And A Ruger Project Rises From The Ashes.
Many, if not most of us, often dream of a perfect world. A world where politicians never lie, where all lawyers are honest, where used car salesman can be completely trusted, where news is news and entertainment is entertainment and sports are sports and they are never mixed together. What would it be like if ABC, CBS, and NBC actually reported real news? Now that would be perfection. In a perfect world everyone does everything right and no one ever makes mistakes. Yes, it would be perfect but probably also quite boring.
Just as everything else in this world, gun manufacturers and custom gunbuilders are not perfect and they do make mistakes. With custom gunsmiths quite often things over which they have no control enter their life and has great effect on their work. I have experienced the best when it comes to custom guns from a long list of custom sixgunsmiths. They are definitely not perfect and sometimes things go wrong. The best we can hope for is when things go south the gunsmith is totally honest and open about it. One such ’smith was converting a Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum to a Bisley Model .45 Colt for me. Something went wrong and he immediately called me to let me know my original cylinder did not make it through the reaming process correctly and was ruined. He didn’t try to hide it but instead asked me, since he had to make a new cylinder anyway, if I would prefer a standard 6-shot or a heavy-duty 5-shot cylinder. I had no thought at all of shooting heavy loads but I opted for the latter so I would have this option should I want it (so you might say I benefited from his mistake).
Another sixgunsmith was turning a .357 Magnum Colt New Frontier into a .45 Colt by fitting a new Colt 4-3/4-inch New Frontier barrel and tightly chambering the .357 Magnum cylinder to .45 Colt. Something went wrong, this time quite minor in that he somehow scratched the outside of the cylinder. He could have covered up his mistake and simply re-blued the cylinder and I probably would’ve never been the wiser; however, instead he called me immediately and I told him not to be concerned as this was to be a working gun and I was not going to be upset by a couple scratches.
When the converted sixgun arrived back home I found the scratches were quite minor and hardly noticed. A third gunsmith was given an Old Model Ruger .357 Magnum plus an extra 9mm cylinder to turn into a combination .44 Special/.44-40. Something went wrong and the sixgun was turned into a pile of parts. He replaced my Ruger with a Colt Single Action, which was worth a whole lot more. I came out way ahead in this situation.
The Best Laid Plans….
Several years ago my friend who was writing for Shoot! Magazine at the time and I turned over several sixguns to a gunsmith to be turned into custom .38-40s. My friend’s pair of 4-5/8-inch Old Model Ruger .357 Blackhawks were to be turned into Cowboy Shooting sixguns with the same barrel length. I took a different path. I wanted .38-40s, however I wanted one to be a long-range sixgun set up with a 7-1/2-inch barrel and the other to be a Perfect Packin’ Pistol with a 4-5/8-inch barrel and two cylinders, one in .38-40 and the other a .401 PowerMag. The .401 was introduced by Herter’s prior to the advent of the .41 Magnum and used the same 0.400-inch bullet as the .38-40. The original .401 sixguns were made by J. P. Sauer & Sohn and in those pre-’68 GCA days sold for $47.
The Long-Range .38-40 came out beautifully and I received it back within a few months. Then things went sour. Years passed and neither one of us could get our guns back. I finally told him, the sixgunsmith that is, to send my Ruger back in whatever state it was in and also return my friend’s pair of .357 Blackhawks as well as the Marlin .38-40 he was working on as a companion to these two sixguns. Finally after much cajoling and threatening we got them back. My friend’s three guns, which had been in the sixgunsmith’s hands for several years came back untouched; my second gun came back as a box of parts. What went wrong? I knew this sixgunsmith, I had met with him on several occasions, and I knew he was capable of beautiful work. Something happened. Things do go wrong in our lives, family problems happen, health problems creep in, who knows what went wrong?
Even stepping up the power to .41 Magnum mid-range loads, the Gallagher Gun still delivers.
Sow’s Ear To Silk Purse
My Ruger .357 Blackhawk came back with an unfinished octagon barrel installed as well as a custom cylinder, which I assume was chambered for the .401. Everything was unfinished, and some of the parts were missing. I remembered how I had I thought of that 7-1/2-inch .38-40 I had received earlier and wondered how this example could come from the same custom shop. Something had definitely happened in his life. My first thought was simply to chalk it up to a bad experience and place all the Ruger parts in my parts box. And then I thought of Gallagher. Most of us have seen a fellow on TV, a comedian who goes by the name of Gallagher who usually punctuates his act by destroying things. That’s not the Gallagher I was thinking of.
The Gallagher that came to mind was sixgunsmith extraordinaire John Gallagher of Alabama. John had done some beautiful sixguns for me in the past including a 5-shot .41 Special on a Ruger Single-Six, an 8-shot .32-20 on a Ruger New Model Blackhawk, two short-barreled custom .44 Special Rugers, and a Highway Patrolman converted to .45 Colt using a Smith & Wesson .45 Auto Rim 1950 Target barrel cut to 5 inches. If anyone could clean up the mess, it would be John Gallagher.
I packaged up everything and sent it off to John explaining the situation and asking him to see if there was any way possible to salvage it. I expected this to be something he could look at in his “spare” time (if he could do anything). Right now it was nothing but parts so anything he could do, no matter how long it took, would be a big plus. He had it for a couple years and it came back earlier this month. What started out to be a Convertible .38-40/.401 PowerMag is now a 4-inch .41 Magnum. How he got from point A to point B is quite an interesting sixgun story.
The original cylinder for the .357 Magnum Blackhawk was still intact. The auxiliary cylinder was a custom build and supposedly chambered in .401. Even with my untrained eyes I could see that at least one chamber was oblong instead of round so there was no way the cylinder was usable unless perhaps it could be re-chambered in some larger caliber. So the first thing John did was measure the custom octagon barrel and he found instead of being rifled to accept .38-40 0.401-inch bullets it was instead a .41 barrel. This again raised the question as to what had gone so wrong that the original sixgunsmith had installed a 0.411-inch barrel on a sixgun with a custom .401 cylinder.
John felt the barrel was usable so he re-chambered the original .357 Magnum cylinder to .41 Magnum, re-contoured the custom barrel, and finished up everything else necessary to turn this sixgun into the real usable Perfect Packin’ Pistol. Everything was finished up and ready to be re-blued and he discovered something else. A stainless steel barrel had been installed on a blue frame. So off came the barrel and John went with a custom 4-inch steel barrel chambered for the .41 Magnum.
This sixgun has now been totally rescued from the parts pile and turned into a beautiful example of what a sixgunsmith can actually do when things go right. It is a .41 Magnum, and yes the original .357 Blackhawk is stout enough to handle the .41 Magnum. Barrel length as stated is a very easy packing 4-inch length, a steel ejector rod housing has been fitted, and the alloy grip frame has been replaced by a steel version from the Ruger Old Army. John also beautifully refinished the original Old Army grip panels for this sixgun, which has risen from the ashes.
I doubt I will ever use many full-house .41 Magnum loads, however the capability is there if I need it. For now I am perfectly happy shooting .41 Special loads or mid-range .41 Magnum loads. For me this part of my world is now perfect thanks to John Gallagher.
By John Taffin
3923 Bird Farm Rd.
Jasper, AL 35503