RCBS, Inc. was founded by Fred Huntington in 1943 in Oroville, California and later became one of the world's largest manufacturers of reloading equipment. The name RCBS is derived from the name of the dies the company was founded to produce: "Rock Chuck Bullet Swage."
As few good varmint bullets were produced prior to the early 1940's Huntington decided to make his own and designed dies to swage .22 rimfire cartridge cases to form jackets for those bullets.
Below is a reprint of chapter thirteen in Sam Fadala's book, "Great Shooters of the World".
BORN TO SHOOT
Fred Huntington couldn't remember when his interest in firearms began. "I have always loved guns and gun collecting," he said when asked about his early shooting career. Huntington is the champion of reloading. He made his mark in the industry when he designed and constructed a better reloading press. Fred concocted numerous other innovations that promoted the art of handloading ammunition. But Fred Huntington was not always involved in providing reliable reloading tools. He spent more than half his life in another trade.
Fred Huntington's father, also named Fred, was born in Bloomington, Illinois. He was a salesman who moved west in 1906—way west, all the way to Oroville in northern California, with Mrs. Huntington, who was born about 100 miles from St. Louis, Missouri. In Oroville, the elder Huntington opened a laundry and dry-cleaning plant. He was no laundryman, but he took possession of the plant in lieu of a $5000 loan. It seemed the only way to collect on the debt. Huntington Sr. learned the business and turned the establishment into a thriving operation.
Young Fred, born 20 days before Christmas in 1912, enjoyed his early years in Oroville. Although his father preferred fishing over hunting—and although "He was usually too busy with the laundry to take me shooting," Fred Junior found the opportunity to push hundreds of bullets downbore. Shooting was his passion. When Fred finished high school, he attended laundry and dry-cleaning school for one year and went straight into his father's business. Fred liked Oroville and planned to live his life there. The most direct route to success and to remaining in the California town was to continue with the laundry business. And that's what our reloading captain did—for quite some time.
Fred recalls beginning with serious shooting in 1937. His endearment to firearms, reloading and hunting was a continuous involvement. Fred Huntington Jr. was pulled like metal fragments to a magnet by "the back room," where his deepest interest rested—the nucleus of a tool-and-die empire was maturing. Fortune sometimes wears a crooked smile. Fred Huntington had a terrible time getting all of the ammunition he wanted in the early 1940s. Had this dearth of ammunition not prevailed, our man may never have embarked on a new career. At this juncture, in 1941, Fred came across a book written by W. F. Vickery, a well-known gunsmith of the era. The book, Advanced Gunsmithing, changed Fred's life. Between its covers was an explanation of how to make both a press and dies for the creation of 22-caliber bullets. In the rear of the laundry was an old Seneca Falls lathe. Fred Huntington went to work with the lathe, and when he was finished, he was in the bullet-making business. He contacted W. F. Vickery, who took an interest in Fred, shipping him a set of Vickery-made 22- bullet dies so that the young man could compare them with his own creations. From a study of the Vickery dies, Huntington knew he was on the right track. He was happier in the work of making bullets than he had ever been in getting clothes clean.
A year later, Fred's die-building prowess had expanded not only in units produced, but also in quality through experimentation. Huntington was working on a set of bullet-forming dies that would function with the original Pacific press made in San Francisco. When he had completed his work, he brought the resulting product to Frank Stratinsky, who was then the chief tool-and-die man for Pacific. Stratinsky played a major role in the Huntington saga by introducing the young inventor to Captain Grosvenor Wotkyns. Wotkyns' name is today linked with the development of the 22 Hornet, among other shooting accomplishments. Wotkyns engendered an immediate appreciation for the Huntington die. He wanted a set. He also wanted to buy a set for a shooting friend. Huntington complied. He made the two sets of dies and delivered them to San Francisco. A truly good product will, in part, promote itself. Soon, Huntington was driving to San Francisco on a regular basis delivering his wares. Now his dies needed a name. Wotkyns said why not call them the "Rock Chuck Bullet Swages?" After all, Fred's dies were for the 22-caliber bullet that was used mainly in the varmint rifle. The name, albeit unwieldy, stuck. Fred decided to reduce the title to its initials, RCBS. If you haven't heard of RCBS, you don't reload.
