A Requiem For USFA Single Actions
By John Taffin
One of the most difficult things about getting older is losing old friends. Only a very small percentage of my high school graduating class still survives; none of those I used to pal around with are left.
While there is a great difference between friends and firearms, it’s also painful to say goodbye to good guns. United States Fire Arms did not just produce good single-action sixguns. They produced great ones.
It was sometime around 1990 I found myself at a SHOT Show and there in front of me was one of the most beautifully finished SAA sixguns I’d ever seen. The bluing was so deep you could see all the way back to your great-grandfather in it. The case colors looked as if they belonged in an art museum. It was not an original Colt. It was at the exhibit for a new company, United States Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company, (USPFA), and they were in the business of selling Colt replicas. The sixguns were not only fitted and finished in this country, the work was done in the old Colt Armory.
At that time USPFA was a relatively new company that had taken over the old manufacturing facility of Colt Patent Firearms. USPFA’s catalog was a beautiful stroll through history with both color and black-and-white photos, 1800s-style advertising for the cap-n-ball Walker, the First, Second, and Third Model Dragoons, the 1851 and 1861 Navy, the 1860 Colt Army as well as various pocket pistols. Plus, of course, the “Single Action, Central Fire, Army, Six Shot, .38, .44, and .45 Inch Calibre, Revolving Pistols”.
USPFA’s Custom Shop offered non-standard barrel lengths, engraved sixguns, plus grips of gutta-percha, stag, pearl and ivory.
Less-pricey USFA models included (left to right): the Rodeo, the Rodeo II and the Cowboy.
Change Of Venue
All these sixguns — both cartridge firing and percussion — were beautifully assembled in this country using Italian parts. But this was just the first step as USPFA’s Doug Donnelly had a dream and began the move to provide an all-American-made SAA. And in the process the name was changed to USFA for “United States Firearms.”
Making the switch was neither quick nor easy, however, it got done and in the process the USFA catalog changed dramatically. What remained was just about the finest traditional, factory-built SAA replica I’d ever seen and — unlike the competition — was made in the USA.
My first experience had been with a USPFA .45 (American-assembled-with-Italian parts) — a 5-1/2″ nickel-plated sixgun acquired more than 20 years ago. It was and remains an excellent shooter, well fitted, finished and timed. It was soon joined by a Cavalry Model .45 Colt with a 7-1/2″ barrel, a matching version in .44 Special, and a 4-3/4″ .44-40 Frontier Six-Shooter. All were equally well-fitted and excellent shooters. For my first experience with the American-made USFA SAA, I ordered a .45 Colt with the “Civilian” length 4-3/4″ barrel.
New Sheriff In Town
After many years of testing virtually every sixgun offered, it takes something very special to stir my mind, heart, soul and spirit. As I unpacked the new USFA item, I immediately realized this was a sixgun done right. The first thing I noticed was the beautiful finish. The main frame and the hammer were beautifully case-colored in what was described as “Armory Bone Case,” while the balance of the gun was finished in a deep, dark “Dome Blue.” Grips furnished as standard were checkered hard rubber with a “US” molded into the top part of the grip. I was tempted to keep them on the USFA .45, however, I fought the feeling and this .45 now wears ivories.
All USFA guns proved to be good shooters.
Variations On A Classic Theme
I soon acquired more American-made USFA Single Actions. This first .45 was joined by a 7-1/2″ version with an extra .45 ACP cylinder, along with a .38-40, also with a 7-1/2″ barrel. Every regular reader knows I am a connoisseur of .44 Specials and USFA made some excellent ones. I first went with a 7-1/2″ blued/case-colored specimen, then added one of their Flat-Top Target Models with the barrel marked “Russian and S&W Special .44” just as many of the old Colt originals were.
When the Shootists celebrated their 20th Anniversary special arrangements were made with USFA to produce commemorative 5-1/2″ .44 Specials appropriately inscribed and serial numbered. A pair of these is now part of the Taffin family. When a friend wanted to do something special to celebrate our friendship, we ordered a matching pair of 4-3/4″ .44 Specials, blued and case colored, with one-piece ivory grips and an auxiliary .44-40 cylinder. These have two special serial numbers — TK2JT and JT2TK.
In addition to their regular single actions, USFA offered three special models — the Rodeo, Rodeo II and the Cowboy. All three standard versions have been offered in 4-3/4″ and 5-1/2″ lengths in .45 Colt and — very rarely — with the 7-1/2″ barrel length.
After pulling off an all-American sixgun with a finish as good or better than anything offered over the past 135 years, USFA had decided to offer a less expensive option. Internally the Rodeo would be identical to their standard single action, however, money was saved by using a matte blue finish.
The Rodeo II was the same basic sixgun as the Rodeo, but with other changes. The Rodeo II also had a matte finish — but satin nickel instead of blue. The grips were also different. Instead of the checkered black rubber, they were brown Burlwood, which somewhat duplicated the older gutta- percha grips of the 19th Century which often took on a brown color.
Just as with the Rodeo and Rodeo II, the Cowboy is the same basic sixgun, made with the same materials and tolerances; the only difference is the exterior finish that is all polished blue instead of the standard blue/case color. The Cowboy was cataloged in all three standard barrel lengths in .45 Colt. My 4-3/4″ Cowboy is a beautifully shooting .45, and will group five Black Hills 250-gr. RNFPs into 3/4″ at 20 yards. With CCI Blazer 200-gr. JHPs, it will put five shots into one ragged 3/8″ hole at the same distance.
The USFA 4-3/4” .45 Colt is as fine a sixgun as has ever left a factory.
Gunslingers, Bisleys, Sheriffs
USFA also offered several other variants. An antique version, the Gunslinger, was a sixgun made to look as if it had been in service for 100-plus years with a much-used and distressed finish. There were also replicas of the Colt Bisley Model and the Sheriff’s Model (short barrel/no ejector rod housing). Two very interesting single actions were the 12-shot .22 and the Sparrowhawk chambered in .327 Federal (with brass sights!). At one time USFA even offered 1910 and 1911 Government Model .45s.
Over the years I’ve accumulated enough USFA Single Actions for each of the eight grandkids, plus the three “grandkids-in-law” I now have.
I trust they’ll appreciate them as much as I do.