Jim Green held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday at his new shop, GunWorks, on Main Street in Harrington.
The expected officials were there — a state representative, the county manager, veterans’ affairs consultants and business experts — but most important, so were the customers.
While trying to greet the dignitaries, Green had to stop three times in 10 minutes: one man wanted to order ammunition for a gun safety course he was taking; another was seeking a source for gunpowder; and a third brought in a rifle for repair.
“He’s a real success story,” said Ruth Cash-Smith, a business counselor in Machias. “He is persistent, really persistent, and really passionate.”
He is also a disabled veteran who looks a bit like he was born in the wrong generation; riding the range or serving in the Civil War on horseback might have been more to his liking.
Green’s story began in 1991, when he arrived at Bangor International Airport as a young U.S. Marine aboard a return flight from Operation Desert Storm.
“We came through at 3 a.m. and we were wore out,” he recalled, telling his story with a thick North Carolina accent. “We were told we could go into the terminal to stretch our legs, and we discovered they were having a party in the airport. Those troop greeters stuck in my mind over the years.”
He couldn’t get their kindness and spirit out of his memory, and Green made a promise that he would return to Maine for a visit. He spent 11 years in the Marines, and in the years since, he has worked on dude ranches and horse farms throughout the West.
But he always had Maine on his mind.
“Five years ago, I came for a visit and I never left,” he said.
He worked at any job he could find: long-haul trucker, lobsterman, boat builder, building construction and for the Bangor Public Works Department.
Meanwhile, he struggled physically. Green is 80 percent disabled with severe damage to his lungs that occurred while he was serving in Desert Storm.
Even while he bounced from job to job, Green nurtured a dream. After moving to Harrington with his sweetheart, Gail Gordon, he began talking to his veterans’ services counselor, Mike Jenkins, about it.
“I’m known to be hard-headed with the kind of personality that crushes an ant with a sledgehammer,” he said. “I do not like to ask for help.”
Green wanted to open a gunsmith shop and knew he needed advice.
Green had been “shootin’ guns since I was a child, hunting since I was 8.” He loaded his own ammunition and became a weapons instructor in the Marines.
“I even taught gunsmithing for a while at a North Carolina community college,” he said.
Jenkins saw Green’s passion, and by working with various county agencies — Sunrise Economic Development Council, the Department of Veterans Affairs and experts at Togus, the Women’s Business Center and the CareerCenter at Machias — Green saw his dream come true.
“Without these people, I wouldn’t have made it,” he said.
“A lot of vets think they are not worth it,” Jenkins said.
“It’s been a challenge,” Gordon said. “Jim wanted to be sure he could say, ‘I did this myself.’ He had a lot of sleepless nights.”
His immaculate shop in the Harrington shopping center contains milling machines, lathes and plenty of ammunition loaders, all tools of the trade Green needs to serve his customers. For security purposes, the doors and windows of the shop have been reinforced with steel bars.
“In the one month that I’ve been here, I’ve seen everything from $80 derringers less than the size of your hand to a $30,000 safari rifle. I’ve worked on an 1875 Remington Rolling Block and an 1800s J. Stevens pistol that the man’s grandmother used to carry in her purse,” Green said.
“There are quite a few guns in Washington County,” he said.
Green is setting up a Web page to expand his customer base.
He said he can manufacture missing parts and even hand-carve gunstocks.
“The local population has been very welcoming,” he said. “The biggest majority of my work so far has been repairs. There have been quite a few older pieces.” He picked up a rifle off his workbench and said, “This is a Tower rifle made in England in the 1850s.”
Green said he is grateful for all the assistance. “I may have some medical issues, but I didn’t feel I deserved special treatment. After all, I came back all in one piece.”
Harold Clossey of the Sunrise Economic Development Council said that Green epitomizes the Washington County entrepreneur.
“None of these new businesses happen all by themselves,” he said. “It is often a collaborative effort. With 5,400 micro-businesses in Washington County, it is clear that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well Down East.”
GunWorks is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Green may be reached at 483-2175.