Well, to "commemorate" the election day of Mr. Obama (not really, but it sounds good, doesn't it) I was able to make my appointment yesterday at the FN plant here in Columbia, SC to conclude a transfer sale of a new two-tone FNP-45 before heading back out across the county to the cast my vote.
While no signs or other indicators help you find the FN plant, it's not difficult to locate with modest directions. Upon my approach my first impression was that the plant appears very new, modern and expensive. The landscaping was very nicely done and showed off all the new fall colors beautifully and, while security cameras cover all points of the open grounds, they are unobtrusive. There are no 20 foot chain link fences, no visible outside guards or posts and no concertina or razor wire. The large bordering oak trees and Loblolly pines hid any indication of the major interstate adjoining the property as well as deadening outside noises.
I called my contact, John (an old friend and former co-worker of my wife's) who works in Engineering for FN. He told to meet him at Security. After securing my CCW in my vehicle I headed in following the sign telling visitors to check in. The first thing I noticed was that FN has their own security force, not a "rented" one. While friendly they came across as efficient and professional. They are also geared as well as any SWAT team members I've seen.
Once John arrived I went through the ubiquitous screening. I kept setting off the alarm until I had literally freed myself of every metal piece on my person. I've gotten through several airport securities with less "go rounds." But, while embarrassing, I could see the need.
Having registered my Visitor pass on a wall scanner, I was allowed to meet John and shake hands. We then headed outside and back into the building through a front office entrance and turned into a small and VERY full office. Actually the office may have been of moderate size but every available plane of space was stacked with excess handgun cases, mostly of the FNP sizes. "Wow, are these the cases they're going to put my weapon in," I wondered?
After introductions to the lady who would conduct the transaction for FN (a former Army Drill Sergeant at nearby Fort Jackson) she asked what I was getting. I explained I was hoping for a two-toned matte stainless .45 ACP with the large capacity magazines and night sights. She and John then told that there still are no FNP-45 with night sights yet. Our lady friend then repeated the rest of my words once again and opened a top case on one of the multiple piles and there she was...already insidee and ready to go. "How's that," she asked?
That's when I realized I was in a "treasure room?" All those cases had FN handguns in them. I felt like Ali Babba in the thieves' cave..., "stay cool," I told myself. "You're an old man and shouldn't act like a kid at the entrance to Disney World. Hmmm...? Do I smell cotton candy?"
The nice lady said she had to fill out some paperwork for a transfer and would have to record my photo ID. I pulled out photocopies I'd already made to speed up things for her. She was surprised but appreciative and said it would be a few minutes as FN had more than the usual paperwork to move a gun straight out of the plant. That's when my friend handed me a pair of wrap-around safety glasses and asked if I'd like the 5 cent tour. I could only nod and barely remembered to shut my mouth as I shuffled out into the hall.
We turned a corner and the first thing I noticed was an open store room filled (as in FULL) of FN apparel...shirts, sweat shirts, jackets, hats and not more than half a dozen of any sort seemed a repeat in style. I almost ran into the wall! But we were still moving and that was the first of several visions that would remained burned into my memory.
After turning another corner (or was it three?) I was already lost. John pointed out a large area of the plant and indicated that every barrel for every FN weapon was laid out before me. They were all sizes, shapes and color. Finished samples of the various barrels were displayed upon the walls. In fact, not matter where I turned there were displays of weapons parts on the walls...everywhere. It was overwhelming and didn't help me keep my orientation much.
I was vainly trying to look at the weapons model nomenclature to see if I was familiar with any of the parts when I literally ran into John's back. Oof! Dang...that had to be "impressive." Did I note that it was shift change? Folks were streaming past John and I in a friendly manner, some even saying hello to me. While they were in work clothes and John in a white shirt and tie, I was in a maroon aloha shirt...as camouflaged as an Iowa farmer in downtown Manhattan...and staring around at everything like some village idiot. But I couldn't help myself.
John had stopped to decide which way to take me next. This was now the giant barrel manufacturing area. John proudly showed me one of the million dollar plus robotic machines that bore, grind and shape the various barrels by merely plugging in the program. OK...maybe it took a bit more than that, but there were going away at it and I can't recall ever seeing more than one person near the machines at even given time, so it couldn't take much more than that.
