The Sixguns Of Jim Stroh


New Model Rugers: A pair of .45 Vaqueros with stocks by Bob Leskovec
of Precision Pro and a Heavy .45 Colt stocked by Charles Able.

Any regular reader of these pages and our sister publication, GUNS, and any of my several books knows how much I have a passion for converting Old Model .357 Blackhawks to the #1 Cartridge of the 20th Century, the much loved .44 Special. Those original .357 Blackhawks, both the Flat-Tops of 1955-1962 and the Old Models of 1963-1972 are all basically the same size frame-and-cylinder as the Colt Single\ Action, and the Flat-Tops even have the same exact grip shape as the old Colt.

Ruger’s original .44 Blackhawk, the Super Blackhawk, and the New Model Blackhawks are all larger than necessary for a .44 Special and are already chambered in .44 Magnum so nothing would be gained by converting a New Model .357 to .44 Special. However any of these Old Model .44s or New Models in any chambering are perfect candidates as a platform for the .45 Colt.

Going Heavy

The whole idea of a .44 Special built on a Colt Single Actionsized Ruger .357 Flat-Top or Old Model Blackhawk is not a sixgun for magnum velocities, but rather an easy packin’ and shooting sixgun used to deliver 250 grain bullets at muzzle velocities from 900 to 1,100 fps. These older Three-Screw Blackhawks are also suitable for conversion to a .45 Colt for the use of standard loads in the 850-900 fps range only. When I decided I wanted a custom .45 Colt single-action sixgun for heavier loads, a Ruger New Model was sent off to Jim Stroh.

Jim Stroh, the gentleman from Georgia, was recognized by his peers as one of the top metalsmiths in the country. If it can be accomplished in steel, Jim could do it. So when I decided to put together a once-ina-lifetime Heavy .45 Colt on a Ruger frame, I turned to Jim. Starting with a Ruger Super Blackhawk, the idea was to build a .45 Colt that could be used with standard loads as well as heavybulleted, heavy-duty hunting loads. My favorite Packin’ Pistol length single action-style is 43⁄4″, while my preference for hunting, or if by some horrible situation I was forced to have only one sixgun, is the 71⁄2″. Since I already had standard .45 Ruger Blackhawks in both barrel lengths, my going with 51⁄2″ was the best compromise to fill both needs.

Basic Platform

Very little of the Ruger Super Blackhawk New Model survived the conversion. Although I still prefer the old-style traditional single-action actions, and although I would not admit to it at the time, I now know Ruger definitely did the right thing by going to a transfer bar safety
system. However after saying this I still do not like the way the trigger on New Models sits so far forward in the triggerguard; Jim Stroh can fix this, and that is exactly what he did on this Heavy .45 Colt. The trigger now sits back in the triggerguard where it belongs. A new five-shot cylinder was line-bored, fitted with tight chamber dimensions, and fitted with a bushing at both front and back to eliminate all endshake
and also to prevent the cylinder ratchet from taking a beating from heavy recoiling loads. The cylinder itself is oversized and as large as practical to fit into the Ruger cylinder window. The bolt slots in the cylinder are oversized and matched up with an oversized bolt to remove all side play.

As the cylinder on a New Model Ruger is rotated for loading or unloading, by the time you hear the click it has gone too far and the chamber is no longer lined up with the opened loading gate. Jim made two changes to the action. First he installed a free spinning pawl to allow the cylinder to rotate forward or backward when the loading gate is opened. This can come in very handy if a bullet jumps the crimp and protrudes through the front of the cylinder preventing normal rotation. The second change — simply because I wanted it and even though the transfer bar was kept intact — was to add a half-cock notch to the hammer.

Alpha Precision Best Grade Bisley Conversions on stainless steel Blackhawks.

All Steel

A new heavier .45 Colt barrel was fitted to the Ruger frame. As front sights have become harder and harder to see over the years, I’ve found for my eyes the best choice for a front sight to be a black post, and Jim made the front sight of interchangeable style and provided blades of differing heights to handle a wide range of bullet weights and muzzle velocities, and matched it up to a Bowen adjustable rear sight. This was to be an everyday packin’ and hunting handgun with no worries about maintaining a fancy deep blue, so a subdued blue was chosen over the normal bright blue.

