KEMPTON When Chuck Dixon first decided to provide muzzleloader enthusiasts a forum to exchange ideas and display their work 31 years ago, he had no idea it would evolve into an Gunmakers Fair and become a permanent fixture the final full weekend of July at Dixon's Muzzleloader Shop – the largest walk-in muzzleloader shop in the country.
This year, the Gunmakers Fair will be held Friday-Sunday, July 24-26, with an expanded schedule of seminars, demonstrations and living-history displays. Activities are scheduled daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the shop grounds, which are located along Kunkel's Mill Road, north of Exit 40 off Interstate 78 between Krumsville and Kempton. There is no admission charge to attend this international celebration of everything and anything dealing with the Golden Age of muzzleloader has attracted visitors from all 50 states and eight foreign countries, including Great Britain, Lebanon and Australia.
"We don't concern ourselves with counting the people, but 2,000 a day on the two full days is a fair estimate," Dixon said. 'There have been crowds in excess of 3,000, and the weather doesn't seem to matter, because we pull them out of the mud in the parking lots as much as we pull the people out in good weather.
"When we first decided to have this, it was done so that people had a place to talk about muzzleloaders and show their work to each other. We thought giving them this forum was a better way to show our appreciation for their business than handing out calendars at the end of the year."
Dixon, who developed an appreciation of flintlock rifles in his native Ohio, began his family-operated business in 1971 on a farm in the shadow of Hawk Mountain. There, between trips to the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association's headquarters at Friendship, Ind., where he shot several record scores, he built and sold custom rifles and supplies to other gun builders.
By the time the muzzleloader craze swept the country in the mid-l970s, Dixon's business had out-grown his original shop. After moving the business to the present location, it evolved into much more than a retail outlet.
On display is one of the finest private collections of antique muzzleloaders and muzzleloader accessories open to the public. Among the muzzleloaders on display is a Pennsylvania rifle built in the early l700s by Orwigsburg gunmaker Daniel Boyer, which has been converted from flintlock to percussion.
In addition to the antique muzzleloaders, among the collection of cartridge rifles are a. variety of Winchesters, including Model 1873s, known as "The Gun That Won The West," and Model 1895s, which were favored by Teddy Roosevelt to hunt big game around the world.
There is also a collection of limited edition rifles that have been engraved by Greg Dixon, Chuck's son. In addition to being a gunmaker, Greg Dixon is a master engraver, having honed his skills studying in Italy.
This year's seminars are aimed to help solve problems for everyone from those who hunt and shoot muzzleloaders to those who build rifles. Topics range from lock tuning to selecting wood for a stock to solving problems encountered while building to stains and varnishes.
For information about the 31st annual Gunmakers Fair, contact Dixon's Muzzleloader Shop at 610-756-6271 or access the website at www.dixonmuzzleloading.com.