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A Letter

A Letter
How It Could Have Been.

Postmark: October 5, 1939
To: Jeff John, editor,
GUNS Magazine

Dear Jeff,

It has been quite a while since I have written and there is a good reason for that; I have been on the road, I mean really on the road traveling all over the country. It all started earlier this year when I received a letter from Fitz, John Henry FitzGerald of Colt. I had met Fitz at Camp Perry several years ago and in his letter he remarked that he noticed I gave a lot of print to Smith & Wesson double-action sixguns but rarely, if ever, mentioned Colt double actions in general and specifically Colt’s big double action, the New Service.

He said since it was obvious I favored the big-bore double-action Smiths he would like the opportunity to share his sixguns, Colts, with me on a one to one basis. In his letter he also pointed out to me the fact the Colt New Service pre-dated the original Smith & Wesson big-bore sixgun, the Triple-Lock, by 10 years. The more I thought about meeting with him the better it sounded. He invited me to come back to the Colt factory in Connecticut and spend some time seeing how the big Colts are built and also opined we could spend a good time shooting together.

Traveling In Style

So the decision was made for me to travel all the way from my home base here in southwestern Idaho across the country to Connecticut and the Colt plant in Hartford. The natural, and easiest way would be for me to take the train. However, you know I rarely do things the easy way plus this looked like a great opportunity for me to buy a new car for the trip. My ’29 Model A Ford has seen better days and I had been looking at the new body styles Ford has brought forth and I especially like the looks of the ’39 V8 Coupe. So I did it, I bought the new Ford and planned my trip. Since I was going to be on the road for such a long time anyway I wanted to make the best use of it and see some other old friends also. It’s been quite a while since I saw Keith, not since he lived just west of me on his little ranch outside of Durkee, Ore. He now lives over in the eastern part of Idaho above Salmon so I wanted to plan my trip to stop and see him also and especially get his take on the big-bore Colt New Service. Two other friends have just had their new books published this year, Ed McGivern with his Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting and young Capt. Charles Askins Jr. has also put out an excellent work entitled The Art of Handgun Shooting so this year has been an excellent one for sixgunners.

The trip was carefully planned out. I would go to Texas first and visit with Askins, then on to Connecticut and Fitz, then take the northern route back with a stop in Lewistown, Mont., for some time with McGivern, and finally down to Salmon to see Keith, and then back home. I did not want to contemplate how many miles this was but I figured the little V8 Ford could handle it. What I did not expect was the high gas prices in some of the little towns. I actually had to pay as much as 15¢ per gallon in some places! What in the world is this country coming to?

Gun Shop Success

Since I didn’t own a Colt New Service nor had I ever even shot one I wanted to correct that before I arrived in Connecticut so I would not have to meet Fitz empty-handed. My plan was to hit as many out-of-the-way gun shops as I could and see what I could come up with. Little did I realize how successful I would be. As I headed across Idaho and into Wyoming and then south for Texas I stopped at a little gun shop just before I left Wyoming and I literally hit pay dirt. That little shop had not one, but two used big-bore New Service sixguns in excellent shape. Both had 7-1/2-inch barrels with one being a standard model .44-40 and the other a Target Model inscribed on the barrel “Russian and Smith & Wesson Special 44”; this was definitely going to be a great trip. Just before I got to San Antonio I found another Colt New Service this time a .45 Colt with a 5-1/2-inch barrel. Then before I got out of Texas I found two more New Service Colts, a 4-1/2-inch .38-40 and a 6-inch .38 Special. Now I had more than enough Colts to prevent me arriving at Fitz’ doorstep empty-handed, so I decided I best forgo any more gun shops and save the rest of my money for gas. Who knew what the price would be after I got away from the oilfields of Texas.

I particularly wanted to visit with Askins as I knew he was one who favored the Colt New Service; actually that’s not correct as he likes both Colt’s and Smith & Wesson’s big sixguns. His Smith & Wesson of choice was a 4-inch .357 Magnum and he had packed a .38 Special New Service as it was the official sidearm of the US Border Patrol. Askins thought enough of the New Service as well as Fitz to come up with his own brand of a Fitz Special.

