Made In America Series: Randall Made Knives

Discussion in 'EXPAT Knives®' started by Expat, Sep 1, 2019.

  1. Expat

    Expat Expat™ Knives Staff Member

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    Let's take a look at some of the knives made by a Randall not named Jeff. In many ways, much of the knife industry is standing on the shoulders of these guys, so it's worth giving a little attention to what exactly their story is. In many ways, it's the embodiment of the American dream. And a lifelong attention to never compromise. It's about not being a slave to the dollar. Why else would the current wait be 6 years!? But I'm getting ahead of myself.

    Like every other successful product, it starts with an idea in the head of an individual. In this case, the individual was Walter Doane Randall Jr., more commonly known as Bo. Born in Cincinnati in 1909, he was a typical midwest kid that was exposed early to hunting and fishing. At 7 years of age, the family moved to Orlando, FL. This is pre-Disney days so it was just a remote portion of Florida with a nice town and some good sunshine. They made the most of the climate and became successful at raising oranges. Fast forward 20 years.

    In 1937, Bo Randall was vacationing at Lake Walloon, MI. I have never read any information on why the family was up there. There must have been some connection to that area prior to moving to FL. That was a LONG way to travel in those days, when air travel was in its infancy and a completed interstate highway system was still a gleam in Eisenhower's eye.

    Regardless, Bo was there, and strolling around the lake. Another interesting individual was also kicking around Lake Walloon at the time, also an outdoorsman, and someone who would become a household name: Ernest Hemingway. The Hemingway cottage is still there and is now a national landmark.

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    Hemingway as a boy on Walloon Lake.

    While on his stroll, Bo observed an individual scraping the paint off of a boat with a obviously well-made and attractive looking knife. The knife impressed Bo and he approached the man and bought the knife from the guy on the spot. It was indeed a well made and attractive knife, as it was made by the famous W. W. "Bill" Scagel. Scagel was a pioneer in high-quality handmade knives. Not only in appearance but in quality and reliability. So much so, he was contracted by the Smithsonian Institute to produce knives, axes and the like, for various sponsored expeditions. This pattern would be repeated once Bo got down to business himself.

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    Scagel knife. Leather and stag combined was one of the common characteristics of Bill's knives.

    Bo studied the knife he had bought. It intrigued him. He wondered if he would be able to make a knife such as that. In his words, "I challenged myself to make a knife that was just as good, or at least make the best knife I could make." So, like many knife makers still today, he grabbed an old file and went to work.

    It seemed he did a decent enough job and over the next year or so, he made a few more for friends and hunting buddies. Soon he made a little shop in Orlando, out behind the orange orchard, complete with a small forge. He continued with the oranges while the knives were just a hobby. But they were quality. And we all know that if the quality is there, sooner or later, you'll have more work than you can handle. His knives quickly gained a reputation among outdoorsmen (just like ESEE in the modern day), and Bo started selling them in a few sporting good stores, and at his father-in-law's clothing store. Later they were sold in Abercrombie and Fitch, as well as Brooks Brothers. My, how the times have changed....

    Imagine for a minute being a boy back then and your mom dragging you down to get a new Sunday suit, and all the torture that involves for a boy, and then while you're at your wits end with the measuring and suffocating, you spy a Randall knife in a nearby case? It would seem like a veritable passport for adventure to a young boy, growing up in the outdoors at the time.

    In 1939 the now-famous Randall Made Knives stamp was trademarked. The next year, the first catalog is printed. More like a pamphlet really. Just a few models. And thus things continued for awhile. Then the US entered the war in late 1941. Times were no different back then than they were 60 years later when young men were gearing up for Afghanistan--a high-quality knife was a must when going overseas. A young sailor heading out asked Bo to make a knife for him, capable of handling anything up to, and including, hand to hand combat. So Bo did. And as Malcom Gladwell would phrase it, that was the start of the tipping point.

    That sailor's friends got envious and wanted a Randall Knife. And so did their friends. And so did their friends. And before long, Bo Randall was covered up in knife orders. At a certain point a reporter wrote a story about the fearsome steel of a Randall, and as Bo phrases it, "All hell broke loose." He became so famous, and his knives so desirable among the service men, that he began receiving mail addressed only to "Knife Man, Orlando, FL". You've got to be pretty well know, even in the 40's to have the USPS deliver those types of envelopes.

