.
Jack and his wife Barbara were married May, 1950 in Greenup, Kentucky. In 1951 he started working at the Webster Foundry in Tiffin, Ohio and worked there for 20 years. During this time, Jack states, “I started building guns full time in 1954, and from then on I held down two jobs. I worked at the foundry during the day and came home and worked building guns to 1:00 or 2:00 o’clock in the morning, always getting up and going back to the foundry the next day…” He still embraces that work ethic to this day. Recently Jack discovered from his daughter’s research into family genealogy, that his Great-Grandfather was a blacksmith and lived just outside of Frederick, Maryland. He says this was somewhat of a surprise as his Grandfather was an educator and while he amassed and managed many acres of rich Seneca county farmland, he was by profession a professor at historic Tiffin University.
Through the years, Jack has been most influenced by English firearms, both muzzleloading and cartridge guns. Early on Jack worked with Jim Houston and Tilton Bowden at “H & B Forge”, famous for their throwing knives and tomahawks. In order to make financial ends meet he built several rather simple, unadorned rifles and produced a cast pipe tomahawk that H&B Forge still markets today. However, his true interest was soon focused upon European firearms and finer more artistic fowlers, jaegers, and English rifles. Jack had family in Colorado and moved there in 1972 after leaving the foundry in Ohio, but in 1975 he moved from Fort Collins, Colorado to the little town of Elrod, Indiana on the ridge above Friendship, home of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association. Staying there only a short while, he soon moved to the town of Friendship and established his muzzle-loading career at that location. He quickly became quite a legend and his shop was a famous hang out for the best contemporary muzzleloading artists of the day. In 1982 after another short stint in Fort Collins, he moved to his current abode, 30 or so miles away in Milan, Indiana. Here he has made a name for himself as a builder of fine muzzleloading firearms, exclusive cartridge rifles, and as a restoration artist of fine European firearms.
Becoming a Legend
In 1976, Jack Haugh became a household name in the muzzleloading world when he along with John Bivins, assisted by Monte Mandarino and Mark Silver, produced a much publicized series of longrifles in honor and celebration of the bi-centennial of America’s independence. The odd numbered rifles were signed by Bivins and the even numbers by Haugh, and were accompanied by engraved powder horns by Tom White. These Pennsylvania styled rifles are highly sought by contemporary longrifle collectors today.
Jack has always been known for his superior handmade locks. However about 1980, he became interested in 18th century English guns by makers such as Twigg, Manton, Durs Egg and others. At that time he decided to recreate some examples of their work. Mike Parish, long time friend and student of Jack’s sums it up, “The guns of London were fit & finished to the highest degree of ability by a team of craftsmen. Jack simply decided to re-create these masterpieces. For one man to build the lock, make the masters and cast the silver mounts, is a tremendous undertaking. Then to also, fit, finish and engrave, literally fashioning the entire piece is almost unbelievable!”
When interviewed in 1979 by Robert Weil for his landmark book, “Contemporary Makers of Muzzle Loading Firearms”, Jack stated, “I once was a documentarion, but that is uncreative and a repetition of the same mistakes…” Remaining true to this statement throughout the years, Jack Haugh’s work has indeed shown much individualism. It has ultimately become the epitome of European styled contemporary firearms. He spearheaded the study and recreation of this style of work in today’s contemporary gunbuilding fraternity. His creations have provided the benchmark that all other work has been compared to, one often hearing the phrase, “Jack Haugh Quality” when in conversation about fine contemporary firearms. Many of today’s better known and esteemed makers consider Jack a mentor and give him credit for influencing their careers. The Contemporary Longrifle Association provides an annual venue for gunmakers to present their latest creations. There we see many interpretations of American gunmaking styles, but few artists have the talent, intuition and ability to improve upon original designs from the guilds of fine European gunmakers. Jack Haugh is such an individual.
