October 19, 2006
The Second Life of Old Betsy No. 1
By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
It’s very possible that between 1950, when it was made by Mashburn Arms Co., and 1972, when its owner Warren Page resigned as Shooting Editor of Field & Stream, that the 7mm Mashburn Magnum called Old Betsy No. I was the most famous big-game rifle in America. Of all the guns Page owned, this was his favorite, and with it he took 475 animals, all over the world, on heaven knows how many hunts.
Old Betsy was, in some ways, a radical rifle. For one thing, she weighed only 8 pounds with scope, sling, and three rounds of ammo aboard. Page was among the first gun writers to recognize that 10-pound guns were not the thing to carry up mountains, and to this end, Art Mashburn drilled, routed, and hollowed out every last bit of wood and metal that Old Betsy owned. The stock is hollow, and the sight rib, and the magazine has been swiss-cheesed, and even the bolt knob has been scooped out (see photo--click to enlarge). The barrel was 22 inches long, not 24, and even the sling was a special lightweight model.
Page died in 1977, and Old Betsy was auctioned off. It vanished from view until 2004, when I got an e-mail from her third owner, a Page fan, gun nut, and engineer who wished to remain anonymous, and shall be. His e-mail was a request for information on Page, and later, via snail mail, came numerous photos of Old Betsy.
She was scarcely recognizable as the worn, battered rifle I had groped and fondled in 1972. Her new owner was, as people say, clever with his hands, and had transformed her into a thing of beauty. He steamed out all the dents and dings and refinished the stock. He replaced the buttpad, which had cracked, and removed the whiteline spacers at the fore-end tip and grip. He filed the chips from the grip cap, and made a brand-new set of screws for the scope rings. Her old Kollmorgen 4X scope was replaced by a new 6X Leupold.
Old Betsy actually looked better than when she was new, and I had to look very hard at the photos to recognize the rifle I had read so much about. Her bore, her owner says, is still bright and in fine condition, and she is still as accurate as she ever was.
I wish I had gotten the chance to buy Old Betsy, but I’m glad she’s where she is, and has an owner who shows her love and affection. May all our treasured guns have similar fates when we are no longer here to shoot them.