By Vicki Johnson
Whether he’s building a muzzleloader, ministering to prison inmates or helping to conserve natural resources as president of the local Izaak Walton chapter, Steve Wright can usually be found serving others.
It was a chance TV program he was watching on a Sunday afternoon that started Wright’s journey into the world of building muzzleloaders and historical re-enacting.
About 35 years ago, he was watching the movie “The Mountain Men,” with Charlton Heston and Brian Keith.
“They were showing the behind-the-scenes stuff, the garb they wore and a muzzleloader shoot,” he said. “I thought the muzzleloaders really looked kind of cool.”
He called his neighbor, who also was a shooting friend.
“I drug him into it and we ended up buying a couple of Thompson Center muzzleloader kits,” Wright said. “Neither one of us knew much about black powder.”
They wanted to join a muzzleloader shooting club, but discovered the closest ones were in Toledo and Sandusky. So, Wright, of Fremont, went to a gun show and signed up 60 people who were interested in starting a club in Fremont.
That was in 1980.
He still serves as secretary of the Sandusky County Hawkeyes. The club hosts shoots the first Sunday of each month at the Sandusky County Izaak Walton League range.
“We have about 50 members, and probably 25 percent of them are original members,” he said.
“Then we found out some local people had been into the re-enactment part of it and had been to Friendship and knew about shoots,” he said.
Friendship, Indiana, is headquarters for the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association. The club became a charter member of the NMLRA, and Wright was introduced to rendezvous re-enactments at the Ohio Flintlock and Buckskin Rendezvous.
“I met a lot of guys who were making guns at the time,” he said. The late Milo Bragg, who lived in Bettsville, was one of them.
“Milo was a big influence on me, and his gun building kind of got me into it,” Wright said.
Wright had some woodworking experience through his full-time job and he’d been involved with muzzleloaders for two or three years. He wanted a better gun, but couldn’t afford the cost of having one built.
“So, I thought I’d try it,” he said. “I’ve been building guns since then.”
Not long after he started building guns, Wright said, he attended a muzzleloader fair with Bragg near Indianapolis, now called Arts & Arms, hosted by Conner
There, he watched master craftsmen demonstrate the various aspects of building guns.
“Those were kind of inspirations for me,” he said.
While there, Wright said he had an opportunity to dine with the founder the Arts & Arms event, who asked what he thought of the weekend and invited suggestions.
“I suggested a basic 101 class,” he said, “to tell people where you can buy wood, locks and barrels, that kind of stuff.”
The founder asked if Wright wanted to teach the basic class.
“For seven years, I was blessed enough to be part of the teaching part of that,” he said. “I got to know all those famous gun builders on a personal basis. I got to be friends with them. My name was associated with theirs because it was in the program.”
After several years, Wright said, he drifted away from gun building and pursued other interests.
But after he retired from his full-time job about eight years ago, he started again.
Although he has built 25 or 30 muzzleloaders, he considers it a hobby.
“I had one really neat project last year,” he said.
While he took part in the annual Living History Show in Fremont last February, he said, a Civil War re-enactor asked him to build a replica of a Hinson Rifle.
“He and his wife portrayed Jack Hinson, who was a sniper in the Civil War,” Wright said. “There was a lot known about the gun. There’s a lot of documentation on it.”
He built the rifle according to the information recorded in the 1800s.
“It was really neat, because it was very educational,” he said.
The original Hinson gun still exists with a collector, so the gun’s new owner asked to place the two Hinson rifles side by side last April.
“It was uncanny how close they were,” he said. “It almost looked like the two pieces of wood were cut from the same tree. It was kind of eerie.”
Wright said there’s a possibility of making a movie based on the book, “Jack Hinson’s One-Man War, A Civil War Sniper” by Tom McKenney.
“They talked about using the gun in the movie, so that was kind of exciting,” he said. “But that’s just talk.”
Now, he’s working on a Virginia rifle and a Davy Crockett rifle for area residents.
“Once I get those done, I have some partially finished, but not for anybody in particular,” he said.
Wright said many friendships have resulted from building guns.
“That’s how it’s been with some of the guns I built,” he said. “I’ve become lifelong friends with the people I’ve built guns for.”
He also has built friendships with other people interested in building guns, and he’s had several apprentices.
One of those people with an interest in guns is Larry Kipps, former president of the Tiffin-Seneca County chapter of the Izaak Walton League.
As a muzzleloader builder, Wright takes part each year in the Tiffin-Seneca Heritage Festival. It was that involvement that led to his current position as Izaak Walton president.
“As fate would have it, I was doing the Tiffin Heritage Festival and a guy came up and was interested in one of my vises (used for gun building),” he said.
That guy was Kipps, and their conversation led to Wright offering his services as a longtime hunter education instructor to the local chapter.
“I’ve been teaching hunter education for 25 years,” he said. “And Larry wanted to learn to build guns. That’s how I got involved in the (Seneca County) Izaak Walton.
“I met a great bunch of folks over there,” he said. “I’ve been involved for four years now.”
When the job as pond manager opened up, he volunteered to take over.
“I’m a busy guy and I like to get involved with stuff,” he said. “I like getting involved and I like meeting people.”
It wasn’t long before he was elected vice president. The president then stepped down, so he took over and then was elected to his current term.
Another form of service occupies another part of Wright’s life when he takes part in a prison ministry through his church, Harvest Baptist Temple in Clyde (where he is a deacon) and the Christian Motorcycle Association.
“We go to the jails and talk to the inmates about Jesus, about their eternal life and what their status is,” he said.
He works through a group called Bill Glass Behind the Walls, which has been organizing thousands of volunteers nationwide for 40 years into high-energy Day of Champions and Weekend of Champions events conducted inside prisons.
As a former Cleveland Browns football player, Glass started the project which today includes other pro athletes, champion weightlifters, magicians and tight-rope walkers, as well as volunteers who race cars, ride motorcycles, operate stunt planes and many other activities.
“Bill Glass started taking other celebrities into prisons around Ohio to witness to the inmates in jail – men and women both – and tell them about Jesus,” Wright said.
He joins the trips two or three times a year to prisons such as Chillicothe, Marion, Lucasville and Youngstown as well as juvenile facilities.
“We use our motorcycles and go into the yards,” he said. “It’s kind of a draw for them, and often times that’ll open the opportunity to have a discussion about their spiritual status.”
His Harley-Davidson is custom-painted with a Christian theme, which helps break the ice on the conversation.
“We eat with the inmates, get to know them,” he said. “When they go to chow, we go to chow with them.”
Wright said he has discovered prisoners are just people who have made mistakes. He doesn’t judge them.
“That’s one of the things that I do,” he said. “I do this for the glory of God and his praise, to give them a chance for eternal life.”
He said he got started after visiting a prison to see a relative, and found out prisoners are just people who made mistakes.
“Not everybody is psyched about going and talking to those people,” he said. “They have to pay their debt to society.
“I get blessings from going and I get to be a blessing to somebody else,” he said.
In addition, he provides a similar ministry as chaplain of Sandusky County jail. For “five or six years” he was chaplain of the Seneca County jail as well.