Seriously Seeking Someday

And making it happen.

How are your Somedays coming along? Someday I am going to go there; Someday I am going to do this. Most of us spend much of our lives contemplating Somedays. I know much of my youth was spent looking forward to something I would accomplish Someday. I first wrote about this in the January 2009 Campfire Tales which related one of my Somedays being fulfilled with the acquisition of a Mossberg .22 old-fashioned military training rifle.

Once I found the rifle it took the boys at Buckhorn six months to find the proper magazine and then my friend Denis found the right rear sight in a box of parts at the local gun show. Someday came together and the result was an excellent shooting .22. I still have a lot of Somedays left.

One of those Somedays goes back to 1955 with the publication of Elmer Keith’s book Sixguns. I did not get my copy until after graduating from high school and I spent a lot of time pouring over the low-quality but highly exciting pictures of custom sixguns in that book. Almost every Sixgunner knows of the history of Keith’s “No. 5 SAA.” It may well be the most famous .44 Special in existence. However, the one really catching my imagination was one of his other .44 Special Single Actions.

The one picture in the book does not do it justice but I could tell it was not only a beautiful but well used sixgun. Barrel length is 7-1/2″ with a King short action, Bisley Model style hammer, and a Smith & Wesson adjustable rear sight. Stocks are 1-piece ivory and the most attractive feature to me is the front sight which is on a barrel band such as often found on big bore rifles. I wonder how many times during my college days, when I was attending classes full-time and also working full-time at night, I removed the stress by looking at that picture and thinking about Someday. Thirty years later I was able to actually handle Keith’s custom sixguns and then just a few years ago place them in the Elmer Keith Museum within the Boise, Idaho, Cabela’s. They look a whole lot better in person than in those old pictures.

The “barrel turning” club of John and his friend Denis fits on the hitch
of John’s pick-up. They can adjust windage without harm on fixed sight SAAs.

Treasure Trove

Somedays are usually tough to accomplish as we have to spend most of our time surviving in reality rather than fulfilling our dreams. In the 1960s my wife arranged for me to empty a basement filled with ceramic molds. I sure grumbled a lot as I stumbled up those ancient steps and hauled pickup load after pickup load to our house. There was however a definite reward for doing all this as also in the basement were several stacks of American Rifleman magazines from the 1920s to 1940s. What a treasure and they were free for the taking. I went through those magazines clipping every article of interest including several by Elmer Keith. I not only found his 1929 article on his No. 5 SAA, there were also earlier articles concerning the visit to his ranch outside of Durkee, Oregon, by Harold Croft.

Croft traveled all the way cross-country to witness firsthand the long-range sixgun shooting Keith had been talking about. He brought a whole suitcase full of custom sixguns including four lightweight packin’ pistols built on Single Action and Bisley Model Colts. They were all chambered in .45 Colt with barrel band front sights. My enthusiasm was rekindled. Croft numbered his guns, 1, 2, 3, and 4. Forty years later I was able to handle two of those, even shoot one of them, and it was interesting to find they had been converted by Croft to .44 Special after his visit to Oregon.

Over the years I did come up with one barrel-band front sighted sixgun, a John Linebaugh .500 Linebaugh. It is a wonderfully built sixgun and the band is actually machined as part of the barrel; close to what I wanted but it was not built on a Colt but rather a Ruger New Model. I still dreamt of the Someday I would have my “Keith Colt,” but alas it seemed not to be.

Fast forward several decades. Shooters often complain about fixed sighted guns wondering why the factory can’t sight them in properly. The problem is everyone does not use the same ammunition, nor the same hold, nor has the same eyes, nor shoots under the same lighting conditions. All of these have a bearing on how connected point of aim is to point of impact. Quite often single actions need to have their barrels turned to adjust the windage, and front sights filed down to address elevation. Once in a while we come across a front sight too short which requires metal to be added or shooting lighter bullets, however usually it is just a matter of filing a too tall front sight.

Turning barrels is not difficult, however it does require proper equipment. My friend Denis came up with a portable barrel vise so we could work in the field. The supporting section is an L-shaped affair about 20″ tall which fits into the trailer hitch on my Silverado 4×4. The top of this holds the vise and he made aluminum blocks to precisely fits the barrel of Colt Single Actions and replicas thereof. We also use a frame wrench instead of the traditional axe handle which minimizes damaging the frame in any way. I wanted to just fly by the seat of my pants, but Denis (being a retired engineer and hobby machinist) worked out a chart for each barrel length as to how much we’d have to twist the barrel. He didn’t stop there; he then came up with a gauge to fit on the frame wrench handle and it works perfectly.

The completed Keith/Rainey/Cripe Texican .45 Colt delivered
12 shots at 20 yards into one giant hole.

Barrel Turn

This past summer we quietly assumed the title of “Best Barrel Turners in Southwest Idaho” as we checked out 100 single action sixguns and had to turn the barrels on approximately 1/3 of them to adjust for windage. The most extreme example was a 1903 Colt SAA .44-40, which required enough barrel turning to compensate for shooting 6″ to the left. To do this requires about 6-degrees of left barrel rotation, which means tightening the barrel considerably. It worked perfectly. A Texican also needed the barrel turned 2- to 3-degrees left; however, it was found to be so tight it would require taking metal off the barrel to allow it to be turned. I just put it away and we decided Someday we would actually do that.

Then I came across a Smith & Wesson N-frame rear sight assembly in my parts box and decided maybe now this was the time to bring Someday to fruition. The Texican is not your ordinary replica Colt. It is built to high-quality standards by Hartford Armory for STI. It is a beautifully fitted and finished Single Action and it shoots extremely well.

I took the rear sight and the .45 Colt Texican to my local gun shop, Buckhorn Gun & Pawn, and talked to Mike Rainey who is the manager and also a superb gunsmith. I told him what I had in mind, that is fitting the Smith & Wesson rear sight to the Texican and finding a rifle style barrel band front sight we could put on it. He asked I give him time to think about it. He called me a short time later and said he felt they could do it.

I expected him to just find a barrel band someplace that would come close to fitting and put it on the Texican. Instead he studied the Texican for a while and then designed a barrel band front sight. The regular gunsmith, Tom Cripe, was given the drawing and he proceeded to machine the barrel band from a solid block of steel. They called me to come over and look at it before it was polished, fitted to the barrel and blued. I was definitely impressed with the design and quality of the work. My gunsmiths are very important to me and I now know Tom can do virtually anything!

A few weeks later they called me to come pick up the finished results. My Someday had been achieved. Both the front and rear sight assemblies were precisely installed with a blade front sight in place and it was time to test fire. Using 260-grain .45 Colt loads at 900 fps I found it required more elevation of the rear sight than I wanted so I took it back and had Tom machine .004″ off the front blade. It still shot a little low but instead of taking more metal off I switched to the RCBS 45-270 SAA bullet which weighs 282 grains when cast of my alloy. The accompanying picture shows a 1-hole, 12-shot group with this bullet over 8.5 grains of Unique. This is a 900+ fps load and more than adequately powerful for anything I am likely to encounter. The first six shots cut the bottom part of the group and then I raised the rear sight two clicks to cut the top part. It now shoots precisely to point of aim at 20 yards. I have christened this sixgun the Keith/Rainey/Cripe Texican. It is everything a Someday Single Action .45 should be.

Buckhorn Gun & Pawn
6601 Ustick ROAd
Boise, ID 83702
(208) 377-2535

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