Posts Tagged ‘vintage airguns’

BSA Meteor: Part 3

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

BSA Super Meteor
My rifle is actually a BSA Super Meteor.

Today I’ll tell you the rest of the story. And, what a story it is! I had no plans for this part of the BSA Meteor report to go as long as it did. Circumstances just led me to this point. All I did was faithfully chronicle what happened.

When we left the Meteor yesterday, I’d removed the piston body, but the piston head was still stuck inside the spring tube in the forward part we call the compression chamber. The best access is through the air transfer port — a hole 0.125 inches in diameter. I had a pin punch that fit the hole, and I hoped it would need only a couple taps to come loose, but it was far tighter than I’d thought. The pin punch went in as far as it would go (about 1.5 inches), and the head was still out of reach from the other end. I needed a longer punch.

BSA Super Meteor transfer port
The air transfer port provided the best way to get to the stuck piston head. With the barrel removed, it was easy to insert a pin punch through the hole and tap the piston head out of the compression chamber.

I flipped the spring tube straight up, with the transfer port on the lower end, and poured Kroil (penetrating oil) on it to loosen the head. This is similar to freeing a stuck piston in an old tractor, except that this is smaller and a lot easier to work on. I left the Kroil in the spring tube overnight; and by the next morning, none had passed the piston head. The piston was stuck tight!

My shooting partner, Otho, made me a 12-inch pin punch from music wire that was exactly 0.125 inches in diameter. I met him out at the rifle range, where he gave me the new punch. All it took was a couple taps with a ball peen hammer and the head came right out. The Kroil on the walls of the spring tube made removal that much easier once the head got to the place where the oil covered the walls.

What came out of the gun was surprising, as it didn’t look like a Meteor piston head was supposed to look. But it did appear to be factory-made. Experience has taught me to, “Make haste slowly,” as Benjamin Franklin once said, so I studied the piston head and thought about the project for a day.

Looking on the internet, I found one other person who had the same problem — the head separating from the piston. And his gun was filthy dirty inside, just like this one. When he described his piston head, it turned out to be exactly like the one in my gun and also is not a head that’s normally seen in a Meteor. Then a happy thing happened.

New blog reader Dag Evert told me my rifle looks like a blend of different Marks to him. He sees some Mark IV and some Mark V characteristics in my gun, and he told me that he has seen 3 different piston heads in these rifles. For some reason, the guy on the internet thought someone had substituted a BSA Scorpion piston head in his rifle.

The piston head of a normal Mark IV Meteor has a large o-ring near the front of the head that is backed by a buffer washer. The head is either keyed to a slot in the end of the piston or there’s the newer (cheaper) kind of piston head that’s held on the piston by an E-type circlip. That kind can separate from the piston just like mine did.

My piston head appeared to have leather around the sides. I had to destroy the leather material to find out if I’m right about the composition, but I also don’t care for the weak way this head attaches to the piston. According to what I’ve read, it’s actually very weak! I would like to replace it with a new piston that uses a more conventional head that won’t separate from the piston while inside the gun.

BSA Super Meteor piston head
This is what the Meteor piston head looked like when it came from the rifle. This is an enlarged and enhanced photo, so you can see the separation of the o-ring and buffer washer; but when looked at in normal light at normal size, this head looked like the sides were all leather. The shallow groove in the end of the head is for the E-type circlip that holds it fast to the piston.

BSA Super Meteor piston head E-type circlip
This is an E-type circlip that’s used to hold the piston head to the Meteor piston.

John Knibbs in the UK has an entire rebuilt piston with a new head that’s ready to go, but the price is 45 British pounds, which is about $72.00. Add shipping to that, and it comes out to around $80 — which is more than the rifle cost. Of course, I have to either fix the rifle or sell it for parts, and I do want to fix it. So, I’m going to have to spend some money. I don’t want to make parts for this gun if I can get around it…because most of our readers can’t make parts, either.

Knibbs BSA Super Meteor piston assembly
John Knibbs sells this BSA Meteor piston assembly complete with new piston head. This is everything needed to fix my rifle, but the cost is high.

I kept searching for something that was less expensive. I had a perfectly good piston, so all I needed was a new piston head. Instead of being attached with a circlip, as mine is, I wanted one that had a more positive attachment so it wouldn’t separate again.

