Gun aficionado turns tinkering into a business

Posted: Sunday, September 10, 2006

FAIRBANKS - Gary Junk hunched over a Browning automatic rifle owned by a doctor, who had dropped the weapon during a hunt, shattering the pistol grip.

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The gun sat in a padded vice as the 57-year-old gunsmith removed the recoil pad, then the thru bolt, in order to slide off the stock and replace it. The process took less than five minutes.

Junk has been tinkering with guns almost all of his life, parlaying his talent for taking things apart and putting them back together into a successful business for the last 15 years.

The retired warrant officer and his wife are thinking of expand their small gun shop into the basement.

"If someone has a gun that is broken, I just can't say no," Junk said. "I always come back to guns. It's always been so easy for me."

Junk opened Arctic Gunworks with his wife, Nancy, after retiring from a 23-year career in the U.S. Army.

The shop sits in a cabin on Kalakaket Street that was built for Fairbanks' first railroad superintendent in the late 1940s. Dozens of antique guns, dating back to the Civil War, line the walls. A decal behind the front counter says "Vegetarian: an old Indian word for lousy hunter."

Junk works in the back half of the room, while his wife occupies a side office with their two Brittany spaniels, Arctic Calamity Jane and Tagalong. Their son's black Labrador, Taz, also spends its days at the gunshop. The Junks, who met 34 years ago through a mutual friend, also have a grown daughter and three grandchildren.

Junk said his interest in guns began while growing up in farm country in California's San Joaquin Valley. Junk was the only child of a heavy-equipment operator and a saleswoman.

"In those days, everything on television was cowboys," Junk said. "John Wayne was the man. Hunting was a pastime."

Before he was 10, Junk was hunting birds and rabbits with a BB gun. Later, his uncle would supervise while Junk hunted with shotguns and rifles.

By then, Junk's affinity for the mechanics of different things, from guns to old sewing machines to cars, had begun.

"I used to get my butt blistered for taking things apart," he said.

When Junk turned 19, his choice was to continue doing farm work or join the military. He enlisted in the Army and learned aircraft mechanics. Junk eventually earned a bachelor's degree in aerospace management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. During his time in the service, he worked as an air traffic controller, pilot and airport manager.

Meanwhile, Junk earned a reputation as someone who could work on guns, and he supplemented his income fixing firearms. Junk apprenticed under a German gunsmith during two tours in Germany.

"It's always been a nice side income," he said.

An already-established clientele and steady retirement checks from Uncle Sam allowed Junk to open his gunshop, he said.

About 60 percent of the business is repairing firearms. Another 30 percent of the time, Junk spends restoring guns, he said. The rest is sales.

Junk also customizes firearms or adjusts them to fit the owner, which is some of the work he likes best.

"You get a lady who is 5 foot, 3 inches tall, and it's too big," Junk said. "You get a very tall man, and it's like a toy. That's where I come in."

"The tourists come in the door and say, 'Ooh, a museum,"' Nancy Junk said.

When a pair of hunters came in to buy a Bikini scope cover, they scanned Junk's gun collection, which is dominated by Winchesters. One hunter said he was from Washington, while the other said he hailed from Maine.

"You're a little close to Kennedy country up there," Junk said to the Maine resident, who quickly pointed out that Maine has two Republican senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.

Dave Adams has been an Arctic Gunworks customer for the last eight or nine years. He likes Junk's work, but he also admires his knowledge of firearms.

"He's into firearms and so am I," said the 52-year-old traffic control worker for Everts Air Fuel. "It's nice to bounce things off of him."

Grocery store manager Dave Feddersen, who has been going to Junk for more than 10 years, said the gunsmith bails him out of his attempts to repair his firearms on his own.

"He laughs a little bit, and he usually fixes my mistakes," the 50-year-old said.

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