Author Topic: AL LJUTIC dead at 94  (Read 2124 times)

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AL LJUTIC dead at 94
« on: August 11, 2011, 09:59:04 AM »
Current information and obituary could not be located but below is an article on Al Ljutic who reportedly died today.

Before he became famous for building super-reliable, custom trap guns, Al was a riflemaker. In fact, he and his father were both superb rifle shooters. In the early 1940s, Al was scheduled to participate in the Olympic Games as a rifle competitor for the United States, but the onset of World War II caused the Olympics to be cancelled and Al did not compete.

Al’s talents with metal and wood have become renowned, but some of his early efforts are unknown to many. He performed freelance gun-design work for many of the major gunmakers, and one of his designs was a gas system for a semiautomatic rifle. This system allowed the gas to be bled off at the proper rate to efficiently work the rifle but not allow the high gas pressures to gradually destroy the gun. The system was given a patent by the U.S. Patent Office in 1939 and was later adopted by Winchester in the rifle that became known as the Model 100. It was produced in .243 Winchester, .284 Winchester and .308 Winchester. The Model 100 was a clip-fed semiauto with sleek lines and sleek functioning to match.

Al was, for a short time in the 1930s, a professional heavyweight boxer. He fought to make enough money to purchase more and better machines for his shop. The Ljutic Gun Company was then operating in Oakland, California, and this tough young man with Croatian heritage fought good fights. He won some and lost some, but one night he came home and, although he had won, realized he could not remember the fight or how he got home. On the spot, he made the decision to stop fighting.

Another interesting sidelight of Al’s early career was the fact he made racecar parts – in particular, pistons. The pistons were used in the racecars owned and driven by West Coast midget-car and Indy 500 racing champion Bill Vukovich in the 1950s. Vukovich was known for his hard-charging driving style and cool demeanor. He raced in three consecutive Indy 500s, won the first two and died in the third.

Gun stocks were another product Al and his dad made on a custom basis for their customers. The “Star” stocks were works of beauty. The standout features on these stocks were the ivory stars inlaid into the wood. These are rare items now, and finding one in good condition would be worth the purchase. Al’s start in trapshooting is an unusual story, but once you read it, you’ll quickly agree “That’s Al.” It seems Western Region Remington field representative A.A. “Al” Riehl gave Al a call one day and asked him to go along to the range for some trapshooting. Al had been a riflemaker and shooter and did not have a shotgun for the occasion, so, true to his mechanical nature, he made one! That’s right, even before Riehl arrived at Al’s shop, Al had machined a simple gun with a single barrel, grip, trigger mechanism and buttplate. The rather bizarre-looking gun later evolved and became known as the “Space Gun.”

Al became famous for his trap accomplishments. One of the funniest stories was of the first tournament Al ever entered. The place was the Sacramento Gun Club (which, sadly, has recently been closed). Al was new to the game but had natural talent. He arrived at the shoot and promptly entered the Singles event. Equally as promptly, he broke the winning score of 99. No one knew who this ringer was, so, to teach him a lesson, some of the shooters grabbed Al and cut the pant legs off his Levis. They figured he’d be more easily recognized that way, I guess.

In the summer of 1952, not long after their nuptials, the Ljutics left the Fresno/Clovis area to look for a gun-friendly town where they could set up shop. They happened to stop in Reno, Nevada, and visited Harold’s Gun Club to shoot some targets. They met with the manager of the club, a gentleman by the name of Phil Miller, another ATA hall-of-famer, by the way, who was the first shooter to break 100 straight from the then-maximum 25-yard line in 1924. Phil was also the originator of the Miller System of handicap options used in trap tournaments. Al and Nadine told Phil what they had in mind. Phil was a fine shooter, and he was also a shrewd businessman and could see a good thing when it was right in front of him. He told Al and Nadine he stored his trap machines in a military-style quonset but and, if they agreed, they could use the but as their machine shop. As part of the deal, Al would take on the responsibilities of Assistant Manager at Harold’s Gun Club. The deal was sealed with a handshake, and it seemed Reno was as far as the Ljutics had to travel to find a gun-friendly town to set up shop.

Phil Miller became a good friend of the Ljutics and later influenced Al to design and build a better single-barrel trap gun than was popular at the time. Serious trapshooters of the era were winning with guns such as Parker, Ithaca and Purdey. The great new Ljutic “Mono Gun” was the result of Phil’s influence.

Somewhere around 1956/57, Al designed and built a progressive shotshell reloading machine. Before the late 1950s, no one really thought much about reloading. Al’s design would reload one or two shells at a time, with each stroke of the machine having the shells undergo a different stage of the process: depriming, priming, resizing, powder drop, wad insertion, shot drop, crimp start, final crimp and then the finished shell. ATA hall-of-famer Arnold Riegger performed demonstrations of Al’s new machine and sold them, as well. Riegger made many trips to the winner’s podium with reloaded shells he had produced on Al’s machine. The wad used in the reloader was originally stamped out of acoustic fiberboard purchased in 4'x8' sheets. These sheets came packaged on pallets. On the night of October 27, 1964, the Ljutics suffered a fire at their home and plant when, apparently, the moisture or chemical content of one or more of the pallets of fiberboard was too high and somehow caused it to spontaneously combust. The fire became a conflagration that destroyed the home and shop they had built on property across the highway from Harold’s Gun Club.

