A Chat With Cheating Death Custom Guns

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Tell the readers about yourself and your background.

My name is Erick Gonzalez and I own Cheating Death Customs, where we specialize on Custom 1911/A1-Government and Commander builds. I started Cheating Death Customs in 2015, after a 25-year long career in Law Enforcement. Police work had been a rewarding, fun and great ride. I had the privilege to work with great people, both in the Department and the Communities that I served and remember those years and experiences fondly. However, after 25 years, I was ready for a change. I was ready to start the next phase of my life and I knew that there was no time like the present to start. Like a great friend and mentor once told me, “Nothing good ever comes from procrastination!”  So, in the summer of 2015, I made the move! 

What go you into working on the 1911s?

  I fell in love with the 1911/A1 pistol from an early age, watching World War 1 and World War 2 documentaries, TV Reruns of Combat and World War 2 movies. When every other kid in the neighborhood wanted a toy Colt Python like the one on Starsky and Hutch or a Smith & Wesson N Frame like Dirty Harry, I always wanted a Colt 1911A1. As I grew up into my teens, the love for that pistol continued to grow. I read every article on gun publications like Combat Handguns, Guns, and writings by Col. Jeff Cooper, etc. In my mind, there was only one pistol that really mattered and that was the 1911A1. And in 2015, as I embarked on this new adventure, I knew that the pistol that would represent the Cheating Death brand could only be America’s Pistol, the 1911/A1. 

I am always asked why, in the age of polymer striker fired handguns, would I choose to carry and work on a heavy and “obsolete” design from the early 20th century. It is one of those things that can’t be explained. The 1911/A1 is a timeless and Iconic design that in my opinion will never go out of style. The way it fits and balances in the hand, the way it points naturally, and the action is simply perfect! I have owned many 1911s throughout the years, but it wasn’t until I began customizing my first 1911/A1 pistol, that I truly began to understand and admire the genius of John M. Browning and the vision and expertise of custom 1911 greats like Armand Swenson, Ted Yost, Jim Hoag, and Bill Wilson to name a few. I wanted to know everything there was to know about this great American pistol, from its beginning to the modern 1911s of today. I did not want to work on or customize any other handgun…It was that simple! 

In the beginning, I was told that in order for me to have any degree of success in this arena, I had to “copy” what the big boys in the industry were doing, I just had to find a way to do it faster and cheaper. This and other “business advice” made business-sense to me at first, but the idea of copying the style and work of others didn’t sit well with me. I knew what Cheating Death Customs stood for and copying the work of others, no matter how cool or great it was, wasn’t the direction I wanted to take my new enterprise in.  

Tell us about your atomic ash finish.

I wanted for my custom 1911 pistols to stand on their own, and a few months later a client walked in with a very unique request…”I want you to customize my 1911 just like the one on Fallout New Vegas.”  I could not understand why someone would want to take a new 1911/A1 pistol and make it look like it had “survived an atomic bomb”. I had seen many distressed and battle worn Cerakote finished handguns; heck I even learned how to apply Cerakote and distress the finish to give it that worn look, I just didn’t like it. But this was different, he actually wanted to age the gun without damaging the gun; to give it the real life feel and look of an old gun…And then the challenge was dropped, “It’s Okay if you can’t do it. I’ve been told it can’t be done”…Well, hold my beer! After a few months of research, scouring junk yards for rusted steel parts, playing Fallout New Vegas with my son (research of course), downloading copious amounts of pictures of old 1911 and 1911A1s, etc., I was ready to enter uncharted waters… I was not about to possibly ruin a client’s gun, therefore I decided to test out the “process” on one of my personal 1911s. During the first attempt I nearly had a heart attack, as I thought I had destroyed my gun! It looked like a clump of rust… Thankfully, I had the help and guidance of my good friend and 1911 Master Gunsmith Russell Simpson, and the second attempt yielded better results. After careful adjustments to the “process” and a few more tries, I had a 1911 Government that looked like the one in Fallout New Vegas…Finally…Success.

