The Colt Single Action Army was so superbly designed that is still exists more than 125 years after its introduction with more than one-half million being produced, and with even more replicas manufactured than the originals. The basic design goes back almost two centuries and yet it also still lives today in such modern guns as the Ruger Blackhawk and the Freedom Arms revolver. As good as it is, the Single Action Army whether it be 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Generation, or a replica thereof, can be improved with a touch of a master's hand which brings us to Peacemaker Specialists.
Eddie Janis of Peacemaker Specialists specializes in Colt Peacemakers to the extent he will not work on any other revolvers even though they may be replicas of this great old design. Peacemaker Specialists works only at taking over where the manufacturer of Colt Single Action Armies leaves off and proceeds to perfection, or by starting with some early Colt Single Action and completing it or returning it to perfection. The sixguns produced by Colt from 1873 to 1941 are normally found to be superb examples of the gunmaker’s art in their original form. However, many were used hard over the course of their shooting life, those that were used with black powder loads were not always cleaned properly, and some whether intentionally or unintentionally were often mistreated. The early 2nd Generation Colts were also fine sixguns but lacked perfection often being found with oversize chambers and as machinery began to wear the later sixguns slipped in quality. Many 3rd Generation revolvers also need help, the kind of help that Peacemaker Specialists is known for.
One of the biggest problems encountered with all generations of Single Action Armies is interior action parts that are well worn or were not very closely fitted during their manufacture. The cure requires hand fitting bolts and cylinder hands, and precise handwork to have the bolt lock into its locking notch in the cylinder precisely at the time the hammer reaches its furthest backwards travel and the hand has finished rotating the cylinder. For all of three of these events to coincide requires a master's touch with stone and file. This is a time-consuming operation that requires much patience. Janis carefully stones and files until the perfection of his Gunslinger Deluxe Action Job is accomplished.
Janis says of this operation: "Our priority in doing an action job is not to make the gun feel smooth and light. Our priority is to build a gun that is totally reliable by eliminating wear and parts breakage. By accomplishing this goal, the byproduct is having a pistol that feels like it's running on ball bearings but locks up like a bank vault.” Janis has worked on several of my Colt Single Actions with examples from all three generations and I can testify to the fact that everything he has said here is absolutely true. The sixguns are virtually unbreakable, which is quite a bit to say about a sixgun that operates with flat springs, and yet feels so smooth. Of course, Janis replaces all the original springs with his custom-made Gunfighter springs. I always enjoy handing one of my Peacemaker Specialists sixguns to someone who has a new Colt or replica and ask them to cock the hammer. The look on their face is always totally priceless.
The biggest problem with most Colt Single Actions is found with the barrel and cylinder. Many older guns will be found with pitted barrels and cylinders from using black powder, while quite often, newer sixguns will have oversized chambers. The correct dimension for a .45 Colt cylinder is a chamber mouth that measures .452”, however sizes of .456”-.458” are common. To correct this, Janis normally re-chambers .357 Magnum cylinders to the proper .45 Colt dimension. Barrels which are often pitted are replaced by 2nd Generation barrels on 1st and 2nd Generation sixguns, while 3rd Generation Colts normally have correct 451.5” barrels that do not need to be replaced. When replacement barrels are installed the lettering can also be re-cut with period correct style markings.
Even though Janis specializes in refinishing old Colt Single Actions and bringing them back to even better than new condition, he is such a purist and has such respect for the history associated with the old guns that he will not refinish an old Colt Single Action unless it has been previously refinished. He is not alone in this as many gunsmiths have such respect for the history of the old revolvers they feel they must maintain the character this magnificent sixgun has earned over many decades. Such a sixgun is a .45 Colt manufactured in 1917. It had never been refinished, however most of the bluing and case coloring were long gone and it had several stains and some minor pitting reflecting the fact that it had been stored in an old holster for more than 50 years.
Neither I, nor Peacemaker Specialists would destroy the integrity and purity of this grand old sixgun by refinishing it. It still shows age and use on the outside, however looks are somewhat deceiving as Janis totally rebuilt the interior replacing necessary parts and performing his Gunslinger Deluxe Action Job. He also had on hand an old pair of one-piece ivory stocks carved in the fleur-de-lis pattern and these were expertly fitted. This beautiful sixgun maintains its integrity while still performing to perfection. The ivory stocks themselves are aged to the point they have the look of always being part of this sixgun.
Peacemaker Specialists saved me from one of the worst sixgun decisions I ever made, one in which I should have known better. I had been out all day in the cold and wet; I was tired, hungry, and in a hurry as the gun show was in its last hour when I arrived. Up and down the aisles I went looking for that all-elusive bargain that all show attendees are hoping to find. If there were any to start with they should have all been gone. I know that. Now. I moved quickly knowing that time was at a premium. Another mistake. About halfway through the show I spotted it, it being a Colt Single Action.
