This travelogue is part three of a three part series including an interview with with Rick Holm, shop foreman of Gray Guns and another interview with Bruce Gray, president and chief gunsmith of Gray Guns.
This travelogue has been a difficult one to write for a variety of reasons. 2015 has been the most difficult and emotionally traumatic year of my life. Though it’s true that I haven’t been alive that long, it’s not often (and thankfully so) that you lose your 11 year marriage and your full-time job within a two-week period. Sometimes God just pushes that big “reset” button on your life and you get a chance, whether you want to or not, to start over and re-examine the direction of your life and give a hard look at those things that you might have taken for granted.
It was during this extraordinarily trying period that I met Bruce at SIG’s range day the day before SHOT. He would later say that he could look at me and tell that something was not right. After learning about my circumstances he offered to have me come out GGI, if for no other reason than to get away from the rather trying circumstance I was in. It’s when the S hits the F that you find out who your real friends are. The forum has been extremely supportive of me and for that I am grateful, but sometimes you need local help and Bruce was happy to provide that. In some ways this trip was as much a spiritual pilgrimage as it was a hobbyist one.
I’ve thought about visiting GGI ever since they moved up from California in 2007, but didn’t have the invitation and frankly never asked for one since I also did not have the time to go either. I also appreciated from afar that Bruce was busy (though not the magnitude of how busy) and didn’t have time to tour-guide me around his shop. But with his invitation in January and the sudden clearing of my schedule, I was suddenly confronted with, or blessed with, freedom that I had neither asked for nor possessed before.
The photos and comments you’ll see in this travelogue span two trips to GGI. And I will return in the future, but may not necessarily write about it. However, I’m happy to share what I have at this time, with the forum and you, my “invisible friends.”
The Road to Spray
My journey to GGI began on a rainy day in Portland, 3.5 hours from my final destination of Spray, Oregon. Western Oregon tends to be quite wet and lush. The various mountain ranges act like a barrier trapping cloud cover and moisture west of the Cascades. A lot of people are all about sunshine, but I like a little mist & fog now and then. I think it adds a bit of dynamic interest and mystery to a scene.
Multnomah Falls is the one location in the Columbia Gorge that people generally stop at and its full Oregon-esque beauty was on display that day. I normally don’t pull off here as it’s a bit of a tourist magnet, but in this time of, shall we say, opportunity (?) I made a covenant with myself that I would stop when I wanted to and take the time to get pictures or have the conversations that I wanted to have. Up until this point I had lived a life within the limitations imposed by professional obligations and personal relationships. But now I was on no one’s schedule other than my own, and I would take the time and make the stops that I chose. The only mistake I can make now is to regret my own choices.
Member Agony once said “life is too short to eat bad food.” I’ve always had the same sentiments. One of my favorite restaurants in Hood River (actually in the entire Columbia Gorge) is in the first story of a little house on the Heights of Hood River named “Three Rivers Grill.” It’s contemporary bistro faire and the décor is classic and airy, but modern at the same time. 3RG’s patio overlooks the Columbia River and Hood River-White Salmon bridge between Washington and Oregon.
As it turns out, I had the entire restaurant to myself and while the patio was a bit wet, I got a nice seat by their picture window and settled in for my go-to bacon-cheeseburger. I wasn’t disappointed with the view or the food.
Following I-84 East, I’d take the turn off onto 97 at a little town called Bigg’s Junction, which is right across the river from Maryhill Art Museum. I didn’t get to visit either time, but I do hope one day to cross the river and see that location.
From this point on, moving East and South, the vegetation and landscape would change dramatically. I’d leave the lush riparian forests of Western Oregon for sparser, high-desert scenes more reminiscent of parts of Arizona and California.
Spray and GGI, are located on the picturesque John Day River known for its float fishing and lazy rafting. There are parts that are Class 3, but most of it is suitable for fisherman and beginner recreational rafters alike.
My first impression of GGI was that it was remarkably small and rustic, given the kind of work that this establishment turns out. But then I remember that GGI is not a place, it’s people. They could probably do their work anywhere in the world with the same set of tools. Bruce has already given his reasons for moving GGI to Spray, so you can read about them in his interview.
