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Like a lot of folks in Bedford County, Richard Franklin has spent more than his share of time hunting.
“I was born with a pistol in my hand,” he jokes.
But his experience has taken him a lot farther than the woods and fields of Bedford County. For three decades, he lived in British Columbia and spent part of that time serving as a guide for big-game hunters. And, after moving back to this area in 1999, he began building long range custom rifles, a business that served customers all over the United States and the world until he recently gave it up.
“I was the only one in my family (who hunted),” he said of growing up in this area. “My mother always told me I had all the Indian blood in our family.”
That love of hunting would lead him, and eventually his family, to Canada. At the age of 26 he got on a Greyhound bus, his $75 ticket in hand, and set off to chase his dream.
“I wouldn’t trade it for nothing,” he said of his time spent north of the Montana border. “I always wanted to see what was over the next hill and I’m still that way.”
With his wife (Loretta) and two sons (Curtis and Chris) in tow, Franklin and his family spent their first winter in Canada living in a log cabin. “I wanted to hunt big game,” he said of making the move.
He knew he couldn’t have afforded the thousands of dollars it took to go on a hunt, so he decided to help lead them. He wrote 50 big game outfitters offering his services as a guide; five responded. For much of his 30 years there he worked as a carpenter, but would often give up those high-paying jobs to make $50 a day as a guide. “My wife thought I was crazy,” Franklin confesses. “I just did it for the love of it.” He also worked as a cowhand, while in Canada, in addition to hunting and serving as a guide.
Franklin grew up on a dairy farm in the Chamblissburg area of Bedford County in what is now Afton Meadows and later lived on a farm in the Huddleston area. He moved back to the county after his father, then a preacher, suffered a stroke in 1999. His wife had passed away and his children where both married with their own children. He continues to live in the Chamblissburg area, taking care of his mom, who is a history buff.
Franklin recalls working one summer, when he was 17, at a Feldspar mine here in the county. It could be a dangerous job, which he learned just after getting up from sitting down for a break. “”There was a rock loose up on the wall. We had just walked away and the rock fell where we were sitting. It was as big as a pick-up truck.”
John Tweedy had reopened the mine, located just off what was known then as Poor House Road. It hadn’t been in operation since the 1930s. Franklin said if he had known what he was getting into, he wouldn’t have agreed to work there.
He recalls that the pit mine was about 300 yards long and about 30 yards wide. It took about two weeks to pump the water out and as the water level fell they would have to climb down ladders and add lengths of pipe. He remembers being lowered down into the pit and he and Richard Tweedy, John’s son, would pick out bass and catfish.
He said the Feldspar was chalk white and pure and that they found lots of garnet crystals in the ore. He still has a garnet from the mine. Franklin said he made $7.50 a day for 10 hours of work. Some time later that summer, after Franklin had quit working at the mine, John Tweedy was killed by a falling rock right where Franklin had just missed being hit. The mine was closed again.
“It was only by the grace of God it didn’t kill me,” he adds about the incident with the rock. “It was a very dangerous place.”
Franklin shot in competitions for years, prior to opening his custom rifle business. Though he had made them while in British Columbia, he didn’t take that on as a business until moving back here.
“Everybody here owns a rifle, shotguns and pistols,” he said. “I started into it and made a Web site. It just took off. I never looked back.”
He wanted to be able to make stocks faster so he made a duplicator that allowed him to make two at a time. “I was doing maybe 300 stocks a year and maybe 60 rifles,” Franklin said of his business, before he sold it.
He still likes adventure and to travel. One of his favorite trips is to visit old Indian battlegrounds. “All that stuff is pretty interesting to me,” he said.
And he continues to hunt. Though he can’t find the elk, moose and bear he hunted in Canada, there is still plenty here to keep him busy.
Franklin said he shoots a lot of groundhogs as well as deer. “We’ve got too many deer now,” he said. But noted he believes coyotes, which are becoming more plentiful, will eventually help cut down on that number. Though he still makes a few custom rifles for friends, Franklin is, for the most part, out of the business. He has written numerous stories of his life and some can be found at his Web site www.richardscustomrifles.com. His life motto: “Show up, do your best, don’t grumble about the outcome. ... There ain’t but one thing a fellow takes to his grave and that’s his name.”