The price tag was low, too low, but I picked it up anyway. Attached to the $650 tag was a Third Generation 7 1/2" .44-40 at a time when new Colts were selling in the $1500-1600 price range. It looked to be a genuine $1000 savings. Of course at that price one would not expect a sixgun in new condition, however I had no idea what a bargain I was holding. The barrel and cylinder looked new, but the grip frame had mismatched numbers and the mainframe had some pitting and had obviously been re-finished. The dealer said it had gotten wet and he had to re-blue the frame and replace the barrel and cylinder. That should have sent up the warning signals, however I wanted a bargain so badly I wasn't thinking straight. I was looking for a shooter not a museum piece, it really didn't look all that bad, and the action felt good and smooth, so the check was written and I headed home. Little did I know what was ahead.
After a hot shower had refreshed me I prepared for a relaxing evening enjoying my new treasure. The shower must have also cleared up my eyes as I began noticing things I hadn't spotted before. Even though the barrel was definitely brand new and Colt manufactured, the cylinder wasn't quite right. The backstrap had a notch at the bottom for a shoulder stock, while the trigger guard had a very early serial number from the 1870's. The mainframe somehow seemed thinner, and it turned out it was.
Figuring the inner parts could probably stand being cleaned and oiled, I dismantled my great bargain and soon discovered why it seemed so smooth. Both the bolt spring and handspring were handmade out of a piece of lightweight metal and would last about just long enough to operate the action a few times, the cylinder was Italian not Colt, and both the hand and bolt were on their last legs. Faced with a major re-building project, Monday morning found me at Shapel's looking for Colt parts. Fortunately they had a new 3rd Generation .44-40 Colt cylinder, plus all the springs, the bolt, and the hand that I needed to fix my bargain Colt. By the time I returned home Peacemaker Specialists was open and I put in a call to Eddie and explained what I had. He would put in all the new parts, give it a Saddle Tramp action job, and I had noticed the hammer notches where also just about gone so I told him they would need to be welded up and re-cut. This often needs to be done on old Colts, and even though this gun was a rather recent 3rd Generation example someone had totally abused the hammer.
The .44-40 sixgun and parts were on their way to Peacemaker Specialists within a few minutes after hanging up the phone. When it arrived, Eddie looked it over carefully and called to inform me the problems were worse than I expected. The notches on the hammer could not be welded up and re- cut as someone has already tried that and botched the job. The hammer would have to be replaced. By now my bargain sixgun had become a perfect example of the proverbial rat hole sucking in money, however I was now in so deep I decided I might as well go all the way. If we were to do this right we would also have to find a replacement Colt back strap and trigger guard.
By now the only thing left of my bargain Colt was the mainframe, barrel, and ejector rod housing. The grips while being original hard rubber Colt were cut down to fit the slightly smaller Italian grip frame that had been attached, so they also would have to be re-placed to fit the new grip frame which Janis had polished to mated perfection with the main frame. Since the frame, which we found out was definitely thinner as someone had polished it to get out some of the pits, already looked old I opted for Peacemaker Specialists antique look. Instead of a blued and case colored new sixgun, I would have a brownish looking "old" sixgun that, much like the aforementioned .45 Colt from 1917, would actually be brand new on the inside and function as perfectly as a Colt Single Action can operate.
We still had not arrived. Before the project was finished it was discovered the ejector rod housing didn't fit properly and had to be replaced. Now I was down to a $650 mainframe and barrel! Somewhere there had to be a pony in this pile!! I found it when Eddie sent the sixgun back for test firing before he re-finished it. It shot wonderfully well, windage was perfect, and it placed 200 grain .44 bullets in a tight little circle. At least it would shoot. Before returning it to Peacemaker Specialists I found a pair of 3rd Generation Eagle grips in my parts box, attached them so they could be polished to the new grip frame, and sent everything back for the final step. Within a few weeks I had my sixgun back and it was a dandy. It looks like it is a 125-year old sixgun that has seen use but not abuse. When viewed in the sunlight the barrel and cylinder are very brown not blue and now the minor pits in the mainframe no longer look out of place. This sixgun looks as if it was carried in leather on a daily basis as its owner went about business on horseback in all types of weather. Functioning is perfect as expected when Janis does a re-building project and action job. But something was still wrong.
