That wonderful year was 1954. Our first nuclear submarine, Nautilus, is launched, Ike warns about intervening in Vietnam, and the Army/McCarthy hearings begin. On the lighter side Roger Bannister runs the first 4-minute mile and RCA offers the first color TV set with a 12″ screen for $1,000. To celebrate our Judeo-Christian heritage the phrase “Under God” is added to the Pledge of Allegiance. I was delivering papers every day and once a week when I went to town to pay my bill I normally went to the movies. It was in 1954 I heard Frank Sinatra sing words on the big screen I never forgot. Even to this day I still remember those lyrics:
“Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you, if you’re young at heart. For it’s hard you will find to be narrow of mind if you’re young at heart. You can go to extremes with impossible schemes, you can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams, and life gets more exciting with each passing day, and love is either in your heart or on its way. Don’t you know that it’s worth every treasure on earth to be young at heart; for as rich as you are, it’s much better by far to be young at heart. And if you should survive to 105, think of all you’ll derive out of being alive. And here is the best part, you’ll have a head start, if you are among the very young at heart.”
Not only were the 1950s the time of classic sixguns it was also a grand time for lyricists; if there are any songs like this out there now, anything that actually inspires, I certainly haven’t heard it lately. Not only was 1954 a banner year in so many ways as mentioned, something else which would have a great effect on handguns was taking place in a small manufacturing plant in the Northeast. Bill Ruger had begun producing the Sturm, Ruger .22 semi-automatic in 1949 and followed this with his .22 Single-Six in 1953. With the latter Ruger resurrected the single action revolver and now in 1954 he was putting the finishing touches on the .357 Blackhawk which officially arrived in 1955. We have such a proliferation of all kinds of handguns today it is probably difficult for younger shooters to realize how important that .357 Blackhawk, now affectionately known as the Flat-Top, was.
“Fairy Tales Can Come True!” As in the case of a long-awaited Ruger
New Model Flat-Top .44 Specials.
Colt had dropped the Single Action Army in 1940 with no thought of ever producing it again. In 1954 Great Western in Los Angeles started producing the first replica of the Colt Single Action; Ruger went Great Western at least one step further by modernizing the Single Action in two ways, adjustable sights and virtually unbreakable lockwork. Gone were the old flat springs of the Colt as the new Ruger used the same coil-spring action as the .22 Single-Six. The Blackhawk, of course, was larger than the Ruger .22 being full Colt-sized, and with a heavy flat-topped frame containing a fully adjustable Micro rear sight. The old Single Action dating all the way back to 1836 was now officially modernized.
The Blackhawk .357 Magnum was a wonderful sixgun and in fact was my first new centerfire single action. But those of us who were young at heart were ready to go to extremes with not so impossible schemes but it soon appeared our dreams would fall apart at the seams. Elmer Keith got every sixgunner excited by telling us Ruger promised .44 Special and .45 Colt versions momentarily… neither ever happened. The arrival of the .44 Magnum in late 1955 pretty much put the kibosh on a new .44 Special from Ruger. Ruger did try to use their .357 Blackhawk as the platform for the new .44 Magnum and made up three prototypes with 4-5/8″, 5-1/2″ and 7-1/2″ barrels. Keith warned them frame was too small but he wanted the former to use as a .44 Special. They listened enough to do further testing and in doing so one of the guns blew with a proof load; I would imagine the other two were destroyed. That was the last we heard of a .44 Special from Ruger. They did do a .45 Colt, however they used the .44 Magnum Super Blackhawk frame as the platform. We really could not complain too much as for the first time we had a single action capable of accessing the real potential of the .45 Colt case. We were soon safely shooting 300-grain bullets at 1,200 fps from the .45 Blackhawk. But alas and alack it seemed our dreams of a .44 Special had really fallen apart at the seams.