You may recall Fitz usually packed a pair of what he called Fitz Specials. He normally started with a Colt New Service chambered in .45 Colt, shortened the barrel to 2 inches, shortened and round-butted the grip frame all to make it easier to pocket. Then he did something which some find quite controversial. He cut out the front of the triggerguard to make it easier to get to the trigger really fast. Askins started with a .44-40 New Service and while he did leave the barrel at 4 inches he also cut out the front of the trigger guard. It is one mean-looking sixgun. I spent quite a bit of time shooting with the Captain learning how to handle my new New Service sixguns and also shooting his version of a Fitz Special. I’ll tell you one thing: that man can really shoot and we had a great time shooting together. A most enjoyable time spent in Texas.

The New Service Target Model 7-1/2-inch .44 Russian and
Special still delivers impressive groups.

On To Hartford

Then it was time for the long trip northeast to the Colt plant and time with Fitz. I was given the grand tour of the factory and saw exactly how the Colt Single Action as well as the Colt New Service was built. I’ll tell you Jeff, there is a lot of hand-fitting going into these big sixguns. We spent several days shooting the New Service as well as several versions of his Fitz Specials on the New Service, Official Police, and the little Detective Special. I certainly learned a lot about double-action shooting and I’ll tell you also Fitz is almighty fast with his custom sixguns. No old-time gunfighter would’ve stood a chance against him! I left with a new appreciation of Colt’s big double actions. As an extra added bonus he showed me not only how he tuned double actions but Colt 1911s as well. More than 20 years ago he started fitting custom barrels to .45 ACP and then later to the .38 Super chambered 1911s. He favors the .38 Super as it was much flatter shooting.

Now it was time for the long northern trip from Connecticut all the way out to Lewistown, Mont., and a visit with who is probably the fastest double-action shooter who has ever lived, namely Ed McGivern. In all of his double-action shooting McGivern uses Smith & Wessons and he gave me two excellent reasons for this. He felt, and it is hard to argue with him, the Smith & Wesson double action was superior in operation to that of the Colt plus he is not a very big man and his hands are too small to comfortably grasp the grip frame of the Colt New Service, which was obviously made for someone with very large hands. My hands are quite a bit bigger than his, however I also find the Smith & Wesson grip frame fits my hands much better than the Colt.

The Last Leg

Now I found myself at the last part of my trip, which was to go south from Lewistown for the relatively short trip to Salmon, Idaho to see Elmer Keith and get his take on double-action sixguns. The trip to Salmon was easy; the 30 miles over some of the worst roads in the country to get out to Keith’s ranch on the river was some of the hardest work my new Ford had to do on the trip. However, both car and driver made it intact although a little shook up.

Keith basically said the very same thing I have heard from McGivern, namely the double-action feature of the Smith & Wesson was superior to that of the Colt and his hands, which are even smaller than McGivern’s, simply fit the grip frame of the Smith & Wesson much easier. Keith was shooting three double-action sixguns from Smith while I was there, a .44 Special Triple-Lock, a .38-44 Outdoorsman, and a K22. One thing all four of the gentlemen had in common was the fact they could really shoot. I doubt anyone in the country can come even close to them when it comes to both speed and accuracy. Keith especially was unbelievable shooting his sixguns at long range.

Well, Jeff this was an unbelievable trip and I feel like I’ve been to graduate school in sixgunning. I won’t replace my Smith & Wessons with Colts, however I’m certainly happy I now have a good working supply of Colt New Service sixguns. Until next time, which I hope will not be as long, I say, Good Shootin’ and God Bless, John
By John Taffin

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  1. R L Diehl says:

    John, John, John, “extra, added bonus”? (Campfire Tales Oct. 2013) Can you say;”redundant”? Tsk,tsk,tsk.
    Well, I forgive you; the rest of the article was up to your usual excellent standard!
    Now if we can just get Duke to stop saying; “in regards to” life will be perfect for those of us of the nit-picky persuasion.

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