"Why these old guns, Tam? What do you find so fascinating about them?"
Let me try to explain...
I've always been interested in history. If I could own one science-fiction gizmo, it would be a time machine. I think it would be absolutely fascinating to travel to various places and times in the past and view things firsthand; see how people lived; talk with them and find out how they saw the world. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear likely that this will become a reality in my lifetime.
Fortunately, however, folks in the past have sent stuff forward to the present, via that time machine that travels into the future at sixty seconds every minute, and some of these artifacts are actually affordable. I can hold a Roman coin in my hands and feel the weight of history in it. I can wonder what it's seen and done. How many cups of wine has it bought? Was it part of a legionary's savings? Did he use it to bribe his Centurion to get out of sentry duty? Did the Centurion treat some friends to a night on the town with it? I have a small cube of teak from the orlop deck of the HMS Victory. If I hold it to my ear, I can almost hear the creak of sails, the roar of a 68-pdr. carronade, a voice saying "England expects every man to do his duty."
It's the same with these old rifles; each one is a history lesson, an invitation to a treasure hunt, a physical link to a long-gone time and a far-off place. There are tangible marks on the gun that can be decoded through research, that can let you find out where and when it was made; words evocative of foreign lands: Solothurn, Chatellerault, Koishikawa, La Coruna, Spandau... And then there are the intangible marks... Was this Mauser clutched in the frightened hands of a Bavarian schoolboy, awaiting the order to go "over the top"? Where has this Krag been? Cuba? The Phillipines? What has this Garand seen in the forty years it spent in exile overseas before returning to its homeland? Where did this nick come from? Whence this ding in the stock?
"What do you find so fascinating about those rusty old things?" indeed. What's not fascinating about them? You can heat the cosmoline out of the stock, but the history is soaked in for good. You can own it, you can hold it, you can learn from it, you can shoot it, and then you can pass it and its story on to the next generation, having added your own small chapter. Until they make a time machine, I'll just have to keep using the time machines I already have.