Golden State Arms, Pasadena, CA


#1

Golden State Arms seems to have operated with various divisions, one of them being “Santa Fe”. Some rumor that Golden State (and/or divisions) may have had a CIA connection arming the Bay of Pigs invasion. They seem to have specialied in surplus military arms, conversion of military arms to sporters, and making or importing military style arms. And, also selling ammuntion.

Although I am mainly interested in the arms part (specifically Santa Fe marked M1903A3 rifles) I would like to learn more about this company’s history. Google searches turn up little other than various vague guesses but touch on arms (and ammo) from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Thanks in advance!


#2

John,

I have been told that essentially all the arms dealers of any significant size that setup just after WW II including all the well known ones were connected with the CIA in one manner or another. This included bankrolling the initial setup and providing access to the vast amount of “surplus” arms available after the war and for some years thereafter. The payoff for the Agency was the availability of small arms, and some not small arms that had no US government finger prints on them but were clearly from a “commercial firm” as well as having the very visable operations for cleaning, sorting, storing all this stuff to be done by a commercial operation that clearly had commercial sales. These guys apparently cut their own deals too, but were closely linked to the Agency for a number of years.

This information came from two seperate sources, both well positioned to know.

I didn’t ask, but have always assumed that Golden State was one of these organizations.

The 30-06 ammunition produced for use in the Johnson rifles used at the Bay of Pigs was made at Lake City (with BN, CN etc headstamps). I was told this by the head government quality control inspector at Lake City around 1971. On the same visit he gave me one of the LC made, unheadstamped 7.62x39mm rounds that had been finished as a chrome plated dummy. Apparently they made about 30or 40 of these for gifts for a group of VIPs that had come through. I soon passed it on, perhaps to Bill Woodin.

Cheers,
Lew


#3

Lew- Intersting!
Can anyone provide confirmation that Johnson rifles were used at the Bay of Pigs? I have long heard rumors to that effect, but have never been able to find something that seemed to be an actual reliable source.


#4

Firstly, regarding Lew’s comments about the so-called “Bay of Pigs” ammunition, not all the rounds were made at Lake City. Those with “AN” headstamp were made at Twin Cities Arsenal, those with “BN” headstamp were made at the St. Louis Ordnance Plant, and those with “CN” headstamps were made by Lake City. These rounds were not ordered specifically for the operation now referred to as the “Bay of Pigs Invasion,” but rather for any clandestine use that presented itself. Lake City production, by the way, was completed by 1953.

Reference: “.30-06” by Chris Punnett.

Regarding Golden State Arms, “Santa Fe” was one of their brand names, but they were not the only ones to make ersatz 03A3 receivers. There receivers are thought to have been made in Yugoslavia, but I cannot confirm that. The main producer was National Ordnance Company, a brand name of Federal Ordnance, of South El Monte, California. Receivers were investment castings, and have a poor reputation. Whether or not that reputation is deserved, I leave up to everyone else. We sold a few in our store, mostly bought by us over the counter as used guns. They were rough to the feel (working the bolt usually felt like you were sliding it over sand paper), but they were functional and we experienced no problems with the ones we sold. We stopped buying them when they developed a bad reputation for safety, again, whether deserved or not. “The Springfield 1903 Rifles,” by Bill Brophy, page 101, indicates that in January 1963, the esteemed H. P. White Laboratory gave the cast receivers “a clean bill of health” and in October 1963, a report from the Birmingham Gun Barrel Proof House, of Brimingham, England reported the same. No weakness or flaws were found by “the absive and destructive tests conducted on three sample receivers.”

Unfortunately, there is little else anywhere on these rifles. A shame, since despite their shooting reputation, they are scarce enough that they should be rather collectible. Original manufacturing quality is certainly not a determining factor in what is collectible, or no one would want late-manufacture Japanese arms or German Volksturm weapons, both very much sought after by collectors. There are other fields replete with low quality examples such as “Staurday Night specials,” small auto pistols, etc.

I will not get into the CIA connection, as I know nothing about it.

Regarding the use of Johnson Rifles at the Bay of Pigs fiasco, I could find no information on that subject. The book “Johnson Rifles and Machine Guns” by Bruce Canfield, on page 219, says “A few of the Johnson weapons were reportedly used by the Castro Forces during the Cuban revolt that over-tunred the Batista government.” Unfortunately, he uses the term “weapons” which would have to include the Johnson LMG, so we don’t know if he was taling about rifles at all. It is certainly possible; pictures of the times showed these communist rebels with all manner of commercial and military rifles. Castro himself carried an FN-Mauser sporting rifle, and there are pictures of him with it. It is reported that Indonesia sold many of the Johnson rifles left over from the Dutch East Indies days to communist countries (most of the Johnson military rifles made were actually for the Dutch Colonial Forces in Indonesia, and I, for one, have never seen a Johnson Military Rifle with a rear sight graduated in inch measurements, nor a Johnson rifle bayonet that was not with a dutch scabbard, with its very narrow belt loop that will fit NO standard U.S. military load-carrying gear).

In some tome referred to in Canfield’s books as Maynard Johnson’s “Unpardonable” (the title? I am not familiar with the work), Johnson evidently made the statement, in the epilogue, contained in a broader discussion, "“Though I am utterly silent about the Cuban situation I finally established that Castro got their guns from the Dutch West Indies and several other second to fourth-hand sources.” I wonder if he actually meant “Dutch East Indies,” since there is mention of Indonesia selling off Johnson Rifles? It is certainly possible that he meant the “Dutch West Indies,” as many Johnson rifles were turned over to the “Free Dutch Forces,” in the West Indies and used by the Dutch Navy there.

