TEXAS LONGHORN ARMS IMPROVED NUMBER FIVE
Ever get the feeling that you were standing on hallowed ground? I felt somewhat this way last night as I loaded some very special .44 Special rounds. The brass was old, known as `balloon head' style. Dating back to the World War II era, this brass was so called because the primer pocket stuck up inside the case in these pre-solid head cases. The standard heavy load for the .44 Special from the 1930's through the 1940's prior to the introduction of modern solid brass was...., wait we are getting ahead of the story.
In 1925, a young cowboy was celebrating the Fourth of July by firing off his Colt Single Action Army .45 Colt x 4 3/4" sixgun. It was his working gun, the gun he carried every day. "You might forget your trousers but never your sixgun" he was known to say. This particular day something wasn't right and before the cylinder was empty both it and the top strap had parted company with the frame of the old black powder Colt Single Action. The load had been 300 grain .45-70 rifle bullets over all the black powder that could be crammed into the old .45 Colt balloon head case. Perhaps this was the start of the myth that persists even today of `weak' .45 Colt brass.
In all probability, the bullets were oversize and the old Colt was tired and it finally died. But a new idea and career was born that day as Elmer Keith began his search for a stronger sixgun, a .44 Special, a sixgun he had never seen up to this point in his young life. Within two years he not only had his .44 Special, he had the sixgun he called his Last Word, the perfect sixgun. Dubbed the Number Five, Keith's idea of perfection was a 5 1/2" barreled Colt Single Action Army that was a far cry from standard Colt's of the day and was destined to serve as a model for single action gunmakers of the second half of the century.
The best gunsmiths of the time, Croft, Houchins, O'Meara, and Sedgley all had a part in creating Number Five. Keith by now considered the .44 Special the King Of Sixgun cartridges, so naturally the Number Five was chambered thusly. The frame was flat-topped and fitted with adjustable sights with the front sight being the Patridge style. The hammer was the wide Bisley style, and the grip was made by combining a shortened Bisley backstrap bent to a Single Action angle with a Single Action trigger guard. Combined with the wide hammer, a wide trigger followed the curve of the trigger guard and set back as far as possible in the trigger guard.
A very special touch is the treatment given the base, or cylinder pin. Anyone who has shot single actions extensively will relate to chasing base pins that have come loose under recoil. Apparently it was also a problem in the pre-Magnum days of the 1920's as Keith and the gunsmiths on the project took care of the problem. Keith says: "The new type base pin has a large head that is easily grasped to remove the pin, instead of the regular head that one usually had to use the head of a shell on to pull it out. Unless the Single Action is fitted with an extra strong spring in the base-pin catch, the recoil will drive the pin forward, and in some cases tie up the gun. This new catch is a lever that swings into a square cut in the base pin and no amount of firing can loosen the pin. At the same time it is very easy to remove the pin for cleaning. A spring plunger locks the lever."
Being a special sixgun, a real one of a kind, the Number Five was fully engraved and fitted with carved ivory stocks. I have seen and handled and fondled and drooled over and dreamt about the Number Five and it is perfection carried out in a sixgun to say the least.
A new bullet, which is still known as the Keith bullet, was designed to use in the Number Five. First made by Ideal, later Lyman and known as #429421, the semi-wadcutter Keith bullet has been offered by every mold company and is now held closest to the original by some Lyman #429421 molds as well as NEI with their #260.429 Keith and RCBS with the #44-250 Keith. First loaded with #80 powder, the charge became the well known 18.5 grains of #2400 when this powder became available in the 1930's. This charge should not be used with modern solid head brass which has less case capacity.
As I loaded some of these old rounds, I could not help but think of Keith and the tremendous influence he had on sixgunnin'. Born in 1899 and now gone from this life for ten years, the Keith loads live on and any sixgunner knows exactly what the Keith loads are for .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, .41 Magnum, and .45 Colt. Many a reloading room carries carefully labeled boxes with bullet, primer, powder, charge, etc. and then one stumbles on boxes simply marked `Keith Load'.
Keith offered his improvements on the Colt Single Action Army to Colt sixty plus years ago. One can only wonder what would have been if they had listened. The influence of Keith can be seen in all of the single action sixguns from Ruger over the past forty years. Ruger obviously was a student of Elmer Keith.
