In 1969 Richard Gallagher started a small family business to manufacture quality gun leather. The company was called The Original Jackass Leather Company and specialized in constructing horsehide holsters for Chicago cops. But little did Gallagher know what his future would hold: in 1980 the name of the company was changed to Galco International, and in 1983 Galco moved from Chicago to Phoenix, Arizona.

I entered law enforcement in 1978, and my backup/off-duty rig was often a Colt Commander with King Tappan sights, set up to feed Speer’s 200-grain JHP “flying ashtray” rounds. My preferred holster was a Jackass shoulder holster, which used a figure-eight harness to carry the pistol in horizontal position and had a double magazine pouch on the opposite side. While the concept was not original, Jackass’ execution and marketing brought the design to the attention of many shooters, including the law enforcement community.

Then in 1984 a little show on television called Miami Vice came along and offered sex, violence and the all-American hero. Don Johnson played Vice Cop Sonny Crocket, who carried the exotic and unobtainable Bren Ten pistol in a Galco shoulder holster—suddenly Galco’s signature rig was viewed by millions each week. The rig was renamed the Miami Classic and has become one of the most copied shoulder holsters in the world. I still have my original Jackass rig and, although the harness has been replaced, the holster and mag pouch continue to see intermittent use.

Leather Works

I am somewhat of a holster historian, having amassed a collection of rigs from pioneers in the industry like Chic Gaylord, Bruce Nelson, Paris Theodore and Milt Sparks. Many of my early articles for Harris were holster evaluations, and I had found that Galco combined the quality of custom leather with the manufacturing and design capability of a large company.

I recently had an opportunity to visit with Scott Feck, Galco’s vice president of operations, and tour Galco’s Phoenix facilities. Scott is one of those people I mandatorily visit at each SHOT Show. He has been with the company almost from the start and has been central to Galco’s success. The main manufacturing facility consists of approximately 40,000 square feet and houses about 180 employees. Two offsite buildings are used for raw-material storage and overflow. And to accommodate the company’s growth, a new 20,000 square foot expansion is under construction.

The first stop on the tour was the Galco “museum,” or trophy room. The first item that caught my attention was a fully restored and gold embellished Landis #3 heavy sewing machine. I then noticed the custom presentation rig that was given to President Ronald Reagan in 1982. There were numerous signed photos and letters from Hollywood stars that worked with Galco products in television and on the big screen. I had forgotten that James Caan wore a Jackass rig in the 1981 movie Thief.

The real magic takes place on the production floor where dedicated employees build each holster as if it was their own. I spoke with one employee who was running a stitching machine that had been employed with the company for 30 years. From the die cutters to the hand-boning to the burnishing of the holsters’ edges, it was clear that Galco employees worked to make each holster as perfect as possible. One of the keys for this is quality steerhide. Galco only uses Grade A hides and specially selects them to ensure the hides are of proper grade and weight and have the fewest flaws and scars. Given the amount of hides the company uses, just keeping quality hides in the supply chain is a major challenge.

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