At this point, I wasn’t entirely sure that the head in my gun was the same as what was being offered on the internet. It was time to take my piston head apart, and that probably meant destroying the soft parts. But since this head wasn’t going back in the rifle again, I saw it as no loss.

The first step was to remove the rear washer behind the buffer material. It should have been free to come off, and it was.

BSA Super Meteor piston head disassembly 1
Whatever material the buffer washer was made of, it was completely gone by this time. The simple act of pulling off the metal washer behind it caused the washer to begin to disintegrate. It wasn’t the leather I thought it was.

The o-ring was so flattened by years of compression inside the chamber that it looked like something else. I cut it off to show that it is really a conventional o-ring.

BSA Super Meteor piston head disassembly 2
With the o-ring cut off, you can see that this piston head is the usual one found on a Meteor. But the method of attachment to the piston by a single circlip is far too weak for reliable operation.

What I needed was a piston head with all the parts that attached to the piston with something more positive than just a circlip. And with more searching on the internet I found what I needed. On T.R. Robb’s website, I found an adjustable piston head for BSA Meteors that comes with the buffer washer, 2 o-rings and a nut to fasten the head to the piston.

BSA Super Meteor adjustable piston head
This adjustable piston head comes with everything needed to fix my Meteor piston. Note how the fastening nut is tightened by a rod inserted from the side. The soft parts are included with this item.

Best of all, the cost for this piston head shipped to the U.S. is just 17.25 British pounds, which is only $27.51. That’s affordable in my book. I ordered one, and hopefully it’s on it’s way.

The fact that such a piston head exists tells me that others have had this same problem. That, by itself, is reassuring to know.

Last word
Before I end today’s report I want to draw your attention to the old piston head once more. Notice that the top of the head is bare metal. That’s the part that rests against the end of the compression chamber. But it doesn’t slam against it — or at least it’s not supposed to. If it did, it would hammer the gun apart in a relatively short time.

No, the compressed air in front of the piston head cushions the head from striking the top of the compression chamber when the gun is working right. Hopefully, all that’s needed to get this rifle working right again is a new piston head with fresh seals and some cleaning and lubrication of the gun’s other parts.

BSA Meteor: Part 2

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

BSA Super Meteor
My rifle is actually a BSA Super Meteor.

It would be an understatement to say there was a lot of interest in the BSA Super Meteor I got at the Roanoke airgun show. And in the discussion that followed, I learned a lot about this rifle that is now in its seventh design iteration.

First of all, the experts agree that the Meteors — Marks I and II and possibly the Mark III — are the best ones. Certainly, both I and II are. My Mark IV, on the other hand, is characteristic of BSA’s lowest days, when quality went out the window — at least to hear some readers tell it.

I don’t have a Mark I or II to compare with, so all my observations have to be based on this one gun. When I tried to fire it for the first time, it sounded horrible — as if it was broken.

Well, it turns out that it was broken! Today, I’ll show you the step-by-step process of disassembling this air rifle, and I’ll finish the story tomorrow with the damage I found and what I intend doing about it.

I’ve never liked disassembling BSA and Webley spring rifles because of how they go together. I suppose that if I did it all the time, it would seem simple; but compared to a Weihrauch, Air Arms or even a Diana, these two brands seem to be harder to separate. They seem to be designed for production — not for maintenance. At least, that’s my impression.

Having said that, however, I was surprised how easily this rifle did come apart. It was very straightforward and never gave me a bit of trouble. Like I said — I don’t have as much experience disassembling BSAs or Webleys.

All my photography today was done with a flash, so please excuse the poor exposures of some of the parts. I’ve made sure you can see what’s important, and I’ll direct your attention to it in the text…but these are not as good as my normal photos.

Step 1. Remove the stock
The stock comes off with two screws on the forearm and one on the triggerguard. Once out of the stock, it was easy to see why the forearm screws had pulled apart the action forks. They’re screwed directly into them instead of being attached farther back on the spring tube. This is a weakness in the design. Also, each screw was missing a stock spacer that keeps it from pulling on the action forks.

BSA Super Meteor action forks
The forearm screws attach directly to the action forks. When they’re screwed tight, they tend to pull the forks apart — especially when they’re missing their spacers. Note the barrel pivot pin above the flange with the threaded hole.

