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  • Red Nichols, Holstorian

Post 26: Bohlin was one of the Four Aces of fast draw

Ed Bohlin, silversmith to the stars, figures far more prominently in holstory and especially the fast draw craze of the late 1950s, than I ever realized until research and the knowledge of men who were there like Bob Arganbright, showed me the light.

First be aware that the link is not only Arvo Ojala the man, but also the animosity he created among all the notable players of that time. First, not being a leatherworker himself but rather an aircraft mechanic, Arvo had his holster sets made by Ed Bohlin.

A significant player in the story of these sets is a Bohlin employee: one Andy Anderson. At some point in close proximity several things happened: Ed increased his selling price to Arvo and when Arvo 'fired' him, he set about making similar sets and using similar advertising. I'd say that Arvo was willing and able to fire Ed because we know that Andy Anderson then appeared as Arvo's foreman, actually building the sets.

Arganbright tells me that it was Andy who fine-tuned the originally crude, now unfamiliar Ojala set into the refined set with styling and construction that we know so well today. And it is at this point that the Bohlin sets being used in Gunsmoke were transformed into this latest iteration of the Ojala set, on Marshall Dillon himself. This is 1956 and a good time to point out that the famous 'gunfight' scene at the beginning of TV series was not yet part of the series. That scene that included Arvo as the opposing gunfighter was filmed in 1959 and then added back to the series episodes that we watch today (well, not I; and I didn't even have a television when the episodes were new).


Alfonso Pineda then appeared on the scene and the year is still 1959. One of his roles for Arvo was to train the Daisy company in the making of the sets that it was selling under license. Well, that's the tale; but in fact surely the adult sets were made by Arvo and his crew and not by Daisy in Arkansas. Instead I expect his role at Daisy was to transform the expensive, complex Ojala set into the true toy sets that they marketed to the 'junior cowboy'.

By now Arvo had lost the services of Andy Anderson. I know the story of the breakup and from what I know of the two men -- I did not ever meet any of the Four Aces, a bit before my time -- it seems it was a big blowup over something very small; which means it was really over something else that was actually very big.

Arvo had an early win: he was able to stop Ed Bohlin from competing with him after a judge found that Ed indeed was guilty of a tort called unfair competition. I'm told that Bohlin lost interest in the gunleather side of his business at that moment. Fair enough, he was a silversmith himself and like Arvo, not a leatherworker. Good new/bad news though; with the confidence that Arvo gained in his success over Bohlin, next he tried to stop Andy from competing with him, too. And found himself banned by another judge from doing business in California at all; in 1962 at the time of the World's Fair where he had the singular honor of exhibiting.

Arvo not only ended up staying up there in the Pacific northwest, but upon his return after a 5 year ban he found his market was gone; gobbled up by Andy and by Alfonso who had left Arvo very early on. The market itself had changed, too, from the fast draw primer popping it had become and back to live centerfire guns that were now the 1911 autos. Alfonso made 'em, Anderson dominated 'em, and I'm unaware of any Ojala set ever made for the autos.

So it was only after some researching that I realized, and Arganbright confirmed, that Arvo actually only operated for a few years either side of 1960. Then his business became a footnote in history although his personal fame has endured to this day. But his fellow man -- Andy Anderson, Ed Bohlin, Arvo Ojala, the people at Colt's for whom he made sets, the people at Daisy as mentioned -- expressed plenty of animosity towards Arvo in both their words and their deeds.


Andy's own karma was twofold: the San Fernando earthquake of 1971 did more than destroy his shop; it brought on three massive strokes in 1972 -- and at that precise moment it was Milt Sparks who pounced with his copies because Andy could no longer deliver. Andy gave up and retired in 1975, Milt adapted to the changing nature of IPSC et al, and then that market dumped him for new players like Ernie Hill, us at Bianchi, Gordon Davis, and Safariland (which then was a gunleather maker and not yet doing Kydex with Bill Rogers). Milt switched to focusing on making copies of Bruce Nelson's undercover leather as a countermeasure and that continues to this day. That's even Andy Anderson's trademark 'hammered' brass belt buckle on Milt's set:


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