At one point John stopped to read the writing on an eraser board. I started reading the first line about congratulation to everyone for their production efforts...yada, yada, yada...when John stabbed an emphatic finger at the third or fourth bullet down. It stated the FN plant had surpassed 240,000 barrels made that year. I said, "Gosh, almost a quarter million barrels!" He waved my comment off silently but retained a huge self-satisfied grin on his countenance as we proceeded further.
John explained how FN had acquired Winchester and was now in the process of making the famous Winchester 70 again for civilian sale. He mentioned how this was a bit new to FN as they were mostly military product oriented and functionality and dependability were always jobs 1 and 2. So, where a scratch on a military polymer stock would not usually receive even a second glance it will now cause a rejection of a weapon with even the slightest blemish on its wood surface. "Yeah, this part is new to us, but we're getting it." John reassured me. I thought back to Sniper school when I first was issued a Viet Nam veteran Winchester 70-3.06. Scratches?!! I assured him, a mirror finish on my weapons were not a personal requirement of mine.
As we moved on I was also reminded that FN had acquired, in addition to Winchester, Colt and Browning and well and was continuing many of their lines, including the Colt M16's. He pointed to some M16's as we passed a darkened glass display room with all the FN weapons arrayed on the wall and floor. Because it was dark John didn't think I'd want to stay there as he kept moving along. I still managed to leave a fair-sized sliding nose print on the glass as I continue along the Yellow Brick Road.
Another highlight for me was to see the shooting booths of the 100 meter range where every FN weapon is test fired. The weapons are locked into place and a lighted monitor screen shows a close-up of the target. No reeling in and out of target sheets here! John showed me the big red chains that close off all the bays whenever anyone is going down range. As elsewhere I'd noticed at FN, safety appeared to be strictly adhered to.
To make a long tour short, we continued to see many more sections of the plant, machine guns and automatic weapons in parts and many whole weapons tagged and waiting for security trucks to load them up and take them out. Permeating the entire plant floor was the wonderfully reminiscent waft of gun oil and metal...reminded me of the many arms rooms when I was still in the service.
Heading back, we passed that FN apparel closet again... *sigh*
Well, my 5 cent tour was worth at least 1000 times that much (if not more) to me by this time. But as we continued into the office areas I remembered why I was really there and got excited all over again. I filled in and signed the South Carolina gun purchase sheet and then left to follow John to accounting. It was approaching the end of the day and the office was empty...oh NO!!! John assured me she was still around as her purse was on the floor. He asked me to hold tight while he went searching the area around the corner. "Hold tight?" Heck, I was going to hold her purse for ransom if I had to!
"Here I am...!" came a sing-song voice down the hall as a brunette in a business suit/skirt approached munching on something. Now why, you may ask don't I mention more about her. Frankly, as I am writing this, I wondered the same and realize that the only things I seemed to retain instantly these days have either to do with weapons, sports or food. So it's pretty remarkable I noticed she was a brunette...or was she auburn?
Regardless, she took my Visa card, disappeared out the door for less than 20 seconds and reappeared with a small receipt ticket. John and I took that back to the purchase room where I was given my weapon case and a large sheet of paper to turn in to Security so they could scan and log out the weapon.
I was happily numb and don't remember getting back to the security area. I could remember wondering if it would be rude to stop and open the case again to ensure my FNP-45 was still really in there...
After going BACK through the metal detector and getting wanded (they remembered the trouble I had had with my tactical belt buckle) I shook John's hand once more from across the security counter/barrier and thanked him profusely for all his assistance in getting me the weapon and especially for the tour.
I then waited a few more minutes before the security guard returned my weapon. I stepped out into the fall drizzle and made my way to the car. Once there I took a good 360 sweep and opened the case. Ooooooh. I picked her up, cocked the slide, dropped the magazine, looked inside, let the slide go, released the safety, pointed at the floor board and squeezed the trigger.
Oh, yeah...did I mention the final cost?
Oh yeah...the election. "Hello, President Obama? Now about those silly Clinton gun bans..."