Recently I accepted an invitation to join other gun writers and law enforcement officers on a tour of Colt Manufacturing's facilities in the historic city of Hartford, Conn.
If you've been in this business in any capacity for more than a few minutes, you've likely put one of Colt's weapons through it paces. The company has been in the gun business since 1836, substantially longer than most of its competition. You don't stay in business that long unless you have a good product.
As I got off the plane in Hartford I was at a loss for what Colt might have in store for us. The Colt product line is clearly established, and the company is not known for constantly rolling out the "latest and greatest" new idea. Instead it concentrates on producing the gold standard of reliable, rock-solid tools for the American warfighter. I'm more than good with that. In our profession, firearms are tools, not toys. We want them to work and work well, every time. Colt has always been synonymous with quality and, if I had a goal for this trip, it was to see just how the company sets such a high standard.
I began my education the first night at the welcome dinner. I'm always a little apprehensive when meeting with the "top brass" from any company, as I never know what the corporate culture is like. But I was immediately impressed by how friendly and down to earth everyone from Colt was.
We all got on the bus to Colt's facility early the next morning. The ride to West Hartford took us through the city and past some of the oldest buildings I've ever seen—New England at it's finest. We pulled into the Colt plant and entered a boardroom where the Colt reps gave us a short presentation about the history of the company. Then we headed over to the factory.
There were a few things I noticed immediately about the manufacturing plant. First, the building and almost everything in it was an interesting mix of museum-quality artifacts and cutting-edge technology. Some of the plants machinery in service today has been in use for nearly 100 years.
Rows of machines worked rhythmically like Swiss watches, churning out perfect part after perfect part. Some of the oldest machines had been "updated" with servos and computers to make them more efficient, but in essence, they were making parts the same way they had been for almost a century. Not far from each workstation was a series of calipers, gauges, and other quality control tools that workers use to ensure only the best parts make it to the next step. Nothing moves in the factory without going through quality control, and there is no such thing as "good enough."
The machines were cool, but what was really interesting in the factory was the people who run the machines. They were all friendly, and you could just tell they had a passion for what they do. What really hit me though was the tenure most of these folks had. Most of the ones I had the pleasure of speaking with had been with the company for decades, one doing the same job for 43 years. You want to know where the quality comes from in a Colt firearm? It's not the metal, or the design, or even the quality control. It's the people. Colt's people care about their work and take it personally if the end result isn't perfect. Colt calls this the company's "human element," and it's a point of company pride.
After a quick lunch, it was off to the Hartford Gun Club to put the hard work of all those veteran Colt workers to the test. Colt had reserved the range for the day and set up several stations with an example of almost everything in the product line. I shot semi-automatic pistols, revolvers, and AR15s at various targets. The guns were top notch. I never had a problem with any of them, and there truly wasn't one I wouldn't be proud to own. Colt's president and CEO, Gerald Dinkel, even joined us and put a few rounds down range with little regard for his suit and tie.
I've always been a fan of Colt's products, but after this trip, I certainly have a renewed appreciation of the rifle I carry every day and the amount of dedication and attention to detail that went into making it. I've toured a lot of factories, been through a lot of gun shops, and handled more firearms and gear than I can remember. Most of these encounters leave me with a memory of the product that particular company was promoting.
When I returned home from Hartford, the most vivid impressions the trip left on me weren't the guns, but rather the people of Colt Manufacturing who make them. Someone once said, "A company's best asset is its people. It's only as good as the people who run it." I believe that and, evidently, so does Colt.