A Robar Single Action

CCW GOES RETRO
84

A seed was planted in my brain over 13 years ago. In December 1996 I was invited to participate in a unique class conducted at Thunder Ranch, then located in Texas. The purpose: to explore the defensive capabilities of firearms in general use prior to 1900, using current techniques and range technologies. Participants included firearms instructors, gunsmiths, holster makers, historians, working cops (hence my invite) and gen-u-wine gun-riters (including His esteemed Editorship). It was a serious class made up of fun and knowledgeable people.

What I learned from that class was the over-a-century-old single action Colt was still a viable defensive handgun, designed as such by people who knew way back then what they were doing. History has proven the great merits of the single action army design. Its production run is unequalled in length by any other firearm, whether handgun or rifle. Many myths were busted and truths rediscovered during that week.

The single action revolver is simple, and that’s a good thing in a defensive handgun. Cock the hammer, pull the trigger; no de-cockers or safeties to operate, no slide to rack. There is one simple failure to fire drill, cock the hammer again and pull the trigger. No failure to fire, feed or eject drills to master through repetition, and unlike its cousin the double action revolver, there is no ejector star for fired cases to get stuck under.

More Virtues

The single action is ergonomic, the butt a graceful curve flaring to fit any sized hand and under recoil moves deeper into the shooter’s grip, allowing the thumb to easily cock the hammer for follow up shots. The single action is reliable. Each class participant — with no breakages, fired almost a thousand rounds. A few ejector rods fell off due to recoil-loosened screws, but nothing that would take the gun out of a fight or a drop of Loctite wouldn’t fix. We also learned to keep a screwdriver in our pockets and periodically tighten screws!

Single actions will fire upside down, touching a doorframe or barricade or shoved into an assailant’s gut. The single action will function with full power modern defensive ammunition, ultra wimpy cowboy action loads and any bullet design from wad cutters to hollow points or snake shot. Limp-wristing, the bane of polymer-framed semiauto shooter has no effect on the single action, and you never have to worry about bent magazine lips, polishing a feed ramp or replacing springs. The gun was a wonder when designed and still is.

The lessons learned and the fun I had in that class have never left me, and now that I have retired from law enforcement and am no longer under department restrictions as to what I can carry for a concealed firearm I wanted something unique, different, custom, classy but capable. The seed planted 13 years ago began to grow into an idea and then a concept. What would my ideal concealed carry single action revolver look like? What features and modifications would be desirable?

More Virtues

The single action is ergonomic, the butt a graceful curve flaring to fit any sized hand and under recoil moves deeper into the shooter’s grip, allowing the thumb to easily cock the hammer for follow up shots. The single action is reliable. Each class participant — with no breakages, fired almost a thousand rounds. A few ejector rods fell off due to recoil-loosened screws, but nothing that would take the gun out of a fight or a drop of Loctite wouldn’t fix. We also learned to keep a screwdriver in our pockets and periodically tighten screws!

Single actions will fire upside down, touching a doorframe or barricade or shoved into an assailant’s gut. The single action will function with full power modern defensive ammunition, ultra wimpy cowboy action loads and any bullet design from wad cutters to hollow points or snake shot. Limp-wristing, the bane of polymer-framed semiauto shooter has no effect on the single action, and you never have to worry about bent magazine lips, polishing a feed ramp or replacing springs. The gun was a wonder when designed and still is.

The lessons learned and the fun I had in that class have never left me, and now that I have retired from law enforcement and am no longer under department restrictions as to what I can carry for a concealed firearm I wanted something unique, different, custom, classy but capable. The seed planted 13 years ago began to grow into an idea and then a concept. What would my ideal concealed carry single action revolver look like? What features and modifications would be desirable?

The Start

I wanted a single action that retained the traditional features and look of the originals but incorporating two very important modern features, the capability of handling full power defensive loads and the incorporation of what I consider a necessity in any combat handgun, a night sight. This led me to USFA.

The United States Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company, Inc. is a privately held company, which began operations in 1993 under the blue dome of the original Colt Armory in Hartford, Connecticut. USFA moved to a new Hartford site in 2001 and uses modern CNC technology to manufacture some of the finest Single Action Army revolvers, Lightning magazine rifles and 1911s anywhere.

Despite the use of state of the art CNC tooling there’s still a touch of old world craftsmanship to revolvers coming out of the USFA factory. Every part of the revolver is individually fitted to a particular frame, resulting in flawless timing, exceptionally tight cylinder lock up and little to no end shake. Although faithful to the original Colt’s design there are important changes too.

The cylinder, constructed from heat-treated 4140 series steel, is .020″ larger in diameter, and the top strap is thicker resulting in extra strength. Full power defense loads? No problem. A minor, but I feel equally important change, is to the front sight, straight instead of tapered and wider measuring .10″. This makes the front sight easier to see and results in a more precise sight picture. However I wanted to modify the gun to incorporate a high visibility combat style tritium sight.