That was then and this is now and now is Texas Longhorn Arms Improved Number Five. This is the sixgun I was loading the old original Keith load for last evening. Bill Grover is also a student of Elmer Keith and he set out to honor him by building an improved version of his Number Five. Grover did not have the original sixgun to work with but did have photos and line drawings and he did manage to keep the flavor of the original sixgun with his added improvements.
The base pin lever, worked out by master machinist Keith DeHart, enlarged base pin, and the grip are perfect duplicates of Keith Number Five. I have held both sixguns in my hand at the same time and the feel is identical. The Improved Number Five is fitted with all music wire coil springs. As with all sixguns from Texas Longhorn Arms, the loading gate and the ejector rod are on the left side of the sixgun to be naturally used by a right-hander. The theory is the gun never leaves the right hand for loading and unloading as it does with right-handers using the Colt, Freedom Arms, or Ruger `left-hand' single actions.
The trigger is rounded with a shotgun style trigger that sits as far back in the trigger guard as possible and moves very little when the gun is cocked. The hammer is low and wide for easy cocking. There is plenty of room in front of the hammer checkering for natural rolling of the thumb as the gun is cocked.
The rear sight is an old Micro-style adjustable fitted into a flat-top frame and is matched, as on the original, with a Patridge front sight. Original Improved Number Five frames were machined one at a time and Grover got so for behind that some change had to be made. All frames now start as castings from Pine Tree Castings the same firm that does the frames for Ruger and Dan Wesson sixguns. Considerable machining is still necessary to bring the casting to Improved Number Five perfection.
The cylinder of the Improved Number Five is double heat-treated and the firing pin is built into the frame. Both the frame and cylinder are made larger than the original as it is intended for use with the .44 Magnum. Keith used the number one sixgun cartridge of his day and Grover did likewise. Although the Improved Number Five is larger than its predecessor it does not feel either large or heavy at forty-four ounces as the balance is perfect.
The first time I ever shot a TLA Number Five, I was totally impressed. Not only did it feel right and look great with its highly polished deep blue black finish, the first five shots got my attention real fast. Yes, this sixgun is a five-shooter and as with all Colt Single Action Armies and Old Model Ruger Single Actions should be carried with an empty chamber under the hammer. That first Improved Number Five was on its way to Master Engraver Jim Riggs to be fully engraved just like the Keith .44 Special sixgun, but I was allowed to fire it first. Five rounds of 250 grain hard cast Keith bullets, naturally, over 20.0 grains of #2400, a load in the 1200-1300 feet per second category, dropped into less than one-inch at 25 yards. Grover had a winner.
As this is written, my long wait is over and I have my Improved Number Five. Grover was buried in orders for his Number Five in the late 1980's followed by a flood that put his shop under water. He now has a new shop built and is up and running and filling orders. Waiting time still will be close to one year as these guns are far from being mass produced.
My gun, serial Number K-44, special serial numbers can be requested, is a real one of a kind as it has a cylinder with long flutes reminiscent of some of the Colt Single Actions that were put together after the turn of the century using New Service cylinders. A really nice touch is the cylinder being serially numbered to the sixgun with K-44 on the front of the cylinder and each chamber is also individually numbered on the back of the cylinder. Polishing and bluing are perfect and all metal-to-metal and wood-to-metal fit is excellent. The guns is timed perfectly and Grover cautioned that I handle the single action correctly when loading to keep from raising a ring around the cylinder.
The correct procedure for loading this single action as with all single actions sans transfer bar is followed for safety as well as maintaining the timing. The hammer is brought back to half cock, the gate is opened. Load one round, skip one chamber, then load the next four. Now comes the very important part. Do Not Let The Hammer Down. Bring the hammer all the way back and then let it down. This not only lets the hammer down safely on an empty chamber, it also protects the finely fitted and timed action.
When holding the Improved Number Five I certainly conjure up spirits of the past and the old time sixgunners that preceeded me. Keith was definitely right. The grip on the Number Five, either original or Improved is the perfect single action grip. Colt's standard grip is perfect for standard loads, Keith took us to the level for Magnum type loads, and the Freedom Arms grip frame with much the same feel is the final development for .454 type loads.
The Number Five grip is quite small with the size being the same as a standard Colt Single Action grip and my little finger curls under the butt. One might feel it is inadequate for heavy loads but I have used it with 240 grain bullets at 1500 feet per second plus and 300 grain bullets at 1300 feet per second plus and it works fine.
