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Remembering R. L. Wilson

The late R.L. "Larry" Wilson (left) and the Blue Book of Gun Values author/publisher, S.P. Fjestad (right), shown holding one of Larry's biggest literary projects – the two volume set of Magnificent Colts which he co-authored with the late Robert M. Lee.
  Recapping/recounting the swashbuckling life and times of R.L. Wilson is a daunting/near-impossible task for those of us fortunate enough to have known Larry well. There were so many chapters in his Book of Life, and this is not intended to be a medium to explore or explain them. The following posts reflect what The Professor meant to his friends, colleagues, and family, and how much he impacted our lives. To find out a comprehensive listing of Larry's achievements throughout the decades, please visit and click on "Author".

In September of 1997, R.L. Wilson, photo journalist Dennis Adler, Luigi Chinetti Jr. (Luigi Sr. won Le Mans during 1949 in a Ferrari), and myself departed on a landmark trip to Italy. Our first stop was Maranello, and we were given access to the entire Ferrari factory, plus allowed to take a few laps on the famous Fiorano race track in a new Ferrari with paddle-shifting.

After that, we went to Brescia for an extensive tour of the sprawling Beretta complex, whose history dates back to 1526. Being the official group photographer, I sent everyone a large scrapbook with all the images after we got back. On December 29th, 1997, Larry sent me a very nice thank you letter. His last sentence was "That's what life's all about, in the long term – enjoying what is a relatively brief moment on this fabulous earth!" No one understood this better than Larry.

Publisher's note: If you would like to contribute a post for the late R.L. Wilson, please email it to Images would also be very much appreciated.
A Select Bibliography of R. L. Wilson   
R.L. Wilson & Defeat of Jesse James Days   
An Appreciation   
R. L. “Larry” Wilson, Mentor and Friend   
Memories of a Literary Legend Part I   

Memories of a Literary Legend Part III

Fast-forward two decades to early 1993. That's when I got a phone call from a dealer friend of mine in Duluth who told me, "Steve, I know you've been trying to find out who's got the printing materials and copyright for R.L. Wilson's The Book of Colt Firearms. I found out and have the name and number for you." I was almost speechless with excitement, and finally recovered with, "Who is it Bob?" The answer wasn't what I expected, "That will cost you $10,000." Taken back, I wasn't sure what to do or how to proceed. Talking it over the following day with Tom Gagnon, BBPs CFO at the time, and after putting together a preliminary budget for projected sales of the 2nd edition of the Colt book (the 1st edition had long since sold out and copies were selling for up to $450), we decided to send Bob a check. He came up with the name (that was another larger check), phone number, and address. Shortly thereafter, coming back one night from a gun show in Nashville, John Allen and myself picked up the original film and printing materials stored in a lawn-mower shed behind a sizable and upscale stone Tudor house after 11 pm in a gated Kalamazoo, MI community from the absent owner. We had to break into his Grand Cherokee to get the key under the floor mat, but that's another story.

The revised 2nd Edition was published in 1993, just in time for the annual October CCA (Colt Collectors Association) Show held in St. Louis that year. Easily the highlight of the show, this new edition of the "Colt Bible" kept Larry signing and inscribing books almost non-stop for 3 days. I had never seen The Professor happier, and upon loading out on Sunday afternoon, Larry congratulated me for finally making it into the major leagues as a firearms publisher.

Part of what made Larry so fascinating was his almost child-like inquisitiveness on a wide variety of subjects. He was deeply interested in an almost endless array of diversified subjects, including firearms, cars and automotive racing (especially F1), architecture, music (almost all genres), fine art (especially western paintings and bronzes), engraving (he was responsible for the renaissance of American engraving in the late 20thcentury), museums, cinematography, superb culinary creations, and the history of the American West. Once Larry got interested in something, he totally immersed himself in the subject to the point where a book or a major article was usually the final result.

What really proved this variety of interests is when Larry came up to our tables at the LV Antique Arms Show 3 years ago and deadpanned "I'm seeing Motley Crue tonight at the Hard Rock"  Trying to shake off my disbelief/bewilderment, I finally stammered "Got an extra ticket?"  "No" was his answer and the next morning when he stopped by, I asked him how he liked the Crue.  "Really loud, but was surprised how many of their songs I recognized.  Have never heard the F-bomb dropped that many times on a stage!"  Am still trying to imagine The Professor (then 74 years old) in his Ivy League garb rocking out to the Crue at the Hard Rock!

In closing, it needs to be mentioned that Larry certainly wasn't perfect, and to those of us who knew him well, he was the literary equivalent of Rocky Balboa. Even though he got knocked down onto the mat more than a few times, the always tenacious Wilson usually managed to get back up, finish the round, go to his corner and get refreshed, and then eventually winning the fight before the final bell. During this entire literary career, Larry was only knocked out once, but that knockout would seriously affect him in future years and projects. Another thing that resulted in major consequences throughout Larry's career is that he could never afford the lifestyle of his many well-heeled colleagues, acquaintances, and friends.

A wise person once said "If you choose to concentrate on looking at a person's warts, you'll never see the beauty that could be underneath".

Amen. RIP Mr. Wilson. Thanks for all the memories – now it’s our job to perpetuate them.

R.L. Wilson (left) and author/publisher S.P. Fjestad (right) at a recent Gene Autry Museum gala event

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