The Gunsmith Trade
Haugh is well known and respected through the full spectrum of the gunsmith trade. For the last 15 years or so, he has focused on modern cartridge guns and the restoration of fine English sporting arms and is considered top in his field. When ask why he evolved away from muzzleloaders, he replied that the market was rather slim for the high art firearms that he wanted to build saying, “they just took too much time, and cost too much for most folks to afford.” Unlike many of today’s builders, Jack always felt that to be fair to the patron, to keep a log and charge by the hour was the only realistic method of putting an honest price on a particular piece of work. With exception of the barrel, he usually makes each and every part, with the lock alone often taking as much as a 150 hours of bench time. Thus at the hourly wage of $20 per hour back in the 1990’s, a finished firearm could easily reach $6,000 to $8,000 dollars. These days his wage is $30 an hour.
During the fall and winter of 2006 Jack built his first muzzleloader in 11 years. The commission was for a pistol that would be an icon of his work, a comprehensive yet concise artistic statement of the gunsmiths’ art and craft. When closely perusing this elegant pistol, (featured on the cover) one detects influence from the noted English gunmaker John Twigg, but also readily notices that it is not a copy. The distinctive flintlock of this silver mounted pistol closely resembles one by lock maker, Thwaits of Bath, plate #104, in Neal & Black’s, “Great British Gunmakers, 1740 -1790” and is designed with a unique anti-friction link attached to the tail of the frizzen pan-cover with its base acting upon the dip in the feather-spring.
Jack commented with his friendly chuckle, “I’d always wanted to see if I could make one of those…” All the silver mountings: guard, butt-cap, thimbles, thumb escutcheon, sculpted sideplate, were fashioned from sheet, hand chiseled and engraved by Jack. This grand pistol far and above exceeded the highest expectations of the client and will indeed serve as a definitive representation of the work of Jack Haugh thru the ages. It has become an integral component of a collection of pistols that is being assembled to stand as record of the many fine artisans working in the field today.
A New Era
At the 2007 annual meeting of the Contemporary Longrifle Association held in Lexington, Kentucky, Jack was recognized as one of the forerunners of the contemporary movement and was bestowed with the coveted CLA Distinguished Service Award.
He was also honored with the presentation of an educational exhibit of his life’s work, telling his story with graphics and examples of work from the 1960’s to his most recent piece completed during the winter of 2006/2007. This experience obviously made a great impact on this humble gunsmith. He was so impressed by the overall excitement and enthusiasm of the artists and collectors of the CLA, that he approached the Board of Directors of the Contemporary Longrifle Foundation, the fund raising faction of the CLA, about a very generous donation. He wanted to build and donate a rifle, complete with hand-made lock and triggers, to be auctioned for the benefit of the organization. Stating, “I want to do something, something to help this great organization continue in its diligent support of this muzzle-loading discipline; something that will hopefully add fuel to this movement, this phenomenon in the world of the Contemporary Rifle.” He spent more than a month of bench time on the flintlock alone, and also hand made the double set triggers, one piece nose cap, thimbles, sideplate and patchbox, with a total of 550 hours invested overall in the entire project. The lines of the piece are readily recognized to be that of a rifle from the Lancaster County area of Pennsylvania, and it feels much like the work of Isaac Haines. However, it is neither a copy of any one gun nor the work of any particular maker. It’s a “Jack Haugh”, a product from his heart and his hands and will forever stand as testament to his life, his talent, and his passion. Jack told me, “I felt my age on this one”, however all who have had the opportunity to fondle this extraordinary example of contemporary art wish that even at our prime we would have had the talent and ability to produce such a fine rifle.
Speaking for the association and the whole of the longrifle culture, Jack, we want to say thank you, so very much for this exceedingly generous contribution of your life’s work and we truly honor you for all you’ve done to teach and influence us throughout the years. We look forward to the opportunity of enjoying the creativity of your passion yet to come.
Jack turned 78 years old in February of 2009 and still has the work ethic of a seasoned European workman. He works along side his wife Barbara; known for her barrel finishes, in a wonderful shop in Milan, Indiana.
ABOUT MEL HANKLA
Mel Hankla is a charter member of the Contemporary Longrifle Association and a noted collector of House brothers rifles, tomahawks and knives. Hankla has worked with the Kentucky Humanities Council as a Chautauqua-Living History Character portraying Simon Kenton and George Rogers Clark since 1995. He also portrays Kentucky’s first governor, Isaac Shelby and Benjamin Franklin in other venues. A noted writer, he has contributed articles to many publications. Visit his website:www.americanhistoricservices.com