The Speedloader Comes of Age:

1960s-1970s Turning Revolvers Into Real Fighting Tools!
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The Bucheimer was compact, durable, and reliable. It’s only real weaknesses were the undersized
push button on the top, and the lack of a positive “click” when the payload was released.

When the Colt Paterson revolver burst onto the scene in 1836, the game changed forever. With five chambers of .36 caliber ball at the shooter’s disposal, the single shot pistols preceding were instantly obsolete.

You would think going from a single round to five in the gun would be such a remarkable advance the buzz would last for a long time. However, shooters (then and now) are a demanding sort, and it didn’t take long before the new baseline seemed inadequate. Five rounds could be fired quickly in the heat of battle, and maintaining continuity of fire was difficult with a revolver literally having to be disassembled into its major components to reload.

The immediate solution was to simply carry a brace of them, as combatants had been doing for a long time with single-shot guns. But when those 10 chambers went dry, the guns were virtually useless until a significant break in the action, because there was simply no way to efficiently reload them. Even if you carried a spare loaded cylinder, you’d still need a good amount of time to mount it and cap it before you could get going again.

There’s a reason the revolver didn’t kick the saber to the curb right away.

The scalloped edges of the Bucheimer’s body aided in indexing the loader to the cylinder.

The Hunt/Safariland loader was popular with competitors early on, and soon grew to be accepted
by law enforcement as well. (Item courtesy of Bert DuVernay.)

Small Steps

The Colt revolver would go through several improvements over the next 40 years, but the fixed cylinder and loading gate of the later models continued to act as impediments to a rapid reload. Things got better, but they still weren’t great.

The top-break Smith & Wesson Schofield or Webley designs offered an opportunity for a speedier reload by virtue of their simultaneous ejection. The Brits helped to advance the art of the speedy reload with the creation of the Prideaux Quick Loader for the Webley revolver, but the Yanks kept stuffing cartridges into their Schofields one at a time.

It would take the development of the swing-out cylinder revolver to really energize the effort to develop a practical speedloader. On the eve of America’s entry into the “War to End All Wars,” Smith & Wesson and the Springfield Armory developed the 1917-pattern revolver and the unique “half moon” clips designed to feed it. The half moon clips held three rounds of rimless .45 ACP ammunition in a semicircle, and the entire clip could be fed into the recessed cylinder of a Smith & Wesson (or later, Colt) 1917 revolver in a swift motion, then repeated to fill the other half.

This was a pretty suitable fix for revolvers firing rimless cartridges, but there was still a need for a device improving the reload speed of revolvers firing traditional, rimmed cartridges like the popular .38 Special fast becoming a staple of law enforcement, the military and the commercial market. While some interesting designs were patented and produced in the interwar years, it wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s we started to see some really practical alternatives to reloading with the thumb.

The loader did an excellent job of retaining cartridges if accidentally dropped.
(Item courtesy of Bert DuVernay.)

A sideways “tearing” motion was required to use the Hunt/Safariland loader properly, to prevent pulling
cartridges out of the chambers. (Item courtesy of Bert DuVernay.)

Twists and Turns

The first of these was patented in July of 1959, by John M. Hunt. Hunt’s device would be marketed as the Hunt Engineering, Inc. “Multi Loader” and initial units were apparently manufactured by the legendary Pachmayr Gun Works. The Hunt design was also later produced and marketed by both Kel-Lite and Safariland as the “Firepower Clip.”

The loader was a tapered cylinder of soft neoprene holding six cartridges in the appropriate pattern in its bottom face. It was hollow at the top, allowing an index finger to reach inside and activate a release freeing it from the carrying pouch, and helping to push the loader into place on the cylinder. In practice, after the loader was mounted flush to the gun, it was carefully torn away, and the soft neoprene would stretch and release the rims of the cartridges, allowing them to gravity-feed.

On the plus side, the loader was faster than traditional methods of loading loose rounds, and it held the cartridges very securely, even if dropped. It was thin enough it didn't get hung up too much on the left grip during loading. However, it had its faults. Since it wasn't rigid, the rounds could flare outward as the loader lost its shape over time in a pouch, making it harder to align with the chambers. Also, it required careful and practiced manipulation to avoid lifting the loader while tearing, dragging the cartridges out of the cylinder. Under stress, it was hard to get a clean release with this design.

The HKS is an excellent design, and it benefited from a solid marketing campaign and a robust
distribution network. It quickly vaulted to the top of the heap in the 1970s.

The ball detent which prevents accidental activation is visible on the bottom of this HKS loader.

Bucheimer

A much better design was Ole N. Nelson's loader, patented in August of 1965. This was built by Salinas Industries and marketed by the popular police product distributor, J.M. Bucheimer. The Bucheimer loader was made of hard plastic and shaped like a fluted revolver cylinder. After aligning the loader with the gun, a small push button at the rear was activated to release the cartridges allowing them to gravity-feed into the cylinder. This loader was later marketed as the "Feathertouch" as well, in the early 1970s.