The grips! Brand new grips on a 125-year old sixgun just do not look right at all. They would have to be aged also. All I would need to do would be to sand them and take off the high spots and round off the horse and eagle emblem, perhaps smooth out the checkering, but how? The answer was found in a piece of mesh screen normally used to sand dry wall. It is pliable, can be cut into small pieces and did a perfect job of adding years to the new grips. They even feel old with all the sharp edges gone. The final result is a Colt Single Action Army with my favorite 7 1/2" barrel length and with the great chambering of the Frontier, the .44 Winchester Center Fire or as it is better known today, the .44-40. If only it could talk, it looks as if it could tell tales of cattle drives, and cow towns, and campfires, and shootouts, while only its owner knows for sure it is a product of the 1970s rather than the 1870s.
By the time this project was finished the cash register had rung repeatedly. With all the parts and the hand fitting I have more invested in this sixgun than the retail cost of a brand new Colt Single Action Army! However, the upside is the fact this Colt Single Action Army is as perfect as it is humanly possible to make it and is definitely not your run of the mill sixgun found in many a holster. Considering everything I really do have a bargain!
I have this passion for single action sixguns that must regularly be fulfilled. It is never filled but most certainly is fulfilled from time to time to keep me on an even keel. So when the phone rang that afternoon, I was elated to hear the words "Colt Single Action." Along with those three magic words guaranteed to lift the most despairing soul, my good friends at Shapel's passed on the information a fellow was in the gun shop with a Colt Single Action for sale. That, along with the phrase "at a good price" got my attention very quickly, and within a few moments I was at the gun shop that has proven to be a gold mine of sorts for uncovering so many great sixguns and leverguns in the past.
As I looked at the sixgun being offered for sale, I saw more than what was in my hands. I looked forward to what it could be. The old Colt was a 4 3/4" Single Action with a barrel marked .32 W.C.F. It had obviously been re-blued somewhere along the line after first being buffed improperly as so many old guns are. Perfect it may not have been but the price was right, exceptionally so for a pre-War Colt Single Action. The deal was struck and I now had a poorly re-finished Colt complete with a pitted barrel, and one great redeeming feature, other than its affordable price, that being an exceptional pair of walnut stocks.
A look through the records of Colt Single Action serial numbers revealed this particular Colt was manufactured in 1907, the very same year Smith & Wesson brought forth the first great N-frame double action sixgun, the New Century, or Triple Lock, chambered in a brand new cartridge that would serve as the #1 sixgun cartridge for serious use for over thirty years and eventually spawn the .44 Magnum. That cartridge was, of course, the .44 Special. With the Colt bearing a serial number placing it in the company of the first .44 Special, it seemed natural, almost a supernatural feeling, this sixgun would become a .44 Special. I had been saving a new 2nd Generation Colt 7 1/2" .44 Special barrel for years and it now seemed the time had arrived for building that special Colt Single Action.
As I discussed the re-building with Peacemaker Specialists, I decided to send along a less than perfect .44 Special cylinder, a .357 Magnum cylinder for re-chambering to .44 Special if necessary, and the original .32-20 cylinder all to give Janis wide latitude in making the best possible choice for re-cylindering the old Colt. Several new parts were required, a new cylinder pin and bushing, a new mainspring, a few screws, and an ejector rod and spring, were joined by the new .44 Special barrel and a .44 Special cylinder Janis had on hand was exchanged for my .357 cylinder plus a few dollars. Now came the major part of the work. The new cylinder and barrel were installed with minimum barrel clearance and the forcing cone cut to 11 degrees. An oversize cylinder bolt removed all play in the cylinder. Over nearly a century of use both the trigger and hammer notches had worn considerably and these were both welded up and re-cut. In the process the action was tuned, the trigger pull set at 3 1/2#, and all internal parts totally smoothed and de-burred in what Janis calls his Saddle Tramp Package. This was to be an everyday working gun so I did not opt for the Gunfighter Package with lighter springs and hand-honed action.
First Generation Colt Single Actions, those made from 1873 to 1941, generally have parts that interchange with 2nd Generation Colts made from 1956 to 1974, while 3rd Generation Single Actions, from 1976 to the present with several interruptions, have different barrel threads, hands, and cylinder ratchets and bushings. Only recently has Colt gone back to the full-length cylinder pin bushing on their cylinders. Parts may interchange but pre-War rear sight notches, being of the very narrow "V" shape do not mate up well with the thicker front sights on Second Generation barrels. Janis addressed this by milling out the rear sight to give a clear and square sight picture.
When the work was all finished, the original plan called for Peacemaker Specialists to return the .44 for test-firing before refinishing to a case colored frame and hammer with the rest of the sixgun blued. Before this was done we wanted mainly to make sure the windage was correct, or more specifically to see if the sights matched up with my eyes and hold. To facilitate his sighting in of the .44 Special, I had supplied Janis with samples of my intended load for this sixgun, namely the 250 grain Keith hard cast bullet over 7.5 grains of Unique. This load clocks out at 950-1,000 fps from a 7 1/2" barrel.
