Tucked back in a corner lot of Distinguished Pistol Outdoor Shooting Range in Mebane, sits a trailer containing a long work bench, work shelves, a few vices and a couple of gun racks.
Inside this trailer, Thomas Doyle, Richard Gardner, Sheridan Halfacre, Will Sharp and Shannon Peeples are hard at work, bringing back a little bit of Americana.
It’s all in a day’s work for the owners of Rack It Back Armory, a Mebane business the five formed earlier this summer and one dedicated to the preservation and restoration of modern and classic guns.
Many of the pieces lying on the work benches and racks within the trailer are modern pistols and shotguns. However, that doesn’t mean the group hasn’t been able to get its hands on a few classics as well.
“I had an 1894 rifle in here the other day and it was like, ‘oh, man, this is way older than any of us here in the shop put together.’ It was incredible,” Halfacre said. “Being able to put my hands-on classic pieces of Americana was really incredible.”
Of course, there are some drawbacks.
“It can be a double-edged sword,” said Halfacre. “It’s incredible to be able to work on this old stuff, but it’s also rough if the customer comes in with a classic piece and says, ‘I want you to chop this, stock this off, chop the barrel down, and I want you to cerakote it.”
Gardner laughed, adding, “It’s like somebody bringing their classic car into the garage and wanting to put rims on it. We’ll do it, but it kind of stings.”
The five are graduates of Piedmont Community College’s gunsmithing program, one of five programs in the United States.
For the five, there’s one thing about PCC’s program that makes it the best in the country.
“One of our instructors actually comes from another one of the colleges that teaches gunsmithing and he prefers PCC over the other colleges because they teach classic gunsmithing as well,” Halfacre said.
“A lot of the modern gunsmithing courses teach AR’s, AK’s, stuff like that, but with PCC, they break down to, ‘here’s a block of wood, make a rife’ and they don’t teach that in a lot of places.”
Sheridan added, “It’s learning the classics that big because when you do that, you’re learning milling, woodworking, everything.”
Gunsmithing, especially classic gunsmithing, is a trade that’s fallen a bit by the wayside, especially in Caswell County. The five enjoy knowing they are continuing an important trade while benefiting the community.
“It’s the idea behind it,” Halfacre said. “It’s nice being able to offer that to customers because we know how to work on these old things and love it. It’s a time-intensive, labor of love, really.”
“I do agree with everything he just said, but I’m also a little more mercenary,” Doyle added, laughing. “Based on the experiences we’ve had over the last couple of months, we’ve found demand for gunsmithing significantly outpaces the supply so there’s definitely business to be done here and we’re going to see if we can do that and make some money in the process.”
Caswell is a community that’s no stranger to blue-collared work. Residents wake up early each day, go to work and put in the elbow grease required for a good life.
While most of these traditions involve farming, the work the five are putting in is continuing the county’s blue-collared culture.
“We all work for a living,” Doyle said. “We all work with our hands and our tools and on wood and steel.”
Gardner added, “Everyone around here is a farmer and they’ve been doing it forever, passed down from generation to generation. So, know, hopefully, they’ll be able to bring us something they wanted passed down, and we’ll be able to do it.”
Just last week, Halfacre had a customer who came into the store and asked the group to restore an old rifle that had been passed down through the family. The customer wanted the gun restored to its old glory so he could pass it on to his son and keep the gun in the family.