A little about Sleepy Hill Barrels
For those of you who don't know of me, my name is Jim McLemore, and I'll give you
the 10 cent tour. I was born in Chicago and spent my childhood in Tennessee, with
a rifle in my hand from 9 yrs. old till now. I got into black powder shooting in
the 1960's. By trade, I was a structural ironworker in Chicago. My wife and our
2 year old son and I attended a muzzle loader shoot in Friendship, Indiana where
I met Bill Large.
One of my first encounters with the barrel making bug was while talking to Bill about a special bench gun I wanted to make. Bill told me I should start making my own barrels. He offered to share his knowledge with me in any way he could. That was the way he was. He loved barrel making and shooting. It took me a year or more to build some home made equipment and to start my learning curve into barrel making. Bill sent me drilled blanks, wired together, via Grey Hound bus so I would have something to start with. I still have some of the letters from Bill about how to make cutters and tools. Like everyone else who tries to make the best barrel, I ended up knee deep in the life and legend of H.M.Pope - the man who, in most shooters eyes and in the record books, made the best and most accurate barrels in the world. My wife and I spent many hours calculating gain factors and code numbers. I felt like gain twist was the way to make barrels.
My skill and knowledge was growing and I was addicted. The next thing to do was to figure out how Mr. Pope did it. That took me on the road to talk to anyone who would listen and that was known to be a really good barrel maker. I called Barrett (Boots) Obermeyer in Wisconsin and he was gracious enough to let me come to his shop and see what real barrel machinery was. It was like your first roller coaster ride, where you have to stand on your tip toes to be tall enough to meet the mark that lets you ride! Boots must have seen my awe and the thirst that I had for more knowledge. He looked at a barrel I had brought with me that I cut with a gain twist for a round ball. He seemed impressed and I was caught between elated and dumbfounded. The difference between his shop and what I was working with was like comparing mud pies and cheesecake! I remember the first time he stopped on the way back from a shoot and saw my shop. He said "You are going to starve to death". He was right. After a couple of months of trying to figure out how to buy some real equipment, Boots put me in touch with a dealer out east that put a deal together for me to get a deep hole drill and a Pratt & Whitney double rifler and away I went! In a short time, Boots taught me how to make high power barrels and test barrels for "Uncle Sam". By this time, the infection that is barrel making had taken firm hold, and time seemed to pass by like water down a fast creek.
In the early 90's, tragedy struck, when the large, wood barn housing my shop burned to the ground. All that was left of my dream was a knee deep pile of rubble and a some burned machines consigned to what we call "the machinery grave yard".
Once again I went back to iron work in Chicago, also known as "high, difficult and dangerous". But the dream wouldn't die and I started building a new shop and looking for new equipment. As I went along, I could see that it would take a whole lifetime again to build everything I needed. I called on an old and good friend, Bob Roller - lock maker extraordinaire - to ask about Bill Large's shop. They had been good friends and Bob gave me the number of Jeannette Large, one of Bill's daughters (the "4J's"). The shop had been closed for 20 years and the things I needed were there and waiting for me. God works in mysterious ways. The circle was complete, my old friend and mentor was still helping me after all these years. After a lot of work by my 2 sons, my grandson and myself, we were able to fill in the rest of the equipment that I needed from Bill's shop.
The fact that Bill Large and Barret Obermeyer took the time to teach me barrel making from black powder to target barrels still leaves me in wonder and I will always be grateful.
Well, the rest is, I still make the best barrels I can and I am still addicted to gun powder and good shooting.