Tale Of The Talking Six-Gun

Barnes Finds A Loquacious Sample Of S&W's M28
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The rambling tentacles of an errant north breeze assaulted my senses, bringing with it the taste and smell of snow. Morning sun and cold temperatures had quickly been replaced with gunmetal gray skies and the promise of an even colder afternoon. It was a day to stay home and cogitate in front of the fire with a good book, a cup of coffee, and a warm blanket. Unfortunately, my journey was carrying me in the opposite direction from these simple luxuries.

The craggy peaks of snow capped mountains filled my windshield with beauty, so I decided to stop for a rest and enjoy the scenery in a small town just off the interstate. Driving through the narrow streets, I noticed a weather worn sign that stated simply: Guns-Buy-Sale-Trade. I angled my truck into the parking lot and decided to see what they had to offer.

If first impressions mean anything, my chances of finding something interesting were less than zero. The front of the building was in an advanced state of disrepair so chances were the inside was not much better. Pushing open the heavy door I stepped into the shop. The interior was not much larger than an ordinary one-car garage, but in contrast to the outside, it was clean and neat.

A man in his early fifties, wearing overalls and a ball cap greeted me. He emanated the appearance of someone who preferred others to assume he was not overly intelligent, when in fact he was very capable and shrewd.

Sixgunner's Dream

Long gun racks filled with a little bit of everything lined the walls. Wooden shelves underneath held ammunition in practically any caliber you could imagine. Four or five steps carried me in front of his handgun counters. To my surprise, I had wandered into a sixgunner’s dream.

The first counter held a mixture of Colt New Service, old Detective Specials, Pythons, one Banker’s Special, and one as-new Official Police. Counter two was filled with a variety of large-frame S&Ws and old model Ruger single actions. Counter three quite obviously held a variety of handguns the old gentleman deemed not worthy to include with the others.

As I walked back to the first counter to examine one of the New Service Colts, a voice interrupted.

“Over here, come back!”

Thinking the salesman was speaking to me, I asked, “Did you say something sir?” “No,” he replied as he glanced up from his newspaper, “but if you need anything, just let me know.” Dismissing the voice, I continued looking at the husky Colt through the glass.

“Come over here. I’m in the last counter. Hurry!”

The salesman continued to read his paper, so clearly he had not said a word. Thinking I was losing my mind, I walked over to the last counter and looked in. Nothing unusual stared back at me.

“I’m the S&W Model 28, lying beside the old Iver Johnson.”

Shaking my head with disbelief, and glancing around to assure myself no one was watching, I replied softly, “Look, I’m not crazy. Six-guns can definitely not talk, so what’s going on here?” By now, I’m sure you hold the opinion that yours truly has lost his mind, or is at least telling one of the biggest lies of the century, but it really did happen just as described.

“I’ve been stuck in this counter for over a year waiting for someone to carry me home. Everybody picks me up and checks me out, but no one wants me. I know I’m not much to look at — I’ve got a few scratches and scars — but I shoot pretty good, and I have lots of life left. I’m rugged, dependable, and to be frank, we deserve each other. Buy me and let’s go home.”

By now, I’m pretty sure I’ve lost my mind. The old man behind the counter was still absorbed in his paper, so he had not heard me speak to the Smith. If I was destined to hear a handgun talk, why couldn’t the voice have emanated from one of those crisp New Service Colts, or better still, some-thing custom made, or engraved? Why did it have to be a trail worn S&W Model 28?

“Alright, I’ll buy you, but you better be as good as you say, or I’ll trade you off so fast it will bulge your chambers.” I pulled the old man away from his paper long enough to conduct the transaction. It was obvious by his manner that he considered me crazy for buying the worn Smith, instead of one of his better handguns, but I had no other option. How often does a firearm talk to you?

Good As His Word

We often lovingly refer to handguns as she, her, or perhaps my baby. This ’Smith considers itself a he, and is quick to correct you should you make a mistake. Whatever it is, my Smith Model 28 was true to his word. He is rugged, dependable, and shoots very well indeed. While not a tack driver, or target gun, he does manage to group everything under two inches at 25 yards.

Neither is he picky about what he’s fed. Stuff the chambers with a combination of factory and handloaded .38 special and .357 Magnum ammunition, and he’ll still group under two inches. My ’Smith is not much to look at, but he possesses the qualities everyone desires in a faithful friend— he’s rugged, reliable, never lets you down and he’s a straight shooter. What more could you ask?

Police officers, county sheriffs, and highway patrolmen enjoyed a strong, healthy relationship with the original S&W .357 Magnum six-gun. Gangsters and outlaws soon learned the hard way that one well-placed shot from an officer’s .357 magnum administered justice swiftly and often permanently.