Papa Huntington was a reasonable man who wanted his boy to be content. But, after all, Fred was supposed to be in the laundry business, not the tool-and-die trade. The young man spent much of his workday in the back room of the plant, grinding away on one piece of metal or another. Furthermore, the back door was almost as busy as the front door, with shooting enthusiasts coming and going. After trying to convince his son to continue with the laundry plant, Mr. Huntington decided it would be good if Fred moved his enterprise to a new location.
So in 1948, Fred had his own shop. It was very small—only 20 feet by 20 feet in dimension, but in it wondrous things were happening. In my opinion, there's not a great businessman who hasn't an affinity for attracting intelligent people to help promote his ideas. Fred Huntington gathered such men around him: Jack Ellis and Al Swift, to name two. These fine technicians helped Fred with his die work, as the shop expanded to offer gunsmithing. Although neither man remained with the Huntington operation, both contributed to the Huntington story. Frank Stratinsky wrote his chapter in the
Huntington biography as well. With Jack Ellis doing firearm repairs and working on special die-making problems, and Al Swift machining dies, Huntington's shop flourished. Next Stratinsky came on board, making a full line of reloading dies. Huntington had already earned a patent for his bullet-forming die invention of 1940. He soon received a second patent. Working with Swift, Huntington designed a new press. Initially called the New Leverage System Model A RCBS Reloading Press, it would change all major machines in the future. Fred stated recently, "Quite a few of the reloading firms at the time badmouthed the Leverage System, but when the patent ran out, I had two firms paying me royalty and two or three more jumped on the bandwagon, copying what I had invented and furthered." The most popular reloading press design of the hour stems from the Huntington style, which speaks for Fred's tremendous impact on reloading. Jack Ellis wanted to return to San Francisco, which he eventually did. Standing by to take his place was Don Tucker. "Don told me that he could learn how to grind a reamer in a month if Jack Ellis would teach him. I had reservations, but I gave him a chance. He did it. His reamers were excellent," praised Huntington.
At about the same time, Huntington inherited another man in the shop. If it was unlikely that Don Tucker could grind a beautiful reamer in only 30 days of training, what were the odds of this new worker learning the tool-and-die trade? After all, Bill Keyes came out of the lumber business, where he had worked for a sawmill. But Bill wanted to do the work, and although he had never touched a lathe in his life, he took to it like a bear to honey. Fred has said more than once that in his opinion Bill Keyes is one of the finest special die makers of all time. The RCBS operation was on a roll. The popular—famous would not be too strong a term—"Reloader's Special" came to life. Anyone doubting Fred Huntington's impact on the world of shooting need only remind himself that thousands of prospective reloading fans moved from the shadows of, "I would sure like to handload," to the sunshine of, "I'm reloading my own ammo," on an RCBS "Reloader's Special" kit. There was no doubt—RCBS was for real. The Rock Chucker Press, along with the "Reloader's Special" added to the fame of the company. Here was innovative, high-quality reloading machinery built by people who loved what they were doing.
Fred's father could see the future now. In 1952 he told his son that should the handloading enterprise fade out, he, Mr. Huntington, would help Fred establish a dry-cleaning business. The senior Huntington was in the process of selling the laundry at that time. But Fred was finished with laundry. He was a businessman in his own right. And his business was reloading, not redoing collars. Furthermore, he would make the greatest impact on handloading that the general public of shooters had ever seen. Fred's story is one of continual success. He never backtracked. He suffered no major setbacks. His is not a tale of toil and failure, followed by glory. It was simply one success after another. How successful? Not everyone drives a Rolls Royce. Fred does. His second love, following shooting/hunting, is the automobile, and resting behind his reloading tool plant are about 50 collector's cars. The last time I counted my vintage Mercedes autos, I came up with exactly-zero. Fred's not sure how many he has.
Fred's small shop could not accommodate the great demand for his products. He had to impound his own garage for more shop space. That move helped for only a short while. In 1954, Fred built a larger shop, 30 by 60 feet, right next to the old one. Since he owned the adjacent land anyway, he figured he might as well use it. "This plant, I felt, would serve our needs for many years,' he predicted. But it didn't. While Huntington's RCBS company needed a larger facility within two years, Fred waited until 1958 to build his full-scale RCBS operation. The new establishment began as a 7500-square-foot factory, soon expanding to 50,000 square feet.
