(Editor’s note: The following is the second of a two-part series with Windham Weaponry owner Dick Dyke, of Naples. For part 1 of the interview, click here.)

NAPLES – Dick Dyke, the former owner of Bushmaster Firearms who announced last month he was restarting weapons manufacturing in Windham, has had his share of ups and downs.

Anyone who has owned 63 businesses over the course of a 50-year career would.

Some of those companies, such as the failed upscale Mr. D’s Supper Club restaurant in Raymond, haven’t done as well as he expected, while others, most notably Bushmaster Firearms, became world famous, netting Dyke millions.

In July, at the age of 77, Dyke is set to add yet another chapter to his entrepreneurial diary. Dyke and Windham Weaponry’s two-dozen employees – all of whom were laid off by Bushmaster in March and are now back working for their original boss – are set to start manufacturing military- and law enforcement-grade AR-15 and M-16 rifles this month.

The reopening caps an especially up-and-down five-year span for Dyke. Since he sold Bushmaster in April 2006, Dyke, who lives on the Causeway in Naples, has lived through a serious bout with lung cancer and struck significant business deals in Naples with an angle on creating year-round tourism growth.

But Dyke is no stranger to the ups and downs of business and says he has learned to take it all in stride, including times when his business interests came under scrutiny, such as when a Bushmaster AR-15 was used by the D.C. sniper in 2003.

Dyke spoke recently with the Lakes Region Weekly about his role in historically significant events, and he reveals more about his plans for Naples, including a 40-unit hotel.

Q: You took some flak after they found the D.C. sniper, who shot people at random with the highly accurate Bushmaster AR-15 over a course of three weeks in October 2003. How did that affect you personally and professionally?

A: It toughens you up when you’ve got national correspondents sitting in your outer office with TV cameras – NBC, CBS, ABC. But you know, in business I guess that’s where the toughness comes in. If you feel you haven’t done anything wrong, then you’ve got to be able to suck it up and go out there and talk to reporters and try to convince them, that look, we’re regulated by ATF. We sold to a federal firearms-licensed distributor. And he had it stolen out of his shop, and they used it to go on a crime spree. So, you can come in here and bedevil the guy who made the gun, but we did it by the rules, and, unfortunately, if it, like anything else, gets in the wrong hands, whether it’s a gun, a knife, a poison, it’s going to kill people.

But do I apologize? Absolutely not. We put out a fine weapon. We play by the rules and we’re willing to stand on that. It was rough only because in Washington they play that “I gotcha” game, so they proposed all sorts of legislation and they came out with the assault weapon ban, but in order to get it passed they ended up watering it down so much it didn’t mean anything.

Q: Bushmaster weapons are used in many military and civilian applications, as will, presumably, Windham Weaponry’s rifles. Any other brushes with history you can tell us about?

A: (Our guns) were involved in the (April 24, 1980 failed hostage rescue attempt) raid in Iran when they tried to get the hostages out, and the helicopters smashed into each other in the desert. I woke up that morning and watched on television where these two Blackhawk helicopters had crashed and killed a lot of special forces. The guns all laying on the ground, they’re all my guns.

And then the Iran Contra stuff came along and Billy Cohen was a U.S. senator at that point and heading up the Senate Select Committee, and he called me and said you want to watch the hearings tomorrow because Bushmaster’s name is going to come up. And I said, oh, crap. But it was all good.

George Bush, who was vice president at the time, his guy had called me and wanted 300 guns at the time and I said, well, we need the paper work from the State Department. And he said, Dick, we need these guns in a hurry, we’ll get you the paperwork later. And I said, no, I don’t like the sound of this. You’re the chief of staff of the vice president of the United States. Why can’t you walk across the street and get me what I need for paperwork? So he said, I’ll talk to you later. And apparently he called Colt and Colt was willing to do it.

So, in the hearings, they wanted to know from Ollie North, why did you pay $800 for the gun – because he was using a slush fund to buy them – when you could have bought them from Bushmaster for $600? And he said, well, because Dyke wouldn’t sell them to us without the paperwork. And I said, oh, thank God for that.

Q: So, it sounds like you go by the book. Is that another guiding philosophy of yours?

A: My dad, Earl, worked in a shoe shop. Dad gave me a poem, I don’t know who the hell wrote it. I don’t think he did. But I don’t know that he didn’t. And it was titled, “Your Name.” And it went on to say, your father gives you your name when you come into the world and he expects you to honor that name and basically when you leave that world you want to make sure you haven’t brought any shame onto that name.

And it probably sounds a little corny in today’s life, but that’s just the way I feel. I’d like to feel I made a difference in people’s lives, and that I didn’t do anything to the family name that brought any shame to it. So whenever I’m looking at a deal or I’m about to do a deal, somehow or other that poem just kind of reverberates with me.

