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Firearms last a long time and as a result they are frequently passed down from generation to generation. I am sure that many people have such special pieces even if they are no longer used for hunting or recreation. In my gun safe there is such an item.
My heirloom is a Winchester Model 90 pump chambered for the .22 Short. My great uncle was a dentist and I have no idea how he came to own the rifle, but at some time in the early 1940s he gave the rifle to my father or grandfather. My father said that the rifle was given to him but apparently my grandfather was sure that the rifle was meant for him. No matter because we lived at the end of a road only about 125 yards from my grandparents. As a result, the rifle stayed at our house and besides I never saw my grandfather even holding a rifle. He used a single shot .410 shotgun if he shot anything.
There were four boys in my family and as a result the old Winchester is now about worn out. It still shoots, but it is cosmetically poor and the bore is rough. Although all four of us used the Model 90, I carried and shot it much more than any of my brothers. Growing up on a farm, I sort of became the designated shooter in the first step of preparing bacon and sausage. I remember only one instance when a second shot was required and that was caused by a deflection. After I was grown and away from the childhood home, the Model 90 was my only rimfire rifle for several years. My father did not mind because he was more of a hunter who used a shotgun for small game. Eventually, I got another .22, a Winchester Model 69, and took the Model 90 back to dad. After that, I do not believe that any of the four sons used the rifle.
When my father died, the four brothers had a drawing to determine ownership of the guns that he left. When I pulled a number out of the hat, it was my turn to choose and I immediately picked the old Winchester. I had carried that .22 for countless miles in the bottom lands along the Big Muddy River in southern Illinois and it had been an important part of my youth.
The Winchester Model 90 was designed by John M. Browning and three distinct variants were produced. The first version of the Model 90 had a solid frame and there were no visible locking lugs. The second version also had enclosed locking lugs, but it was a takedown model. About 1907 the third model was introduced and it featured large locking lugs that were visible and rested in notches in the sides of the frame. From the serial number, it can be established that the rifle that I have was made in 1921 and it is one of the third variant species.
The takedown models have a large knurled screw at the rear of the frame on the left hand side. Rifles were made like mine that shot only the .22 Short, but they were also produced in .22 Long and .22 WRF. My old Winchester has an octagon barrel that measure 24 inches in length.
At one time when I was about 12 years old, my brother somehow lost the inner magazine tube. Look as we may, it could not be found. So, the rifle became a single shot. However, about a year later while walking in the peach orchard, I found the tube. It was somewhat bent and definitely rusted. I took it home, carefully straightened it, and removed the rust. After that the tube could be inserted in the outer tube and .22 Shorts fed from it reliably.
On another occasion, the hammer spring broke. I found that a rubber band stretched around the hammer and the front of the receiver would allow the rifle to be used as a single shot. Eventually tiring of this, the rifle was taken to a local gunsmith for repair. Somewhat later a postcard came (we had no phone then) with the message, “I have your Winchester up in good shape.” If I remember correctly after the intervening time of about 75 years, I paid the repair bill of $3.00.
With its rather long and heavy barrel for a .22, the Model 90 was very suitable for offhand shooting. The iron sights consisted of a fine bead front sight and a leaf rear that could be adjusted for elevation by means of a small screw. Although I use rifles with scopes attached, to this day I still like for my rifles to have a set of open sights. If I could see as well as I did back then I would use open sights more often than I do.
In the century since it was made, the old Winchester Model 90 has had a lot of hard use and it looks as if it has. Monetarily, it has very little value. Sentimentally, it is priceless. The memories I have of after school roaming the river bottom woodlands facing all sorts of danger with that rifle are still vivid. Unfortunately, few boys have the opportunity to do such things today. I hope that when it gets passed on to my son he can hold it and realize how much it meant to me.
This Winchester Model 90 was produced just over a century ago.
The large takedown screw and visible locking lugs are characteristic of the third variant.
When taken down, the Model 90 consists of two major parts.
The large locking lugs mate with recesses in the receiver.
Shown left to right are .22 Short, Long, Long Rifle and the .22 WRF cartridges.
The stuff from which memories are made.