|The Dixie Story, by Turner E. Kirkland
Dixie Gun Works was formally founded in 1954, but it could be said, however, that Dixie Gun Works actually began many years before. In 1931 I paid seventy five cents for a "dug" 1849 Colt Pocket pistol. My father soon realized I loved guns and began buying a few at depression prices and giving them to me. Most of the time these old guns were purchased for less than a dollar; the majority cost twenty-five to fifty cents. By the time I entered college in 1938, I owned about one hundred guns.
Following a stint in the army during World War II, with two years in the Pacific and seven service medals, I began a career as a traveling wholesale jewelry salesman, selling jewelry to department stores. Since I was seeing a lot of different towns I continued my hobby of buying and trading old guns, transactions I conducted out of the trunk of my car after business hours. Soon I found that not only were other gun lovers interested in old guns, but they were also in dire need of parts with which to repair guns they wished to shoot or restore for sentimental reasons. It didn't take long to realize that this was a way to generate income to keep my gun collection going. The contacts I made by mail and at gun shows over the years put me in touch with collectors with surplus parts and, more importantly, I knew those obscure craftsmen who were producing replacement parts for old guns.
I liked to deal in parts since through the years I was able to keep some of my own guns going by working on them.(My "amicitia" of old guns is "magnus"!) Though I am not a good repairman or even efficient at it, I do know what needs to be done to fix an old gun and how it can be done. The parts and gun business prospered until the day, Friday, April 10, 1954, when I arrived home from one of my jewelry selling trips to find that nearly all the guns and parts I had advertised had been sold. Since it took me three or four days to take care of these orders, this was the time I realized I just might be able to make a living at what had been a hobby and since I couldn't be in worse shape financially, I resigned my job as a jewelry salesman and returned the samples to the company. This was when I started working full time in my business and could be called the beginning of Dixie Gun Works. A Model T garage was the first home of Dixie Gun Works.
By the fall of 1955 the business had prospered so much that I had to purchase a 4000 square foot, former automobile dealership building. In 1960 Dixie Gun Works moved into a 12,000 square foot building built especially for the business. Eight years later, in 1968, Dixie Gun Works moved to its current location where a 30,000 square foot addition in 1974 brought the present size of Dixie Gun Works' buildings to a total of 46,000 square feet, just over an acre.
From a small ad placed in Muzzle Blasts magazine in October 1948 by a travelling jewelry salesman dealing in antique guns out of the trunk of his car, Dixie Gun Works has grown to be the largest supplier of blackpowder shooting equipment, parts and antique guns in the world. That three inch ad cost $3.50; I made $16.00 when my wage as a salesman was $20.00 a week. My goodness!
Today, orders are taken on seven, toll free, incoming telephone lines in addition to those placed by mail, fax and internet. There are five other telephone lines used to service customer needs as well as handle advertising and ordering. Computers process orders and update inventory. Five thousand square feet of showroom displays the one to two thousand antique guns on hand available for sale.
The very modest, twelve page, pocket size edition of the Dixie Gun Works Catalogue first issued in 1954 has grown into an 8 X 10 inch, 700 plus page publication that illustrates the more than 10,000 items Dixie Gun Works offers for sale. Each year 75,000 of these go out to blackpowder enthusiasts.
An Antique Arms Catalogue is published two times a year. The Dixie Gun Works Blackpowder Annual,first published in 1978, is the only publication dedicated to blackpowder and the blackpowder era that appears on newsstands and in bookstores all over the world. The Blackpowder Annual has a circulation of 75,000 and is compiled by the Dixie Gun Works staff.
Dixie Gun Works is proud of these firsts!
The Dixie Gun Works Old Car Museum is a direct result of my fascination with machinery. In addition to thirty-six antique cars, the Old Car Museum has thousands of interesting antique mechanical devices and appendages. Come Visit!
- First replica large scale shooting cannon.
- First production made replica muzzleloading rifle.
- First production made replica flint and percussion locks.
- First production replica single and double set triggers for muzzleloading rifles and pistols.
- First to produce a round ball bullet mould at an attractive price.
- First to assemble a comprehensive array of products made by cottage industries related to blackpowder into one catalogue.
- First annual publication dedicated to the blackpowder era.
A recent addition to the Old Car Museum is an 1850's period log cabin gun shop complete with all the tools necessary to build an authentic longrifle. There are two rifling guides, a barrel reamer, forge with a real bellows, and six treadle (foot powered) type machines used for grinding, shaping, metal-cutting lathe work as well as burnishing and polishing. Complementing these larger working pieces are over 1000 hand tools. Viewing this complete antique work shop allows one to step back in time to an era before any of our modern power driven tools were developed.
Dixie Gun Works and the Old Car Museum represent a dream come true for me. I have been able to make a living from an activity I loved. The business is now in the hands of my sons.
In 1989 the National Alliance of Stocking Gun Dealers presented me with the Lifetime Achievement Award for my "...entrepreneurial skill and guidance" in founding and directing Dixie Gun Works to where it is today. In 1955, when I produced the first production made muzzleloading rifle, The Dixie Kentucky Rifle, I visualized a revolution in muzzleloading shooting here in the United States. But I did not foresee that revolution spreading to other first world nations. I can only say that all my life I have wanted to make a difference: to be a proponent and not an opponent. Dixie Gun Works illustrates the growth of an American culture, a complex culture of human interaction and responsibility, fanciful, proud and ambitious. As retired Chairman of the Board of Dixie Gun Works I plan to devote my time to research and writing, another career I hope will be as fulfilling as the first.
Turner Kirkland died July 26, 1997. He was 77 years old.