    And thus the little Florida knife company went from hobby to profession. Bo was in the "combat knife" business now. Model 1, Model 2 and Model 3 were the most popular among the troops. A Model 1 is basically a Bowie design, while the Model 2 reflects the training and philosophy of military knives at the time--a fighting stiletto. These knives eventually garnered an almost other-worldly respect among the Greatest Generation, as they used them for everything from opening rations to killing Nazi's. Hand to hand knife combat in modern warfare is not very common. Whether or not it was common in certain theaters of WWII, or whether the stories were just embellished, Bo did receive letters from servicemen testifying to the awesomeness of the blade when taking an enemy's life with it.

    In 1944, Bo got a letter from a young Air Force Captain out of California who wanted a knife made for him. His name was Ronald Reagan. He would not be the last famous individual to want a coveted Randall knife.

    All in all, Randall produced over 4,000 Model 1's during WWII for the servicemen. Remember that each of these were handmade in a small shop in Orlando, FL. This was quite the undertaking.

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    Some provenance of a WWII Randall

    Like the motorcycle industry and others, the knife industry blossomed in the post-war era. It seems following each major war, there is an increased interest in the outdoors by returning servicemen. You can see that even today. And any outdoorsman worth his salt, wouldn't dare dream of going out in the woods without a proper knife. Randall Made Knives introduced many models in the late 40's and early 50's, mainly geared toward the outdoors. And then the inevitable happened: in 1953, production just could not keep up with demand and the most famous backlog in the knife world was born. For almost 70 years now, RMK has been falling behind on orders. Currently, ordering a knife from the shop in Orlando will take you around 6 years to get. Make sure you mention it in your will in the event you're not around any more.

    (Having personally ordered many myself from Randall, I can attest to the fact that this is not hyperbolic exaggeration; you'll get your knife when they say you will, and not any sooner.)

    Other models trickled out here and there in the ensuing years. The 1950's brought about a popularity in recreational scuba diving, and a Randall diver model was born. one-sheet.jpg
    Mike Nelson



    Some other military models were released during the Korean War.

    By this time, Randall Knives were well entrenched in the knife world. It was, in all respects, the Rolex of knives. Great looking, but also able to withstand a tremendous amount of abuse. And it didn't hurt that they were distinctly American. Not an ounce of overseas anything in them. Eventually NASA took notice. They approached Randall with a request for him to design the first knife to go into space. It was designed to be a survival knife for the astronauts. They didn't know what they would face, not only in orbit, but also upon return to earth. Things were less than precise, and it was unknown whether they would land back at their designated point, or deep in the Amazon rainforest. From this, the Model 17 was born, and it became the first knife to accompany a manned spacecraft.

    Gus Grissom, a Hoosier, and the 2nd American to fly into space had Model 17 in his spacecraft, the Liberty Bell 7, when the capsule crashed in 1961 and promptly sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Grissom was rescued, although he was later killed in the Apollo 1 accident. The knife sat on the ocean floor until it was recovered in 2013. It is in surprisingly good shape for 50 years of salt-water abuse.

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    Grissom's knife, prior to cleanup.


    .....to be continued.....
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2019
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  2. Expat

    Expat Expat™ Knives Staff Member

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    Another famous Randall story from the early 60's: early on the morning of May 1, 1960, a top-secret plane known as the U-2, took off from Peshawar, Pakistan flown by Francis Gary Powers. This was the early days of the Cold War, but it was already very serious nonetheless. Powers was a GS-12 with the CIA's spy program and this mission was to fly over the Soviet Union and take pictures. Being shot down was a real concern at the time. Not only for concern over the pilot but also the fear that the U-2 technology would fall into enemy hands. There was a self-destruct device built into the plane and Powers was wearing a fake silver dollar around his neck, complete with a poison pin that he could suicide himself with in the event of capture. He also had a survival kit, which included a Randall Model 8-4". This is often called their Bird and Trout model, and one of the more popular ones.

    Powers was shot down. He was unable to activate the self destruct feature. He refused to kill himself, and was captured immediately upon his parachute landing in Russia. Interestingly to note for our story, the Randall Model 8 still sits in the Border Guard Museum in Moscow. Many attempts have been made to negotiate its return to the states.

    Gary_Powers_Flight.jpg
    Gary Powers Exhibit in Moscow


    The Late 60's brought about the Vietnam War, and as is often the case, an increase in knife sales. A Randall knife, particularly the Model 1 and Model 14's were very popular among the Army Special Forces at the time. Much more so than Middle East wars, or even WW2 for that matter, a knife became an integral part of the activities in Vietnam, primarily because of the environment. Being in dense jungle meant, by default, there was just more to cut. Survival training blossomed in this era, with SERE-type training really being formalized. Fixed-blade knives featured prominently in that type of training, and Randall was right there with it. This was not to say there weren't other great knives in the war as well--KABAR, Buck, Gerber and others were in the trenches as well.




