Tag Archives: Virgin Valley

Fred “Bullberry Barrel Works” Smith is retiring.

Guest Blog by Mike Bellm

Fred Smith’s work has been a key stepping stone in the evolution of custom Contender and Encore barrels to the point it is today at Match Grade Machine, Click here!

Fred has been one of the most significant pioneers in the Utah centered custom TC barrel business as it has evolved over the years, continuing through the fast growing Match Grade Machine

A brief history follows.

Custom Contender carbine wood was Fred’s first few years in the TC Contender business at a time when carbine length barrels were pretty scarce. Fred had plenty of walnut for his nicely crafted stocks and grips, but no reliable source of carbine length barrels or barrels chambered for cartridges TC did not make.

Thinking back and not recalling my early conversations with Fred, he may very well have gotten his early interest in Contender carbines like I did at the 1976 (or ’77?) NRA Convention in Salt Lake City where Al Beckstead from Preston Idaho displayed Contender carbines with barrels he was making.

My first employee was a former employee of Beckstead’s that gave me quite a bit of insight into Contender barrels in general.

It was around 1981 or ’82 when Fred began leaning on me to make Contender carbine barrels, but the work I was doing in the P.O. Ackley tradition did not entail the mill work that making Contender barrels depends on extensively making the barrel lugs and the drilling/tapping and other mill work on the barrel itself.

 

In 1983 I partnered with another machine shop in Salt Lake City and made my first dozen Contender carbine barrels for Fred.

Not wanting to wait for us to make fixtures to do the work more cost effectively, Fred and his son, Greg, went on their own making barrels with the head start I gave them.

That left me with the investment in making Contender barrels and continuing to make custom Contender barrels for quite a few years before giving up to the reality of my resources not being able to make barrels profitably. Making an art and science of reworking factory barrels became my forte while still doing quite a bit of fixed barrel work. Along with reworking barrels, the gun as a whole and how it is fed were issues that had to be made workable for the average shooter, and my accessories line and instructions were developed to meet those needs now supplied by my son, Kurt Bellm, through Bellm TCs.com

 

The Stratton family employees at Bullberry

The short version is that Steve Stratton and his two sons, Jeff and Kerry, worked for Bullberry, but broke out in open competition with their former employer as Virgin Valley Custom Guns for about 4 years before selling out to Wade Sip whose reincarnation of custom TC barrel manufacturing is the Match Grade Machine company, THE top custom TC barrel maker in the country today.

I should add also that E.A. Brown’s “Accuracy Barrels” were originally made by Virgin Valley Custom Guns who gave Brown the prints and details he needed for his crew to make custom TC barrels.

 

We may not agree among ourselves or have warm fuzzy feelings for each other, but we DO all owe Fred a debt of gratitude for making custom TC barrels a viable business venture and passing on the skills needed as the basis for even larger ventures serving all TC shooters.

Collectively, starting with my tutelage under P.O. Ackley on through to Fred Smith, the Strattons, E.A. Brown, and Wade and Dylan Sip, we have kept the TC break open guns not just alive and thriving, but we have taken them WAY beyond Thompson Center’s offerings covering probably the widest range of shooting and hunting venues of any firearms system made.

 

Give Fred a big thank you for his role in our shooting sports and best wishes for his retirement years!

Go to: Bullberry Barrel Works

 

Best regards,
Mike Bellm

 

Mike Bellm TCs | Mike Bellm, US Mail: P.O. Box 276, UPS/Fed-Ex: 1525 E. 350 Rd, El Dorado Springs, MO 64744. Phone (541) 956-6938

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