The Bucheimer/Feathertouch was quick to operate and did an admirable job of retaining cartridges if dropped, but the small button could be missed under stress and the loader body was thick enough it often got hung up on the grip panel. The release button was spongy, without a definite "click" to let the user know the payload had been dropped, sometimes creating problems. Some users back then reported the loader didn't always drop all of the rounds when activated. Still, it was a successful and fast design for the most part.

The twist-to-release knob of the HKS was simple and offered superior retention of the cartridges.

The large push button release on the Dade couldn’t be missed.

Quick Load

An especially unique design was the Quick Load, from Donald Matich, patented in October of 1965. The Matich Quick Load was a flexible neoprene strip with claws holding each of the individual cartridges. It was loaded while flat, but when it was full of rounds, it was rolled up into a cylinder shape and secured with a clasp. In practice, the Quick Load was mated to the cylinder and the clasp was undone by pulling on a tab. Continuing to pull the tab would peel the loader away from the trapped cartridges, leaving the cylinder spinning like a top.

The Matich was thin and didn't suffer the interference problems of some other loaders. It also held rounds very securely when dropped. The biggest problem with this loader is (like the Hunt) it was very sensitive to user technique, and it tended to pull some cartridges out of the cylinder during loading.

By virtue of its push button design, the Dade loader developed a reputation for being very fast.

The police duty pouch for the Dade incorporated a plastic frame on the inside protecting the contents
and allowing for a slick draw. Note the Dade pouch had a top-mounted snap release
and a cutaway front giving good access to the loader.

Dade

The design from John D. Fordham, patented in November 1970 and marketed by Dade Screw Machine Products, did a much better job of releasing the payload cleanly, and became very popular. Like the Bucheimer/Feathertouch, the Dade worked via a rear-mounted push button, releasing the cartridges to gravity-feed into the cylinder. The Dade's release button was much larger though (with a head about the size of a quarter, instead of the small post of the Bucheimer, looking like a click-top pen) and couldn't be missed.

Whereas the Bucheimer used a flexible, internal washer to hold the cartridge rims in place, the Dade retained cartridges by means of a coil spring wrapping around the outside of the plastic loader body. The spring engaged the rims of the cartridges holding them in the loader until the push button forced the rims past the expanding spring.

The Dade was easier to operate than the Bucheimer, and was very fast, making it very popular with competitors of the day. However, the Dade was very prone to spilling cartridges if dropped, and its fat body created interference issues with grips that had not been relieved. The large push button making it so quick to operate also gave it a tendency to discharge when carried in a pocket, so a proper pouch carrier was mandatory. While it's no longer being manufactured, the essence of the design survives in today's Speed Beez loader.

When the tab on the Matich was pulled, it would release the metal clasp (seen at nine o’clock in the photo)
allowing the loader to be unraveled, leaving the cartridges in the chamber — hopefully.
(Item courtesy of Bert DuVernay.)

The Matich, like the Hunt, was sensitive to technique. If a user pulled the Matich loader away
at the wrong angle to the gun, he risked pulling cartridges out of the chambers. (Item courtesy of Bert DuVernay.)

Second Six

In November of 1973, William T. Griffis was granted a patent on his unique design for a loader with a skeletonized plastic body and a ring around the outside sliding up and down the length of the loader. The ring engaged the cartridge rims, and when it was shoved forward toward the cylinder, it forced the cartridges out of the loader and into the gun. The advantage of the system is it didn't rely on gravity to load the cartridges, so its operation was independent of the orientation of the gun. The gun could be positively charged even if it was angled upward or laying on its side, making it popular with police, who understood they might have to load from awkward positions, or with one hand. Griffis sold the design as the "Second Six" and restricted its sale to police. It had the distinction of being issued by the California Highway Patrol, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and other influential agencies.

The Second Six was fast and very positive, and a skilled user could match the Dade for speed. It was exceptionally trim and easily cleared most grip panels.
Unfortunately, it did a poor job of retaining cartridges if dropped, and it wasn't marketed well enough to gain popularity outside of California. A small annoyance was the charging ring would sometimes pop off the loader when used, and the user would have to find the piece and reassemble the loader, later.

When the Matich was loaded and rolled up, the hooks on the clasp (at left) would lock onto
the metal cross pin that ran transverse through the loader’s other end. (Item courtesy of Bert DuVernay.)

This unloaded, but rolled, Matich clearly shows the basic principle of the design.
(Item courtesy of Bert DuVernay.)

