Museum Celebrates Iconic Warsaw Gunstock Factory

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
Quality gunstocks made by Edward Cox Bishop and Son, and Reinhart Fajen during a large part of the 20th Century earned  Warsaw the title of “Gunstock Capital of the World” according to gun-writing media and gun owners. A 1977 article in the Globe-Democrat Magazine reported that the two businesses shipped some 125,000 semi-finished rifle and shotgun stocks annually to dealers across the U.S. as well as to Canada, Australia, Europe, Africa and the Orient. In later years they were making gunstocks for major gun manufacturers as well as custom producing over 200,000 gunstocks a year. The two companies were basically only competing against each other (in a friendly manner) because there were very few custom gunstock manufacturers in the world.
Another article written in 1977 by The Democrat stated that the two factories made 80 to 90 percent of the custom gunstocks produced in the U.S. and they had many famous customers. Among the well-known customers of Bishop Gunstocks were Frank Sinatra, the Shah of Iran, and the late King Saud of Saudi Arabia. Fajen made stocks for astronaut John Glenn, Missouri and Governor Christopher S. Bond, and re-stocked a couple of fine English shotguns for the owner of Schlitz Brewery and his wife. Fajen even received a thank-you letter from Senator Glenn.
It is no wonder that three of Fajen Gunstock’s guns are currently on display in the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum at Bass Pro Shop in Springfield, Missouri, adding to our city’s renowned reputation. Those who visit the museum can see nearly a thousand historically significant firearms including military pistols from 1797 through 1900. There are also Theodore Roosevelt guns, and those used by Tom Selleck, John Wayne and Charlton Heston. The guns on display from Fajen Gunstock are a Thompson Center Contender pistol, with custom checkered Fajen grip; a drilling combination gun with three barrels, recently appraised at a value of $5,000; and, a Sako Finnbear, regent style stock, with a dragon carving.
According to documents obtained from the Warsaw Museum, E. C. Bishop moved to Warsaw in 1929 where he and his son, John, built a sawmill. They had their first experience in stock-making by preparing several orders of walnut shotgun blanks for the Remington Arms Company. In 1933 the company began producing staves (European pole weapons), and continued on with the stock-making. In 1935, Bishop began producing semi-finished rifle stocks. In 1939, Bishop asked Reinhart Fajen, who had begun gunstock work as a kid in Stover, to join his business in Warsaw. Fajen then made custom finished stocks from the machine-made semi-finished ones and did pattern work for new makes and models. 
When World War II took place, the two men gave up on the private gunstock business. Bishop began producing rifle blanks for the U.S. Government, and Reinhart Fajen worked for Pratt and Whitney helping build fighter airplane engines. During the war Fajen also turned out gunstocks in his basement in his spare time.
In 1944, E. C. Bishop sold his interest in his company to his son, John. Meanwhile, Fajen set up a small gunstock business in Kansas City and in a year or so moved the business to Raytown.   After WWII, many men were returning from the war with military rifles such as German Mausers and Japanese guns and wanted custom gunstocks. The demand was great to make Mausers, Japs, Enfields and Springfields sporting guns. Most of the employees were trained from scratch. 
In 1949, Bishop asked Fajen to merge their businesses and he did for a couple of years. However, in 1951 Bishop sold out to Jack Pohl, his nephew by marriage, and Pohl formed a partnership with his brother Ernest Pohl and Victor Mazzochini. Jack Pohl became president and the other two men were vice presidents. In 1960 Mazzochini retired and his interest was purchased by John Pohl.
Fajen chose to start his own company, and by the seventies had around 65 employees which grew to 80 in the early nineties and was producing ten different styles of stocks for each of over 200 different makes or models of shotguns and rifles. Most stocks were made with walnut.
Fajen was bought by John Barringer in 1986, and then by Larry Potterfield in 1992. Potterfield also bought Bishop later that year. Fajen then bought the former Bishop business in 1993 and it was sold to Potterfield in 1995 who built an expensive building for the joint businesses in Lincoln. However, it closed in 1998 and that was the end of the Fajens. Fajen’s former plant manager Fred Wenig had taken some of the Fajen employees and started his own business in 1991. Marty Weaver, (Marty Fajen at the time) was Assistant to the President, and she left in 1994 starting her own importing business in Kansas City. She imported quality firearms from Spain, Germany, Turkey, and Italy.
Rick Fajen Sr., Reinhart Fajen’s son, worked as a partner with his dad beginning in the 1960s until the business was sold to John Barringer. He spoke about good times with the company including the time his dad drove to Washington D.C. for an NRA Convention, when there were not as many good roads as today.
“Dad had a gun case in his Mercury and drove straight through to D.C., taking only a few breaks for a few hours sleep,” said Rick Fajen. “I enjoyed the gunstock work and meeting some of the people we dealt with.”
Rick Fajen Sr. eventually went to work as a lathe operator at C and W Machine, then to another business. He had some law enforcement training and began filling in for the Benton County Court Baliff until he retired about eight years ago. He was also a firefighter with the Warsaw Fire Protection District until a couple of years ago, but he remains on the Fire Protection District Board.
The Warsaw Museum has a display of gunstocks with plenty of information about the days of the city’s claim as the gunstock capital of the world. Benton County’s Historical Society President Marty Weaver stated that there are photos of the gunstock businesses employees from 1950 to 1991.