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October 17, 2008

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A Memorable Gun: Colt New Service Revolver

From time to time I like to write about guns that have stuck in my mind over the years, even though I saw them only briefly. This is about a Colt New Service revolver in .45 Long Colt that fell into the hands of a talented gunsmith who made it into something altogether different.

The New Service was in continual production from 1898 until 1944. It was a monstrously big revolver, and you needed a magnum-sized hand to shoot the damned thing. Over 360,000 were produced in many different barrel lengths and 11 different calibers. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police adopted it, and The New York State Police carried the New Service in .45 Long Colt, in a holster supported by a Sam Brown belt. Above the revolver were two rows of the big cartridges. An old-time trooper once told me that the gun and the ammo hung right at eye level as you approached an automobile, and that it seemed to calm down excited drivers. Like most of the old Colts, they were beautifully made, inside and out.

Anyway, the troopers eventually phased out the New Service, and they could be had pretty cheaply. A very talented gunsmith friend of mine got one, and made what was known as a belly gun out of it. He chopped the barrel back to 3 inches and replaced the blade front sight with a big bead. He ground off the hammer spur and slicked up the innards for a flawless double-action pull. He cut off the front of the trigger guard so you could get at the trigger faster, and carved a pair of custom grips to fit his hand. The formerly huge, awkward revolver was now fast and sleek—or as sleek as something that big could be.

Loaded with hot handloads, it would make a believer out of anyone, and was lightning-fast out of a holster. In these effete days of 9mm automatics, it is something out of another era. If you’re thinking of getting a New Service and doing the same thing, I wish you luck. Even the plain ones, in good shape, now cost $1,000, and the scarcer models are worth a lot more. --DP


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Duck Creek Dick

Dave's next blog will detail how to "customize" your grandpas heirloom Parker.


How about a photo of that "belly gun" -- I'd like to see that.

And more Elisha Cuthbert, too.


A close friend, right before he died, handed me a Colt New Service, 1919 manufacture, in 44/40. It was RCMP with a lanyard ring. "It's yours," he said. I was floored. I've since shot it a few times and every time I do, my departed friend is standing right next to me. That's the way he wanted it, I'm sure.


Will someone please wildcat a true .45 Short Colt so that I don't get taken aback whenever someone mentions a .45 Long Colt. Same thing happens to me when people refer to their magazine as a clip, or a BMW car as a Beemer. (A Beemer is a BMW motorcyle. A BMW car is a Bimmer.)

Jim in Mo.

Calm down some drivers?
Staring down the large hole of that gun would cause some folks to talk in tongues.


Pics would be nice, Dave!

jersey pig

nice, tease us all up with talk and then dont finish with pics.

reminds me of a girl i knew.

Canadian Lurker

Dave gave a pretty good description. He also said he saw the gun fleetingly. Use your imagination, no need por pictures.

Bernie Kuntz

John Taffin writes handgun-related features for THE AMERICAN HANDGUNNER, and he is above all else, an aficionado of the revolver. His articles usually are illustrated with photos of plain Jane revolvers that he has had customized and the actions smoothed out by one of a relative handful of gunsmiths who know how to do such things. Most of the handguns are enough to make a guy drool down his chin!


I'd like to see that belly gun also (you can keep the Elisha Cuthbert photos) the New Service cylinder has got to be more than 2 inches in diameter -- it'd make quite the "belly gun" in my opinion!

My Dad showed me his New Service revolver when I was about 12 years old -- he kept it hidden behind books on the shelf in his law office. It was quite the gun compared to the colt police in 38 short that I had tinkered with and accidentally discharged into my parents bed... Fortunately, no one was in bed.

Nevertheless, I'm surprised that Dave thinks it takes magnum sized hands to shoot it. The grips are surprisingly small and grippable! Today, my 14 year old wears it as a side arm when we hunt together. He shoots it well (at least single action) and he's loaded some good rounds with 250 grain Hornady hollow points -- sub-sonic, but I'm confident they'll do in a pinch as a bear stopper. The 45 Long Colt did stop drug crazed Phillipinos during the Spanish American War!


Self Correction: It's spelled "Fillipino". And it wasn't Fillipinos but Moro Tribesmen. And technically it wasn't the Spanish American War but the Phillipine Insurgency which followed.

Still the 45 LC was indisputably effective = "Instances have repeatedly been reported during the past year where natives have been shot through and through several times with a .38 caliber revolver, and have come on, cutting up the unfortunate individual armed with it…. The .45 caliber revolver stops a man in his tracks, usually knocking him down…. " General Leonard Wood, 1904

Dr. Ralph

Another correction. Supposedly these Moro Tribesmen wrapped leather straps around their "privates" driving them crazy so that the pain inflicted by a .38 Special was nothing compared to the self induced pain. The .45 just flat out knocked them on their asses...