At any rate, it is likely that Castro’s group used a few Johnson rifles - remember, his original force was only something around 40 insurgents - and perhaps acquired more Johnsons later. It is known that later they had some Johnson LMG’s, and these are often confused with the Johnson rifle.


#5

John

At one time in my life I did business with National Ordnance and used their products. There were two businesses, same location, two buildings. Federal Ordnance and National Ordnance, the first was the parts and ammo dept. and the second was complete firearms and receivers. Fed and Nat. Ordnance was owned by a man by the name of John Arnold, I knew him slightly, just enough to say hello when I went to his businesses, At the time I was doing business with Nat Ord, I remember being told the receiver casting was being done by


#6

45B20,

Great information. thank you. the Federal Ordnance which I knew was run by Bob Brenner. I was down there a couple of times, one on a buying trip. I wish I could remember more of the trip. What I remember best is the GREAT hot turkey sandwich we had at some deli-type restaurant in Berverly Hills. I think it was called “The New York Deli,” but am not sure. Oh well, memories from an old fat man.

The reference to Yugoslav-made receivers was for Santa Fe Arms. I don’t know if that is true or not. Thanks, though, for the much more detailed information on those made for the original Federal Ordnance/National Ordnance rifles. We never had a Santa Fe Arms Springfield in our shop that I can recall. They had a bad reputation (the receivers I mean) almost before we had ever heard of them, and later on, we decided not to buy any Springfield rifle that was not completely G.I. Parts, just for rumors we had heard, on the basis of “better safe than sorry.” Liability was already becoming a major issue, even then. As I said though, we had no problems that I can recall with the few National Ordnance Springfields that went through our shop. Not enough of them to make any solid, definitive statements, though.

Again, thanks for your posting. With 38 years in the gun industry, at the retail level, your listing brought back some memories. I apologize to everyone over my confusion on the first and second “Federal Ordnance Companies.” It has been a long time. The second one eventually became Bricklee’s Trading Company, or something like that. I wish in those days I had kept more information that we got from all those Southern California surplus arms dealers - today, my files are very weak on all of them.


#7

John

John

Those were interesting days, especially the pre-1968 time. Keeping all of those people straight would take some real research. Did you ever know a gentleman by the name of Paul Rennick?? He was a salesman for many of those


#8

I have the little cartridge catalog from Retting and some other of his literature, I knew Martin casually - I was in his place a few times when going thru LA, and he was in our store a couple of times. One time, on my way to a Rose Bowl game in 1958 (on leave from Alaska, in the Army), I stopped by there and bought a M1910 Ross .303 and some sort of enfield, I think a cased, complete No.4(T) from him. We also did a joint deal with him over the British Armstrong-Vickers Pedersen Rifles, although that was completed before I worked at the store, but not long before… We had all the Pedersen rifles and carbines not used in the British trials (mint condition) and he got all the ones that were used. We had to get a charger clip for the one we retained from Martin, as since he got all the used rifles, he got all the clips, and they were rare as the dickens then. I used to remember the look on collector’s faces when I would take them downstairs to our basement, where all the Pedersens were stored on a couple of tables made out of 4 x 8 plywood on saw-horses, as I recall now, or on something else - some with bits of wrapping paper still on them, to pick out a gun. Hardly anyone had ever seen a Pedersen rifle, and fewer even knew there was ever a carbine, and then to see 40 or 50 of them in one place was pretty impressive. Those really were the salad days for my time in the industry.

We once got a shipment of 800+ handguns from England, purchased at auction by our agent there, who was with W. Richards, of Liverpool (Not Westley Richards). There were, for example, 40 artillery Lugers, 80 other Lugers, three Webley-Fosburys, about 30 Mauser broomhandles, A collection of Webley and other British Revolvers, etc, etc.

Another time, our agent with the Richards co. called us and told us that Kynoch was going to sell all of the Mauser Pistol stripper clips they had, a few hundred, and thought he could get them for us pretty cheaply. Even then, one clip was selling for a few dollars - would be like ten dollars or more now. We told him to buy them all. He phoned us back, instead of sending us his usual cable, and said he wasn’t sure how many there were, but there were more than they first had thought. We told them to buy them all. It turned out that there were 32,000 of them. We still took them all, and sold them all over the years, either to other dealers (Sarco and Retting both bought a lot of them from us), or over-the-counter sales. When we closed the store many years later, we were down to about 15 or so. I wish I had kept one of the empty wood cases for them - the original “BP” packaging for them when they were sent to Kynoch. They all went to firewood. No one cared about stuff like that then. Now, a die-hard Mauser Broomhandle collector would probably buy a full case for his collection. They cost us 8 cents each. We sold them retail for a dollar - one-third of the price then, and to dealers for as low as 20 cents each, depending on the quantity they bought. Most of the other dealers offered them at two dollars, as I recall.

The business was interesting then. Today, I wouldn’t even want to work in a gun shop - nothing but paper work and, by and large, uninteresting merchandise (I mean uninteresting from a historical standpoint), unless you specialize in antique guns.

Well, again, sorry for my memory prattle. I thought the stripper clip story would interest the charger collectors. If they are in the U.S. and have a BP- marked Mauser Pistol charger in their collection, odds are great that it came from our store.


#9

Interesting stuff on the Mauser clips John M - I had no idea that BP (British Pens) made them for Kynoch - though it makes sense as clips was what BP made aside from pen nibs.