Benches at GGI. Yes, it looks “busy” but I’ve learned to be very suspicious of a “woodshop with no sawdust on the floor.” You pay for the way your gun works, not how neat the shop is. But hey, I’m also the guy who finishes his cheeseburger before he wipes his mouth.
While I have photos of the outside of GGI, I’ve chosen not to include them for security reasons.
This is Darla, who handles order tracking and financials for GGI.
Next up is Brett, Darla’s husband, who is a journeyman gunsmith with GGI.
Rick would like to remind everyone to please Dremel responsibly. But should you take a couple thousandths too much off your sear, GGI is always ready to help.
Shipping area for GGI brand parts and outgoing guns—this operation is set to expand exponentially once GGI begins its parts operation in earnest.
It may only be an apocryphal story, but as it goes this lathe and mill came off of US Navy battleship sometime during the ‘40s. I asked Bruce if he knew what ship they were disembarked from, but that information was never given to him.
I’m definitely a cynic when it comes to “they don’t make ‘em like the used to” statements but in this case I’m a believer. There really is no reason to make a modern machine last as long as these manual examples anymore. Ron Cohen said last year that he wanted no computerized mills on his floor that were more than 3 years old. With a turn-over like that, there’s no reason for anyone to make something that’s going to last 60+ years. But once, a long time ago, they did.
These are where the prototypes for GGI’s triggers/sears/hammers are cut and refined. While I was there, I did see Roy, Bruce and Rick all using the mill at one time or another.
This is a kiln that GGI uses for heat treatment. It’s small, but mighty. You can feel the heat coming off of it from five feet away when it’s going.
What you’re looking at here is the past, present, and future of GGI. The file in this photo is what’s referred to by Bruce and Roy as the “Magic File.”
It has literally been used on every single P-Series SIG (and many other guns/projects) that have come through Gray Guns. As Bruce explained it, there is just something about this file, it’s balance, size, ergonomics, that makes it perfect for wrapping a piece of sandpaper around and getting to those spaces you need to get to. I felt the rasping surface of it and it’s nearly smooth—you can tell that it’s seen more than its share of parts.
The parts are elements of GGI’s part operation—basically an action package in a bag (you can read more about this in the interviews with Rick and Bruce).
This is, as Bruce puts it, “The Box of Shame.” Yes even the great Bruce Gray has made some mistakes in his many decades of gunsmithing.
There’s a story about that 1911 slide that is supremely entertaining that I wish I could tell, but since I wasn’t specifically given permission to relate it I’ll just stop here until I can get that permission. Spoiler alert: part of it includes Bruce chasing Rick around the shop with a ball peen hammer for about ten minutes, and possibly a heart-attack or two.
These two P320s were Bruce’s competition guns that he took with him to the Crawfish Cup in LA. I took this photo on my second trip to GGI, on the day before he left. May they carry you to great fortune and greater reknown, Mr. Gray.
The one thing I did not take a photo of was the rack of customer pistols that GGI was working on (the only part of the shop that I was asked not to photograph). It was impressive to say the least and was a testament to the number of customers who have put their trust in this honest, and talented, but small outfit.
I’ll let you in on a secret. You might have read Rick’s interview and thought “Ah, a reasonably intelligent young man” and Bruce will also jokingly refer to his experience and training occasionally. But the reporter in me sometimes gets that feeling that there is more to the story than meets the eye. And here it is: you’re looking at the real brains behind GGI.
Well, brain. This is Zip, the cattledog and Pipi the poodle. If you ask me, Zip is the real, if undisciplined genius of the outfit. I suspect she was behind the S-PIT trigger and the GGI 10mm, although Bruce will never admit it. Zip is a remarkably intelligent dog whose only fault in life was a mild case of ADD and a lack of opposable thumbs. I’ve met some smart dogs in my life and Zip has to be one of the smartest. But like many geniuses, she gets bored easy. Ask her to design one perfect trigger and she can do it. Ask her to make 100 of them and you’ll find her splashing in the river with #2 half done.