Beginning in the 1970s sixgunners started converting .357 Magnum Blackhawks, both the original Flat-Top versions of 1955-1962 as well as the Old Model of 1962-1972. What Ruger had not done was now corrected and over the ensuing decades I have had Ruger .357 Blackhawks converted to .44 Special by such premier gunsmiths as Bob Baer, Hamilton Bowen, David Clements, Ben Forkin, Andy Horvath, John Gallagher, and Bill Grover; but still no .44 Special from Ruger. The dream was still there however, and when Ruger brought out the 50th Anniversary .357 Blackhawk they reverted back to the original sized frame, which had been enlarged with the coming of the New Model .357 Blackhawk in 1972; it was also flat-topped.
The 50th Anniversary Model also had the original style rear sight as well as the XR3-sized grip frame, which is identical to the Colt Single Action. It was a perfect platform for building a .44 Special. I talked to the then president of Ruger a couple times about building such a sixgun and while he didn’t say yes he also didn’t say no. I also put in my bid with the production manager of that time. Both men are now gone from Ruger, however the dream has lived and I hoped against impossible hope, I continued to dream the impossible dream, that someday, somehow, we would see a factory produced .44 Special from Ruger. What Ruger was not willing to do, Lipsey’s was. Lipsey’s is a well-known distributor and they did what Wolf & Klar did in 1926, which was give the .44 Special a well-deserved boost. Wolf & Klar did it by placing an order for what became the Smith & Wesson 3rd Model Hand Ejector complete with an enclosed ejector rod housing. In 2008 Lipsey’s made the impossible dream come true.
Lipsey’s placed a large order with Ruger for 2,000 4-5/8″ and 5-1/2″ .44 Special New Model Flat-Top Blackhawks built on the 50th Anniversary .357 Magnum frame. These sixguns sold so well Ruger made them a factory offering. However, Lipsey’s did not stop there and now offer five more .44 Special Rugers. No distributor has ever shown so much faith in the .44 Special and for this I salute them. They are now offering both the 4-5/8″ and 5-1/2″ .44 Specials with a different twist; that is, they are Bisley Models complete with Bisley grip frame, hammer, and trigger while at the same time using the mid-sized mainframe rather than the regular standard New Model Blackhawk frame. This is tremendously important as a .44 Special built on a New Model Blackhawk would be the same size as a .44 Magnum so there would be no point in doing it.
Approximately 5 years ago, Ruger dropped their large-framed Vaquero single action and replaced it with the New Vaquero, which just happens to have the same size frame as the 50th Anniversary .357 Blackhawk. These, of course, are fix-sighted sixguns and were originally offered in both .45 Colt and .357 Magnum. The .44 Special versions from Lipsey’s are a 4-5/8″ New Vaquero and a 3-1/2″ Sheriff’s Model. The final version, at least for this year, is a stainless steel, 4-5/8″ Flat-Top Blackhawk. Dreaming of a .44 Special is one thing but it was really extreme to expect one in stainless steel. I like mine so well I had it “C” engraved by Michael Gouse. Michael does excellent work at very reasonable prices; I will be talking more about his work in the future.
But it doesn’t stop there! A group I started 25 years ago known as “The Shootists” appointed a committee of Bud McDonald, Tedd Adamovich, and Jeff Quinn to search out and come up with a suitable 25th Anniversary sixgun. After talking with Ruger and thanks especially to Lipsey’s the order was placed for 100 Bisley Model .44 Special Rugers all with 7-1/2″ barrels. Instead of the standard blue found on most Rugers these are finished in high-polish blue and specially engraved with the Shootists Logo of “Men Who Stand In The Gap” as well as being serial numbered SH001 through SH100; SH stands for Shootists Holiday which is our annual rendezvous.
Many of us have dared to dream the impossible dream and it has come true in many ways. Frank Sinatra was so right! It really does pay big dividends to be young at heart. I don’t know what is the worse situation, young people who are already old at heart, or old people who are also old at heart. I hope to continue to dream the impossible dreams and to always stay young at heart. There is one major problem however, and that is the fact the older the body gets the younger it seems the heart and mind turns. The heart is always telling the body to do things and most of the time the answer comes back “no way!” But we keep trying. Whatever your impossible dream is hold onto it and dare to really dream even to the point of, in the words of Don Quixote, marching into Hell for a Heavenly Cause.
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Gouse Freelance Firearms Engraving