Rudy Marek of Portland, Oregon had a singular talent. He could make by hand an exact working replica of any antique firearm. That sparked a personal goal for the self-taught gunsmith: To amass a collection every firearm to play a pivotal role in early American history — such as the dueling pistols used by Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, the rifles used by Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, and the cannons that won the Civil War.
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Marek pursued that goal for 50 years, and then bequeathed his incredible arsenal to his three sons, Brian, Dean and Tim. They tell their story Tuesday, Jan. 16 on the FOX Business Network series “Strange Inheritance” with Jamie Colby. The episode -- “Cannon Father” -- will air at 9:30 p.m. ET.
Rudy fashioned his first firearm at 11 years old after watching a buccaneer flick. Then his mother almost forced him to walk the plank.
“I made a pirate pistol, just like I thought it looked in the movie,” he recalled in a home video. “The only trouble was I made it out of Ma’s curtain rod.”
It wouldn’t be the last time a woman hassled him over his hobby. In what you might call a shotgun honeymoon, Rudy insisted on bringing his dismayed new wife Gloria to gun shows. And Tim Marek shows Colby a percussion pistol his father made in 1952 “when mom was with me in the hospital as a newborn.”
His sons said he toiled innumerable hours in his workshop.
“He would go in and we wouldn’t see him until the next day,” Brian tells Colby in the program. “I never felt like he didn’t love me, but he just wasn’t interested in what I was doing,” says Dean.
Marek’s craftsmanship was so expert the Colt Firearms Company hired him to engrave their guns, and the producers of the 1965 Jimmy Stewart film “Shenandoah” came to him for props.
Marek’s entire collection -- hundreds of firearms -- was valued by experts at more than $1 million. Among the historic firearms Colby highlights in her program are Marek’s copies of the pistol Wild Bill Hickok was packing when he was killed in a Deadwood saloon, the carbines General Custer’s troops carried into the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and the pistol John Wilkes Booth used to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.
But it was the ever-growing battery of Rudy-made cannons that really lit his Gloria’s fuse.
“My wife told me if I build one more cannon she’d divorce me,“ he says in the video. He did. She left.
It wasn’t until Rudy was diagnosed with advanced lymphoma at age 69 that he finally found time to connect with his sons.
“This was a changed man from this workaholic to a softhearted father,” Dean tell Colby. “He said, ‘I want to spend time with my boys.’”
He was relieved when his boys were still eager to spend time with him. They even shot that home video to document his life’s work.
“I’m over seventy years now, and praise be to God that all that I’ve dreamt about since I was little has been fulfilled,” he said.