Parts Is Parts
Gun writers have to follow the same rules as everyone else, which means either have an FFL or know someone with who’ll our test guns. For me, that someone is Buckhorn Gun & Pawn. There is a wonderful crew at Buckhorn, and we have all become good friends over the past 5 years or so. I’ve talked in the past about the gunsmiths and the excellent work they do. I usually have at least one or two guns being worked on there and I never take advantage of them by trying to get things done in a hurry, yet I know if I need something right away they will do everything they can to help out. The owner of Buckhorn, Matt—actually co-owner, as I think his beautiful wife who was just elected to the State Legislature is the real power—is a fellow I trust completely and always recommend when folks are looking to sell guns or even find out what they are worth. My wife helps out and keeps all the Buckhorn guys in baked goods.
One of the neatest things about Buckhorn is the fact Matt really appreciates old Colt Single Actions; he often buys and sells them on the Internet, and there are always several to be found in one of the store’s display cases. About 3 weeks ago, my eyes were immediately drawn to an old 7-1/2″ Single Action Army on display. It was a 1st Generation, which had been fitted with a 2nd Generation .38 Special cylinder and barrel; it also had very attractive stag stocks. However, what really caught my eye was the hammer. So, what could be special about a Colt Single Action Army hammer? This one was not the traditional upswept hammer found on thousands of Single Actions, but rather was of the low-wide Target-style.
From the time after World War I until the early 1950s, King Gun Works was the premier supplier of custom parts for handguns. King accomplished all kinds of wonderful transformations, especially on Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers including custom sights, ribbed barrels, short actions and special hammers. Much of what they did was eventually incorporated into Colt and Smith & Wesson factory models. One of Elmer Keith’s .44 Special sixguns (on display in the Elmer Keith Museum) is a custom King job, complete with short action, barrel band front sight, adjustable rear sight and low-wide hammer. I dreamed and internally drooled over pictures of that gun for over 35 years, until I was actually able to handle it and then place it in the museum just where I wanted it to be.
Now, the sixgun before me at Buckhorn had what appeared to be a King hammer. While I wasn’t in the market for a .38 Special Single Action, I was sorely tempted to buy that sixgun just to get the hammer; in fact, I did talk to the guys about the significance of that hammer. I go into Buckhorn several times a week; every time I did, I always looked at it, but never succumbed to temptation to buy it. I finally decided to take the plunge, went back to the shop, looked in the case, and it was gone!
However, then something happened which proves once again it pays to live right, or at least try to do so. I stood there stunned as I was presented with the King hammer. The fellow who purchased the .38 Special Colt did not like the “funny looking” hammer, so Matt replaced it with a period-correct hammer and told the boys to give the King hammer to me. I immediately put Diamond Dot to work making some extra cookies for them! One of my most cherished Colts is an early 2nd Generation .44 Special with faded case colors, bluing worn on the ejector rod housing, barrel cut to 4-3/4″, and 1-piece Pau Ferro stocks which my friend Tony crafted more than 40 years ago. The King hammer dropped in perfectly, and the action functioned flawlessly.
I am not a child of the Great Depression, though my parents were and I did learn to save things. One never knows when a part will be needed. I can’t remember when I first encountered the phrase Parts Box but I am sure it was in the early writings of Skeeter Skelton. Skeeter often wrote of building custom Colt Single Actions using parts he had on hand, and his fictional character Dobe Grant had a huge supply of brand new Colt parts including every conceivable barrel and the cylinder. I paid attention and started assembling my own Parts Box. Gun Shows are more than shows for guns; parts are normally abound and it is not too difficult to find something at a reasonable price, which can be squirreled away to be used by someone someday. I’ve never owned a Smith & Wesson pre-War Registered .357 Magnum and, at today’s prices, I probably never will. Nevertheless, at the last gun show I attended, what should I find but an original 8-3/4″ Registered Magnum barrel. It is now in my Barrel & Cylinder Parts Box waiting on the right time to build a custom Smith & Wesson.
King, or at least King-style, hammers on 2nd Generation Colt .44 Specials.
Plenty Of Parts
More than 40 years ago, I picked up a 7-1/2″ Great Western .45 Colt barrel at a gun show for $5. I had no idea what I would ever use it for, then a few years ago I also bought a shot-out Great Western, which had been used as a movie gun; it was rebuilt using that barrel. Over the years, I’ve tried to accumulate all kinds of parts for single actions and I actually have several “Parts Boxes.” One has nothing but single-action parts while another has screws and sights. An antique library file card box (which Diamond Dot found in Montana and had one of her truck driver clients deliver to us) takes up a large space in our living room and contains dozens of drawers, each filled with grips/stocks of all kinds I accumulated for over a half century. It is a rare sixgun I cannot find a pair of replacement grips for, and I have been able to rescue several friends who needed hard to find grips.
Over the past several decades, I try to pick up Colt Single Action barrels and cylinders whenever I can find them at a bargain price. I swapped some books to my friend gunsmith Jim Martin for three Colt barrels. One, a 12″ Buntline, now resides on a Great Western .44 Special. When our oldest local gun store, Shapel’s, went out of business after the death of both the father and the son, I purchased several Colt cylinders as well as all of their 3rd Generation New Frontier barrels. Now what in the world is one going to do with a good supply of New Frontier barrels? It just so happens the 3rd Generation New Frontier barrels have the same thread pattern as the frames on Ruger Blackhawks. Are you with me? Using those barrels, I had Old Model .357 Blackhawks turned into a 7-1/2″ .45 Colt, a 7-1/2″.44-40, a 5-1/2″ .44 Special, and a 4-3/4″ .44-40/.44 Special. Those barrels mate up perfectly with Three-Screw Ruger frames. Two different fellows sent me older Ruger .44 Magnum barrels from the original .44 Magnum Flat-Top of the 1950s. One was cut to 5-1/2″ and went on a Three-Screw .357 Blackhawk turned into a .44 Special; the other, cut to 4-5/8″, turned a 50th anniversary Ruger .44 Magnum Blackhawk into a Perfect Packin’ Pistol.
Sometimes parts are purchased simply for the reason they are bargains, even though it’s impossible to see any use for them at the time. One such purchase was a 4″ Smith & Wesson Model 629 .44 Magnum barrel. But what to ever use us it for? Well, it just so happened a good friend of mine who is LEO in South Texas needed one for a special project, so I was able to give it to him. A few weeks ago, Tory at Buckhorn found and gave me a 7-1/2″ .357 Atomic Great Western barrel. Now there aren’t many .357 Atomics around, but guess what? I have a 5-1/2″ version, which craves that longer barrel. I’m not much of a gunsmith but several friends have come to me with replica single actions that would not work; I was able to reach into my Parts Box and find the spring they needed to put their sixguns back in action. Brownells carries a full line of parts and I try to keep springs for both Colt Single Actions and Smith & Wesson double actions on hand.
The coveted King hammer was not my first, as several years ago a gunsmith in the Midwest sent me one; it also dropped perfectly into a 2nd Generation Colt .44 Special. There is a gun show this weekend; I wonder what parts I can find. I’m still searching for a 3rd Generation Colt New Frontier .357 Magnum barrel. Maybe, just maybe….