History of the Gunsmithing Program
The Gunsmithing Program of Lassen Community College first came
into being in September 1945. Harlan Fritts, the first student,
approached Mr. C.W. Frost, at that time the Lassen Union High School
industrial arts teacher, about obtaining a junior college course in
gunsmithing. Mr. Frost had been a custom gunsmith before the war,
and although tools were lacking for such a course it was started on a
Throughout the year 1945-46 Harlan was the one and only student, and,
although no advertising was released, the year of 1946-47 saw twelve
new members enrolled in this course.
In the 1947-48 school year the enrollment jumped to twenty-one, and
in the 1948-49 school year enrollment was at thirty-two.
In the year 1949-50 the enrollment was up to forty-seven with 138
requests for admission turned down due to limited facilities.
Mr. Frost remained strictly a gunsmithing instructor for the first
five years of the program and moved the program into a separate
building with new metal working tools and other special tools needed
for the course.
The gunsmithing course began as a community service program with initial
curriculum presenting courses on the conversion of surplus military rifles
into custom sporting arms. Training was conducted in a quonset hut
behind the junior college building on Main Street in Susanville. At
that time Lassen College was part of Lassen High School District with
a shared superintendent/president.
The second instructor for the program was Mr. Hugh O’Daniel who taught
through the spring of 1957. In that year John Wise taught, developed
and expanded this program for a period of twenty-five years until his
retirement in April 1982.
Robert Dunlap, instructor of advanced gunsmithing students at LCC until
2002, came to Lassen College as a student in 1959, just a year and a half
after John Wise was hired. At that time there were two separate training
programs: the first ran 12 hours a week. As the program progressed, Wise
became instrumental in getting the evening program converted from a
community service activity to one which was fully accredited.
In the 1960s, when enrollment at Lassen was very low, it was the gunsmithing
and the forestry programs that provided justification from keeping the
college from closing. About 1968, the gunsmithing activity was moved from
its original home in the quonset hut to a larger facility in the basement
of Lincoln School. The program was conducted in the basement location
while awaiting completion of the new campus.
The gunshop was moved into its present facilities and accepted students
in the new facility for the first time in January 1972. Bob Dunlap
returned to Lassen, as a second instructor, to help John Wise manage
the newly expanded program in September 1972. Over the next several
years the curriculum was changed with emphasis shifting from military
conversions to the more lucrative field of gun repair. Another major
change was the expansion of the program from 37.5 to 80 semester hours
In 1976, the two-year curriculum, which earned a graduating student a
Gunsmithing Technician Certificate, was expanded and a third-year program,
more advanced and specialized, was added. Students who completed the
three-year course were awarded the Professional Gunsmith Certificate.
In the fall of 1977, a class on the assembly and fine-tuning of single
action revolvers from kit form was added. Enrollment increased
significantly and a third instructor, Mr. Richard Scott, was hired.
Initially, the three instructors, Wise, Dunlap, and Scott shared the
teaching of all the classes but after about two years, teaching
responsibilities shifted and each instructor began to specialize.
Wise, as the senior instructor, taught beginning machine shop, military
conversions, beginning stock making and reloading classes. Dunlap
specialized in all aspects of gun repair, rust bluing, advanced
stockmaking and advanced reloading. Scott taught advanced machine
shop, and black powder rifle fabrication.
By 1979, the growth of the program and expanded enrollment called for
another increase in the staff with the hiring of a half-time teacher's
assistant. In 1981, another alumnus, Ron Hart was hired as the first
qualified (7.5 years in the gunsmithing field) full-time teacher’s
assistant. The following year, Richard Scott left the instructional
staff and two Lassen gunsmithing program graduates joined in. Ron
Bacchus was hired as the machine shop instructor and Gary Boyd joined
the staff as an instructional aide.
