Jack First, 88, moves across the Jack First Gun Shop floor, steadying his walk as he passes shelves stacked with rifles to be disassembled and repaired. A long apron is draped across his front, and tucked away on his right hip is a Browning Hi Power 9mm.
“Well, this is my favorite,” First says as he pulls the gun out of its holster.
It’s been 56 years since First came home to tell his wife that he had found a place to open his business. For 40 years, First had built his reputation in Lancaster, Calif., as a top manufacturer of discontinued or obsolete parts for firearms.
In 1994, the First family packed up and moved east to Rapid City, where First continued his business. In the years since, First has continued to be one of the most well-known makers of hard-to-find gun parts.
“We’ve probably sent parts to most of the countries in the world,” he says.
Standing near First’s work station are three fireproof safes, packed with little yellow envelopes cataloging all of the small parts that have been collected over the years — essentially, a history of firearms.
At the opposite end of the shop, the machine work goes on. The rumbling hums louder as you walk toward two large computerized milling machines, dusted with steel shavings and smeared with smudges of grease.
Behind the machines is a wall; beyond that is the manual side of the shop. These
machines are covered in a little more grease, a few more shavings.
There is constant movement surrounding the machines in the shop as each machinist moves from one station to the next, working on the project at hand. Many of the parts they make have been out of production for decades. Some of
the guns they service are family
heirlooms, passed down since the Civil War.
With each part made, the machinists create a small replica of a piece of history.