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Thursday, February 11, 2010

JJ: Les I

I've mentioned Les a little before. I guess its time to elaborate, but I better start with John. Once upon a time there was a man named John Buhmiller from Eureka. John was a Great Northern employee at some point but is best known for making rifle barrels. After he moved to Kalispell and set up shop here a young man named Les Bauska went to work for him to learn the trade. Les ended up with a dual career: as a machinist at the Aluminum Plant in C. Falls and as a barrel maker. Eventually Les started making barrels on his own and Buhmiller moved to Africa to take up the role of a professional hunter. Buhmiller deserves a book of his own. He was a character. His shop was over near the Mormon church on Woodland. Somewhere I have a photo Les gave me of John standing in front of that shop, smiling proudly, surround by his eighteen coiled and buzzing pet rattlesnakes. He kept them in cages in the shop and let them out at night, figuring they would be better than watchdogs and wouldn't make noise to disturb the neighbors. Les made sure to come in for work AFTER John had his pets all rounded up, but one day came in to find John crawling around on the floor with a flashlight and muttering to himself. One of the snakes had disappeared. If you have ever looked at the old "Bull of the Woods" cartoons or been in an old time machine shop you have a good idea of the clutter in John's shop. Les scoped out the situation, told John to call him when the missing rattler showed up, and went home. He had a couple of days off before John found his pet coiled up and snoozing in one of the machines. I heard one "John" story from the GN days. John worked at a station and one of his pet peeves was the gumball machine in the lobby -- it was always jamming and he had to deal with the complaints and drop whatever he was doing to either unjam it or refund the coin to the customer. When the word came down that he could remove the machine, he grabbed a hammer and reduced it to to splinters of glass, twisted metal, and mangled gumballs. I guess he was smiling when he swept the pieces up and threw them away. John testfired his rifles into a backstop at the rear of his shop, an operation that usually went smoothly but failed once. He missed the backstop and the bullet went went through the back wall. He dug out his spotting scope and started searching the houses across the pond by what is now known as the dry bridge and kept an ear out for sirens. I suspect he was quite relieved to finally spot the bullet hole under the eave of a garage across the way. That night he gathered up some paint, putty and tools and did a stealthy break-and-enter, recovering the spent bullet, patching the hole and painting over it. I assume John wasn't using one of the "cannons" he loved to make and which he used to great effect on elephant a few years later or he might have had a lot more problems with that stray shot. This was the character that taught Les the trade. Gunsmiths, barrelmakers and machinists are known to step to a different drummer and Les was no exception, but his exposure to John might have aggravated the condition. Les' shop, and employee Steve Williams. Note the clutter!
By the middle 1950's Les was famous enough to be written up in the Gun Digest. By the time I met him in 1980 he was one of the old timers in the industry, and went on to be the oldest living barrelmaker with the longest career. Les and I met through his interest in books, and the fact that his shop was about ten blocks due west of the book store eventually turned him into a daily visitor. He was always on the lookout for technical books on any subject, from the biology of rats to the latest cameras, and had a great library. TBC (Me)