Crosman 111 pistol
by B.B. Pelletier
A boxed Crosman model 111 gas pistol with the refill tank. This gem was found at a local flea market for $30!
Crosman was quick to get into CO2 guns in the 1930s, though they had to wait until after the war to really start production. Their first gas pistols were the model 111 in .177 and model 112 in .22. These two were made from 1950 to 1954, at which time their barrels were shortened by two inches and they were redesignated as the models 115 and 116, respectively. Consequently, the two earliest guns are often called the "long barrel" models.
This is a bulk-fill gun
The 12-gram powerlet we know today did not exist in 1950. During the 19420, the Benjamin Air Rifle Company made gas guns that used a common 8.5-gram soda siphon cartridge, so-called because of its popular use in seltzer bottles that were all the rage in the 1930s and 40s. Other airgun companies also used this common power source, but Crosman did not. Instead, they provided a separate gas tank to fill (charge) their guns. The model 197 gas tank holds 10 oz. of liquid CO2 when full and can fill airguns many times. This method of charging from a separate gas tank is today called bulk-filling.
In the 1950s, you were expected to mail your empty gas tank to a refill station to be filled, but airgunners soon found a way around that. They made adapters to connect the Crosman tank to the much larger 20-lb. bulk CO2 tanks used by restaurants. They got those large tanks refilled at their local industrial gas supplier. That's the way it's still done today, so getting into bulk-fill airguns is a bigger commitment than just buying a gun.
To fill the gun, the gas tank is screwed into the front of the gas reservoir located under the barrel. A rubber seal keeps this connection tight while filling. I always drop some Crosman Pellgunoil into the fill port before connecting the tank. It gets blown into the reservoir when the gun is filled and spreads to every seal as the gun is fired. My gun came from the estate of an elderly man who had passed away. His daughter was selling the things she didn't want, and she told me the gun had not been used for more than 20 years. Amazingly, the gun was still half-full (30 powerful shots) and so was the gas tank! I had the gun resealed about a year later, however, but by then I had already fired it thousands of times.
One fill delivers many shots
I get about 50 full-power shots from one fill of my model 111, providing the tank I'm filling from is reasonably full itself. Fifty shots is also about what you get with a modern gas pistol that uses a 12-gram powerlet, but the 111 gets around 75 f.p.s. higher velocity. I see about 525 f.p.s. with RWS Hobby pellets on a reasonably warm day (CO2 is temperature-dependent). So, the 111 really uses more than 12 grams of gas per fill. A model 115 with a shorter barrel and gas reservoir gets close to 50 shots, too, but they will be in the 475 f.p.s. region.
Just above the back of the grip is a small knob sticking out. That's the power adjustment knob. Turn it in for more power - out for less. Above that is the round bolt head that retracts to open the bolt for loading and also cocks the gun. This is a single-shot pistol that's capable of impressive accuracy. I find it as accurate as the Marksman 2004 I tested for you on February 10.
The bottom wheel is the power adjuster. The top is the bolt.
The gun itself
The pistol is a little muzzle-heavy, as you might expect from the picture. The grip is on the small side and the trigger is just a thin steel blade. All the ergonomics we see in today's airguns are missing, yet it still feels very good in your hand.
A crossbolt safety blocks the trigger when pushed to the right. Don't trust such safeties because they do not restrain the hammer. If it should slip off the sear for any reason, the gun would fire regardless of where the safety is set.
The pistol has an ambidextrous grip with two-piece plastic panels. The gray-white mottled grip on my pistol was correct for the model 111; the 112 had a reddish-brown mottled grip. Today, however, there's been so much swapping of parts that you may find anything on any gun. Except for caliber, the two pistols are completely identical.
Shooting and just owning these vintage Crosman pistols is a joy. There's also a pair of bulk-fill rifles to go with them - the .177-caliber model 113 and the .22-caliber 114. Any of these vintage airguns can still be purchased for under $100 today, and a set like the one shown here usually brings less than $150. They take a little more work to operate, but they're worth it.