Sunday, November 22, 2015

The tools presented in Partners

            My thoughts, feelings and understanding of firearms should be obvious to regular readers. Let me dispel any question by stating that I believe the well made firearm demonstrates the absolute apex of man’s ability to design, engineer and manufacture a tool which can be both functional and pleasing to view. The results of use by man can be the ugliest and destructive of scenes but that is not the fault of either the tool or its designer.
            There are firearms in all of my novels that have been released and many of the short stories. The first mentioned in “Partners” is the Colt revolving shotgun and later in the narrative its brother the Colt revolving rifle shows up. As with the Paterson Colts first seen by the public in 1837 these long guns were revolutionary and their production actually preceded the production of the hand guns. The First Model Ring Lever Rifle was produced in .34, .36, .38, .40 and .44 with 8 shot and 10 shot cylinders although the 10 shot may be impossible to find. This First Model was followed by replacement models with several improvements and the first shotgun in 16 gauge with a 6 shot cylinder in 1839.

            All these early Colt revolving rifles, despite improvements suffered from similar problems. They were all very inaccurate with only slight improvements in each new model. The gap between the cylinder and the base of the barrel was larger than necessary and allowed too much propulsion gas to escape thereby reducing the power behind the bullet in turn reducing impact and distance. They had in most cases (except for an inadequate strap on one model) no frame component above the cylinder giving the weapon a short life. They also required time, effort and good tools to disassemble for cleaning.
Walker Colt of 1847