The fit and finish of these guns is truly outstanding, with brilliant case coloring and rich bluing and I’m going to come right out and say it — these revolvers are superior to anything coming out of the Colt factory in recent years and equal to any second generation Colt single action. But I had something different in mind in terms of a finish.

USFA specializes in the custom gun and will build to your specifications. I called USFA’s Gary Granger. Gary is the point man at USFA for customer orders and I ran my ideas for the gun by him. Gary suggested a 3½” barrel to aid concealment, but retaining the ejection rod which is commonly absent from short-barreled single actions. This would facilitate faster reloads and would negate the necessity to carry a dowel to remove sticky fired cases.

Gary also suggested a second cylinder in .45 ACP. Here is another area where the single action revolver shines. In the single action revolver the .45 ACP cartridge headspaces on the cartridge lip negating the need for full or half moon clips and there is a plethora of outstanding .45 ACP defensive ammo, on the market. Since the gun was destined to be finished after modification it was shipped in the white.

Robar

I contacted Robbie Barrkman at the Robar Companies and ran my ideas by him. Robbie had also participated in the pre-1900 class and was as excited about the project as I was. He agreed to take on the modification and finishing of the gun, using his outstanding Roguard polymer finish for the externals to provide corrosion protection, and NP3 for the internals. NP3 is very corrosion resistant, provides high lubricity and reduces friction and wear. The stuff works. Robar has now introduced NP3 Plus, which is even more remarkable.

Robar built and finished my duty 1911 and after 10 years of hard police work and off-duty carry the gun looks and functions like it left his shop yesterday. I don’t think there’s a better finish for a firearm. Robbie also agreed to fit the night sight and, being the Renaissance man he is, took the photos you see here.

Robbie and his craftsmen fashioned an elegant rib to the top of the barrel, which flows perfectly into the rear sight channel. Dovetailed into the front of the rib is the XS Sight Systems 24/7 Tritium Big Dot Express Sight; fast to pick-up and a top quality, fast system. Typical of Robar’s attention to small details the top of the hammer was also stippled. Next the frame of the gun was finished in Roguard. The internals, cylinder, hammer, trigger, ejector rod and screws were finished in NP3.

As the saying goes, good guns deserve good leather. Next up was a call to master leather craftsman Thad Rybka, another veteran of that class 13 years ago. Thad needs little encouragement to make holsters for single actions, as he is as nuts about them as I am. Thad does not have advertising and stamps or logos on his products; his work speaks for itself.

My instructions were simple, I wanted a strong side holster that would conceal the gun, and I wanted something that looked good. Thad crafted one of his signature Rhodesian rough-out high ride holsters, which fits the gun like a second skin. Thad had also turned me on to a little trick years ago for single actions chambered for .45 ACP. Take a 1911 Officers ACP magazine, cut the spring by about a third and viola — you have an instant re-loader for the single action revolver. You just thumb the rounds right into the chambers from the magazine. A matching magazine pouch for the loader was crafted to match the holster.

Does It Work?

I brought a mixed bag of factory .45 Colt and .45 ACP loads to the range the first time, and since I’m no Sergeant York, shot the gun for accuracy off a sandbag rest at seven and 15 yards. Cocking the hammer, the 24/7-sight pops into view like a full moon clearing the horizon. No problem seeing this front sight. And I had no problem keeping five shots of Black Hills .45 Colt 250s within 1¼". Next up was Winchester .45 Colt Silvertip. The group shrank to 1". Moving all the way back to 15 yards the Winchester Silvertips stayed within 1" while the Black Hills opened up a bit beyond 1¼".

Surprisingly where this little gun comes alive is with the .45 ACP cylinder. Shooting Blazer 200 JHPs I had no problem putting the shots on top of each other at the 7-yard line. But at 15 yards the Speer Gold Dot 230s gave consistent ¾" groups, with light recoil for a defensive handgun load, and were a joy to shoot. Defensive handgun accuracy … I’ll say. Not only was the gun dead on for windage, it also shot to point of aim with the ammunition I used. The people at Robar do good work.

Final Thoughts

Just as I finished this article I got a call from Gary Granger and learned USFA is offering this gun with a Bisley style hammer which is lower and would allow you to see the front sight without having to first cock the gun. Also as part of their ongoing product improvement program the ejector rod housing has been modified to allow removal of the cylinder without having to first remove the housing itself. This will be a big help for changing cylinders in the field.

The finished products resulted in a firearm and holster you would feel comfortable having on your hip while crossing a dark parking lot late at night in the wilds of downtown Denver. Or these days, for me, while searching for a wounded feral hog in failing light in the Hill Country of Texas.

The result? Had the Single Action Army Colt continued in its evolution as a defensive firearm it might have looked just like this. What was true then — is true today.

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