Second Six

In November of 1973, William T. Griffis was granted a patent on his unique design for a loader with a skeletonized plastic body and a ring around the outside sliding up and down the length of the loader. The ring engaged the cartridge rims, and when it was shoved forward toward the cylinder, it forced the cartridges out of the loader and into the gun. The advantage of the system is it didn't rely on gravity to load the cartridges, so its operation was independent of the orientation of the gun. The gun could be positively charged even if it was angled upward or laying on its side, making it popular with police, who understood they might have to load from awkward positions, or with one hand. Griffis sold the design as the "Second Six" and restricted its sale to police. It had the distinction of being issued by the California Highway Patrol, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and other influential agencies.

The Second Six was fast and very positive, and a skilled user could match the Dade for speed. It was exceptionally trim and easily cleared most grip panels. Unfortunately, it did a poor job of retaining cartridges if dropped, and it wasn't marketed well enough to gain popularity outside of California. A small annoyance was the charging ring would sometimes pop off the loader when used, and the user would have to find the piece and reassemble the loader, later.

These vintage Speed Strips are of the early type, with a spring steel core and a rubber exterior.
They were sold in pairs and packaged in the hinged, plastic box seen here. (Items courtesy of John Bianchi.)

Speed Strips were popular with uniformed officers who were forced to carry traditional cartridge
pouches on their Sam Browne rigs. The Speed Strip was much faster and much less error-prone than loading loose
cartridges from dump pouches. (Period loaders and literature courtesy of John Bianchi.)

The Survivors

All those loaders have faded away in the years since, but two more designs from the era still survive.

The round loader with the best staying power of all was the design of Robert D. Switzer, who received his patent in March of 1973. Switzer's loader (manufactured and sold by HKS as the "Six Second") uses a large, central, twist knob to lock and release the rims of the cartridges, which then gravity feed into the gun. A spring-loaded detent keeps the knob in position, preventing accidental discharges.

The HKS Six Second offered the best payload retention of all the loaders from this era, stubbornly holding onto all the cartridges, no matter how harshly the loader was treated. This tremendous advantage was slightly offset by the fact the loader requires the cylinder to be trapped in place, to prevent rotation as the knob is twisted to release the cartridges. This makes the HKS loader more difficult to operate with one hand if the user is injured. Additionally, the loader body is fat enough to cause interference problems on a lot of grip panels.

Solid marketing, a diverse array of models, superior security and rugged simplicity saved the day for the HKS, however. It quickly became a police and consumer favorite, and it remains the most prolific round body loader to this day.

More than four decades later, the popularity of the Speed Strip hasn’t changed. The new, all polymer,
version on the right continues to offer flat and compact carry of spare cartridges, endearing it to new generations of wheelgunners.
(Vintage Speed Strips courtesy of John Bianchi.)

To remove the Second Six from the CHP-issue pouch, an officer could insert an index finger
into the hole at the rear of the loader, to help pull it out and align it with the cylinder.

Speed Strip

The other favorite from the era is the John Bianchi-designed "Speed Strip," which was trademarked in 1965, but not seen in the catalog until 1972. Bianchi's design consisted of a narrow, hard rubber strip, with a spring steel core (later, an all-composite design), allowing the user to load six cartridges in line. In practice, the user aligns one or two cartridges at a time into the chambers, and peels the Speed Strip away from the cylinder face, causing the rubber to lose its grip on the cartridge rims.

The Speed Strip was an instant hit, particularly with officers who were required to use dump pouches, because they provided better control of the payload. A skilled user could become very fast with a Speed Strip (which was always faster and more positive than loading loose rounds from loops or dump pouches), and like the HKS, they did a marvelous job of retaining cartridges when dropped.

The flat and compact nature of the Speed Strip made it a favorite for plainclothes, off duty, or backup use, and many officers carried one or two in a shirt or pants pocket to back up other, round-body speedloaders on the uniform belt. The Speed Strip can simply go places and do things most round body loaders can’t, making it the only loader to rival the popularity of the HKS. Numerous copies of the Speed Strip have been marketed by competitors in the years since its introduction.

The Second Six was a unique design, whose sale was restricted to law enforcement.
Its trim body reduced interference problems with grips.

The Wheelgun Turns

There were other speedloaders created and marketed in this era, but these seven were the leading contenders of the period. After the terrible California Highway Patrol Newhall gunfight in 1970 focused police attention on upgrading their equipment, these seven designs were the ones showing up on Sam Brownes with the greatest frequency.

By the mid-1980s, the wheel of progress had turned again, and autoloaders had begun to replace revolvers in police duty holsters, but that didn't stop the development of more advanced and efficient speedloader designs, like the Safariland Comp series (Patented by David A. Johnson, in January of 1978) and the SL Variant (patented in Germany by Gerhard Longwitz in April of 1995, and in the United States in September of 1999). We enjoy these designs today.

Yet, as popular as these new loaders are, they still aren't as widely used as the HKS and the Speed Strip — two designs there at the beginning, and which continue to do yeoman's duty for a new generation of revolver shooters