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    General Westmoreland wore one. A Model 1 with ivory handle.



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    As did Hal Moore (Of We Were Soldiers fame)



    Unfortunately, in my opinion, the 70's were the last heyday of the Randall Knives as users. In the 1980's, the backlog increased, as did the prices. This made the knives more irreplaceable as you couldn't just go down to the corner store and buy another one.

    The result was that the knives moved from user status to collector status. Today, there are more Randalls being collected than used. I don't have any hard stats to support my position, but it's pretty obvious that if the shop is up to a 6 year wait, and I don't see many of them in use, the demand and production hasn't slacked off, so they must be accumulating in safes all over the world.

    For several years, I lusted after a Randall knife. I just thought it was the pinnacle of knife making. I appreciated the tremendous history and the craftsmanship. One day about 15 years ago, while at the Randall farm, one of my best friends in the world, Jeff Randall, said to me, "I've got something you'd like to have." And he presented me with a Randall Model 25 with leather and micarta handle. I've used it on every trip into the woods since then. It's gutted and skinned every deer I've shot since the day I've got it. I also sunk it in the brain of a not-quite-dead-alligator in SC last year. At some point, I sent it back to the shop in Orlando and had my name engraved in it. It's one of my most prized possession. It still looks great as I polish it routinely and condition the leather. There is a large gouge in the butt cap from where a tree stand dug into it, but it's just part of the story now.

    People always ask, "What makes a Randall worth it?" I think that's a fair question since there aren't a whole lot of 6-year waiting lists in ANY industry. Frankly, the quality of knives being made today, even production knives, are outstanding. Knives do not have to be hand forged to be great. While a Randall may have been the best knife on the planet in the 1950's, there are great knives to be had now at both lower prices, and immediate delivery. I think ESEE is the perfect example of this. They aren't hand forged, but they are the best knife you can buy for the money and NO ONE, not even Randall has the warranty ESEE does.

    As I said before, it is unfortunate what Randall has turned into. Not by any fault of the company, but just because of the length of time it takes to get one. They become too valuable to be used. The secondary market is great because people will gladly pay a premium not to have to wait 6 years. The knives were meant to be used hard, but many are not being used at all. Unlike a lot of things, they are the same quality they used to be 70 years ago.

    Bo Randall has passed away. His son, Gary, and grandsons, Jason and Michael now manage the shop, which is well worth the visit if you find yourself in the Orlando area. They have an incredible museum of knives.

    Randall_Made_Knives_Museum_002.jpg
    Randall Shop In Orlando


    If you can't wait 6 years, you can order from certain dealers, which may get you what you want in a matter of 6 months or maybe less. There are also some available for sale at Blade Show each year.




    Soldado_con_un_Randall_b.jpg
    A more recent warrior with a Randall Knife.
     

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    Last edited: Sep 1, 2019
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  3. Expat

    Expat Expat™ Knives Staff Member

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    Randalls have their own folklore attached to them. Hard not to, considering what they've done over 80 years.


    Guy Clark's autobiographical tune. If you've lost your Dad, you might find there's a lot of dust in the room when you listen to this one:







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    Still on his workbench, decades later....
     
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  4. Expat

    Expat Expat™ Knives Staff Member

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    Steve Earle, a great friend of Guy's for many years, did his own version of the song on his tribute album, Guy.



     
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  5. Expat

    Expat Expat™ Knives Staff Member

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  6. Expat

    Expat Expat™ Knives Staff Member

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    Expat's prized possession, shortly after presentation. It's seen a lot since then, and the leather is as dark as the micarta.

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  7. Expat

    Expat Expat™ Knives Staff Member

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    Some of you may have heard that from time to time, I have been known to assist Uncle Sam in a project or two. Often times, this involves wearing gear designed to impede the path of bullets. Two knives are always with me during this sort of operation: An ESEE-3 and this special Randall Model 15, designed by Larry Vickers, bead-blasted and parkerized. The sheath is a special wax-impregnated (i.e. waterproof) leather with reinforced copper rivets and a drain hole. It's certainly not designed to be the best woods knife, but it's as solid as they come.

    I have not really used the sheath, preferring a custom kydex version that attached to my vest.