As popular as the S&W .357 Magnum was, it had one disadvantage small town departments could not overlook. It was expensive. Police department budgets were small, and town coffers often ran dry, so lawmen, being the crafty lot they are, solved their dilemma themselves.

Agencies from across the country, including the Texas Highway Patrol, contacted S&W asking them to produce a less expensive version of its famous .357 Magnum revolver. The original .357 (later known as the Model 27) was dressed in high polished blue, and wore such adornments as cut checkering on the top strap and barrel rib, plus fancy target stocks. These time consuming features did not come cheap.

Ready To Oblige

Smith & Wesson has always left the door open for officers, inviting ideas to improve its products and make them more user friendly for the men and women in blue. Listening closely to what they wanted, C.R. Hellstrom, then president of S&W, instructed his team of engineers to design a revolver that would answer these requests.

The result, with all due respect to Bill Jordan and the Combat Magnum, was a police officer’s dream gun. Christened the Highway Patrolman, this new six-gun enjoyed all of the inherent qualities of the original .357 magnum revolver — strength, ruggedness, durability and target-grade accuracy; but at a price town council bean counters found attractive.

To make this new six-gun affordable, Smith engineers did away with the high-polished bluing, and instead applied a durable matte or brush blue finish. These veteran revolvers actually wear a finish that is far more attractive than many produced by Smith and Wesson today. Top strap checkering was dropped, and modest service stocks replaced the expensive target grips. These simple alterations allowed every officer who so desired to be armed with one of the finest six-guns ever to be worn on a Sam Browne belt.

Not Just For Those In Uniform

The Model 28 quickly found favor with hunters and outdoorsmen as well as peace officers. Its large frame could digest heavy handloads without heartburn while providing ample velocity and power for most medium and all small game.

Hikers, fishermen, campers, and woods-bummers, enjoyed an enduring relationship with the Model 28. This rugged S&W six-gun offered protection against two- and four-legged camp robbers, and tucked under a pillow, provided the peace of mind necessary for a good night’s sleep.

As fine as this revolver is, it has been absent from the S&W catalog for many a year. It happened about the same time Americans became weight conscious, and decided trimming a few pounds here and there made them look better. Advancements in metallurgy allowed hand-guns to follow suit, dropping ounces instead of pounds.

Almost overnight, big-boned, N-frame six-guns like the Model 28 found themselves out of vogue, replaced by underweight versions sporting a slimmer and trimmer body. Knowledgeable shootists realize the value of a large-frame revolver and have mourned the loss of this full figured six-gun ever since.

The Highway Patrolman has been characterized as the workingman’s revolver. These blue-collar six-guns could be found riding the range tending cattle, riding shotgun in the glove compartment of a long haul truck driver, in the back pocket of a gas station attendant or shoved discreetly into a desk drawer or night stand. Anyone who so desired could afford this rugged, rawboned, six-gun. Affordable, durable, and you got more than your money’s worth — American simplicity at its best.

Custom Gun Starting Point?

Today, many shooters find the ’Smith Model 28 the perfect basic revolver for their custom gun projects. Prices have not risen enormously since their factory demise, and locating fine examples at shops and trade shows is a relatively simple task. This advantage makes it possible to start your project with a six-gun whose foundation is already in excellent shape, thereby avoiding costly repairs before you begin.

Custom gunsmiths around the country stay busy refining these rugged handguns into classic works of art, from simple cartridge conversions, to time consuming and costly engraved masterpieces.

A few months ago, I phoned Dave Clements, of Clements Custom Guns, and asked him about the possibility of converting my Model 28 from .357 Magnum to .44 Special. As soon as we concluded our conversation, I received a thorough, and sound tongue, or maybe it was a barrel lashing. In very clear and concise terms, my talkative Smith informed me he was perfectly happy just the way he was, and for some reason, I then felt guilty for having entertained the thought of changing him.

Old Friends Are Good Friends

We often have rather one-sided conversations, this old S&W and I. I’m a good listener, and he soon felt confident enough to tell me his life’s story. When I first met him, he mentioned we deserved each other. He was correct. We share some of the same traits, both good and bad. We are both a bit trail-worn and rough around the edges, obstinate at times, and often cranky.

He’s showing his age, as am I, but hope-fully we can both share a few more adventures and smell the heady aroma of burnt gunpowder before his chambers need a bypass, and my legs and back give out.

Since my encounter with this particular Model 28, I’ve enjoyed a newfound respect for these venerable six-guns. Durable, rugged, dependable, and accurate — that’s a pretty apt description of a S&W Highway Patrolman. They look pretty darn good too. What more can you say? Well actually, you don’t have to say anything, he’ll do the talking for you.

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