When I removed the stock, I could finally see the trigger adjustment screw. It obviously adjusts the sear contact area, so be very careful when you adjust it!

BSA Super Meteor trigger adjustment screw
With the action out of the stock, you gain access to the trigger adjustment screw.

Step 2. Remove the trigger parts
In the Meteor, the trigger housing is welded to the spring tube. So, it stays on the rifle, but the trigger parts have to come out to remove the piston, which is held by the sear on its side, rather than with a center rod. The trigger parts are held inside the housing by 2 pins, although it looks like 3 pins at first. One of those pins is a rivet and does not come out of the gun.

BSA Super Meteor trigger assembly pins
Trigger parts are held in by only 2 pins. The small pin above the curved trigger blade is pushed out from left to right, releasing the blade; then, the large silver pin at the top left is pushed out to release the rest of the trigger parts. The rivet at the right side of the housing stays where it is.

Normally, when faced with pins like these, I get a pin punch set, but I found that the trigger blade pin was loose enough to remove with just finger pressure, alone, and the large silver pin came out by pushing on it with a combination of my finger and a ballpoint pen! The large silver pin in my rifle appears to be a captive pin that remains with the trigger housing. The trigger was completely dry, which surprised me because it came apart so easily.

You have to take the trigger parts out because they’re being pushed up by the trigger spring to block the piston. The trigger pushes on the sear, which bears on the edge of the piston, so it has to be removed to allow the piston to clear the spring tube.

Once the large silver pin is removed, you can pull the trigger parts out of the housing. They consist of the trigger blade and the sear, plus a bent spring that puts upward pressure on the sear when the parts are pinned inside the trigger housing. The trigger blade contains the adjustment screw plus nylon bearings on both sides to keep it from wobbling when installed. It’s more sophisticated than it looks from the outside of the gun. Also, I can tell by the minimal wear patterns that both the trigger blade and the sear are at least surface-hardened. My guess is that they’re case-hardened.

BSA Super Meteor trigger parts
The trigger parts consist of the sear, trigger blade and trigger spring. The pin shown here is the same one that was removed to take the trigger blade from the housing. The white oval on the trigger is a nylon bearing that takes up any side-to-side wobble, plus it helps hold the adjustment screw in place.

BSA Super Meteor large trigger pin
Here’s the trigger housing with the parts removed. The large silver pin appears to be captive in my rifle. You can also see the rivet that never comes out. Notice how dry the mainspring is!

I noticed how very dry all the parts were. I was beginning to suspect that this gun had never been apart since it left the factory. Of course, without a complete disassembly, it was impossible to tell for sure; but I would have expected to find some lubrication on some parts. At this point, there was no lubrication on anything, and all the of the parts were dry, dusty and lightly corroded.

Step 3. Remove the mainspring retention pin and the mainspring
Step 3 is where you can make a very big mistake. With many airguns, the one or two cross pins on the side of the spring tube hold the mainspring and its guide in the rifle. The Meteor has a single pin, but it isn’t held in the rifle in the same way that other cross pins are held. Instead, this single pin is keyed to the spring guide. If you try to drive it out with a pin punch, you’ll ruin the pin and probably ruin the spring tube as well.

BSA Super Meteor mainspring retention pin
Here you can see the mainspring retention pin. Its function is similar to all retention pins in other spring-piston air rifles, but this one has a secret. It’s keyed into the spring guide. Until you take tension off the spring, this pin cannot be taken out of the rifle. If you try to take it out with a pin punch before taking tension off the mainspring, you can damage parts.

To get the pin out, you must take spring tension off it by pressing the mainspring in and away from the pin, then press the pin out of the gun from left to right. It will press out with finger pressure just as easily as the trigger pins did, once the spring tension is taken off. You need to make a special tool to take off the spring tension. I was able to make this tool with a part I bought at a local hardware store for less than 60 cents.

The tool does not have to be strong. It only has to put about 90 to 110 lbs. of force on the spring guide. I had my choice of steel, aluminum or plastic parts to work with, and I chose plastic so it would be easier to work. I bought a 4-inch PVC pipe riser made for a yard sprinkler system. I knew this would be easy to work with a Dremel tool. I brought it home, measured the work to be done and made the cuts on the pipe with an abrasive wheel. The total work time was about 20 minutes. I now had a tool that would span the cross pin and push on the base of the mainspring guide.

