Jack Rowe, the Birmingham-born-and-trained gunmaker who had practiced his trade in the US since 1982 and shared his knowledge of double guns with craftsmen and enthusiasts across the country, died June 12 at home in Enid, Oklahoma. He was 83. Rowe had suffered diminishing health and mobility during the past 10 years with the onset and advance of Parkinson’s disease, and he eventually succumbed to complications related to diabetes.
Born into the working class in 1936, Rowe grew up in Birmingham during the Great Depression and the Second World War. He told a writer for the newspaper The Oklahoman that he started work in a gunmaking shop when he finished school at the age of 14. “I happened to go past a place that makes guns and decided that would be interesting,” the 1985 profile reported. “There’s no rhyme or reason; it happened just by accident, really.”
The son of a keep-net weaver from whom he inherited a lifelong passion for coarse fishing, Rowe apprenticed with S. Wright & Sons, in Birmingham, from 1946 to 1951 and later worked as a gunmaker for Thomas Turner & Sons, in Berkshire, from 1963 to 1965. After completion of his apprenticeship, in 1951, Rowe was conscripted for national service, initially in Germany, where he was assigned to the Durham Light Infantry. He spent time with the British Army of the Rhine, where he met his first wife, and later served as an armorer with the Paratroop Regiment in the Near East, where he rose to the rank of sergeant.
Rowe started and ran his own business as a gunmaker in Bracknell, England, from 1965 to 1982. After emigrating to the US in 1982, he established a reputation as an authority on British guns, working first with George Caswell of Champlin Arms, in Enid, Oklahoma. He taught shotgun-repair classes and a full range of related gunsmithing skills at Murray State College, in Oklahoma, for many years and made a series of instructional videos produced by Trinidad College and presented by Brownells. He also made a four-hour video titled “Gunsmithing British Side by Side Shotguns” with Larry Potterfield, president of Midway USA.
Rowe had great recall and knowledge of the history of the British gun trade going back to his childhood, and he provided a map of the Birmingham Gun Quarter for the book Birmingham Gunmakers (Safari Press, 1997.) He also made many contributions to Vintage British Shotguns (Contrysport Press, 2008.)
Rowe had a long relationship with importers of AyA shotguns in the US and served for many years as the factory-authorized repair shop for the Spanish maker. He also would sometimes represent the company in its show booth. Don Gustine, a former importer of AyAs, recalls fondly: “He was so approachable, patient and willing to share his decades of knowledge.” Writing of time spent in the AyA booth one year, Gustine added, “I remember Jack demonstrated how to remove the sideplate on a No. 2 hand-detachable sidelock,” showing a trick for removing tight locks. “He was so pleased and approving when I was shortly called upon by a customer to remove the locks. I was a proud fellow.”
Others who knew Jack from around the trade had similar stories about him, especially about his generosity and eagerness to share his knowledge with American gunsmiths and craftsmen.
The guns Rowe worked on were something of a marvel to the newspaper interviewer in 1985 in Oklahoma—an unusual place for Rowe to settle, perhaps, and at a time that predated the resurgence of interest in English and European guns. “I realized there was a marvelous opportunity in this country,” Rowe said, “because American gunsmiths don’t know how to repair [English and European guns] generally.” But through the years Rowe advised, taught and trained many to do just that.
On his decision to leave England for the US, Rowe also told the interviewer: “I decided there was a bit more freedom here, if you know what I mean, and decided to get some of the good life before I’m too old.”
A celebration of life ceremony will be held at 6 p.m. on Monday, August 10, 2015 in the Stittsworth Memory Chapel at 2420 N. Washington Enid, Oklahoma; for more information call (580) 233-9500 or e-mail [email protected].
Our thanks to the many friends and peers of Rowe who provided biographical information. Steven Dodd Hughes contributed a nice profile of Jack Rowe to the May/June, 1997 issue of Shooting Sportsman.