CHELSEA, OKLA. – Albert Averyt, known as Bud, couldn’t afford a hunting rifle, so at age 17, he bought and converted a military rifle.
“The first thing I did was cut off the stock, cut off the barrel and crowned it,” Averyt said, smiling a little as he remembered the process. “I had to bend the bolt handle because I added a scope, contoured the receiver, and drilled and tapped holes for the scope mount.”
And so a gunsmith was born thanks to “a little common sense and a lot of reading.”
Thirty-eight years later, Averyt is still doing everything from rebarreling a rifle to building custom guns.
Born in Sapulpa, Averyt moved to Chelsea, which he considers his home town, in 1973. He left for 20 years, but returned in 1997 when his daughters, Katrina Manning and Amanda Park, came to live with him within a week of each other.
Averyt had done other work -- as a civil engineer, bounty hunter and transportation director in charge of public school buses – but gunsmithing, he says, is “the most fun.”
Averyt, who has a visual disability due to retinal detachment and diabetes got help from Visual Services, an employment program in the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services. VS helped him set up his gun repair business inside General Store Pawn in Chelsea about eight months ago.
Before that, “…I did not want to be alive and be blind,” he said. “I know there are people who go through it and they are fine, but I don’t think I could have accepted it without help.
“This right eye was already blind and two days before Christmas, three and a half years ago.… I had a huge bleeder in my other eye, and everything went black,” Averyt explained. “I wasn’t worried when I lost the vision in the right eye because so I still had a good one, but I became worried at this point.”
Diabetes was a factor affecting Averyt’s vision. Lack of oxygen stimulated the growth of extra blood vessels on the back of his left retina which burst, bled and tore the retina loose.
Tulsa ophthalmologist and retinal specialist Dr. Lars Friesberg reattached Averyt’s retina, repaired retinal holes, and removed the extra blood vessels and the blood in his left eye. Cataract surgery was the last surgery Friesberg performed.
Friesberg also referred Averyt to Visual Services assistance with medical expenses.
I went through multiple, multiple surgeries and they tried to save the right one, but it had been too long,” he explained. “I have 20/80 vision in my left eye except in the center vision where I see nothing.”
A team of DRS Visual Services staff pitched in to help Averyt open his business and return to work.
“Melissa Partee has been my counselor the entire time, and she’s doing a great job,” Averyt said.
In addition to medical assistance, career counseling and referrals to services, Partee authorized the purchase of a milling machine that Averyt uses to do custom work on semi- automatic pistols and install sights on firearms, which represents 30 percent of his business.
Assistive Technology Specialist Diana Smith recommended an Acrobat video magnifier system for Averyt. Known as a closed circuit television stem or CCTV, the system connects a video camera with a zoom lens and a monitor screen that enlarges images for reading text and detail work.
“I could not do this job without that CCTV,” Averyt said.
VS Orientation and Mobility Specialist Cheryl McCarroll recommended adaptive eyewear to make the most of Averyt’s vision. The agency purchased an OptiVISOR binocular headband magnifier that enables him to see the smallest parts of the rifles and guns he repairs.
The agency provided a handheld, lighted magnifier with zoom options and a feature that freezes images. Outside the shop, Averyt uses a Monocular, which is a small, modified refracting telescope used to magnify images of distant objects.
Certified Vocational Rehabilitation Teacher Charley Tips suggested equipment to assist with diabetic medications, such as a talking weight scale, a talking blood pressure machine and a Count-a-Dose system that enables Averyt to measure insulin.
“I would not be sitting here in my own business if it wasn’t for Visual Services -– they are wonderful -- and the Department of Rehabilitation Services,” Averyt said. “I went from praying for God not to wake me up in the morning to a wonderful life, and I’m thankful.”
Averyt’s gun repair shop is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, inside General Store Pawn owned by Ryan Victory and Dennis Hoskins who are Averyt’s landlords.
Victory and Hoskins modified the gunsmith shop space, just two blocks away from his home, with electrical outlets and proper lighting.
Business is good. Currently, Averyt is caught up and ready to repair or customize firearms for his customers.
“Most people know me, and they like the fact that I am here,” Averyt said. “People are picky or pickier about having their firearms worked on than any other service provider – picker about their gunsmith than they are their doc – because of rural America’s love of firearms.”
Last year, DRS served 88,383 Oklahomans with disabilities with career preparation, employment, residential and outreach education, independent living programs and the determination of medical eligibility for disability benefits. The agency helps job seekers with disabilities face barriers to employment, such as inaccessible worksites, lack of transportation or the need for specialized equipment or training. For more information, visit http://www.okdrs.gov or phone 800-845-8476.