Hodgdon: Family Tradition Plus Innovation
By John Taffin
I must admit I couldn’t understand how so many reloaders got into the predicament they found themselves in during the Obama years — remember the Great Ammo and Component Shortage?
With 60 years of reloading behind me, I’ve learned to always have enough reloaded ammo, brass, primers and powder on hand to keep me shooting for a while. As far as bullets go I always have alloyed ingots and a good stock of molds available.
But as rough as the Obama years were, they weren’t nearly as bad as the shortages I faced as a beginning reloader. The year was 1956. I was straight out of high school and had just turned 17. I took a job working for a company that catered to the construction trade with a four-story building covering a city block. Beginning as an order boy, I was soon promoted to be the foreman of a crew of anywhere from six to 12 men charged with unloading truck trailers at the loading docks at the front of the building and from the flat cars and boxcars on the spur track behind the building. It was without a doubt one of the greatest jobs a teenager could have.
Hodgdon has been the face of American handloading for a long, long time.
Components Back In The Day
At the time it was practically impossible to find reloading components, however, my company had a reciprocal agreement with a large sporting goods company which allowed me to special order whatever I needed (if they could get it) and purchase it through a payroll deduction. This got me a Lyman #310 “Nutcracker” hand tool set up with both .45 Colt and .38 Special dies, one pound of DuPont #5066 powder, primers and cast bullets.
The only bullets available were 230-gr. lead RN .45 ACP bullets, so I used these in loading for my .45 Colt. I never saw any new brass so I had to spring for loaded .45 Colt ammunition. Fired .38 Special cases were much easier to find since this was the heyday of bull’s-eye shooting.
Ammunition companies could not see the future of reloading and how profitable it could be to them so they fought efforts by individuals to start up businesses to provide components. After the war ended in 1945, there were men who could see the future; they were definitely visionaries. Five of them were Joyce Hornady and John Nosler (bullets), Ray Speer (primers), Fred Huntington, (reloading equipment) and, most assuredly, Brewster F. “Bruce” Hodgdon with powder.
Hodgdon has been the face of American handloading for a long, long time.
Bruce Hodgdon was born in 1910. His dad purchased a can of Laflin & Rand powder the same year and young Bruce remembers his dad being a pioneer reloader. Hodgdon’s is a real American family with roots going all the way back to the Mayflower. General Sam Hodgdon was on George Washington’s staff during the Revolutionary War. Jeremiah Hodgdon homesteaded in Yosemite in May 1865 and was the park’s first postmaster. During World War II Bruce was a petty officer and gunnery instructor in the Navy. One of his commanding officers would soon become very well known as both a shotgunner and actor — Robert Stack.
At any rate, we survived the Great Depression and soundly defeated the Axis Powers and were ready to go forward. There was a large surplus of powder left over from the war (we’re talking thousands of tons), which could easily have been scrapped by dumping it in the ocean. Bruce Hodgdon saw a better way and purchased large quantities of surplus powder, beginning with 50,000 pounds. He borrowed $1,500 on his life insurance policy and paid 4 cents a pound for that first batch (he’d eventually purchase 4.5 million pounds).
He used two old boxcars to store it. The first ad for the sale of Hodgdon’s powder was placed in the January 1948 American Rifleman. Prices were 75 cents a pound, 10 pounds for $6.75 and 150 pounds — packed in G.I. containers — for $30 plus shipping.
The powder was packaged mainly by Hodgdon’s two boys J.B. and Bob, while his wife Amy served as the bookkeeper and accountant. Hodgdon’s Powder Company began as a family business and remains so today. Their company mission statement shows solid support for my four “Fs” — namely Faith, Family, Friends and Firearms. This is the solid base for their company and the family’s life.
For the heaviest loads in .45 Colt, .44 Magnum and .454 Casull, H110 is the powder of choice.
In 1952 Hodgdon became the first company to offer spherical powder and by 1960 — instead of only military surplus powder — they began offering newly manufactured powders. To show support for shooters, Hodgdon built the largest indoor shooting range in the world at the time in 1967.
Black powder shooting was changed with the marketing of Pyrodex in 1976. The year 1991 saw the introduction of the first clean-burning shotshell powder, Clays. In 1995 came the temperature insensitive Extreme Powders beginning with Varget. In 1996 muzzleloaders benefited from the introduction of Pyrodex pellets. Five years later a second black powder substitute was offered with Triple Seven.
I’m a firm believer in always having up-to-date manuals even though I have many historical reference manuals going back to the 1920s. Beginning in 2003 the company made it very easy for reloaders to stay updated with the introduction of their Annual Manual in magazine format. With the spread of Cowboy Action Shooting all over the world there was talk of problems in trying to use available powders for light loads, especially in .45 Colt cartridges with their large powder capacity. Hodgdon came to the rescue in 2005 with Trail Boss — a reduced-load powder filling the case to the base of the bullet with no chance of ever having a double charge. In 2007 Hodgdon went online with the Reloading Data Center, which is constantly updated with new data.
For shooters of copper jacketed bullets, 2012 was a banner year with the introduction of CFE or Copper Fouling Eraser powder. CFE is available in CFE PISTOL, CFE223 and CFEBLK. The PISTOL version is well suited for using copper jacketed bullets in .38 Super, 9mm and .45 ACP. CFE223 is my powder of choice for the .223 Remington and CFEBLK not only works well in the .300 Whisper/Blackout, it also performs exceptionally well in varmint cartridges such as the .17 Hornet, .218 Bee and .221 Fireball.
In addition to a long list of company-named powders, Hodgdon also distributes Winchester powders and now owns IMR. Sixgunners can virtually cover all the bases with three powders from Hodgdon — Trail Boss, Universal and IMR4227. For the heaviest loads in sixguns chambered in .45 Colt, .44 Magnum and .454 Casull, H110 is the powder of choice. And for the die-hard black powder shooter, Hodgdon’s now owns and distributes the GOEX brand.
It has not always been all ups with Hodgdon over the past 70 years. There were some rocky spots along the way including being close to bankruptcy as well as the terrible tragedy when the Pyrodex plant blew up. However, in all of these difficult times the character of the Hodgdon family came through and from the small house-based business in the 1940s they have continued to grow and come back from adversity.
The history of Hodgdon can be found in an excellent new book, The Gunpowder People by Jim Bequette. If you’ve been around long enough you may recognize Bequette as Skeeter Skelton’s editor for many years.