Showing posts with label Colt Single-Action. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Colt Single-Action. Show all posts

11 May 2022


This is a gun post, so if that stuff leaves you cold, feel free to skip ahead. I’m not going to take offense. I know not everybody shares my oddball enthusiasms.

When I was a kid, there were a lot of Westerns on TV. They began to taper off in the early 1960’s, and cop shows and private eyes picked up steam, but if you look at primetime in the years just previous, Westerns dominated the schedule every night. ABC’s Sunday line-up, for example, was Colt .45, Maverick, Lawman, The Rebel, and The Alaskans. That’s a solid block, although I guess you could argue that The Alaskans, strictly speaking, was more sled dogs than horse opera. (And except for The Rebel, they were all produced by Warners.) Mondays was Cheyenne. Tuesdays had Sugarfoot and Bronco, Laramie, Wyatt Earp, and The Rifleman. Wagon Train ran on Wednesdays. Thursdays, you had Bat Masterson and Johnny Ringo. Friday was Rawhide and Hotel de Paree. Saturday night brought us Wanted: Dead or Alive, Have Gun - Will Travel, and Gunsmoke.

L to R: Will Hutchins, Peter Brown, Jack Kelly, Ty Hardin, James Garner, Wayde Preston, John Russell

Is it any wonder that I was crazy about cowboy guns and fast draw? I drew on Wayde Preston in the titles for Colt .45, and on Richard Boone in the opening sequence of Have Gun – Will Travel, but I never mastered the trick of Wayde Preston’s spinning his seven-and-a-half-inch-barreled Colts back into the holsters. By this point, mind, I’d moved on from the cheesier grade of cap gun to the top-of-the-line Nichols 45 Stallion, the closest thing you could find to the nickel-plated gun Shane carried. And then Mattel came out with their version, superseding the Fanner 50, the Shootin’ Shell .45, an actual double-action, single-action you could cock coming out of the holster, a huge step up in design, as regards verisimilitude.

We put away childish things.

I went to summer camp, and learned the basics of gun safety, shooting single-shot bolt .22’s at fifty feet. This is back in the day when the NRA was essentially an educational and shooting group, not a political lobby. (I don’t want to get into how Wayne LaPierre and the 2nd Amendment absolutists hijacked it –maybe next time.) You got merit badges for your shooting skills, and I think I made it to Intermediate, which later stood me in good stead, when I shot Expert with the .30 caliber carbine in Basic Training, but I’m getting ahead of the story.

My dad himself had a single-shot Remington bolt .22, and he took me up Mass. Ave. to Roach’s Sporting Goods, across from the Sears, and we bought a Mossberg. Nice gun, I still own it. The next summer I was fifteen, and he let me buy a .22 Colt Frontier Scout, up in Ellsworth, Maine.

Let us pause, for a moment. My father was the gentlest of men. He served, though, in all three theaters of war, in the Navy, back and forth across the North Atlantic, with the wolfpacks, later in the Mediterranean, and through the Suez Canal, and at the end, in the Pacific. He only told the funny stories, of course. They ran aground in the Suez Canal because the skipper was drunk. It’s only years afterwards, reading his logbooks, that I hear about a close call, outside the anchorage at Scapa Flow. Never a word.

This gentle man, however, saw no contradiction in his son learning how to conduct himself safely and sensibly around firearms. He encouraged it. I could go off on a long sidebar about the guys who came back from the war, but I’ll leave it for now. For the purposes of this story, I spent hours with that Frontier Scout, dry-fire and live fire, cleaning it religiously, taking it apart all the way to the springs, spinning it in and out of the holster. I lived with that gun. (Still own it, too.) For a very long time, that was my model, what I imagined a gun should be.

Some years later, I bought its big brother, a single-action replica of the Colt SAA made in Italy. Heavy bastard, two and a half pounds, chambered in .38-40, with a trigger pull of no more than a few ounces. Tricky gun to shoot, with a lot of felt recoil, and not exactly practical. It was a sentimental choice, and meanwhile, I’d discovered the 1911. It was time I left an earlier century behind.

Again, let’s admit the influence of a Western, not a TV series, but The Wild Bunch. It’s hugely transitional, in many ways, but particularly its time period, introducing the automobile, for one, and the machine gun. And of course the .45 auto, the Colt 1911 pistol, which is almost a character in its own right. “I’m curious about the weapon you men are carrying,” Mapache’s German advisor says. “It is restricted to the use of military personnel. It cannot be purchased, or even owned.” And in the last gunfight of the picture, the .45 auto is in heavy rotation, speed reloads and all, shaking out spent magazines and slapping in full ones. It’s a far cry from the showdown in Shane, or Ride the High Country, for that matter.

