Living the Dream 2
Gary Wain concludes his visit to BSA headquarters – and completes the Cadet quest
Second part of Gary Wain’s dream visit to the BSA factory
We left off last month at the end of my visit to the BSA on Armoury road Birmingham, having had a wonderful tour of the factory and all of the fantastic traditional engineering that the company still employ. I met the factory shop floor manager, Mr Dave Williams who, by now, will be enjoying a well-deserved retirement, but at the time of my visit, he was certainly the man in charge of the whole shop floor.
BSA have been around for a good while, and losing someone like Dave and all of his knowledge, skills and abilities would be something of a cataclysmic loss, but BSA have been down this road many times before and so have spent time selecting, training and educating his successor – Mark Walker. Having met Dave on my first visit, and been impressed by the depth of his knowledge, I was no less impressed by Mark’s knowledge and enthusiasm. I was also honoured to meet BSA’s newest apprentice – the young and still pink-handed, Alex Markham. This young man has worked hard and earned the opportunity he’s been given, and I’m sure he’ll make the most of it.
At the outset of the BSA visit, all Paul had in mind was to take his beloved BSA Cadet rifle back to the factory that had created it. It had been Paul’s rifle for many years, and his father’s before him. In rural Lincolnshire, that rifle had spent many a day propped up beside the kitchen door, waiting for its chance to take a rat away from the chickens, or provide some game for the table. All Paul wanted to do was to bring it home, open the gun slip and say, “This is where you’re from, little chap.”
However, on seeing Paul’s Cadet, and hearing the story behind it, Jon Hatton had other ideas, and this is where I became more involved than I should have – after all, it was none of my business.
Rather than just have the rifle visit its place of birth, Jon offered to restore it, to bring it back to its former glory, and although I was supportive to BSA restoring the Cadet internally, I was horrified at the thought of losing all those years of patina and character. After all, if you remove 70 years of use, it’s
“you’ll agree that BSA, and Richard in particular, has worked wonders”
going to take another 70 years to recreate. So, with all this in mind, I tentatively voiced my concerns and thoughts to both Paul and Jon before departing, leaving Paul’s rifle in Jon’s capable hands.
Fast forward to June of 2018, when Paul told me that he’d received a message to say that his beloved Cadet Major rifle was ready. This is not representative of BSA’s turnaround time for servicing and maintenance, though. They very much have their finger on the pulse in regard to more usual undertakings, and should you be returning your rifle for a warranty repair, then you can expect a much more agreeable turnaround time, but Paul’s rifle was a special project.
After an early start and a brief stop for the mandatory bacon roll, our second trip over to Birmingham saw us arrive at the now familiar factory on Armoury Road. We were greeted by Jon and introduced to Richard Shakespeare. Paul was particularly keen to meet Richard because it was he who had been entrusted with the work, and he was even more keen to be reunited with his Cadet, and to learn the nature of work undertaken.
While standing at his work-bench, Richard informed us that he had first completely stripped the gun and assessed the state of it to determine the work required. The next step was to remove superficial and deep rust from all of the metal parts and then the individual metal components were cleaned and prepared for refinishing, or re-blueing. The original BSA logo had long since been obliterated through rust, pitting and years of use, so the top of the action was placed into the laser-etcher to have the BSA logo and wording refreshed.
Once the aesthetics of the gun’s metal parts had been re-established, it was time to address its functionality. Richard’s initial assessment of the Cadet had indicated that it would need a replacement breech seal and piston seal, and these aren’t off-the-shelf parts for an airgun of this vintage, so Richard made them by cutting and trimming the appropriate shape from an old leather belt that he just happened to have lying around. The Cadet was then treated to a new main spring, and all parts were given a final clean and oiling before reassembly. Once assembled, the rifle was
taken over to the indoor test facility where it was put through its paces and checked for functionality, power and accuracy.
The next part of the rifle to be worked on was the stock, and it’s this that I was most concerned about. I worried that BSA would remove all the years of dirt and grime, all the little dinks and scratches, and return it, gleaming new with many layers glistening stock oil. Don’t missunderstand me; there are many airgunners in our wonderful community who have done sterling work reviving the look of old guns. There’s nothing at all wrong with refinishing a stock that’s a bit beaten up – perhaps one that’s met with a concrete-related injury, but I felt that this particular BSA would look best with the stock untouched. As it turned out, neither I nor Paul, who is after all the owner of the Cadet, had anything to worry about. Not only had Richard worked wonders with the inner workings, but he had also chosen to give the stock a light going over, before treating it to a few coats of linseed oil to protect the ingrained patina.
So was Paul pleased to get his beloved Cadet Major back? Was he happy with the work? You bet he was, and we think you’ll agree that BSA, and Richard in particular, has worked wonders. The overall effect is simply stunning.
ABOVE AND BEYOND
I must point out that this sort of thing is not within the day-to-day scope of the factory, although BSA will undertake warranty repair and servicing work as part of the normal business of the factory, of course. Paul recognised that this transformation obviously falls outside the scope of their normal work, and was very keen to pay for the wonderful job that been performed on his beloved Cadet, but Jon declined to take payment for this special project.
“It was such a joy to hear the story of the rifle, and to see it come home with its owner,” he said.
Paul is a generous man and insisted instead on making a donation to a charity of BSA’s choosing – the Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
So, that concludes the fantastic time I spent with BSA, and I’d like to thank Jon and his team once again, for their kind hospitality.
“What’s that Paul? You want to do some pellet testing?”
The retiring master, Dave Williams, and the young apprentice, Alex Markham.
Richard Shakespeare reunites Paul with his refurbished Cadet Major.
Laser-etching on the top of the action to refresh the BSA logo and wording.
The new shop floor manager, Mark Walker, continues BSA’s high standards.
Just look at those shut lines.
BSA kept the character and patina whilst adding protection.
Fully serviced, the little rifle felt oh so sweet.
We think Paul might be pleased with the end result.