It’s funny that comes up because I spent Father’s Day with my son and his wife and my two munchkins (grandchildren). And they’re 14 and 15 now, so they’re old enough to understand what’s going on in the world. And we got to talking about Windham Weaponry because they own a piece of it, their trusts do, so they wanted to know what that meant. And I got into that poem with them and they both have a copy of it that I had given them a few years ago. And it was interesting because they were actually reciting some of it to me. And I was like, wow, that’s pretty neat, that your grandchildren think enough of you to take what you think seriously.

Q: So, you’re not just passing down a trust fund, you’re trying to pass down …

A: … a set of values. I think that’s what’s brought whatever success I’ve had because people trust me. And I try to make a better life for them and their family. And I’m really serious about that. Take the Windham Business Park. I built that daycare that’s down there. I lease it out to a lady who runs it. But I really did it so single moms and single dads or couples that worked for me at Bushmaster, so if they had a little child they could put her in that daycare. They had to pay for it themselves, but if they needed to go over because the kid had a runny nose or a temperature or have lunch with him or her, that they could do that. I think the employees feel touched by that, that, gee, the boss really does care.

Q: Let’s switch gears. What’s it like living in a big house in the middle of the Lakes Region here on the Naples Causeway?

A: It’s the most wonderful place in the world. This was Charlie’s on the Causeway and I had a partner, Keith Dyer, and we ran it for 12 years and were serving 34,000 people in 15 weeks, that’s how successful we were. But he called me in Vegas and said, “Dick, I’ve just hit a stone wall, I just don’t want to go back into the restaurant business again.” And I said, well, that’s fine, we’ll put it up for sale. We had a contract on it for $1 million and the buyers had an engineer come, and he found fault but nothing unreasonable. And I said to Keith, you know I really hate to give up that property. I just think it’s the most beautiful spot in the world. We both know what we’re going to get out of this deal, so why don’t I just write you a check for your share and I’m going to turn it into a house. And the funny thing is, he worked for the next year with a carpenter doing this. And when he saw what it came out as he couldn’t believe it himself.

Q: You had a health situation several years ago and recuperated here in this house, right?

A: Three years ago, I had a very serious tumor and it pretty near got me. I never smoked in my life but I had a monstrous thing sitting in my lungs, that’s why my voice is scratchy. It was laid up against the esophagus and it looked like it was up against the heart. And the boys at the cancer center said, hey, we don’t dare put a knife in there, if we touch that and it’s on the heart, we’re going to lose you right on the table. So I said, what’s the alternative? And they said, you’re going to take a lot of radiation, a lot of chemo and we’re going to take you to the edge of hell. You’re a good, strong guy Dick, but we don’t know if you’re going to make it. And I asked, what do you think my odds are? And they said, not all that good. And I said, well, the alternative is what? This was in June (2008). And he said, we’re probably going to lose you before Christmas. So I thought, wow.

But I’ll tell you, this home saved my life. Every day, my son (Jeff Dyke) or (friend) Yung (Edwards) would come into my bedroom. I was so weak, I lost 45 pounds. I lost all of my hair, and they’d say, Dick, you’ve got to get up, you’ve got to get dressed, we’ve got to get you down for your next treatment. And I would just say, leave me alone. I’m so sick, I can’t keep anything down. I know you mean well, but just leave me.

But they literally forced me to get out of the damn bed, get me dressed and get me out on that couch (overlooking Brandy Pond and Naples Marina) and I’d sit there and be able to see the rest of the world. That’s why I tell everybody, this home and those two guys are the only reason I’m here today. If I’d have been living at my old house on Windham Hill where I could only look out and see trees, I mean, it’s a lovely home, but I’m not sure if I’d have made it. But this place is so cheery, the colors and everything.

Q: So do you like being in the middle of the action?

A: Oh, I love it. Listen, you don’t hear anything. You really don’t hear anything. And (once construction is complete) this causeway is going to be one of the most beautiful places in the world – inland, not the ocean. And I own this property. In the back, I own the whole cove all the way to Naples Marina. I’m the largest landowner. I’ve got about 11 acres and 1,100 feet of lake frontage (on Brandy Pond).

Q: You have a lot of businesses in Naples. Tell us about those.

A: It started out by just wanting to live here after I closed Charlie’s. But there was a group of people who owned the Naples Country Club and they heard I’d made a big score selling Bushmaster and so one of the local Realtors, Nancy Hanson, caught me when I went out to get my Sunday paper and asked me if I had any interest in buying the country club. She said there’s a group of us who own it and we’re not doing well with it and we just feel it’s time to get it into someone else’s hands. And I said, well, I don’t know anything about golf, I don’t play golf and I’ve never been up there.

