January 19, 2006

Conn. plant closing to silence Winchester rifle

By Damian Troise

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut (Reuters) - The Connecticut factory
that produced the Winchester rifle, celebrated in cowboy movies
as the gun frontiersmen used to settle the American West, is
shutting down after 140 years in New Haven.

Belgian-based Herstal Group told its 186 workers this week
it plans to shutter the U.S. Repeating Arms plant, formerly
known as Winchester Rifle Company, on March 31 due to slow

That would end production of the Model 70 bolt-action rifle
and the Model 94 lever-action rifle, known as "The Gun that Won
the West" because of its use by frontiersmen in the late 19th

Newer models carrying the Winchester name still will be
produced in Belgium, Japan and Portugal, the company said.

"If this plant does close, it will be the end of an era,"
said facility director Paul DeMennato, speaking from the New
Haven factory, which employed more than 15,000 people during
the 1940s and produced millions of guns over the decades.

The Winchester rifle became a symbol of the American West
as wielded by movie star John Wayne and was later used on a
popular U.S. TV series called, "The Rifleman."

Earlier, President Theodore Roosevelt helped popularize the
gun by using it on a much-publicized African safari.

The company met with a prospective buyer late Wednesday,
DeMennato said on Thursday, adding it was too early to tell if
a sale was a serious possibility.

"Something like this isn't like buying a house," he said.

In the past year the plant dropped production by 50
percent, DeMennato said, noting that a strong international
market producing less expensive rifles prompted the company to
make the decision to shutter the plant.

The former owner of the factory, Missouri-based Olin Corp.,
still owns the rights to the Winchester brand name and licenses
it to Herstal. That license expires in 2007.

Workers expressed a mix of frustration and anger after
hearing the news on Tuesday.

"We've given up a lot, everything to keep this place
going," said Mary O'Toole, an assembly worker with 18 years at
the company. "You have generation upon generation working here
and to see it go under now just doesn't seem right."