• Red Nichols, Holstorian

Post 38: Galco as heir apparent

Updated: Jun 13

There was a time, when gunleather was king, for carrying pistols in products that were the equal of the guns themselves.

Gun makers did not ever resolve the problem of what to do with their handguns once the latter weren't needed in the hand! So gunleather was born. The material was readily available and at least in America, what were largely Germans had settled there to build saddlery; and leather was what they knew.

But when I say 'king', I'm thinking more of the time quite close to when Bill Rogers played Yoko to the industry. He didn't so much create something, as tear it down. And he did it by assuming that, like the saddlers, he only knew how to work with one material -- plastics -- and set about making more of the same. And that period, was dominated by all those who had emanated from Wally Wolfram who was from Massachusetts but furloughed from WWII into Albuquerque New Mexico and then shifted to Monrovia, California where he encountered a very young John Bianchi at Monrovia P.D. Around 1960.

In Holstory we (Witty and I) wax on about how it was Wally who really launched the thousand ships. He made all of Colt's branded holsters by the 1960s, he mentored JB, JB took up with Neale Perkins and from the ashes of that venture, Safariland was born, and then sold up to Smith & Wesson Leathergoods after a detour through Neale's hands first. S&W Leather absorbed Al Kippen who was J.M. Bucheimer's designer and ex-of Heiser and Colorado Saddlery. And S&W Leather became Gould & Goodrich, Bob Gould having been made a sweetheart deal to take the gunleather range off Bangor Punta's hands in the 1980s.

The Golden Age of gunleather, then, was after S.D. Myres had faded away and H.H. Heiser, too, when the latter was absorbed into the Keyston Bros in 1950 -- and they were the kings of toy capgun holsters. Huge business for the new TV era launched 1950ish. Into that void stepped J.B. with a new concept, that likely was thought up by his friend then nemesis then friend (again) Neale Perkins whose expertise was not gunleather but sales and marketing.

Perkins took a path of another color after beginning, literally, with JB's product line: he had invented the SST -- Safariland Sight Track -- and come up with the notion of a suede (actually a cheaper 'split') leather as a deluxe option. Both were hits. The two men and their companies went head to head in competing for dealers and police contracts for all of the '70s and the '80s. And into this situation came Richard "Rick" Gallagher as the namesake of his Jackass Leather out of Illinois. He, like everyone else in this business ("I missed it by that much!") claimed to have started up in the 1960s because just the one year -- 1969 -- made it seem like so much longer to be in harness than '1970s' which was the real fact.

He told me that he named Jackass after himself! When you meet Rick you'll understand why :-). Or ask Omar Pineda who reported to me that his dad Alfonso was mighty unimpressed when his Imperial Highness summoned them to his booth at a major trade show (NSGA? SHOT? NRA?) to suggest he make Galco's custom cowboy range. No deal, said Alfonso. Might have worked, though, without the 'summoning'.

So in the 1970s we have Bianchi Holsters, Safariland, Jackass, and a motley assortment of makers that included Lawrence -- not marketers -- Don Hume who really only excelled at making the one holster by Jordan, Tex Shoemaker who had also been in business only since 1968, Wally and Colt's were gone, Seventrees had failed and taken Gaylord with it, Milt Sparks' operation was tiny and also had been operating only since 1972, Bohlin had faded and Ojala, too; even Anderson with a big shove from an earthquake, a few strokes and Milt Sparks. We had Roy Baker though! But not for long. J.M. Bucheimer? Not in the same class, nor Bucheimer-Clark. We did have little Hoyt, a revived Jewett in the form of Safety Speed Holster (Jewett's patent number is on the earliest Safety Speed clamshells), El Paso Saddlery that had not yet appeared until the end of decade. Only the biggies remained: Bianchi, Safariland, and now Jackass that would become Galco.

Rick Gallagher, who renamed is company Galco 1980ish, likes to tell the tale that it stands for Great American Leather Company. He should know; yet instead it is for Gallagher Company as he reported in his earliest interviews with that company name.

I've considered the possibility that he and Jackass made the earliest pancakes for Roy Baker. Yes, Roy was a saddler who had apprenticed to Andy Anderson after they both left the Army WWII 1945. And both Roy and Andy were from Arkansas. But when Roy filed his patent for the pancake holster around 1970 he was a heat treater who lived a relatively short drive West of Chicago where Gallagher was, and his first holsters were marked Illinois. And both Jackass and Baker Pancakes launched at just about the same time with Baker not returning to Arkansas until 1975ish.

Gallagher's first range was launched with copies of Paris Theodore's work that had become famous in 1968. The influence is quite heavy and included not only garter holsters in the theme of Seventrees and perhaps James Bond, but IWB and pocket holsters that were virtually indistinguishable from Gaylord's and Paris'. And his own pancake holster was originally VERY Seventrees; an effort to avoid the Baker patent by removing the symmetrical construction called out in Roy's very narrow patent. Roy's failure was several-fold but largely consisted of being unable to accurately summarize his invention for his non-gunleather patent attorney. The market overwhelmed him and with his wife dying in 1980, Roy sold up and according to Jim Buffaloe, lived the Life of Riley on the proceeds until his death in 1990.

Then, for Rick, it was on to bigger and better things: copying John Bianchi's range of hugely successful products, and Neale Perkins', too. His 1979 catalog as Jackass hasn't a single innovation of his own in it. All are copies from the days before we in industry understood the intellectual property concept called 'trade dress' (when a product or service appears to be the original when it's actually a copy) and put stop to him.

Today Galco makes a very, very good product in terms of styling (why not, they're copies of successful products from other companies' best sellers) to fit, to finish using the same methodologies of his competitors. Today if one wants a first quality item of in-store gunleather one must buy a Galco. Bianchi can't make their products first-rate any more, having been subsumed into what we whimsically call Safariland (which is actually the conglomerate's name, how do they all keep track?) that now makes what Yoko, er, Bill Rogers came up with. And now even they have abandoned Kydex with a leather lining for a molded nylon product that has dispensed with the lining. The transition to maker of 'thing that carries a thing' is complete for 'The Beatles'.

But not for Rick Gallagher at Galco. Except for the several products the company makes that ride far too high to be worn on anything but the mystical 'good gunbelt' (which they sell; what a coincidence) their quality fo construction is every bit the match for the Golden Age of Bianchi and Safariland. Don't tell Rick though; or next thing you know he'll be making something like THIS: a holster for a holster that is too high for anything but a 'good gunbelt'. Which he sells!

Maybe we gunleather enthusiasts should thank Rick for having the prescience to copy the very high quality designs and construction of Bianchi and Safariland holsters? We haven't been able to buy those brands, new, since about 1990.


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