Tuesday, December 06, 2005

We Have a (Very Close) Winner!

First, look at the "before" picture!

Now, revel in the fact that ace gunwriter Patrick Sweeney stumbled, but revolver ace Frank James came about as close as a person can come in identifying the Mystery S&W in the previous blog post. Here's his e-mail:
I posted a comment on your blog, but it has never materialized -- what gives?
Any way in viewing your pix, I have come to the following conclusions:
1) It started out as a pre-war commercial frame. If it had been a military frame there would have been NO S&W trademark on the sideplate.
2) It was originally a fixed sight gun, but someone has milled the frame to fit a modern post-war adjustable sight to the top of the frame.
3) The barrel is a skinny barrel with a rib, but it is a rib that has been milled down or shaved because a normal factory ribbed barrel would stand ABOVE the front of the M&P frame, even on an N-frame. So therefore I think it is a highly modified Model 27 or original .38/44 Outdoorsman barrel.
My guess is this gun is either the result of the exalted Hamilton Bowen or Clements Gunsmithing.
How close did I come?
All The Best,
Frank W. James
Well Frank...you comment did materialize. Apparently the blog has recently acquired a mind of its own! All in all, you did pretty well with an impossible task. Here's the real skinny on the gun in question:
1) I tricked you all with the frame. It's a 1917 Military. Most of the original markings and the bottom of the frame had been ground (or rusted) off when I got it. The frame was polished, the screws rehabiltated or replaced, the whole gun bead-blasted and a new S&W Commercial logo roll-marked in the appropriate place on the sideplate. Serial number puts it around 1917/18, and you could barely make out the "flaming bomb" insignia.
2) You are correct in that the topstrap has been milled for an adjustable sight, in this case a refugee from a M28 Highway Patrolman.
3) The barrel — the reason I bought the junk gun in the first place! — and the .38 Special cylinder are from the relatively obscure .38/44 Outdoorsman Model of 1950, A.K.A. the "Pre-Model 23." The thin-ribbed barrel came in around 1950, and the serial number puts it in that range. The frame was still the Hand-Ejector style round toped frame, so the ramp was a pretty good match for the 1917 frame. Somewhere along the line, the issue Patridge front sight got turned into a later edition ramp sight. BTW, the cylinder is drilled all the way through...correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't some S&W cylinders drilled that way for the late, lamented .38 "High Power" cartridge that preceded the .357?
4) The trigger may have come from the original Outdoorsman, but it looks too modern for me...I'm thinking one of the numbered Magnums. The hammer is from a .38/44, I think, and heaven alone knows about the insides, except to say that they're a mix of old and new.
5) The grips appear to be an old but genuine set of Herrett Shooting Stars.

Now, you're asking yourself, "Why would any sane person buy such a piece of crap?" Well, originally parts for a .38-40 conversion. However, both Hamilton Bowen and Dave Clements said, "Good Lord, Michael! Couldn't you find a gun that wasn't assembled by drunken beavers?" So I was gonna part it out — I can always use N-Frame parts down the line — but strangely enough, the thing shot pretty good with lead bullets...pretty cool for a barrel with virtually no forcing cone and the fact that only 2 of the 6 cylinders lined up with the barrel! I was struck with a perverse thought...why not add this Sad Sack to the Michael Bane Home for Wayward 1917s, part of my pennance for carving up there great old guns back in my impetuous youth. I realize there's no true pennance for taking a 95% 1917 and turning it into a .44 Special PPC gun. Or the Ugliest Gun in the World, a different 1917 with a milled top and a 1955 Target barrel. Or my first attempt at a "Fitz Special"...but I am doing my part. I still have the Ugliest Gun in the World, which is the single best-shooting .45 ACP revolver I've ever owned, although Pure-D Butt Ugly. My own Fitzes are gone, but I saved one from ignomy at a local gunstore recently. I plucked a factory refinished .455 from certain death at $200. So the Sad Sack was an obvious candidate for salvation.

Ah, me-thought...who would be crazy enough to take on such a project? Then a light bulb goes off — who was crazy enough to let me into his shop back in the day? Who was crazy enough to join me in carving up perfectly good World War One hardware? Who was good enough to salvage the Sad Sack for no other reason than the challenge?

Who else? Bob Cogan at Accurate Plating and Weaponry. Bob was already used to my nitwit projects, plus he's the best metal plater in the country. He took it all in stride when I sent him the gun. "You do know the cylinders don't line up with the barrel, don't you?" he asked. Yep, I said. "Okey-dokey," he said. A few weeks later I get a package with a note taped to it: CALL ME AS SOON AS YOU GET THIS.

"What a cluster-f$#@!" he said. "It's like every generation of S&Ws donated something to this beast." He did a masterful job of hiding the old pockmarks, rusted areas and mystery gouges, then refit everything inside. The trigger was still binding a little when I got it — Bob told me that — but I screwed around with it and it settled in.

"The darnest thing is that it shoots really good," Bob said, perplexed. "Especially now that there's a throat on the barrel."

It does shoot good, although all I've tried it with is WW Cowboy loads, which are sweethearts. I've been using it as training for the ICORE revolver championships later this year, where I'll be shooting a specially modified Model 629 .44 Magnum with powderpuff loads. ICORE competition rules call for a power factor (bullet weight X velocity) of 120,000, and the fat Winchester Cowboy .38s come in at 126,400. It has also become my designated Office Dry Fire Gun.


Anonymous said...

Oh, wait.... You said SANE. My bad, I'm a "gun nut".

Michael Bane said...

Amen, Brian!


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