One of my real problems with sixguns is that they normally shoot too high for me as they have too little front sight. Before shipping the Number Five, Grover called to let me know that he felt this front sight would be right on. My first five shots with Bull-X 240 grain bullets over 8.5 grains of Unique at 1065 feet per second resulted in a group slightly right and slightly low. A couple of clicks either way and the Number Five was dialed in perfectly for cast bullet loads. Most jacketed bulleted loads still shoot high but no problem as in all probability this will be a cast bullet sixgun.
It almost seemed sacrilegious to use jacketed bullets in this Improved version of the old Number Five but a test would not be complete without using jacketed bullets as well as cast bullets. The above mentioned load of the Bull-X 240 semi-wadcutter over 8.5 grains of Unique is my `workin' load' and does about 95% of what I want a sixgun to do. The same bullet is used over 7.5 grains of Unique in .44 Special sixguns as an every day load. It isn't necessary to always run my quarter century old El Dorado Cadillac with its 500 cubic inch engine at full throttle nor is it necessary to do the same with big bore sixguns. In fact, some of my greatest pleasures experienced with both is when I am just amblin' along.
On my last hunting trip to Texas both Grover and friend and gripmaker Tedd Adamovich used the Number Five to take a Corsican ram and a Catalina goat with Oklahoma Ammunition's 240 grain jacketed hollow point. My Number Five has yet to be baptised. As a hunting sixgun it leaves little to be desired and packs perfectly also in one of Grover's High Rider holsters, a unique system that has solved the difficulty of holstering a sixgun comfortably and easily accessible.
The High Rider works with any sixgun including seven and one-half inch lengths. It is worn high either strong side or cross draw and consists of a holster proper and a belt slide. The holster fits inside the belt slide and locks into place with the bottom end of a loop on the front of the holster that snaps to the belt slide. To remove the holster simply unsnap and raise the holster out of the belt slide.
The Improved Number Five is an excellent handlin' and shootin' sixgun. My standard for a great sixgun is one that with at least one selected load gets right into the five-shots-at-twenty-five-yards in-one-inch category. The Number Five does it with both handloads and factory loads and with jacketed bullets as well as cast bullets. Particularly accurate loads are Winchester's new 250 grain Black Talon's at 1329 feet per second, Hornady's 240 XTP over 25.0 grains of WW296 at 1543 feet per second, H&G's Keith bullet over 10.0 grains of AA#2 at 1226 feet per second, 10.5 grains of Herco at 1132 feet per second, and 12.0 grains of HS-6 for 1041 feet per second. My workin' load of 8.5 grains of Unique with the 240 Bull-X bullet is the second most accurate load in the Number Five with five shots in one and one-eighth inches at 25 yards. It just doesn't get much better than this.
Texas Longhorn Arms Improved Number Five
Caliber: .44 Magnum
Barrel Length: 5 1/2"
Temp: 60 Degrees
Chronograph: Oehler 35P
Groups: Five Shots @ 25 Yds.
Brass: R-P .44 Magnum
Primer: CCI #300
H&G 250 Keith 14.5 GR. Blue Dot 1287 2 1/8"
19.0 GR. #2400 1273 1 5/8"
10.0 GR. AA#2 1226 1 1/4"
10.5 GR. Herco 1132 1 1/4"
9.5 GR. WW231 1114 1 7/8"
19.5 GR. H4227 1109 1 1/2"
14.5 GR. AA#7 1107 1 3/4"
13.0 GR. HS-7 1045 1 3/4"
12.0 GR. HS-6 1041 1 1/4"
23.0 GR. WW680 1004 1 3/4"
Bull-X 240 SWC 8.5 GR. Unique 1065 1 1/8"
Lyman #431244GC 24.0 GR. H4227 1395 1 5/8"
21.5 GR. AA#9 1403 1 1/2"
25.0 GR. WW296 1434 1 5/8"
RCBS #44-300FN 21.5 GR. WW296 1365 1 7/8"
Hornady 240 XTP 25.0 GR. WW296 1543 1 1/4"
.44 Special Loads:
RCBS 250 Keith 17.3 GR. #2400 1254 2"
18.5 GR. #2400**** 1225 2 1/2"
Lyman #431244GC 17.5 GR. #2400 1210 1 5/8"
Black Hills 240 JHP 1293 1 3/4"
Black Hills 300 JHP 1178 1 3/4"
CCI 240 JHP 1345 2"
Oklahoma Ammunition 240 JHP 1382 2 1/2"
Remington 240 JHP 1381 1 3/4"
Winchester 250 Black Talon 1329 1"
****Balloon Head Brass