Geddes, N.Y. -- Lloyd Barden said he's been exhibiting or selling firearms at every Syracuse Gun Show since it started 51 years ago at the New York State Fairgrounds. This year he is exhibiting several antique Winchester rifles and a snub-nose, Colt percussion revolver . The revolver, a Danite, was popular with the Mormon Police -- particularly the bodyguards of Brigham Young.
Barden's proudest possession, though, is his 1892 Winchester rifle with its 14-inch barrel. "It was owned by a four-star general in the Marines. It's a baby carbine," the 80-year-old Vestal resident said.
Barden is vice president of the New York State Arms Collectors Association, which is hosting the two-day show with its more than 1,000 tables. He's a good example of an individual who has a passion for firearms and the history behind them. Last year's spring show drew more than 8,000 people and this year's event is expected to do the same.
"Winchester rifles are my main specialty," he said. The lever-action rifles, particularly the 1873 models, were very popular with Western settlers in this country. They have been referred to by many as "the gun that won the West," he added.
Joseph Hajec, 77, of Winsted, Conn., is another exhibitor/seller who's been at the show since its first day.
"I'm an antique dealer and deal in just about anything," he said. "I sell antique weapons, swords, antique bowie knives. I also deal in old Native American tomahawks, pipes, moccasins, vests - anything that an Indian had, or would carry I have, or have something similar. I also have World War II daggers, medals -- things like that."
Hajec said he and many other firearm exhibitors at the show are history buffs and that they relish researching a gun name and learning about it. He said has more than 6,000 books on firearms at his home - 30 to 40 on Colt revolvers alone. "If you don't know your facts, you can't be successful in this business," he said.
His most memorable sale?
"I had a Winchester carbine rifle with a carved ivory stock that was owned by President Porfirio Diaz of Mexico. I sold it for $135,000 to some guy at a show in Vegas," he said. "That was 30 years ago. Today, it's probably worth about $900,000."
Gale Bisel, 70, of Waterville, Ohio, a retired machinist/gun shop owner, said he's been at the Syracuse show on and off for the past 30 years. He deals in gun parts and accessories, such as cleaning supplies and replacement parts.
"I like mechanical things, and guns being mechanical, they're my toys," he said. "I love the history of them, the artwork on them and how everything fits and gets put together."
John Becker, 90, of Syracuse, deals in used handguns, long guns and does some gun smithing. He does a lot of work in helping firearm owners transferring ownership of their guns.
"I come here year after year because of the people," he said. "I'm acquainted with folks from Ohio, New Jersey - all over - who keep coming back every year."
It's also a family affair. Assisting Becker at his tables were his wife, Lisa; his brother, Ed; and Ed's two sons, Larry and Chris.
Doug Rainbow, 70, of Chittenango, has been a regular at the Syracuse Gun Show for more than 20 years. His tables this year featured a Lahti-L-39, a Finnish, 20 millimter, anti-tank rifle. It was made in 1939, is 7 feet long and weighs 106 pounds,.
"I like to meet the people," he said. "It's that 'Pawn Star' thing. You never know what's going to come through the door."
Bisel said many things have changed over the years. A host of new restrictions and regulations have altered how business is done.
"This used to be a cash-only business," Bisel said. "You'd have people bringing in brief cases of cash to buy guns. I've seen up to $50,000. There are some very expensive guns and there are some top-end collectors who seek them."
Hajac, who said he's been at gun shows all over this country, Europe and South America, noted "there are few multi-millionaires who will come to this show.