In 1976, Fred sold the RCBS interest to Omark Industries. "I had hired 250 people by then," Huntington said. "From about 1965 to 1976, my company had the largest payroll in Butte County." Today,
Fred's two sons, both of whom have deserved reputations as sterling as their father's, have followed him in the reloading business. Fred Huntington Jr. supervises production in the RCBS plant, while
Charles "Buzz" Huntington serves as general manager for Huntington Die Specialties.
In the time frame from the late 1 940s to the present, Huntington proliferated many innovations in reloading tools. He isn't finished yet. His new Huntington Compac Press is witness to the man's continued interest in the reloading game. This is a compact, portable reloader's press "designed for the back packer, benchrest shooter and those that require a small portable tool."
HUNTING AND SHOOTING MAKE A DIFFERENCE
"Everyone should be taught to hunt and shoot," Fred contends. He believes that shooting is a skill-sport that builds character, and that hunting lends tremendous self-confidence and self-esteem. Fred ought to know. He has been a hunter all of his life. Varmint hunting undoubtedly helped to further Huntington's interest in the bullet-making business when he was a young man. Hunting also made a traveler of Fred. He would eagerly drive hundreds of miles for a rock-chuck or prairie dog shoot. He hunted for many years with the great gunsmith, Vickery, looking for rockchucks in the Boise, Idaho, area. He happily drove all the way from California to Wyoming for prairie dogs. "I started prairie dog hunting in the early 1950s with Bill Matheney of Recluse, Wyoming," said Huntington. "I also hunted deer and antelope with him. I took several nice hunts with Jack O'Connor, including a great trip Into Moose Creek Lodge, and then to the Yukon In 1956 for 30 days with Jack." These two trips were the subjects of Outdoor Life articles penned by O'Connor (see separate chapter). Fred hunted with Warren Page as well, with Pete Brown and other firearms authors, too. His hunting adventures led Fred to many other parts of the world—to Iran and Africa, too. Although he has never claimed to be a "mountain man," Fred Huntington has always stayed on the trail until the last rays sunset visually announced that the hunt over. Today, the Huntington game collection consists of almost 100 trophy big-game specimens that are honored in the Oroville store.
My guess is that Fred Huntington would have been a starburst success had he remained in the laundry and dry-cleaning business. He's the kind of guy who probably would have come up with a way to bleach raspberry stains out of white shirts. Fred is inventive, energetic and willing to take a chance. He would have made it in any business because of his talent and tenacity. He could have been a success had he opened an ice cube factory in tile Arctic Circle. His abilities all furthered his efforts. The ability to design ingenious tools, the ability to organize people, a knowledge of the manufacturing process, and the art of selling combined to make Fred Huntington the leader of the reloading industry. People like the Huntington product, and Huntington, the man. "I made not only customers for our products but many friends!" Fred reflected one day.
When this author was in South Africa, an enthusiastic big game hunter and shooter by the name of Elroy French showed me his reloading room. Myriad well-located tools and components graced the inner sanctum of his handloading chambers. Two presses occupied proud positions, well-fastened to a rigid handmade bench. I was not surprised to see the brand name showing on these tools. The name read RCBS. "Know what RCBS means?" I asked the owner of the room. He said he did. It meant some of the best reloading equipment you could buy, anywhere. "No. It means Rock Chuck Bullet Swages," I was going to say, just to show how erudite we American handloaders were. But before the words left my lips, I canceled them. "That's right," I said. "It means some of the best reloading equipment anywhere." Many thousands of shooters are happy because Fred Huntington decided to court his true love from a youthful dream to a lifelong reality. His industry and genius have provided high-quality reloading tools at affordable prices, promoting not only a lot more shooting, but also more accurate shooting for marksmen all over the globe.
Great shooters of the world by Sam Fadala
South Hackensack, NJ : Stoeger Publishing Company, c1990.
ISBN: 0-88317-160-0, LC: 90-71238
Available through Amazon.com
Below are some additional pictures of Fred enjoying his auto collection.