Pipi is more of a well-meaning sidekick, not as bright but means well. With her fur, she’s like a giant world mop that picks up cockleburs and even shredded steel-belted radials with alarming frequency
Here’s another secret. Despite Bruce’s rather ascetic lifestyle he can cook up a pretty good breakfast. If Bruce ever gets tired of being the world’s best 1911 & SIG SAUER gunsmith he could take a solid run at running the best restaurant in all of Spray. He could even name it the “Graywater Bistro”
Bruce’s special hash browns & egg with Cranberry juice. Don’t knock it unless you’ve tried it. Some of you have pistols by Bruce Grey, but who here can say they’ve had breakfast personally cooked by Bruce Gray? Yeah. That’s what I thought. Booya! Sit down Son!
Spray & Surrounding Area
Not all of my time was spent inside GGI. I was fortunate enough to have time to see some of the natural beauty of this Wheeler and Grant Counties and I’ll share some of it with you.
Apologies for the poor quality—photo for illustration purposes only.
I woke up one morning to hear the “BAAAAAA-BAAAAA” of sheep, but I didn’t have my 100-400mm lens with me at the time. I just snapped a photo out of curiosity, figuring these were just some farmer’s goats free-ranging above GGI. I had been told that there were Big Horn Sheep about but never really expected to see one. Imagine my surprise when I did some magnification on the photos I took of this herd of what I assumed to be domestic goats/sheep, just 200 yards above GGI. It turns out that some form of Russian domestic sheep got loose and has been interbreeding with local Big Horn.
There’s only one restaurant in Spray, at least until Bruce opens Graywater Café/Bistro/Diner. And then there’s one a few minutes down the road. This one, at Service Creek outside of Spray, just happened to be on my way so I stopped in for some chicken and a pie. Not bad for the middle-of-nowhere.
Mmm, marionberry pie and ice cream.
I know what you’re thinking: “What’s so special about this picture.” Well, it’s kind of a metaphor: Alone, on the road, curves ahead, going around a blind corner with no idea what’s coming next, and almost forty—that’s me.
Liked this street sign—I think Bruce needs to put up a similar sign that says “10mm Drive” at the entrance to GGI.
This is Mathas Creek, just a short walk from the main road. I wish I had come a little later (too much light still, for long exposure), but I plan to go back sometime when there’s more water and less daylight left.
Not entirely successful moon shot, but had to try.
Spray is about one hour from the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument which actually includes three units: Clarno, Fossil Beds/Sheep Rock, and Painted Hills (each one at least an hour away from the others). I only got to visit the later two.
North Fork of the John Day River, near Thomas Orchards (Peaches, Cherries, all that good stuff). I’m a sucker for fresh u-pick fruit, but I don’t think anything is in season yet.
Mascall Formation at the South end of the Sheep Rock unit.
South entrance to Picture Gorge.
View of Sheep Rock from Cant Ranch
View from the “Flood of Fire” trail at the Foree picnic area.
There were a lot of trails I didn’t even get to see, like Blue Bassin, but that’s just more to do next time.
Painted Hills Overlook
The overcast weather didn’t really cooperate with me this time. I would have preferred some afternoon sun to really make the shades of red and yellow, pop, but it didn’t happen. So a hiked up to the top of the overlook and munched on Ranch-Flavored Dorritos instead. At least I got some interesting cloud formations. Just another place to go back to.
Even if the light wasn’t there, it was good recon. ‘And very peaceful just sitting at the top of the hill listening to the birds chat, not another soul in sight.
Part of this process of separation has been going from being lonely to being alone. I don’t think I’m there yet, but visiting places like this has been good for me. Learning to find peace rather than isolation in solitude is a useful skill.
The Road Home
Even though I’ve titled this final section as “The Road Home” I’ve come to believe that home is not a place but a state of mind. As such I’d like to thank Bruch and the crew at GGI for their hospitality and making GGI a home in some small way for me. Their invitation to come back anytime is not taken lightly and greatly appreciated.
Mt Adams, IIRC in the distance.
I saw a few of these “Grandpa Bob” signs and wanted to give a shout-out to old Gramps. I don’t know who you are, but thanks.
I saw this classic old windmill on my way in and didn’t stop to take a picture, but resolved to on the way back.
Before and beneath its towering computer-controlled modern brethren, this ancestor seemed like a perfect juxtaposition between the past and the future.
And then a strange thing happened.
I looked from the old windmill to the new ones on the horizon and as I turned away an old man materialized from out of no-where.
