A very short 41 year journey.
I grew up in Ohio, and in 1978 a friend?s father let me shoot his 45 Colt Contender. I thought it was the coolest gun ever. The bluing was deep and lustrous, the grip fit my hand like a glove, and the weight felt like this was a gun that could never fail. Then he showed me the choke and the ability to shoot .410 shells. My Dad was always a pheasant hunter and I dreamed that night of drawing the gun from a chest rig and dropping pheasants out of the sky with the mighty handgun while my Dad looked on in awe. Well, I was 16 and those dreams have never left me.
Deer were non-existent in Northeast Ohio when we were young, but pheasants were plentiful. Dad was always a shotgunner and never developed a passion for rifles or handguns, but he had an old H&R revolver from his father that we carried while running a trap line. I do not recall Dad ever shooting it, but somewhere along the way, he must have taught me how. I think the barrel was an inch or so and extremely loud. My buddies and I would place playing cards in a slit stick and shoot hundreds of rounds through the gun attempting to cut the cards in half. We pretty much wore the gun out and would resort to cocking the gun and then lining up the cylinder before shooting to prevent the lead shavings from stinging your hand.
I ended up buying a Ruger Mark I and retiring the H&R. I carried the Ruger with me on every squirrel hunt, but being young and more interested in limiting out on fat fox squirrels, I mostly used a rimfire rifle and the Ruger was used for very short ranges.
I was hooked on handgun hunting, but it was a number of years later before my friend Dave let me use his 223 Contender on a groundhog hunting trip. I made my first shot at an estimated 300 yards off of shooting sticks. Even after I paced the distance off to 130 yards, I was so excited I could not stand still. I have not hunted groundhogs with a rifle since that fateful day. I had loaded shotgun shells since I was eight and Dave taught me how to handload centerfire cartridges. I then began the process of getting all the groundhog hunting accuracy I could from a Contender in 6TCU. We handgun hunted groundhogs every chance we could.
Dave was a Contender fan and would show me articles on SSK and J.D. Jones. We lived about an hour and one half from Wintersville and Dave kept talking about going to SSK. After reading all the articles and stories, I thought this was the dumbest idea he ever came up with. ?Seriously, we are going to drive there, the business of the world?s greatest handgunner, and knock on his door?? ?Yeah, that is the plan.? I was too terrified to knock on the door so Dave did. J.D. came to the door and said something like ?howdy fellas? and I about fainted. We were invited in, given coffee and a chair and J.D. stopped doing whatever he had planned for that day and talked to us like we were all best hunting buddies for years. That conversation lead to the future demise of many groundhogs as what was a flickering flame of passion turned into a roaring inferno.
Dave picked up a 375 JDJ Contender at a flea market and a box of 20 cartridges with 18 left in the box. The story was the flea market vendor bought the gun and box of cartridges from a man that never got the courage to shoot it. He sold it to the first customer who subsequently returned the gun after firing one shot from the mighty beast. He sold it to the second customer who shot the second round and returned it. Now it was Dave?s turn! Dave was a Marine and I never saw him ever show any fear. I expected him to be quivering when he shot that gun for the first time, but he was not! I stood well back as I knew it was likely his arm was going to be ripped off his body and I did not want to be hit by the bloody mass. He took aim, fired, turned to me grinning like he was five and just farted in church; he still had both arms. The 375 became Dave?s under 200 yard groundhog gun of choice. I was with him when he shot the first one. The groundhog had spotted us and just had his nose sticking out of the hole. We waited there for a long time, but it was clear he was not coming out. Dave took aim and I asked him ?What are you doing?? He said if he ain?t coming out then I am going in. He shot through the top of the berm (now that ground can be hard and I have ricocheted more than one bullet off a berm) and that was the end of that groundhog!
Years later, we started Millennium Manufacturing and became a supplier of parts to SSK. I got to know J.D. as I always had a fascination with ballistics. J.D. took me under his wing and began teaching me a little what he learned in his many years of experience. We began producing subsonic projectiles for the 300 Whisper using the Controlled Fracturing principle. Shortly after, Lehigh Defense was formed with the objective of creating unique and innovative projectiles and ammunition. Lehigh Defense would not exist without the tutelage of J.D. It is as simple as that.
As Millennium Manufacturing expanded to a firearms part supplier to many OEM?s, the desire to see the original Contender return was always present. An opportunity presented itself to assume the operation of SSK. With J.D.?s guidance and assistance of great friends in the industry, we are extremely proud to deploy the manufacturing capacity and capability of both Millennium Manufacturing and Lehigh Defense to continue the innovation that set SSK apart from the crowd so many years ago.
When we decided to bring the original Contender back, we bought four frames and Tom, our milling department programmer, disassembled and measured every dimension of every part reporting back that they are snowflakes, each one unique. This was a surprise to me at first until I realized how difficult it would be to make identical parts for fifty straight years on probably less than robust equipment. Tom analyzed parts for months on end and developed models at nominal dimensions. We are making every frame part in-house on precise cnc machines to exacting standards. Where it made sense, we changed to different alloys, and finishes; where it made sense to leave the original design alone, we did so. We fully believe these will be the finest Contenders to ever be produced ? send me an email in 50 years and let me know if we succeeded.
We will be producing every part as a Contender replacement item as well as complete receivers and firearms. The new platform will have the model name of SSK-50 to honor the fifty years of continuous Contender production. In addition to handgun and carbine configurations, we have also patented a unique muzzleloader that will hopefully be through ATF review this winter. ?This is not your Dad?s muzzleloader!?
Our objective is to merge Lehigh Defense?s projectile and ammunition expertise into the fold with the tag of ?Making wildcatting mainstream?. In talking with J.D., Brian, and Dennis, they said it was imperative that ammunition, formed brass, and dies be readily available for the popular JDJ and Whisper cartridges. We have some loaded wildcat ammunition already available on the Lehigh Defense website and will be adding more as we develop it. Impossible to find brass will be available (510 Whisper and 375 JDJ brass is on the website now) and by year end, we will be releasing 7BR and all the cases based on it. We are working diligently on the 225 Winchester brass, but do not have a release date yet.
J.D., Brian, and Dennis will continue turning out custom guns as they have for many, many years and maintaining those personal relationships with each of you that has built this company. Thank you for your years of support of SSK products and we hope to hear your SSK story in the future.