“I’ve had it with this gun,” it was John “Big John” Landers. He plunked down a zippered handgun case with a thud. Big John was an officer with the state Fish and Game agency, and a “gun-guy,” as Amos called people who knew guns. Amos smiled and said, “You don’t say? It’s not like you to get like this, what’s going on with that 1911 of yours?”
“You always know how to defuse a situation, Amos,” Big John laughed. “I’ll confess I was pretty wound-up about this, but that thing’s been driving me crazy. I just can’t get it to run.”
Amos was the owner of Grundy’s Gunsmithing and someone who everyone called an “old school” gunsmith. He knew quite a bit about old cars too, and for that matter, it seemed sometimes — just about everything else too. Having been in the business for over 40 years, Amos had pretty much seen it all. His knowledge was encyclopedic, but his kindness and genuine concern for what he liked to call “his people” were legendary. It seemed everyone knew Amos, and he always took the time to help out, regardless of who it was, or if they could afford to pay the bill. His right hand helper was an Aussie Shepard named Scout, always at his side. Sometimes it seemed she knew as much about gunsmithing as Amos, and prompted customers to call her “Scout the Wonder Dog!”
“Remember I bought this 3 or 4 years ago because I wanted a basic, WWII-style 1911?” said Big John. “Nothing fancy, just a basic shooter. Well, I only just now sorta’ got around to shooting it. I know, you won’t understand that, but I’ve been busy. Well, the darn thing won’t work.”
“What do you mean, won’t work?” asked Amos, already thinking of the common problems with that style 1911.
“About every second or third round, the cartridge won’t chamber fully. I’m not limp-wristing it, I promise, and the magazines are good. I like the gun, and would like to trust it, but I just can’t when it runs like this. Heck, it’s brand new. What’s up?”
“Let’s go in back and shoot it a bit,” said Amos. He had a short shooting lane in the back that often came in handy. Scout padded along with them looking up intently.
With Scout behind the glass wall, Amos asked John to load up and shoot, just like he’d been doing. The first round didn’t quite chamber and John quickly ran the slide again, chambering the next. The loaded round landed at his feet. Amos watched intently. Sure enough after two rounds downrange, the slide failed to close fully on the third, leaving about 1/4″ of case visible. Even a bump to the back of the slide wouldn’t close it. Amos took the jammed gun from Big John and looked carefully.
“Bet the extractor is interfering with the case, maybe the ramp needs some work too, and the cartridge is binding as it goes home. But it could be other things too. Let’s take a look.”
As they left, Big John accidently kicked the loaded round out of the lane onto the carpet behind the glass. Scout sniffed it, then they heard the clicking of her claws as she followed them out. At the bench, Amos quickly had the gun apart and was holding up the extractor.
“Yup, definitely needs some attention. Seems a bit long and needs rounding over, plus the cut-out isn’t properly cut for it to run smoothly against the case. I’ll wager what’s happening is the case head is binding, sticking.” A few deft file cuts and a bit of work with a Dremel, and Amos seemed content. He also broke the top of the feed ramp into the chamber with the Dremel. “That should help ease the transition too,” he explained. About then they both heard the dull thud of a loaded .45 round hitting the concrete floor at their feet. Scout was looking up at them as she stood over it.
“What’s this?” Amos said picking up the round. “Is there something I’m missing Scout?” Lowering his magnifying visor, Amos examined the case more closely, looking intently at the case mouth. “Well I’ll be damned. I swear that dog is smarter than I am sometimes!”
Amos slipped the barrel into the slide then carefully looked at the hood-to-breech fit, slipping a measuring shim in the space. Then he used an ancient Starrett dial indicator and measured something in the chamber as Big John watched closely. Amos muttered a quiet “Hmmm.” Reaching into a drawer, he pulled out a chambering reamer and “T” handle. Cleaning out the chamber, he lubed the reamer then carefully inserted it, turning it slowly in the chamber. After a bit Amos slid the reamer out, brushing chips off it, then carefully measured the chamber again. “Almost have it, Big John,” he said. John wondered what was up but kept quiet. That was a brand new barrel!
A few more turns of the reamer and Amos was happy. “Well girl,” he said down at Scout, “Seems you had a good idea there.” Scout sat looking at him seriously. Big John swore she understood what Amos was saying.
With the gun reassembled and Amos and John in the shooting booth, John fired the 1911 again. She ran like a top. About 100 rounds later Big John stopped with a big smile on his face. “Okay, I give, what’d you do?”
“At first, I was feeling pretty smug thinking I’d found the culprit with that extractor and feed ramp, and it might have contributed, sure, but Scout was smart to have me look at the case. Heck, I should have anyway. I could see a bit of the case mouth was abused. A .45 ACP headspaces on the case mouth, and your chamber was too short. I measured it at about .798″ — way too short — and should be more like .905″ or so overall. So the cases were being sort of crush-fit into the chamber, and that’s why the slide looked like it closed — like that first round you chambered just now — but didn’t quite. And the extractor/ramp problem likely caused the other failure to chamber on the third round since more brass was showing. I cut the chamber deeper so the overall length was right at .905” and bingo, with the other work, she ran like you saw. Thanks to Scout, I’d say!”
Big John scratched Scout’s ear and laughed. “Well Amos, in the future, I’ll just bring my guns to Scout, along with a box of dog biscuits. That’s cheaper than paying your scandalous rates!” Big John laughed as he pounded Amos on the back. Amos looked down at Scout and winked.
By Roy Huntington
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