BSA Super Meteor mainspring tool
In about 20 minutes, I made a tool from a 4-inch sprinkler PVC pipe. It isn’t beautiful, but it worked the first time and looks like it’ll hold up for dozens more jobs like this.

I’d intended to use the spring compressor with this tool; but after I saw how easily it worked, I decided I could use it outside the compressor. All I did was put the tool around the pin and pressed down on the barreled action, taking all the spring tension off the pin. It was then very easy to press the pin out of the gun with just my finger.

BSA Super Meteor mainspring retention pin detail
Here you can see how the cross pin is retained by the base of the spring guide. You can also see the small amount of tension that’s on the mainspring of this rifle when the pin is installed. It was easy to take the cross pin out and take the tension off the mainspring without a compressor.

Then, I could remove the mainspring and spring guide from the rifle. Once they were out, I saw there was no lubrication on any of these parts, nor was there any on the inside of the rifle. I was pretty certain at this point that the rifle had never been apart; or, if it had, that someone had intentionally dried off every part before assembly.

The mainspring looks pretty good. I rolled it on the table and couldn’t see any significant canting. I believe I’ll use this mainspring when the rifle’s rebuilt.

BSA Super Meteor mainspring and spring guide detail
The mainspring looks pretty good, but it’s bone dry.

Step 4. Remove the barrel
It was time to take out the piston. On this gun, the piston is connected to the cocking linkage in such a way that the barrel has to first be removed from the spring tube to disengage the cocking linkage from the side of the piston. The Meteor has a pin (instead of a bolt) as a barrel pivot. Like all the other pins on this rifle, this pin was only tight enough to hold the parts in position. I could move it with my finger. I broke the barrel open to take all tension off the pin (from the detent), then pushed it out from left to the right.

BSA Super Meteor pivot pin started out
The barrel pivot pin has been started by finger pressure, alone. No pin in this rifle has needed a pin punch for removal. To get the pin all the way out requires a push from a screwdriver.

BSA Super Meteor barrel and spring tube separated
With the pin out, the barrel pulls away from the spring tube, and the cocking link can be removed from the piston. The piston can now be removed from the rifle.

Step 5. Remove the piston
Once the cocking link is out of the piston, it’s time to slide the piston out of the spring tube. Everything was so dry on this rifle that the piston had to be coaxed out of the gun by levering it with screwdrivers through the cocking slot. When it was out of the gun, I discovered that the piston head wasn’t attached! It’s still inside the tube at this point! No wonder the gun fired so violently!

BSA Super Meteor piston
The piston is missing its head. It passes through the hole on the end of the piston and is held in place by a circlip, which is missing.

The damage
That would normally be all you have to do to strip a Meteor, but I still have to get the piston head out of the gun. I suspect it’s going to tell me a lot about why the gun failed like it did.

This is turning into a long report, so I’ll finish it tomorrow.

BSA Meteor: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

BSA Super Meteor
My rifle is actually a BSA Super Meteor.

Of the 3 vintage airguns I acquired at Roanoke, this is the one you readers most wanted to see. And it’s one I have been curious about for two decades. I’ve seen hundreds of them at airgun shows, but every time I picked one up, it screamed “cheap and crappy.” Instead of blued steel, the metal parts are painted, which is an immediate turnoff. But it’s worse than that. I have never seen one of these Meteors that wasn’t loose at the breech, as in wobbling side to side where the barrel breaks. I made a special effort to check each one at Roanoke, and even the newest one in the best condition still wobbled.

On the flip side, I’ve read numerous glowing reports by owners and former owners who love the gun. Our own blog reader Kevin has more than one Meteor in his collection and thinks a lot of them. There must be something to this gun, regardless of my impressions.

Meteor — Mercury — Comet!
As a practicing dyslexic, I’m the first to confuse the names of things when they sound alike, or share a common thread, and this BSA is an example. I have called it by all 3 names in conversation, while meaning just the Meteor by itself. You see, BSA actually made airguns by all 3 names, but the Meteor is the gun we’re looking at.

