Photos and story by Roger Lanse

Al Storey and his rattlesnake sniffing dog BBAl Story, a machinist from San Diego, arrived in Grant County in 1991 at 51 years-of-age with the idea of retiring. Instead, he founded a gunsmithing business and the Borchardt Rifle Company.

"I started hunting at a young age and I got interested in guns," Al told me. "I started on this path in high school. The girl I used to sit next to, Ruthie Navarro, well, her dad was a gunsmith in town, and I'd walk her home and they lived right in the shop. I'd ask her dad questions and he would answer my questions and help me out whenever he could. That's how I kind of got started, you know."

When people in Grant County discovered Al's gunsmithing talent, residents began bringing their dysfunctional weapons to him for repair. After about eight years of gunsmithing at his present location, Story began turning more to making barrels and gun parts for customers, and the reproduction Borchardt rifles. "I put out a sign advertising Borchardt rifles and that's how the business started," Al explained.

The Sharps-Borchardt Model 1878 rifle was designed by Hugo Borchardt in Germany and manufactured from 1877 to 1881 by the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company in Connecticut. The single-shot rifle was made in large heavy calibers well suited for buffalo hunting. However, by the late 1800s, buffalo were becoming scarce as hens' teeth, shrinking the demand for the late-arriving Borchardt, and the company folded.

Even if it wasn't a commercial success, the Borchardt was still sought after because of its long-range accuracy and the strength of its falling block action. That's the way Al looked at it. A Story-built Borchardt will set you back anywhere from $3,900 to $4,800, and Al never seems to be able to catch up on his orders as people keep sending him deposits.

"Everyone likes 'em," he said. "Right now, I'm a couple of years behind on Borchardt orders. Several people have tried to make them, and some were pretty good, but they dropped out – it's just a hard one to make. I make all the parts here. We make every part right here in the shop."

Did the company ever make a carbine? "Yes, they made carbines, too, and I've got one of them to do. It'll be the first one I've done."

Enlarging the original shop at his residence to 30' x 70', he brought in more machinist tools. He now specializes in not only the fabrication of the Borchardt, but also gun barrels in various calibers, barrel bands for the Ruger 10/22 carbine, and cylinders and ejector rod housings for Ruger single-action revolvers. Al said he has made and sold more than 11,000 of those ejector rod housings.

At 80 years-of-age, and after 60 years as a machinist and gunsmith, Al is still actively involved in the business although he now has help. Clay Collyge of Silver City fabricates Al's barrels using a perfectly functioning 100-year-old boring machine from Colt Firearms. Tom Chavira, a 20-year employee from Silver City, and Mark Ostler, an experienced machinist from Glenwood and fellow church member with Al, churn out the 6-hole and 8-hole drop-in rimfire and centerfire cylinders for Ruger single-action revolvers. Other friends drop in when they're needed and often when they're not, just to visit, including Bill Marcy on this day. Al described Marcy as the only one who can operate the computer-controlled machine which sculpts barrel bands for the Ruger 10/22 out of a single steel billet.

"We sell a lot of finished barrels -- we contour them and everything, but we also sell a lot of barrel blanks. Blanks are barrels bored and rifled, but not tapered. We sell quite a few blanks to the gunsmithing schools and I give the students a little bit of a discount. Now, I'm going to Oklahoma, soon as I get my eyes fixed (cataract surgery), and there's a gunsmith there named Rodney Story, no relation at all – he bought six of my barrels and I'll be dropping them off."

Story explained after a barrel is bored, and the bore polished to a mirror finish, a carbide button is pulled through the bore which swages it, cutting in the rifling. This is called button-rifling. After the rifling process is completed, Al said, the blanks are ready to be sold or to have the exterior turned or tapered or contoured, including cutting dovetails for sights and drilling and tapping holes for scope bases.

"I know some of the new guns they're coming out with – they're just bad. But you know some of that new stuff – they shoot good!" (laughs). This writer remembers Clay Collyge kidding Al a few years ago about Al not liking those 'Rambo' guns.

Al's wife, Gail, passed away in August of 2016 at the age of 79. They were married in 1971. "All the people I know are passing away," Al said. "I go to the door to visit a friend and am told, 'Oh, didn't you know, he passed away three months ago.'"

"Well, what keeps you going here in the shop. I mean, you're 80-years-old," I asked. "I don't know," Al replied, "This is all I've ever known. My wife told me I was a workaholic—my daughter is a workaholic. I don't know. I don't like sittin' around doing nothin'. I should be doing the yard work, but I don't do that. I used to hunt quite a bit, but I gave that up. I can't do the walking that I used to do. And, then I lost my brother a year ago last month. We hunted together every year since we were kids. The only time we missed was when he went into the Navy."

Then Al mentioned the dog on his lap named BB. "And this little guy – he's a rattlesnake hunter. He got a big rattlesnake the other day. Yeah, right up against the house. I'd seen that thing out here the day before. He went under a pallet and my vision is so bad I couldn't tell if it was a rattlesnake or a bull snake. But I wasn't about to stick my arm under there to find out. The next day I was in the back yard, and I heard BB barking like crazy right there in the front of the house. And there he was – a four-footer – he had 12 rattles. So, that's the first one this year and I hope it's the last. I've killed 'em in the shop, coming into the shop, at the kitchen door – I've killed a few over the years. BB's a little hunter. He's looking everywhere. He saw one under the car a few years ago. Now, when he goes out in the morning the first thing he does is go look under the car."

Asked about the rifle he built years ago in .50 BMG caliber, Al said, "I sold it and the guy called me the other day complaining that he had handloaded cases stuck in the weapon. I asked him, 'What are you shooting?' And, he told me, and I says, 'No, that isn't what I told you to shoot.' Evidently, from what he told me he had really overloaded it.

"I've still got the white post out there 700 yards away I used to shoot that .50 cal at. It was a tackdriver – a taa'ackdriver. It weighed 32 pounds empty." Al said he used to take it elk hunting, in case an opportunity to use it came along, "but it wasn't something you wanted to carry in the field.

"The recoil was tremendous," Al said. "It split my sternum open, and I had to have it wired back together. I was out here shooting that thing, and I wasn't ready for it – you've got to really be ready for it when it goes off. I wasn't ready, boy, and that thing nailed me. I felt a little uncomfortable, and I came in here working that night, and I had one of my Borchardts in the vise and I was holding it with my left hand and I would push down on it with my right hand, and I could feel something move. I could feel my chest moving up on one side and down on the other. 'Oh, no, I'm in trouble.' So, to Las Cruces I went, and they wired me up. That was 10 years ago.

"I won't shoot anything big at all anymore, although I can still handle a .30-06 for few rounds."

In mid-October 2020, in the middle of this interview, Al was hit with the COVID-19 virus and spent some time in October on a ventilator in Santa Fe. He was transferred for physical therapy to Albuquerque, where he spent a month learning to breathe again. Unfortunately, Al didn't get to drop off those six barrels in Oklahoma, they had to be shipped.

Al has since recovered and is again working in the shop with his employees. One of his first jobs back was taking a customer's Winchester Model 70 rifle in .458 Magnum caliber, discarding the barrel, and creating two new interchangeable barrels, one for the .300 H&H Magnum cartridge and another for the .400 Weatherby. He said, "Those barrels really look nice. You ought to come see 'em, except the customer is coming for it tomorrow."

As of February 2021, Al continues to build Borchardt rifles on order, sculpt barrel bands for Ruger's line of 10/22 rifles, and fabricate cylinders and ejector-rod housings for Ruger's single-action revolvers – and answer BB's barking.

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