    Here is mine when it was new:


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  8. KMCMICHAEL

    KMCMICHAEL Member

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    Excellent history lesson. Even for those of us who have forgotten it. I was guilty of collecting them for many years. An addiction to bespoke fowling pieces prompted me to fall prey to the many offers I received for the jewels I once coveted.

    Now I only posses two. A stainless woodsman #28and a #5 4”. Both are practical users. The 5 is stained from use somehow making it more valuable to me and less to others.
     
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  9. KMCMICHAEL

    KMCMICHAEL Member

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    BTW I was issued and carried an ESSE #3 while doing Uncle Sugers bidding, butchering the Arabic language and sweating my b#%lls off.
     
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  10. DYSPHORIC JOY

    DYSPHORIC JOY Moderator Staff Member

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    199BFDBE-BB57-45DB-9623-530CFF0C9B93.jpeg Not a bullet dodging warrior but did a heck of a lot for herpetology.
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2019
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  11. Expat

    Expat Expat™ Knives Staff Member

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    According to the Randall catalog, Ross Allen carried the 5. Just like KMC.

    Also, is that legit? Did he really jump in and fight gators? That one on film looked a little subdued. As one who has hooked some gators and got them right up to the boat, before they went nuts, I can testify to how strong they are. I can't imagine getting in the water with one.
     
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  12. Expat

    Expat Expat™ Knives Staff Member

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    I sort of fancy you a modern day Sir Harry Paget Flashman...
     
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  13. DYSPHORIC JOY

    DYSPHORIC JOY Moderator Staff Member

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    I think you and I about got in a fist fight talking to dealers one time over this very thing.
     
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  14. Expat

    Expat Expat™ Knives Staff Member

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    Haha. I forget how that all turned out. I know there is literature somewhere that contradicts the catalog, but I can't recall the details now.
     
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  15. DYSPHORIC JOY

    DYSPHORIC JOY Moderator Staff Member

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    Here you go: 55C1BE7E-52F6-46E6-8F61-2983948BF451.jpeg No one really cares but I talked to a guy who knows a guy and he confirmed that he carried a 5.

    Actually the feller I talked to knew Ross Allen and he knew his knives. Never seen him with the 3-7.


     
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  16. Expat

    Expat Expat™ Knives Staff Member

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    That would make a great Thanksgiving carver. I don't know about gators, though.
     
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  17. KMCMICHAEL

    KMCMICHAEL Member

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    I was unaware of this fictional character. Wikipedia does give a chilling description of this doppelgänger.
    I will post this for others:
    experiencing many 19th-century wars and adventures and rising to high rank in the British Army, acclaimed as a great soldier, while remaining "a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward—and, oh yes, a toady.
    The positive:
    He has only three natural talents: horsemanship, facility with foreign languages, and fornication. (I at one time fancied myself great and received compliments in all the above, although these skills have seemed to disappear over the last 20 years for some reason.)
    A great soldier despite his shortcomings.
    We are almost the same height and weight...makes me wonder if someone was watching me.

    Bradford Angier was another famous proponent of the Randall #5-5”.

    I do think the RANDALL 5-4” is an extremely practical everyday knife. Not necessarily for cleaning game but it will service in all activities. I kept the cool model 26 sheath for mine.
    I never carried or never will carry a Randall for overseas details or contracts. I carried the ESSE3. Mostly too cut up the exceptional cheese and sausage found in Senegal. I now carry one of those Opinel folders and and a Mora in my checked baggage. I think a Randall is like a BBQ gun here in Texas(typically an ivory gripped engraved Colt Commander). It is carried when one wants to be formal.

    Randall is a part of American history, when we made the best products in the world.

    I have worked with and admired many that served in the Special Forces. At one time they typically had a ruby ring, a Rolex and a Randall knife. I was rarely able to talk them out of their Randall
     
  18. Expat

    Expat Expat™ Knives Staff Member

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    I highly encourage you to read the Flashman series of books. They are fantastic.

    You missed one item the SF boys always have: divorce papers.
     
  19. DYSPHORIC JOY

    DYSPHORIC JOY Moderator Staff Member

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    Yeah, I wonder about some of those gator shots under water. I have no issue with hopping on a 12ft gator on land but water changes the logistics of the situation entirely.
     
  20. artigas

    artigas Member

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    This is a great thread. My brother just moved to northern California, and he met an older gentleman who has 29 Randall knives. They are certainly treated as collectors, and it is a pretty awesome collection. I told my brother to get him to sell some to me someday. I’m not holding my breath.
     

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