The Meteor first came to market in 1959 and has matured through 7 Marks, or major design changes. The Mark VII is still being made today. The Blue Book of Airguns lists what they refer to as the “Meteor Super” (it’s actually called a Super Meteor) as a separate model that ran from 1967 through 1973; but in truth, the Super designator was applied to Meteors of several Marks for much longer. They weren’t separate models. They were rifles that had small upgrades of a few parts, with no real change to the powerplant.

Super Meteor
Actually, my rifle is a Super Meteor Mark IV in .177 caliber. They were made from 1973 through 1978 and are identified by the NG letter prefix of the serial number. What makes the rifle a Super is a stock with a slight Monte Carlo profile (stepped comb), a raised cheekpiece, a ventilated, thick, black rubber buttpad and a hooded front sight — although the hood did not come with the gun I bought. It doesn’t say “Super” anywhere on the rifle, and you have to look at the design features to distinguish it from a regular Meteor.

BSA Super Meteor buttstock
The butt has a slight Monte Carlo profile (stepped comb) and a raised cheekpiece. The ventilated black buttpad is the third clue this is a Super Meteor.

BSA Super Meteor tube markings
The name on the spring tube says Meteor. The “Super” designation is not written on the gun.

BSA Super Meteor serial number
The serial number prefix “NG” designates this as a Mark IV .177 Meteor/ Super Meteor, 1973-1978.

Out of curiosity, I did load one pellet and try the gun while writing this report. The discharge was violent, and the pellet never left the breech; so, the gun needs immediate attention. I’ll have to fix it before I can move on to test velocity and accuracy.

Size-wise, this Super Meteor appears and even seems a bit larger than a Diana model 27, though with the overall length of 40-1/4 inches, it’s actually one inch shorter than the 27. It’s the extra-thick stock that disguises the gun’s size. The barrel appears to be 18-1/2 inches long, though it’s backbored at the muzzle by 1.10 inches.

The rifle weighs 5 lbs., 14 oz., though that’s subject to deviate slightly depending on the weight of the “select Scandinavian beech” stock. Holding it reveals it to be light at the muzzle, which I don’t like in a rifle. But it isn’t bad and can certainly be tolerated.

Trigger
The trigger is adjustable, surprisingly enough. A screw behind the blade allows for some kind of adjustment on which I’ll report later. Right now, it’s set up as a single-stage with a crisp let-off of 4 lbs., 11 oz.

BSA Super Meteor trigger adjustment
Behind the trigger blade is the single adjustment screw.

There’s no safety, so it’s possible to fire the gun with the barrel broken open. I did this while restraining the barrel to test the trigger because, as I mentioned, the gun is in no condition to be fired. I really like the absence of a safety.

Barrel
The barrel is rifled, and this one currently looks like 40 miles of rough road. A tactical flashlight reveals lots of dirt and grime. It needs a serious cleaning.

BSA Super Meteor muzzle
The muzzle is backbored 1.10 inches.

The breech seal appears to be a formed synthetic o-ring. If I can find a replacement, I’ll get it. Otherwise, I’ll face this one flat and shim it underneath.

BSA Super Meteor breech seal
The synthetic breech seal has flattened over time.

Sights
The front sight is a steel blade with a bead at the top, pinned to a plastic ramp. The ramp is held to the barrel by a screw that’s under the steel blade. According to John Walter’s book, The Airgun Book, third edition, the front blade is reversible and can also be a square post.

BSA Super Meteor front sight
The front sight blade is supposed to flip and a square post will replace this bead.

The rear sight is adjustable in both directions. It appears to have very fine click detents that may be gunked up with crud because they make almost no sound at present. The entire unit needs to be taken off the rifle, disassembled and cleaned.

BSA Super Meteor rear sight
Rear sight is plastic and steel. Adjusts in both directions.

The rear sight is constructed of plastic and steel parts and has a notch that’s reversible. Right now, the vee notch is installed; but if I reverse the front sight, I’ll also flip the rear to the square notch. I noticed that there’s some vertical movement with this notch, as well, and I’ll use that if I need to. These older sights were things of ingenuity compared to what’s on the market today.

BSA Super Meteor rear sight notch
The rear sight has a choice of 2 notches. And the screws allow for a height adjustment.