A project such as this deserves to be all steel, so naturally the alloy ejector rod was replaced by a steel one. The steel ejector rod housing was fitted precisely and securely using Jim’s double dowel method. This system consists of two small steel dowels fitted behind the ejector rod screw hole on the barrel and two corresponding holes in the ejector rod housing. Standard ejector rod housings held on with one screw will often shear the screw with the recoil from heavy loads and especially so if the screw loosens. Jim’s system takes all the pressure off the screw and prevents the housing from moving when the sixgun is fired.

No Cigar

I decided to try one more time to use the square-backed Super Blackhawk triggerguard, so I had it rounded so I would not get slapped on the knuckle as the gun recoiled. It still didn’t work for me as the angle of the backstrap just did not feel right, so this custom .45 Colt was
returned to Jim and the project was finished with the fitting of all the Bisley parts, grip frame, hammer and trigger. Well, almost finished; the final step was the fitting of scrimshawed ivory micarta stocks by my old friend, Brother Shootist, and now retired Charles Able. Can you say “Perfect Packin’ Pistol?” One thing noticeable on this .45, or any heavy-duty sixgun by any of the top sixgunsmiths, is an extra-heavy mainspring. These guns are designed to go off with 100 percent reliability when the hammer drops.

Pure Pleasure .45 Colt

For general roaming the old standard .45 Colt load (250-260 gr. bullet at 850 to 900 fps), especially when used in conjunction with Keith bullets, is still a good one and certainly adequate for taking deer and feral pigs. When Ruger introduced the .357 Blackhawk in 1955, Elmer Keith reported we would soon see it also offered in .44 Special and .45 Colt. The coming of the .44 Magnum one year later changed all this and the Colt Single Action-sized .357 Blackhawk was never chambered in any other caliber.

Ruger Stainless Bearcat with Smith & Wesson J-frame rear sight.

A .45

If you want a .45 Colt in a Ruger Blackhawk sized the same as the Colt Single Action, it’s necessary to begin with a Three Screw .357 Blackhawk. When Shapel’s Gun Shop closed I purchased all of their 3rd Generation .44 Special New Frontier barrels as well as both a .45 Colt and a .44-40 in the 71⁄2″ length. With a little trading and a little cash I came up with four .357 Old Model Blackhawks and one of these was sent off to Jim Stroh along with the .45 Colt barrel, and a Colt ejector rod and ejector rod housing purchased from Brownells. If a part is needed for any modern gun the place to start looking is Brownells.

Jim performed all the standard operations in converting this .357 to .45 Colt. The original cylinder was rechambered with proper sized .45 throats at .452″, the New Frontier barrel fitted, the action tuned and tightened, the barrel/cylinder gap set very tightly, a #5 base pin fitted, the grip frame polished brightly, and the balance of the gun finished in a high bright blue. It has now been fitted with fancy walnut stocks by BluMagnum.

This .45 Colt shoots as good as it looks. For instance, Remington’s 250 Express LSWC clocks out at 913 fps and places five shots in 7/8″ at 20 yards and Oregon Trail’s 255 LSWC over 8.5 grains of Unique, 993 fps does 7/8″ to name just two loads. All of the loads I use are very pleasant shooting and don’t put any undue strain on the standard-sized cylinder and frame.

Alpha Precision custom screw-on front sight with the screws
hidden under the removable sight blade.

Lots More

These two .45 sixguns barely cover the tip of Jim Stroh’s talents. Everything is not big bore. At the other end of the spectrum, Ruger’s handy-dandy little .22 Bearcat, which for some reason unbeknownst to me has never been offered with adjustable sights, was addressed by Jim by fitting a S&W adjustable rear sight and a corresponding Stroh front sight, resulting in a single-action kit gun capable of being precisely sighted in. Jim also offered a Best Grade stainless steel Ruger Single Six .22 converted to .32 Magnum with a custom oversized cylinder and a flat-topped frame with an Alpha Precision front sight. On the double-action side, Jim also fitted an adjustable rear sight and corresponding front sight to such little sixguns as the Ruger SP101.

Jim Stroh’s equal can be found in a very small handful of other top-drawer sixgunsmiths — however no one could better him. He was a Master.

Subscribe To American Handgunner

Get More Revolver Content Every Week!

Sign up for the Wheelgun Wednesday newsletter here: