The Black Powder Club is a throwback to days of yore.
Nineteenth century yore.
Several times throughout the year, its members hike into the backcountry wearing traditional civil war attire: frock coats, hooded compotes, brain tan leather jackets, ribbon dresses, and wide brimmed bonnets to keep the sun off their prized porcelain skin. With them, they carry bows and arrows, tomahawks and knives, black powder flintlocks and percussion caplocks.
Not exactly a typical sighting for modern day Chilliwack.
But this weekend, that’s exactly what will be seen in the Chilliwack River Valley.
Members are loading up their possibles bags for the annual Fraser Valley Frontiersmen Winter Rendezvous being held at the Chilliwack Fish and Game Range.
In preparation, Don and Yvonne Brown were stocking up on ammo for their black powder guns last week.
Outside on their front porch, Don, president of the Fraser Valley Frontiersmen, carefully dropped a handmade molten lead ingot into the piping hot melting pot.
“It’s almost like melting wax,” he laughed. “It’s so hot right now, it’s gone almost from the second you drop it in.”
Don holds a wood-handle, steel bullet mold under the pot and presses down on a lever to get the melted lead flowing. Once the two circular slots are filled, he eases up on the lever and cranks the mold’s shaft with a stick. Too hot to touch, he bangs the mold down on the table, and out pops two perfectly round 45-calibre silver bullets.
He repeats the process.
“The purer the lead the better; you want a nice soft plumber’s lead because it shoots better,” said Don, who melts down lead from scrap window weights, lead solder in stained glass, sheet lead, plumber’s lead, and other leads found in the waste of demolished houses.
The Browns have been casting their own bullets since 1999 when they first joined the club at the suggestion of a friend.
They were only planning on staying a couple of hours, but soon fell in love with the intricacies of the old-time black powder world.
Thirteen years later, the walls in their house are covered with medals, plaques, ribbons, and arrows won at events. Nearly half their bedroom has been taken over by authentic civil war wear (only wool and cotton, no synthetics) that Yvonne spends hours sewing, embroidering, and beading together.
“It’s so much fun; it’s just like a big family,” said Don. At the shoots, “you walk around the camp all night long talking to people, there’s a potluck dinner, council fires. People love it.”
Once the bullets are stocked, their possibles bags are packed with black powder, a black powder measure, cotton patches to wrap around the bullet, a short starter, ram rod, nipple wrench, and at least 30 bullets of varying weights depending on their guns of choice.
The club has been in Chilliwack for 40 years; Don believes its staying power will continue.
“It’s such an inexpensive sport,” he said. “You can’t buy a rifle anywhere today under $1,000, but you can get black powder guns for a couple hundred dollars. The cotton patches are nothing, the lead is free… we find it, we melt it.”
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