Overall evaluation
I have to be open-minded about this rifle because so far it’s turned out to be the turkey I always believed these to be. Fortunately, Hiller’s third edition of Air Rifles has an exploded parts diagram of the Mark IV Super Meteor. Just by looking at it I can see the rifle disassembles in a straightforward way, so that will be the subject of my next report. Hiller also mentions that if the stock screws are over-tightened, they tend to pull the action forks apart, causing looseness at the breech. Apparently, this is a design weakness of the vintage Meteor series.

Once the rifle is apart, we’ll get to see what it needs to put it back into operation. Then, I can order the parts and, after an overhaul, we can progress to shooting.

The Roanoke airgun show: Part 2

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Today I’ll show you more of the airgun show that was held in Roanoke, Virginia, last Friday and Saturday. I’m going to jump around just like you would if you walked the aisles at the show.

Let’s begin at Larry Hannusch’s table. Larry has been an airgun writer since the 1970s, and he has a great collection of fine guns. This year, he displayed some of his ball-flask guns, giving show attendees a chance to see airguns that no American museum has.

Hannusch ball reservoir airguns
Not many people have ever seen this many ball reservoir airguns in one place. Larry Hannusch collection.

Hannusch vintage hand pump
How do they fill those ball reservoirs? With vintage hand pumps like this one. Dennis Quackenbush and I experimented with these pumps and learned they can develop up to 1,000 psi when the right technique is used. And they don’t have piston seals — just lapped steel pistons!

Larry also had a sales table with some fine vintage guns that were actually for sale. One was a BSF S54 underlever target rifle with a peep sight the size of a satellite dish. The one thing you can count on with guys like Larry is that they always bring out the rare and wonderful guns that most of us have only seen in books.

Across the aisle from Larry was Lloyd Sikes — the man who invented the electronic valve that went into the Benjamin Rogue. In fact, it was at a Roanoke airgun show years ago where Lloyd shared his idea for that valve with me. And the rest is history.

Lloyd has made quite a name for himself by producing Benjamin Marauder pistols with dual air reservoirs. His company, Airgun Lab, started making the P-Rod Double last year and then moved to the Disco Double — a Benjamin Discovery with 2 reservoir tubes. This year, he’s bringing out a Disco Double with 2 aluminum reservoirs that, as far as I can tell, is as light or even lighter than the original Benjamin Discovery rifle on which it is based.

When I picked up the prototype lightweight Disco Double at his table, I was amazed! It can’t weigh much more than 5 lbs.!

I’d promised to do a project with Lloyd last year and never got around to it, but this year a wonderful thing happened. A man who had purchased a new Discovery last year from Mac came to my table and wanted to return it. I explained that Mac had passed away, but then I thought that this might make the perfect rifle for a project with Lloyd. It was leaking, but that’s not a problem because it will have to be sealed anyway after the conversion. And with the 2 aluminum reservoir tubes, I should get about twice the number of useful shots per fill. And that’s a 2,000 psi fill, mind you.

So, I bought the gun and gave it to Lloyd for the conversion. As we talked and refined the details, I decided to also install a Marauder trigger on the rifle, which will give me what I always wanted — a single-shot rifle with lots of shots, a great trigger and superior accuracy. There — that’s 1 of the 4 airguns I bought out of the way!

Benjamin Discovery
Mac sold this Benjamin Discovery at the show last year, and I bought it back this year. It’s one of the early ones with a walnut stock, and it also came with the hand pump.

I was also located next to Ingvar Alm, a collector/dealer from Minnesota who always has wonderful stuff at these shows. He’s one of the major contributors to the Blue Book of Airguns. I could spend an entire blog on just the stuff on his table; instead, let me share with you the one gun that really caught my eye. It’s a dart gun from 1887!

1887 dart gun
The “Harmless” pistol. Wouldn’t you just love to see this at a Congressional hearing on toy safety today? This was on Ingvar Alm’s table, and he let me load and cock it for this picture!

Lest you BB-gun collectors feel left out, there were also plenty of desirable guns that you love at this show. I saw at least one model 40 with a bayonet, and I believe there was also a scarce model 140 Defender on the same table.

BB guns
Yes, there were plenty of rare collectible BB guns at Roanoke, too. And the prices were just as reasonable as the rest of the airguns.