Oh and thanks Duck Creek Dick... I was feeling a little guilty about my opening post on Dave's last blog reaming him for advocating long range shots with unmanageable cartridges, but you upped the ante reaming him for f***ing up valuable antique firearms. Just remember, it's when they stop talking bad about you that you have to worry Dave...

Dr. Ralph

Show Me Jim... have you ever watched the Purina Dock Dog Challenge? I think Blondie is secretely practicing for this competition. She runs and jumps up and lands face first in the sink then claws her way up with her hind paws. Good link at my name.


Duck & Dr Ralph,

I'm with you both on fouling up valuable antique heirlooms. I confess that I was tempted once to do some radical customizing to the Colt New Service (it's been a working gun all its life and it shows...) But you will be as pleased that I dismissed that bad idea as my wife is pleased that I dismissed looking at pictures of Elisha Cuthbert!!

Edward J. Palumbo

Interesting how some of the old hardware sticks in your mind. I remember firing an old gentleman's Remington rolling block in 7x57mm as a 13 year-old. He explained that he got it from Bannerman's years before at "a decent price". At 13, I didn't have much centerfire or deer cartridge experience and though it was huge, but I enjoyed that piece. Almost 49 years later, I still remember that rifle - a lastingly good impression. I'm aware that Remington is producing the rolling block on a limited basis again through their custom shop, but nostalgia doesn't have that great a hold on me to spend what they currently cost. The memory is a good one, and I continue to cherish that. I've passed my .30-30 (with plinker loads) to a number of young shooters to give them the opportunity to fire it, and I hope the memory fuels their future as responsible shooters.

Duck Creek Dick

Dave can and should be forgiven for butchering up a fine revolver. It happenend years ago and the revolver wasn't valuable at the time. Besides, Dave didn't know any better. I,too, am not without sin. What I did to my,as new, Remington-made 1903 Springield in gunsmithing school still makes me blanch. I redeemed myself somewhat by acquiring a S&W third model (1926 Model .44 Military) with a ground-off hammer spur. With a replaced hammer, it still resides in my gun safe after 43 years.


no pics necessary Dave, same as with some older S&W models are still fresh in my memory.

Dr. Ralph

Does anyone even read the original blog? DAVE'S FRIEND HACKED UP THE HEIRLOOM COLLECTOR'S QUALITY PIECE NOT DAVE... DAVE'S INNOCENT!! Well, at least of these particular charges.

Dr. Ralph

Does anyone have any experience shooting 2 3/4" shotgun shells out of an old Winchester Model 1912 that has a 2 1/2" chamber? I have tried it a few times just so I can say I have shot Grandpa's gun and they load fine but when ejected seem to hang up... Who sells 2 1/2" shotgun shells? I'd like to take Blondie on her first real hunt and know where to find some quail which I thought would be the hard part but now I'm worried about the gun and I want this to be a memory that lasts forever. Any help would be appreciated sorry about the subject change.

Jim in Mo.

2 1/2 in. shells are the 2 3/4. Measure unfired shell its 2 1/2 in. When fired its 2 3/4.

Jim in Mo.

Meant to add the only problem I can see is it doesn't like the plastic compared to the paper shells it was designed for. I imagine the plastic swells a bit.
Here's a downright legitimate excuse to go buy those more expensive paper shells that Federal makes. Tell the wife gramps would have wanted it that way.

Jim in Mo.

Of course if you do the above you will also have to change your attire. You'll need to wear knickers and sleeveless Pendleton sweaters. Also learn to smoke a pipe.

Dr. Ralph

Jim that's what I'm talking about. Re-living the past and hunting as Grandpa did with a new puppy... sort of a connection between the old and new. I'm hoping "someone" up above will be watching and bless us both. Hunting is already a spiritual thing for me and mine and this just adds to the experience.

Dave Petzal

To Dr. Ralph: Thanks for coming to my defense.


Dr. Ralph: Be careful with that old Win. M-12 and 2 3/4" shells. Check the barrel and see if it's stamped 2 1/2" or 2 3/4". I may be wrong (senile?) but I think I remember reading way back when that Winchester made some M-12's with 2 1/2" chambers. If so, you DO NOT want to fire 2 3/4" shells in a 2 1/2" chamber. It's like firing a 3" shell in a 2 3/4" chamber. Definite "no-no" pressure wise. The longer shell will fit in the shorter chamber, but when fired that extra 1/4" of unfolded crimp can't "unfold" in the chamber and does so in the smaller diameter forcing cone. And since the shot charge doesn't compress very well at that point, pressure really spikes. The other hint that you may have a 2 1/2" chamber was your comment that 2 3/4" shells don't eject well and "hang up". If you can't tell from what's stamped on the barrel, have a gunsmith check it. If you do have the shorter chamber, the smith MAY be able to ream the chamber to accept the longer shells. That doesn't help your ejection problem, but at least you can fire the longer shells safetly.
P.S. The plastic shells don't swell, but the old paper ones will if they get wet or even damp. And I think Cabela's may still carry 2 1/2" shells. Good luck.

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