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Eventually Weatherby bought out a barrelmaker and a company "with a wonderful stock inletting machine."
"I had nothing to buy them with," he explains, "so I incorporated."
Incorporation brought him financial backing, which bought him more equipment and in time Weatherby was turning out not just rechambered rifles but the kind of rifle he had dreamed of and, with ornamentation, dressed up to kill with merciful dispatch. Now he grosses $1 million a year but until recently was gloomily convinced that, sooner or later, "like every other custom riflemaker," he'd have to turn to something else to make a living.
"All the oldtimers went broke," he says.
To combat that prospect, a few years ago he began turning out a semi-production rifle selling for much less than his custom rifles. Today 90% of Weatherby's customers are ordinary hunters who scrape together the $250 or so it takes to buy the Weatherby Magnum DeLuxe (noncustom) grade. For this, the hunter gets a minimum of fancy inlays of tropical wood but, at the same time, a high-velocity, flat-shooting, walnut-stock rifle which, before it left the factory, was required to deliver a five-shot group not exceeding 1� inches at 100 yards. To prove the performance, the test target is shipped with the rifle.
Such accuracy is far from common in hunting rifles, especially in the big-game category. A handmade double-barreled Holland & Holland magnum, built by venerable British craftsmen who prefer the hammer, chisel and file to modern machine tools, is considered good enough if it sprays its big bullets over a four-inch area at 100 yards. This is due largely, of course, to inherent difficulties of double-barrel construction.
There are other refinements in this standard-grade (DeLuxe) Weatherby. Its barrel, for example, is of a special hard chrome molybdenum steel developed by the Timken roller-bearing people whose Board Chairman Henry Timken Jr. is a Weatherby rifle enthusiast. (So, for that matter, is Mrs. Timken.) Partly because of the boss's keen interest, Timken engineers developed a barrel steel which, Weatherby says, is more stable than other rifle steels, more easily worked, gives better accuracy and is so hard that chrome lining no longer is necessary to extend barrel life for his hot loads. Weatherby drills and reams the barrel with precision machinery, rifles it with the only Lapointe broach west of the Mississippi, laps it by hand and gives it a mirror polish before bluing. Its imported Mauser action is reheat-treated and the trigger replaced with a Timney or Jaeger adjustable trigger. The stock's fore-end tip and pistol grip cap are of East Indian rosewood, with white line spacer and diamond inlay of contrasting wood. The finish is a unique two-component resin, without oils or plasticizers, applied in 10 to 15 coats with a rubdown between each coat. The result is a clear, hard gloss that resists wear and does not change color. The stock is hand-checkered, and the barrel is bedded to it with expert care.
That is quite a lot to get for $250, especially as the standard (DeLuxe) barreled action alone costs $155. For a hand-honed custom action, which includes checkered bolt knob and damascened bolt and follower, the price is $185.
After that, things start costing extra. The most distinctive and the most expensive of the Weatherby stocks is made of California mesquite. Suitable mesquite is rare and getting rarer. Weatherby is convinced that some day the mesquite-stocked rifle will be a collector's item.
"It takes about 100 years to grow a piece of mesquite good enough for a stock," he says, "and it's getting harder to find every year. It is strong and hard because it grows under conditions that would kill other woods. It has learned to get along without moisture. It makes a wonderful stock."