The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Outdoors

June 30, 2012

Cross: Popular gun guy Bob Graham closed for business

Longtime dealer was a fixture in Home Magazine

— If you’re a gun enthusiast and live within the Home Magazine’s circulation area, one of the first things you probably do when that publication turns up on the doorstep each week is to check out the second page for the latest offerings from Bob Graham.

There, in an unassuming one-column ad declaring GUNS and BUY-SELL—TRADE that has faithfully appeared every week for more than three decades, Graham has hawked shotguns and rifles to southern Minnesota hunters, target shooters and collectors.

But now, those ads extolling the features of the various firearms, accompanied with cryptic notations like NIB, RIB, W/C that only gun owners likely could decipher, have appeared for the last time.

In last week’s edition, instead of the usual short list of firearms and accompanying prices, his latest ad informed shoppers that he was retiring — that this would be his final ad.

By most measures, Graham seems like an unlikely person to be in the business of selling and buying firearms.

Though he admits to a longtime fascination with guns, he’s not a hunter or a target shooter and never has been.

“I grew up on a farm near Lime Springs, Iowa,” he said, adding that he did not grow up in a family with a strong hunting tradition. “Dad was only an occasional hunter.”

Though his hearing is impaired, probably on par with someone who has spent a lifetime shooting without ear protection, his comes from the din of battle, a stint in WWII on a Navy battleship that participated in the WWII battle for Okinawa and was damaged in a kamikaze attack.

After his discharge from the Navy, he completing undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Minnesota and then earned his doctorate in chemistry at Virginia Tech.

Returning to Minnesota in 1963, he taught chemistry at Mankato State College/Minnesota State University until his retirement in 1989.

But even as he helped students unravel the mysteries of the periodic table, he maintained a fascination with firearms.

That interest in firearms prompted him to obtain his Federal Firearms License in the mid-1970s — a relatively inexpensive and simple process then — to begin a gun business from the basement of his Hilltop Mankato home.

“It started as kind of a hobby,” he said. “I had to have the business in the basement though — my wife hated guns.”

Soon after, to bring attention to his fledgling business, he began placing a small ad in the Home magazine.

“Early on, the ad was placed where ever they wanted to put it but then one time it appeared on page 2,” he said.

“That week, I sold every one of the guns in that ad.”

Graham knew a good thing and learned that for an additional dollar, he could reserve a spot on the same page every week and a tradition was born.

Indeed, page 2 of the Home Magazine has become known as the Bob Graham page, said Debby Carlson, an account executive there.

“It really became a standard,” she said. “Anybody holding a gun show, target shooting, anything gun-related — they would all ask if they could be next to Bob Graham.”

“He’d call every Thursday morning and give me a list of guns. Remingtons, Russian guns — I’m not a gun person but I now know how to spell all of them,” she said.

When he told her that last week’s ad would be his last, she admitted to becoming a bit emotional. “He’s an icon and has been promoting us as much as his business.”

Graham couldn’t come up with a figure on how many guns he’s bought, sold or traded over three decades but guessed in the thousands.

Early on, he bought and sold handguns but 20 years ago began dealing exclusively in rifles and shotguns.

And while he occasionally has taken expensive firearms — Browning Superposed shotguns and the like — in trade, most of his business has been with the bread-and-butter guns of regular folks — Remingtons, Winchesters, Mossbergs, etc.

“I really didn’t get into the expensive stuff,” he said.

Until recently, he still attended a half-dozen or so area gun shows annually to display his wares. “I liked the show down in Jackson the best ... just regular farm folks down there,” he said.

The decision to retire at age 89 from his gun business was prompted by the onset of Parkinson’s Disease, which has made it more difficult for him to get around.

So the last ad has run and he now is in the process of liquidating his remaining inventory of firearms.

Well, sort of.

Always the deal maker, he admits that if a trade just too good to pass on comes along, well ...

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by e-mail at jcross@mankatofreepress.com.

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