Steve Hunter, who’s far more knowledgeable about guns than I am – Point of Impact, Dirty White Boys, Hot Springs – caught wind of the fact that a .45 auto wouldn’t reliably cycle blank rounds, and the armorers on The Wild Bunch wound up buying .38 Supers, which you could find in Mexico, because it was the heaviest caliber legal for civilian carry. Two things, here; I know I’m trying your patience. The first is that anything bigger than the .38 Super, or the 9MM, was illegal in Mexico, and the .45 was restricted to military and police. Secondly, the .38 Super is an outlier. The .45 auto cartridge and the gun itself were designed around each other. John Browning originally came up with an autoloader in .38, and the War Department rejected it. This is a complicated story, involving the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection, and I can’t do justice to it, here. The point is that after the 1911 in .45 was adopted by the U.S. Army, the .38 Super came along in the 1920’s, and it turned into a gunfighter’s gun. John Dillinger carried one.

Steve, being Steve, immediately went on GunBroker, and bought a .38 Super.

So did I. It was an alloy-frame Commander, and I’m here to tell you it’s one of the most reliable guns I’ve ever shot. You could put two hundred rounds through it, it got dirty, it kept right on shooting. The design was still state of the art.

Hunter did a lot with the .38 Super. It’s a major plot point in Black Light, when Bob Lee’s dad Earl is killed in a cornfield, and it resurfaces in Havana. For me, I gave the gun to Mickey Counihan, in my postwar New York stories. There was just something about it.

I don’t own a 1911 any more. I caved, and got a 9MM. It’s a CZ 75 compact. Heavy, simple, reliable. Actually the second most reproduced handgun in the world, for military and police, a generation removed from the Browning High-Power, another much-copied gun. I’ve still got a reflexive weakness for the single-action Army and the .45 auto, but fashions change. A gun is like a piece of furniture, threadbare and comfortable. We’re reluctant to give it up.

[Having opened the door here, I’m going to commit. The transformation of the NRA from a minor sportsmen’s group into a major political lobbyist is one of the big stories of the last thirty years, and it happened under the covers. Nobody noticed until it was too late. Stay tuned.]

23 March 2022

End of Watch

I watched a picture called Crown Vic, from 2019, because it had Thomas Jane.  I know he’s done a lot of stuff, but I didn’t take much notice until The Expanse – my bad.  Crown Vic is pretty good, a series of incidents, really, not a rising narrative arc, about a pair of L.A. patrol cops on a single night shift, the old salt and the rookie kid, Jane of course the lifer, showing the newbie the ropes.  It’s a well-made movie, handsomely shot, with a handful of good cameos, both funny and disturbing, and I liked it enough to look up the writer/director’s credits, Joel Souza.

Souza wrote four pictures before Crown Vic, and directed three of them, but what made me sit up and take notice is that the picture he started work on next was a Western with Alec Baldwin, titled Rust.

This may or may not ring a bell with the rest of you, but Rust was on location right down the road from here, at Bonanza Creek ranch, a few miles south of Santa Fe.  Souza and his cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, were rehearsing a set-up with Baldwin.  At some point, Baldwin drew a prop weapon, and cocked it.  The gun went off.  From later investigation, it turns out there was live round in the gun.  The bullet hit Hutchins, went through her, and hit Souza.  She died; he recovered.  Production shut down, and it’s unlikely to resume.  There’s probably no way to get to the bottom of what actually happened. 

The word “complacency” was used by the Santa Fe county sheriff.  One question is how an assistant director could call out “cold gun,” and then hand Baldwin a loaded one.  Another is how dummy rounds, live ammo, and blanks were all present on the set.  This called attention to the armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, and her level of experience.  Hannah is Thell Reed’s daughter.  Thell Reed is one of the more celebrated gun-handlers in Hollywood, right up there with Arvo Ojala, and it’s hard to imagine Hannah being stupid about guns.  In fact, soon after the shooting, word got out that she’d argued for stricter safety protocols and basic firearms instruction for the cast and crew, and she’d been turned down because it wasn’t in the budget.  The more unsettling thing to me is that neither the AD nor the actor thought to check the weapon for themselves. 

Be this as it may, let’s turn our attention to the gun itself.
  Alec Baldwin has recently said that he didn’t pull the trigger.  This may in fact be true.  The gun he was holding was a replica of a Colt single-action Army.  A lot of these are made in Italy by Uberti, and imported by American distributors like Cimarron.  [See below]  This is by no means a primitive gun.  It was state-of-the-art in 1871.  Granted, there have been a few improvements over the last 150 years, but it’s a proven and reliable design.  It does, on other hand, have safety issues.  The cylinder holds six rounds, but you only load five, and leave the hammer down on an empty chamber.  You cock the gun, and the cylinder rotates.  It’s not a good idea to pull the hammer back with just the ball of your thumb, straight back; you want the joint of your thumb across the hammer, or your thumb could slip off.  And the trigger is very light: it’s seated directly against the hammer, and slides out from under it with a breath of air.  If you’re not familiar with the hardware, it’s an accident waiting to happen.

Did it happen
this way?  I have no idea.  And while I don’t know guns upside-down and inside-out like Steve Hunter, I think I know this particular gun fairly well.  I’ve been shooting it for sixty years.  It’s not at all inconceivable that the gun went off, in effect, all by itself.

This, of course, addresses only the mechanical question, and absolves nobody of responsibility.  There was a culture of carelessness on the picture.  It was make-believe.