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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.

Galco’s in-house machine shop manufacturers each of the thousands of cutting dies. This not only ensures that the dies are made to the exact specification but also allows modifications to be accomplished in-house with minimum delays. The employees running the cutters use every possible inch of the hide. Galco has many harness-stitching machines, which produce holsters with perfect stitch patterns. However, it takes a skilled operator to maintain and operate these heavy needle and awl stitching machines. Originally designed in the 1880s, these machines perfectly emulate the look and feel of hand-stitching.

While their production numbers are confidential, the fact that each Galco leather holster is hand-boned to fit a specific pistol is amazing. As Feck explained, other manufacturers use a press to mold the holster to the pistol, a process that actually breaks down and weakens the leather. But Galco wets and then hand-bones each holster to ensure a proper fit. The edges are then sanded, burnished and hand-painted to create the famous Galco custom finish. In recent years Galco has also introduced a line of polymer holsters that are either injection-molded or vacuum-formed Kydex. For the vacuum-formed holsters, Galco uses a water jet to cut the holster forms from the molded sheet, which is both efficient and more precise than cutting the holsters using a band saw.

Beyond Concealment

Galco is best known for their concealment holsters but also produces field and utility holsters. The Wheelgunner is a specialty holster designed to carry a large-frame revolver with a straight drop. In this rig the revolver can be worn either strong-side or crossdraw. Unique to the Wheelgunner is how it mounts: the body of the holster sits between a large belt loop and the pants belt, a design that enables easy removal of the holster without removing the pants belt. Feck stated it has proved far more popular than expected.

Another recent bestseller is the King Tuk, a hybrid IWB holster that consists of a steerhide backing and a polymer front. It is available with belt clips or can be used as a tuckable holster with the optional C-hooks. The rear backing features a raised sweat guard, making the rig ideal for concealment under a T-shirt. During my visit I was told that there was a substantial backorder, so if you find one at your local dealer, I suggest you snap it up.

Like any good journalist, I attempted to pin Feck down on what is in development. He started by telling me that Galco has recognized that “market needs have evolved” and the company is going to be upgrading some of the older designs to “modern carry standards.” My reply was, “Just what does that mean?” With a little prodding, Scott left the room and returned with three prototypes of the redesigned products. While I can’t go into specific details, I can report that the company will be reducing the cant of some models and that more products will include sweat guards.

It is significant to note that all of the senior management and many Galco employees have attended training at Gunsite—they may be in the holster business but they do know guns. Over the years I have seen many holsters that looked good but didn’t work. This is not the case with Galco’s products: with over 2,100 SKUs, including purses and sporting accessories, Galco can meet most needs, and they also have a foundry and custom shop for special requests. If you have not looked at Galco’s line of products lately, you owe it to yourself to do so. As the company’s sales slogan states, Galco is “for those who demand the best and know the difference.” For more information, please visit galcogunleather.com or call 800-874-2526.

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