In 1981, Steve Taylor began teaching the welding portion of the
gunsmithing program with specialized classes developed for welding for
gunsmiths. In November 1982, the gunsmithing facility at Lassen
Community College was dedicated as the "John Wise Vocational Gunsmithing
Building." Wise, who had been fighting a losing battle with cancer,
passed away only three weeks later, ending 25 years of leadership and
guidance for this unique program.
Early in 1983, discussions were started between the Education and
Training Division of the National Rifle Association and Mr. Robert
Benbough, a college representative, to bring the unique short-term
summer NRA gunsmithing school to Lassen College. Plans to continue
to develop through 1983, and, for the first time in 1984, a full
schedule of 19 different one- and two-week courses covering many
facets of gunsmithing were offered.
In the summer of 1984, Ron Hart left the teaching staff for a job at
Murray State in Oklahoma. John Vest was recruited to begin in October
In 1986 Bob Benbough left and coordinating of the NRA program was taken
over by John Vest. By 1990 John Vest's teaching duties had increased
so that he could no longer coordinate NRA and cover his teaching
requirements. Ellis Evans assumed the NRA responsibilities until 1999.
In fall 1999 Cliff Bannister replaced Ellis as NRA coordinator and
also started teaching some gunsmithing classes.
Bob Dunlap retired in July of 1995. The enrollment in the gunsmithing
program had been in a slow decline for several years, so when Dunlap
retired, a decision was made by the remaining gunsmithing instructors
and the college administrators, to alter the program to make it easier
and faster to do with fewer instructors. The enrollment then started
declining at an even faster rate.
By 1999 there was serious talk of eliminating the gunsmithing program.
In 1999, Ron Bacchus quit and moved to Oregon.
In the spring of 2000, John Vest retired and Cliff Bannister was
reassigned to another area of the college. Gary Boyd took over as the
NRA and Gunsmithing Coordinator, and Dave Renner was hired as an
In the summer of 2000, Bob Dunlap was hired as a consultant to revamp
the gunsmithing program and to teach part-time. At that time, a decision
was made by instructors Gary Boyd and Bob Dunlap and Vice-President Linda
Kennedy to phase out the conventional semester and replace it with one-week
courses, similar to, but more concentrated than the summer NRA courses.
Starting the fall of 2000 the new system started to be phased in as the
old semester program was being phased out, a process that took nearly
two years. Teaching of the gunsmithing program was now being down by
full time instructor Gary Boyd and part time instructors Ken Brooks, Bob
Chavez, Bob Dunlap, John Martin, Martin Scott and Chet Brown. The spring
of 2001, the Gunsmithing and NRA Programs Coordinator's responsibility
were split in two, creating two directors with Gary Boyd head of the
Gunsmithing Program and Steve Taylor head of the NRA Program.
By Spring 2002, enrollment in the gunsmithing program was rising rapidly.
The 2002 Summer saw the best enrollment ever in the history of the Summer
NRA Program. Gary Boyd retired in the fall of 2002. John Martin was hired
as a full time faculty member to replace Gary Boyd. Steve Taylor assumed
the responsibilities for the NRA and Gunsmithing Programs. The Gunsmithing
program began its first semester with the new system fully in place and
being run by John Martin and Steve Taylor.
Short Biography of John Martin
Originally a commercial fisherman, John Martin has been teaching for Lassen Community College since 2002. Specializing in precision rifles, he has a wealth of knowledge in general gunsmithing, and excels at gunsmith machining and welding. An alumnus since 1992, he was the only student of the legendary Bob Dunlap to be hired to work at PISCo, Dunlap’s business (Pacific International Service Company) during his course of study. Dunlap has often referred to John as the “The Greatest Young Gunsmith in America.” Upon moving to the area of Lassen County, John took a tour of the school grounds and enrolled in the program that same day for no other reason than it looked interesting. Known for his Wildcat custom rifles, he spends a majority of his free time sharing them with the local coyote population in which he has expressed a great love/hate fondness for the furry critters.