“I see you look’n at this here windmill. Let me tell you somethin’ sonny cuz I can tell you ain’t from round these parts. Life used to be simple, back then, we didn’t need no variable pitch props and rotat’n heads, no computers to tell us where to point our shafts. Hell, the wind only blew in one direction, school was always uphill and so was home. Breakfast was always at 6 and so was dinner. Men were animals, they knew it and didn’t apologize for it. Women didn’t take no offense to bein’ called ‘ladies’ even though some of them weren’t no ladies. I say, I say, times were simpler back then: and simpler was better.”
I stared at him with furrowed brow for a minute, not really believing what I was seeing. Then looked down to adjust the settings on my camera so I could capture the man and moment. But when I looked up, the old man was gone. Maybe he was a figment of my imagination? Maybe that wasn’t toothpaste that I used in the morning but instead was some of Bruce’s “Damn Grease” ™? Maybe I had just met the real Grandpa Bob? Or maybe, just maybe, it was the spirit of the land reminding me that complexity is not always a good thing.
Remembering a saying about keys and life, I stood on the windswept side of the road and pulled out my keychain, counting the keys on it. It was a short count and when I was done, I realized that in my adult life, I’ve never had fewer keys to be responsible for. Hell I had more of the damn things in college. Keys represent doorways in our lives and doorways represent complexity and responsibility. We have to control what we say, what we do, who we let in, whether we chose to defend those doorways or leave them open. Sometimes we ourselves change depending on which side of the door we are on. This is the most simple my life has been in a long time and I don’t regret that simplicity. It won’t always be this way, and I never asked for it, but I’m trying to enjoy the freedom of simplicity while it lasts.
Grandpa Bob’s House? Awesome rustic location, classic farmhouse aesthetic, breezy open-air architectural plan, great views, may require some work by new owner.
And with that short and mysterious stop, I was back on the road to Portland.
I move forward with nothing but my past behind me, beside me no company but the bugs on my windshield, and nothing but the road ahead of me. But it’s a beautiful road, a beautiful world and I am trying to see the best in it. I tend to be a pessimist, but frankly, there are times in your life when you need to focus on light and not the tunnel, or you won’t make it through. It’s a lesson that I’m trying to learn and live into.
I stopped at Hood River again, for some ice cream. There’s a little ice creamery called “Mike’s” on the heights in Hood River, kiddy-corner from Three Rivers Grill. It’s usually crewed by high schoolers (or at least they look really young) and can be really busy on summer weekends, but it wasn’t too bad on this weekday. I like to pick my ice cream clerks for their forearms—if you’re paying the same, you’d rather have Popeye scooping for you than Olive Oil. This outfit has always treated me fairly though and I wasn’t disappointed. On the way back I saw the Japanese Maple behind this Japanese-ish statue turning color and thought it’s make a nice shot.
I had one more stop to make before returning to Portland. The Columbia Gorge has many waterfalls along its span, though not all are named and only a few are renown enough to have their own parking spaces. Certainly Multnomah Falls is the most famous. But there is another one that has special meaning to me.
Eleven years ago, I was married just upstream of Bridal Veil Falls at a small private park called Bridal Veil Lakes. It was an inviting, warm, sunny August day. We were surrounded by friends, family, nature, and great food. There were no walls or roofs to limit our views, no professional obligations or personal limits to contain our potential. The world was fresh and open to us. Though I may be biased I still think it was the most beautiful wedding I’ve been too.
I came to Bridal Veil Falls to mourn the end of my marriage. Though no papers have been signed the light at the end of the tunnel seemed but a pinprick in a vast enveloping and suffocating black cloth.
But in the roar of the falls and the rush of clean, cold waters beneath it, in the fuzzy touch of green moss and the whistling of the breeze through the pines above, I found something that I had not expected to discover: hope. Perhaps I am a fool in choosing to be happy, in trying to be satisfied with what I have. But I’ve been a fool for so many things in my life. Compared to those obsessions of my past, God, love, family, life, seem to be the most innocuous of them all.
In this life, we are all fools for something whether we know it or not. We all have faith, belief, trust in something—for some of us it takes all our lives to find out what to really invest ourselves in, what to trust in, and what to seek after. I’d like to think that it’s not too late for me to find happiness and fulfillment.