Never in a million years did I think that anyone else would want to do this to their gun, but the finish now known as Atomic Ash has been a hit! The request for the Atomic Ash 1911s was such that we even made a limited production/run of 10 Fallout New Vegas Inspired Colt Government pistols and made it the official finish of our Custom FUBAR line of 1911/A1 pistols.  

  For years I was taught, both in the military and in law enforcement, that failure was unacceptable. Yet, somehow, I had always learned more from failure than from success.  

  The Atomic Ash project forced me to step away from the known, from the safe and beaten path, and into the risky unknown; moreover, it taught me to finally accept that failure was a learning experience and not something to fear. This lesson has served me well in growing Cheating Death Customs. 

What options do you offer to customers for 1911s?

As far as custom builds and services, we continue to offer the Atomic Ash and Antiqued Blue custom finishes for 1911/A1’s, and we’ve introduced the FUBAR 2.0; as well as the Colt Combat Government and Combat Elite Tribute Models for 2021. We take these Iconic pistols, replace all MIM parts with quality forged parts; perform a complete reliability package, ensuring proper feeding, ignition, extraction, and ejection. We not only focus on the function of the pistol, but we also address the look of the pistol as well. Custom finishes like our Sinister Satin Blue and Electroless Nickel two-tone give these pistols a modern, yet retro vibe and feel that is timeless. We believe that the small details matter the most on our custom projects; like the Atomic Ash grips and grip screws on the FUBAR builds, or the custom pistol cases made from repurposed military cases by the great people at Carolina Custom Foam; or the serialized custom holster on your Colt Combat Government Tribute and the Atomic Ash Mr. Happy Prop exclusive to our FUBAR 69 build. 

  We believe in developing a true and lasting personal relationship with our Clients; therefore, we only build our guns to order. We believe that the experience of getting to know our Client prior to commencing the build makes a significant difference. This way, we are customizing a gun for “John”, a person which we know, not a stranger. Every time we look at that specific gun, or work on it, we know whose gun we are working on. This personal connection is, in my humble opinion, invaluable. Yes, it takes a little longer to do, but the results speak for themselves.  

  This year we have been blessed to work with some great people in the industry. We are collaborating with Jason Mariano of Vintage Gun Leather Today and Sam Andrews of Andrews Custom Leather, to bring back one of Sam’s timeless designs from the 1980’s. These custom holsters are nothing less than top quality and the perfect holster for our Colt Government Tribute guns and will be offered exclusively by Vintage Gun Leather today and Cheating Death Customs!  

Tell us why the combat gov is your favorite.

  I am always asked if I have a favorite 1911/A1 pistol, and the answer is yes, the Colt Combat Government. I’m a kid of the 70’s and 80’s, so growing up, this was the cool Colt of its time. It was a serious looking gun for serious type work. It wasn’t flashy or fancy, it wasn’t decorated with engraving or beautiful exotic wood grips; yet its beauty lay in the simple almost Spartan look of the pistol. Simply put, it had “everything you need and nothing that you don’t” and yet the rubber grips with the rampant Colt gave it a subdued level of cool that was elegant at the same time. Growing up, it was my vision of what a fighting 1911 Government should be. In retrospect, was it the best 1911 Government pistol of its time? No, but it was and still is my favorite! I know it’s purely an emotional and subjective decision; but still today, if you gave me a choice between two 1911 Government pistols and one was a Colt Combat Government…I would take the Combat Government home every time, with the Colt Combat Elite Pre-enhanced coming in a close second. Every project is intended to honor the genius of that great American, John M. Browning and his Beautiful Pistol…America’s Pistol. Our Pistol. I know that this inexplicable love and passion for this timeless American pistol is what drives us today and always.  

Where can readers find you on the web and social media if they want to contact you for work?

FRAUDENS MORTEM! 

If you’re in the Miami area and you would like to see some of our custom 1911s, stop by Andy’s Police Supply/Gun Range and Training Center. You can also follow us on Instagram @cheatingdeathguns. For additional information, or to schedule an appointment you can reach us via email at emgtraining101@gmail.com

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