As the years went by, the Ljutics came to know many of the best trapshooters in the country. Ljutic was rapidly becoming almost a household name in trap circles.

Some years prior to the destructive fire, Al and Nadine made the acquaintance of a big, young, handsome man who stood 6' 5" and was such an imposing figure you may have thought he was a professional football player. And, as a matter of fact, he was. His name was Dan Orlich. Dan had played end for the Green Bay Packers for three seasons. He was a huge man but a complete gentleman and fierce competitor, as you might expect of someone from the trenches of the National Football League. Of course, the name Dan Orlich immediately brings to mind one of the all-time greats in trapshooting, and he is rightly enshrined in the ATA Hall of Fame. Al had a part in Dan’s trapshooting success other than Dan owning the # 1 Mono Gun and #1 Bi-Gun; Al also helped Dan learn to shoot with both eyes open.

The names of trapshooting’s legends who owed some of their success to shooting with a Ljutic trap gun are many and include Joe “Jody” Devers. Legend has it when Joe was a teenager, he was devastatingly fast with a pump gun. One day after a shoot, Joe’s father asked a couple shooters if they’d like to shoot some doubles against Joe. He made a bet if Joe shot on one trap field and the other shooter took a position on the field next to Joe, Joe could break both his targets and the second target of the other shooter before his rival could take a shot on his own second bird. The legend goes only one brave soul took him up on the bet, and he lost. I’ve never run across a person who could confirm that legend, but that is how I heard it. Joe owned the #3 Ljutic Mono Gun. He also shot a Ljutic Bi-Gun.

C.E. “Barney” Barnhart was another trap great who enjoyed success with a Ljutic trap gun. Barney was a tremendously talented shooter and had the honor, by virtue of his great performances, to be named to the All-American Men’s Team for 16 consecutive years from 1958-1973 and again in 1978. The #8 Ljutic Mono Gun Barney used was unfortunately destroyed in the fire of October 1964. The gun was later replaced by the Ljutics.

Air Force Colonel Hank Copsey also knew well the excellent target-breaking performance a Ljutic was capable of. He owned the #21 Ljutic Mono Gun that happened to be the last one produced in Reno prior to the fire. When Hank flew his plane to town, the Ljutic kids – Loretta, Jimmy and Joe – always got a kick out of watching him fly low over their home and dip his wings to “wave” at them.

The fire of 1964 forced the Ljutics to make another move, this time to Yakima, Washington. This came about with the help of friends Keith Williams, Sr. and his sons Jerry and Chris, as well as good friend Ed Thoman, who was at that time head of Pacific Power & Light. Their involvement helped Al and Nadine obtain an SBA loan to become established in Yakima. They had found a new home, a new place to do business and many new friends.

For many years the company, which was now known as Ljutic Industries, designed, developed and built many custom and production trap guns - guns like the great standard of the Ljutic line, the Mono Gun, X-73, Dyna-Trap, Space Gun (which has been recognized as one of the 20 most ingenious gun designs of the 20th century), Dyno-Kic (a breakopen version of the Space Gun), Centennial Pro, Bi-Gun (“Bi” stood for over & under), TC Bi-Gun, the totally custom LM-6, Bi-Centennial and Dyna Bi-Gun. These and more models made the Ljutic name greatly respected within the trapshooting fraternity.

By 1985, the Ljutic Industries location on 5th Avenue in Yakima was becoming cramped. They needed more room to accommodate the new computer machining centers. CNC machines, lathes and milling machines all take a considerable amount of physical space, so they moved to 16th Avenue. The new 10,000-square-foot facility gave them the room they needed to grow and make the best use of the new computeraided technology.

Like most successful small businesses, Ljutic Industries has always focused on what is best for the company and the consumer and the most efficient manner in which to operate the business. With that credo in effect, on September 11, 2006, a portion of Ljutic Industries was sold to business entrepreneur Jere Irwin of Irwin Research & Development. Irwin is involved in a number of business ventures, among them manufacturing dies and machines to produce plastic and foam packaging for pre-packaged food and the fast-food market. With the new partnership, Ljutic L.L.C. gained 160,000 square feet of manufacturing capability, as well as world-class engineering and marketing talent. Ljutic is now solidly positioned to maintain their long and well-established place as a leader in the production of custom specialty guns in the United States. One of the first fruits of this new partnership is a new adjustable rib for the famous Ljutic Mono Gun.

When I began the interview process with Nadine, I sent her some preliminary questions to read. One question was “If you had to describe one particular, outstanding moment in your life, what would it be?” Here is her response:

“There have been so many great happenings in our lives, it’s hard to pick one. The best part, however, has been 54 years of 24/7 with Al, never a dull moment and always and forever interesting. When we went together, the one thing we always enjoyed was talking – never those long silent periods as with other dates – and there was great fun. And, having had Joe and Jim in our business, too, and seeing the great contributions they’ve both made, as well as our daughter Loretta and her husband, who also works for us. And the joy of our lives, being grandma and grandpa to Joe’s two girls – Dominique and Nicole. The icing on the cake, of course, was all of us becoming trapshooters, which set the stage for a wonderful life and business.” We all look forward to the latest gun model to come from this legend in American trap. Ljutic will continue to be a household name among trapshooters.

In Part By: Johnny Cantu

Shotgun Sports Magazine, 2007

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