by Terry Wieland
Readers of Gray’s over the past dozen years will be familiar with the name Bob Hayley. Bob was a somewhat eccentric polymath who lived in a small, dusty town on the edge of the Texas Panhandle and made a living “getting old guns shooting again.”
Bob could cast bullets, design bullet moulds, remake cartridge cases, load ammunition, and generally cater to what he liked to call “the weird, the whacky, the wonderful.” If you had, say, an 1850s Gastinne-Renette 9mm pinfire gallery pistol, Bob could provide you with ammunition; if you needed rounds for a .41 Short Rimfire, same deal. He knew more about cartridges and ammunition for old rifles and pistols than anyone else I ever met. He was also the only one, probably in the entire world, who did what he did.
Alas for all the hungry old rifles out there, Bob died in October last year, from cancer. He was in his later seventies. Over the past four years, he had weakened steadily, moving from one treatment to the next, steadfastly living alone in his house on the edge of the Brazos River, and driving himself to Wichita Falls for treatment in either his ancient Land Rover, or equally old Cadillac.
I won’t say Bob was unique because, somewhere, there may be a reclusive oddball who can match him for eccentricities, but I doubt it. He made it plain that when he died, he wanted no funeral, no graveside service, no mourners, and no obituary. In line with his wishes, this is not an obituary, merely a notice to anyone who might be interested that Hayley’s Custom Ammunition is no more, and Bob will not be returning your calls.
I will, however, say this: Bob was one of the strangest people I’ve ever known. He was a Texan, born and raised, who grew up working cattle, trained as a geologist, was an ordained Presbyterian minister, and made his living for the last 30 or 40 years pursuing his first love: Old guns and old ammunition.
In more than 12 years of asking for his assistance with various magazine articles about ancient firearms, I never once had a question go unanswered; on those rare occasions when he could not tell me off the top of his head, he would repair to his vast library of reference works and get back to me within an hour. Most of the time, he would then offer to make me some of whatever it was we were talking about. And he could do it, too.
Bob Hayley was not a recluse in the literal sense, but he was certainly a misanthrope — odd for a man of God. But then, Bob once told me that he had never preached a sermon in any of his small-town Texas churches that he did not have a Colt .45 under his robe.
I could go on about Bob, but I fear I might stray into what could be mistaken for an obituary, and the last thing I want to do is go against his wishes. No matter where his spirit is now residing, knowing Bob, he’d find a way to get even.
Terry Wieland has been Shooting Editor of Gray’s since 1993 and is the author of a dozen books on hunting, shooting, and history. His latest is Great Hunting Rifles — Victorian to the Present, published by Skyhorse in 1997. Last year, Skyhorse reprinted his acclaimed 1999 book on Robert Ruark, A View From A Tall Hill.