By RONI TOLDANES
It all started as a joke. Fourteen years ago, Wayne Bergquist performed his first gunsmithing job. He blew dust from a rusty Colt .45 that he had owned for many years, and checkered its front strap.
Totally inexperienced, it took him several hours to complete the job. He was mesmerized by his handiwork and stared at the finished product for minutes. He always had a fascination for guns but this was the first time he actually had the chance to tinker with a pistol.
Bergquist boarded a bus to visit his friend, a noted gunsmith in Florida. Like a proud boy showing his dad his first medal of merit, Bergquist handed the pistol to the gunsmith asking him to check out his masterpiece. The amused gunsmith gave the gun a fleeting glance and, with raised eyebrows, asked, “Who did that?” Bergquist replied with the obvious, and the gunsmith burst into laughter. “Good, maybe someday you’ll make money doing this.”
The comment was a flattery. You see, the checkering lines on Bergquist’s were crooked, its peaks and valleys uneven. And the gunsmith humorously treated the entire thing as a joke. “But I took the joke seriously,” Bergquist said. “And I took it as a challenge.”
Wayne Bergquist worked hard and exchanged notes with experts. Fourteen years after he accepted the challenge, he is now recognized as among the most popular gunsmiths in America. When we asked him to build this single-stack .45 semi-auto, Bergquist emphasized that we pay attention to the detailed work in his checkering.
It was, indeed, mesmerizing. The 20 lines-per-inch hand-checkering job on the front strap sparkled like tiny diamonds. The Caspian frame came from the factory with checkering on the front strap, but he manually polished it for a touch of finesse. He also hand-checkered the trigger guard and produced an astonishing 40-lines-per-inch.
The entire gun, built on a Caspian 6-inch slide and oversized frame, was cleanly crafted. The slide’s high-polish hard chrome finish from Checkmate is so shiny you can practically use it as a mirror.
Three handsome notches were cut under the slide’s front portion. These blended nicely with the Schuemann “Ultimatch” .45ACP bull barrel and the two-piece Clark guide rod. A series of long serrations were machined on the slide’s front panel. It gave the gun a sleek, race-ready look. The serrations, as well as the notches cut on the slide, increases slide velocity during battery and reduces the gun’s lock-time. They also help enhance the hot-rod look of this tactical speedster.
The “racing stripes” machined into the top of the slide augment this gun’s aesthetic appeal. And they also assist in minimizing the sun’s glare. “But sometimes I tell my customers that if they can see glare, that means they are not focusing on their sights,” Bergquist says with a chuckle.
A Bo-Mar adjustable rear sight comes as a standard feature in Bergquist’s tactical pistols, as well as a Smith & Alexander beavertail grip safety with a “palmswell” that helps promote a positive grip. Caspian or Ed Brown grip safeties are also available.
Bergquist re-shaped, contoured and raised the rear portion of the single-stack Caspian frame to expose a bigger chunk of the beavertail. He also cut a 90-degree angle under the trigger guard for a perfect anatomical hold. These modifications allow the shooter to achieve a higher grip on the gun, thereby reducing muzzle jump. He also installed a “wide-ride” King’s thumb safety, which eliminated the need for a thumb shield.
Bergquist laughed when asked about the technical specifications of his single-stack masterpiece. While other gunsmiths rattle-off technical specs, such as “0.0005-inch critical lock-up achieved by the full-length rail engagement … etc.,” Bergquist merely says his slide and frame were hand-fitted. “I do it mostly by feel. I’m not a very technical person, but I’m sure other gunsmiths also do it that way, no matter what they say.”
With a smooth 2.25-lb trigger pull provided by its light, aluminum Videki speed trigger, Bergquist says this pistol will achieve groups of O.75-inch at 25 yards and will shoot all types of .4S ACP ammunition without a bobble.
The grandson of Scandinavian immigrants with humble beginnings, Wayne Bergquist has come a long, long way.
Bergquist, 46, began shooting IPSC matches in 1981. Back then, the hotshots were Mickey Fowler and Mike Plaxco. He was a Class-B shooter when he decided to become a full-time gunsmith.
In 1989, Bergquist established Glades Gunworks in Florida, but eventually sold it to an inventor and became its manager. “But I wasn’t a happy camper, so I left them and started my own shop based on my reputation.” Bergquist then sought the help of his wife, Kathie, to help manage the new shop. He invited gunsmith Jimmy Brock to serve as his assistant. In just a few weeks, orders began pouring in.
Today, if you don’t see Wayne at his gunshop, he’s most probably outside, puttering with his classic ’67 Mustang or buffing his sleek Harley Davidson. “You have to have other toys besides guns,” he says with a boyish smile.
The Bergquist shop churns out at least 16 Limited and Open raceguns monthly and also accepts gunsmithing jobs, such as trigger pull adjustments, sight installation, and fitting of custom magazine wells and other accessories. Delivery time is around 12 to 14 weeks, but it’s always worth the wait.
Wayne Bergquist spends a liberal amount of time on each firearm that passes through the shop. And that’s what makes him and his work a notch above other custom shops.
“I work a lot of weekends and even late nights for my customers,” Bergquist says. “I think they deserve to get what they pay for.” Every pistol stamped with the initials W.B. doesn’t have to be “broken in.”
When he hands you your gun, you’re ready to race.
Wayne Bergquist says he would like to be known as a friendly person and a good gunsmith. A very good gunsmith. “I’m that kind of guy,” he says. “Yes, sir, unlike other gunsmiths, any of my customers can call me anytime. I mean anytime.”
He was not joking.
(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)