This is an American Dipper. They “fly” under the water eating bugs in these streams. I didn’t expect to encounter this one or I would have brought my 100-400mm lens. But sometimes life is about seeing and experiencing rather than capturing. And he was kind enough to sit still while I look this long-ish exposure photo. So thanks Dipper!
I don’t know what’s ahead of me. I’m still trying to save my marriage, though I realize it’s not all up to me. I’d appreciate any prayers or good thoughts you guys might be willing to send my way. But I realize I’m just another human being trying to make his way in this world. I’ve taken some hits but I’m still here, still moving. I’m trying to appreciate the mystery, the uncertainty, and the opportunity that life has given me. And I’m far from alone.
If I could make a living out of it, I’d probably travel the world, eating different foods, meeting people, and writing about it. I do like helping people “feel like they were there too” and I seem to be decent at it. Thanks for joining me on this trip. I hope you’ll be here for the next one as well, where ever that takes us.
|Knows too little |
about too much
Great travelogue and pictures! Especially the Dipper. I've seen them while fly fishing in Colorado. Cool birds.
Hope life improves for you and look forward to your next adventure. Best wishes,
Some men are morally opposed to violence; they are protected by men who are not.
I feel like I've been there!
Top notch, LDD. Thank you.
|SIGforum's Indian |
Off the Reservation
Thanks for sharing your story and great pictures.
I wish you all the best in your next step in life, wherever that may take you.
You can run, but you cannot hide.
If you won't stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them.
|OH HELL NO|
" Bad decisions make good stories "
LDD thank you for the taking us along on this trip.
I have no doubt that whatever lies ahead for you will be worth it.
All the best.
Our Founding Fathers were men who understood that the right thing is not necessarily the written thing. -kkina
Building high performance custom homes on beautiful Smith Mt. Lake, VA
Thank you for sharing. Great write up of the secret volcano base and surrounding area.
A few Sigs and some others
You do kinda have a resemblence to the one pict! Twin Brother possibly?
LDD, GREAT PICTS and travelogue!
"When its time to shoot, shoot. Dont talk!"
“What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else.” —Author Tom Clancy
I greatly enjoyed reading your trilogy and viewing your photos, Thank You!!!
My Photobucket albums:
1978 Browning BDA .45cal (aka Sig P220 with European Magazine Release):
1986 SigSauer P226 with Mud Rails and Full NP3:
Winchester 1897 WW1 Trenchgun:
Very well done. Sadly, in spite of all of the beautiful pictures, I can't stop thinking about that pie.
Thanks LDD......I feel better now too.....
It was a pleasure to go along with you on this trip, LDD. Thanks for writing it up, so I could "be there too." I really do wish you the best of luck. You're a talented writer, and whatever you do, I hope you continue to write.
I really need to get out to Oregon again.
A turbo: Exhaust gasses go into the turbocharger and spin it, witchcraft happens, and you go faster.
Mr. Doom and Gloom
"King in the north!"
"Slow is smooth... and also slow.
|Do---or do not. |
There is no try.
Thank you for showing us some amazing sights and offering a brief glimpse into your soul and recent trials along the way. I think we're all awed by how you've handled this journey and strived to looked for, as you said, the light instead of the tunnel.
This travelogue and narrative is a great life lesson for all of us in so many ways.
That was a good read, thanks LDD. Good luck in your travels through life.
|Muzzle flash |
Very nice pictures! I lived 4 years in coastal Oregon and never got east of Portland. I'll have to correct that some day.
Texan by choice, not accident of birth
When they ask me, "Paper or plastic?" I just say, "Doesn't matter to me. I am bi-sacksual."
It is beautiful, and the road down to Spray would be fun driving a sports car. Unfortunately both times I've been there was driving a low end car I rented from PDX.
A turbo: Exhaust gasses go into the turbocharger and spin it, witchcraft happens, and you go faster.
Mr. Doom and Gloom
"King in the north!"
"Slow is smooth... and also slow.
I speak jive.
Beautiful and well done.
Wow. Bravo! And dare I say encore? Thank you.
Like guns, Love Sigs
|Casuistic Thinker and Daoist|
Some very nice work indeed.
That is a bit amusing because that shop is huge compared to the space that Bruce worked out of when I first met him.
It was his garage and the mill and lathe took up most of the room
No, Daoism isn't a religion
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