The biggest improvement in the revolving rifle and the Colt Company in general did not start in either New Jersey or Connecticut but down south in the Republic of Texas. With very little money the Republic created a (primarily) volunteer army they called the Texas Rangers. These men volunteered because bands of men where needed throughout West Texas to protect their families and neighbors from raids by the Comanche and the bands of Comanche, Mexican and whites called Comancheros. It also gave the volunteers an opportunity to eat on occasion in a country that was short on everything but beans and wild beef.
            The Rangers lost many men in those early battles with the Comanche. The Indian would taunt the white, perhaps fire an arrow or two and throw a spear and the young (mostly teenage) whites would fire their muzzle loading weapons. The Comanche would then fire a half a dozen arrows while the Rangers re-loaded … or tried to.
            One of the Ranger captains or leader of what had been designated a Company; a man named Samuel Hamilton Walker saw the answer to this problem in Samuel Colt’s invention with the revolving cylinder. It may be that he owned a Paterson Colt although few men had extra money for “frills” and it would be a few years before a repeating handgun would be seen as a necessity and worth more than a “reliable” single-shot, muzzle loading pistol.
If Captain Walker did own or even borrow a Paterson he would have quickly determined that the .31 or even the .36 caliber Model #5 was no match for what the Comanche could do with his arrows. He therefore drew up a design enlarging the dimensions of Sam Colt’s early weapons and self-funded a trip to New York to meet Sam Colt.  The weapon they built was intended to be a “horse pistol”, to be carried in a holster mounted on a Rangers saddle. It would hold six, .44 caliber balls and be large enough to contain the explosion from a load of black powder that would send the ball much farther than a Comanche arrow … if the shooter could learn to hold the weapon and the horse did not die from fright.
The first Walker Colt was manufactured in 1847. The ft.-lbs. of energy it was capable of transmitting would not be exceeded by a hand-gun until Elmer Keith (the cartridge) and Smith & Wesson (the weapon) produced the .44 Magnum 108 years later in 1955.
(Yes, Ruger released the first weapon chambered for .44 Mag but S&W was working on it first and had built a prototype. The cartridge and the weapons where intended for hunting Elk and deer. I’ll come back to why S&W and Ruger made the first .44 Mags and how the load came to be created … but later.)
Samuel H. Walker was killed during October, 1847 during one of the battles of the Mexican-American War. He was thirty years old and may not have had the opportunity to fire one of his Walker Colts.
1855 Colt Revolving Rifle in .56
The development of the Walker and its subsequent success lead to changes in other Colt models. The Model 1855 revolving rifles and shotguns, those depicted in “Partners” had a much stronger frame with a “top-strap” or frame member over top of the cylinder and tolerances had been reduced so that less propulsion was lost between cylinder and barrel. They were generally accurate out to 100 yards and some to twice that distance. With very little adaptation to lock-screws and center pins cylinders could be pre-loaded and changed fairly quickly during action, although not as effective with shot loads as with the .44 or .56 caliber ball used in the rifle.
One of the bad men encountered near the start of Partners is carrying a Smith & Wesson. This would be the Model # 1 ½ or a “first issue revolver” in .32 rimfire. About 23 thousand where made from 1865 to ’68. S&W had purchased a patent for a “bored-through” cylinder which allowed them to be the first to sell cartridge firing hand-guns. They did not produce a “heavy” revolver until the Model No. 3 First Model Single Action of 1870 in .44 S&W American (centre fire) and a few in .44 Henry (rimfire).
S&W also sold a revolving rifle from 1879 to ’87. It was the Model 320 (in .320 S&W rifle caliber). However, due to the experience the public had with the Colt revolving long guns and some of the less than uplifting talk about the then 25 year old weapon the S&W 320 did not do particularly well and less than a thousand examples were produced.
One of the bad men has a “Springfield .56” which Frank simply fires over the lake to unload. This would be a U.S. Model 1861 Percussion Rifle or Musket made for the Federal Government by a variety of contractors some even made by Springfield Armory.  Thousands of this model rifle (and musket) were made and carried throughout North America and regardless of what might be stamped on the weapon – Alfred Jenks & Sons, William Mason, Remington, Savage or almost two dozen contractors – was usually called a Springfield.
S&W Model 1 1/2 Second Issue in .32
One of the partners and one of the bad men carry a “Spencer.” This would be two of 107,000 Spencers produced between 1863 and ’67. Those produced during the Civil War (and receiving an endorsement from President Lincoln) fired a .52 caliber rimfire cartridge, seven of which where held in a tube magazine in the stock and fed to the breach by a lever which also served as a trigger guard. Despite their hurried and mass production for use by Federal or Northern soldiers these weapons were very accurate and well regarded. As is the case even with today’s rifles where one is mystifying in its accuracy and the next supposedly identical weapon can’t be counted on to hit the wall of a barn from inside some of the Civil War Spencers supplied uncanny accuracy at distances only expected from weapons used for plains buffalo hunts.
Spencer Model 1860 carbine
In addition to his Spencer carbine Frank is also carrying, in a holster, a Colt Model 1860 Army Revolver. From 186 to ’73 more than 200 thousand were produced in .44 with either a 7 ½ or 8 inch barrel.
Colt 1860 Army Civilian Model .44
The one other firearm that comes to mind from the Partners novel is the Henry, or “Golden Boy” as it was sometimes called before the 1866 Winchester which also had a brass receiver, took over that name. The Henry is only mentioned once or twice (and not carried by a character) and appears on the front cover, so I’ll include a little information about it.
The Henry was developed from the Volcanic. The Volcanic was built for a .38 rimfire Smith & Wesson style cartridge. The Henry was built for a .44 caliber rimfire cartridge (24 grains of black powder) designed specifically for it. About 13 thousand were produced from 1860 to ’66 when Winchester (who owned the patents) produced the Model 1866. The Winchester was also made in .44 rimfire and about 170 thousand were made between 1866 and ’98.
While chasing down the man who murdered BC Police officer Jack Lawson the partners, now four in number have a variety of weapons but the action is confined to a variety of double barrel shotguns as was the case with the actual or historical chase. The bad guy, One Eared Charlie Brown uses a Manhattan .36 or “Navy Type” which  were made from 1859 – ’68 and had some similarities to both the Colt ’51 Navy and the Colt ’61 Navy.
That pretty well covers the weapons in Partners. The weapons in The Great Liquor War and Homesteader: Finding Sharon are naturally very different since the stories take place 20 years later and many changes where made in those years. Another decade passes before The Making of Jake McTavish and Cattle Business so there are many changes again. For example, by 1900 bolt action rifles where replacing lever actions in popularity and national defense ministries and their governments where learning that it was cheaper to issue good weapons to soldiers than to replace and retrain them when they were inadequately equipped.
More about the weapons in other novels later.

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