When the 7 1/2" .44 Special arrived back home, I was more than pleasantly surprised with its looks. The new barrel and cylinder matched very well with the old re-blued frame giving it a certain amount of character, and the walnut stocks just seemed to belong on a 7 1/2" Colt .44 Special, however a friend needed a pair of one-piece walnut stocks for his Colt so they were replaced with Eagle’s Ultraivory grips. Someday it may be re-finished; for now it suits me just fine. A 7 1/2" single action is just about my favorite sixgun when it comes to balance and easy shooting qualities and this example is no exception. The action is smooth, there is no looseness, and the trigger pull is clean and crisp.
Janis’favorite Colt Single Action Army appears to be the .45 Colt with a 4 3/4” barrel, and I recently had the opportunity to examine five examples of Janis personal sixguns all with the shorter barrel length. One would expect the owner of Peacemaker Specialists to have the best possible Single Actions and that is exactly what these five sixguns are. All have had the actions totally rebuilt with oversized parts and then tuned to perfection, and all have new .357 Magnum cylinders properly re-chambered to a correctly dimensioned .45 Colt. Of the five, three have also been fitted with new .45 Colt barrels, which have also been marked the way the original barrels were lettered at that particular time period. The sixguns are as follows:
A 1st Generation Single Action Army from 1899 with an exterior showing its 100 years plus of use. However rather than refinish this revolver the newly installed barrel, cylinder, and ejector tube have been antiqued to match the original parts. To add to its look of antiquity it has been expertly fitted with buffalo bone grips. As my personal .45 mentioned above this is now a sixgun showing old while still performing to perfection.
A 1st Generation Single Action Army from 1903, absolutely one of the most beautiful Colts in existence. In addition to all of Peacemaker Specialists action, barrel, and cylinder work, this sixgun has been beautifully C-engraved in Helfricht style by the late Charlie Baker. It was then plated with antique silver; highlighted with fire blue screws, base pin, base pin latch, and trigger; and for the piece-de-resitance, fitted with one piece ivory stocks carved with a horsehead. Two 1st Generation Colts that are totally unlike in looks, but both perfect in performance.
A 2nd Generation Single Action Army from 1959 making it an early production example. In addition to all the action work, and the .357 Magnum cylinder re-chambered to correct .45 Colt dimensions, both the front edge of the cylinder and the ejector tube have been beveled in the 1880s style. To make this a perfect working sixgun, it has been fitted with oil finished one-piece walnut stocks; a sixgun from the mid-20th century with the look of the 1880s.
The fourth sixgun is dubbed The Last Frontier and is Peacemaker Specialists beautiful rendition of a Colt New Frontier manufactured in 1970. The barrel and cylinder and both been replaced, oversized action parts have been fitted, the front sight has been stoned square and serrated, the rear sight has been replaced by an Elliason, and the plain Jane factory walnut stocks have been replaced by beautiful one-piece elephant ivories. Surely this is one of most beautiful New Frontiers in existence, and as all 4 3/4” New Frontiers chambered in .44 Special or .45 Colt, high on my list of Perfect Packin’ Pistols.
The final example is one of a matched paired of consecutively serial numbered 3rd Generation nickel-plated Colt Single Actions. This revolver has been set up for Cowboy Action Shooting with an adjustable hammer stop, unloading funnel cut in the frame to facilitate speed loading, and bolt blocks installed to decrease both bolt twisting and cylinder side play during the hard usage that the sixguns often see during competition. All this is in addition to the Gunslinger Deluxe Action Job, and to make it more user friendly, sharp edges have been de-horned including those at the toe and heel of the grip frame which now carries one-piece elephant ivory stocks.
Peacemaker Specialists now has a second division known as Peacemaker Parts. In addition to performing superb action jobs on Colt Single Actions as well as complete rebuilding, they also have all the necessary screws, several different styles of base pins, base pin bushings, firing pins, hands, bolts, all springs, and even bolt and trigger screws that are different in length to allow for the tapered frame.
In addition to all these newly manufactured parts, both 1st and 2nd Generation barrels and cylinders are available for most calibers and models and eventually these may also be offered as newly manufactured parts. When I first started shooting it was not unusual to pick up Colt Single Actions for $40 or less and then re-build them using parts remaining from pre-War production. Both the low prices and old parts are gone, but it is still economically feasible to pick up an old Colt and using Peacemaker Parts put it back into excellent shooting shape.