So she gave me some information on it and I looked it over and drove up later that afternoon and I saw how there was 3,000 feet of lake frontage and 165 acres. So I said to myself, if you buy it as a golf course can you make any money? That’s questionable. Nobody does, from what I know. But I thought, why the hell can’t you make money at it? And if you can’t, what you’ve really got is 18 holes, which are really house lots that are already irrigated. So how the hell can you go wrong? If you can’t make money as a golf course, you can always turn it into a housing development and probably make a fortune. So I bought it on that premise, with a group of people, friends, but I own about 70 percent of it.

The golf course is really a pleasure to own. It’s really a treasure to go over there.

Q: Have you taken up golf?

A: No. I’ve got a brand new set of Pings that my grandchildren bought me and a brand new pair of shoes, and they’re both as clean as the day they got bought. I went out with a pro, who happens to be a friend, a couple times in Vegas and we hit the ball around, I’m just not into that stuff.

Q: What else do you own in the area?

A: We own the ERA Today building, the mini-golf, the back of the building that we’re renting out to Wyman & Simpson, which is doing the construction. And in the middle of the building we lease it out to gal named Debbie. She’s got a very nice women’s line and jewelry. And in the front we’ve got a little cafe? called Charlie’s and that ties in with Charlie’s on the Causeway. And in another year, once the construction is done, we’re going to blow that into a full-fledged Charlie’s on the Causeway again.

And then over in Jim Build’s field, if we can get all the permits done, we’re going to build a new 40-unit hotel.

Q: That’s a pretty big hotel.

A: What I’m trying to do is try to convert this area to a year-round recreational place. So we want to offer cross-country skiing on the golf course, snowmobiling, ice fishing. We’re going to plow the pond out there and have outdoor skating. So we can offer a core group of our people at the golf course a year-round job. And I think the area needs a motel.

Q: You have your hands in a lot of different projects. How do you successfully multitask?

A: People. Everything is people. I’ve got a couple guys running all these deals. I’ve got Bob Caron running the golf course. I’ve got Al Faraday running Windham Weaponry. I call the big shots but those guys, they’re so good at what they do, they probably think I get in the way rather than help. I don’t know. We just work well together.

Q: How about the Kon Tiki?

A: That’s a party boat. We took our first group out Saturday morning (June 18). Down Brandy Pond through the locks, out into Big Sebago turned around and came back. It holds 24 people and we had 20 on board so we were very happy. Takes five passengers to break even.

Q: It’s interesting how you divulge all these financial details. A lot of business people would hide those details.

A: When you hide it, to me that means you’re not proud of it. To me, it means something.

Q: What do you think about taxes and regulation? Is that a primary concern when you’re thinking about buying a new business?

A: As an ex-Internal Revenue Service agent and having been an accountant, after doing a lot in taxes, every transaction I do I look at the tax consequence. And whatever the laws are I stay within the law but I fully use the law. I don’t mind the taxes as much as I mind how they spend it. I’m really totally disgusted with Washington and how they spend taxpayer money. My two senior ladies in the Senate are both good friends but they’ve gotten into that culture where they never see a bill that has money in it that they didn’t like. So I remind them of that often, but they’re still good friends and they do a lot of good stuff. Susan (Collins) and Olympia (Snowe) are awfully good on constituent problems, though.

Q: Do you have any political aspirations?

A: No. No. When I proposed to my wife in the parking lot at college, I said, look, don’t take this ring if you’re not willing to marry a guy who wants to be a millionaire by the time he’s 30, wants to buy a home for his parents because they’ve never had a home, and wants to be governor of the state of Maine. And I accomplished No. 1 and I accomplished No. 2, and then I found out what the pay was for the governor’s job and I said the hell with that. I don’t ever want that.

Q: You must have the skills to be a politician because you deal with people all the time. What is it about politics you don’t like? Is it just the money?

A: Who isn’t a politician? We’re all politicians. It’s just a question of whether we want to do it in the public arena or we’d rather be in the background trying to influence the people who are willing to be in the public arena. I think personally I’m too thin-skinned. I’d be like Paul LePage, who I have a great deal of empathy for. I was the graduation speaker when he graduated from Husson and Paul has told me I was one of his inspirations. And I helped him with the transition, helped work through some of the commissioner appointments. So that’s where I feel I can be helpful. But to take the foolishness you have to take in the public (arena) I think that’s crazy. But if you’re bit by that bug, that’s wonderful. It’s good that we have people that are.

Naples resident and Windham Weaponry founder Dick Dyke has had
an up and down last five years. After selling Bushmaster Firearms
in 2006, he spent much of 2008 battling lung cancer. The
77-year-old often sat overlooking Brandy Pond and Naples Marina,
seen in background. (Staff photo by John Balentine)

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