What’s REALLY rare? How about a 1923 first model Crosman pneumatic with a front pump? There are seldom any at a show, but at this show there were at least 2! One of them had a price tag of $1,250, which is almost half what I’ve seen them bring in the past.

Crosman 1923 front pump
There were 2 of these 1923 Crosman front-pump pneumatics at the show, and both were for sale. This is something that’s seldom seen.

Okay, I guess it was blog reader Bradly who asked if there were any air shotguns at this show. Yes, there were. I saw a Farco air shotgun on one table. That’s the 28-gauge shotgun from the Philippines that Davis Schwesinger (the Roanoke show promoter) used to kill a wild pig several decades ago.

Farco air shotgun
Gun on the left is a Farco air shotgun. Gun on the right is a Crosman 102 repeater. Yawn. That’s what happens when you’re surrounded by riches.

What guns did B.B. buy?
You already know about the Disco, so what other airguns did I get at Roanoke this year? The first one was something I just couldn’t pass up. A Diana model 25 for $75! It’s the model without the ball-bearing trigger and the cosmetic condition isn’t that great, but it’s all there and seems to have a powerful mainspring. I felt the gun was undervalued, so I paid a little more than was asked but still got a great bargain.

Diana 25
This Diana 25 was a real bargain! You’ll see it in the future.

Before I came to the show, I was thinking about buying a BSA Meteor. I’ve always heard good things about them but have never pulled the trigger on one. This was the time.

At the show, I saw Meteors from $30 (junky) to $125 (excellent condition), and the average price was around $60. I bought one from Don Raitzer and will test it for you in the future.

BSA Meteor
This BSA Meteor was my only planned acquisition.

The last gun I bought was a flight of pure fancy. My money was mostly spent; but when I saw this rifle laying on the table I really wanted it — not because of its rarity or value, but just for the neatness factor.

It’s a Falke model 70, and it’s not much like the model 90 underlever I already have. This one is a breakbarrel that comes with an adjustable trigger and a barrel lock. The stock has been refinished, and the metal is mostly patina. But the rifle looks and feels solid. The dealer, Dave Bingham, said it reminds him of a Diana 27. It looks heavier and more powerful than that  to me, but I suppose we’ll find out when I test it. I got it for $100, which I think is a wonderful deal.

Falke 70
This Falke model 70 was on the same table as the model 80. This one is intriguing and I will be testing it for you soon.

Davis Schwesinger, the promoter of the show, had several tables full of vintage airguns. I’m going to show just a few that convey what was there.

Schwesinger table
Dave Schwesinger’s tables just went on and on. Here you see a Hämmerli Cadet, a VZ 47, a pre-war Diana model 30 and a Swedish Excellent. Where do you see airguns like these, except at shows like Roanoke?

Jan Kraner had a table displaying the most beautiful wood-stocked rifles. Most of them were not for sale, but they were a feast for the eyes. Jan uses them to showcase his talent as a stock maker, and believe me — it works!

beautiful stocks
Jan Kraner’s stocks stopped people in their tracks.

At last
I saved the best for last. In recent years there haven’t been too many Sheridan Supergrade rifles showing up at these events. But this year John Ford had a nice one and the price was just $1,250. That’s hundreds under what they have brought in recent years.

Sheridan Supergrade
A Sheridan Supergrade for sale is a rare thing. And this one was affordable.

The show was over before I knew it, and another year had slipped by. This one was different, as my pal Mac wasn’t there to share the excitement. But as I am reminded every time I go to one of these things — nothing is forever. We don’t own any of these airguns. We’re just their custodians for a time. In the future, these prized possessions of ours will be in someone else’s collection. That’s how we got them in the first place.

2013 Roanoke airgun show: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

Every airgun show has a personality, and this year’s Roanoke show was no different. It started slow. Dealers were slow to set up — enjoying talking with each other rather than getting everything ready for the doors to open to the public. That’s because we got there at 8 a.m., and the doors weren’t opened until noon. So, we knew we had time to converse and to see what everyone had on their tables.

I was seated behind Mike Reames’ table. Mike is the man who made the swages I reviewed for you a while back. He always has interesting things on his table, and I took some photos for you to see.

Reams ball flask pistol
Mike Reames made this outside lock pistol with a ball flask. It’s .45 caliber and is charged with CO2.

Each of Mike’s creations is unique; and to my knowledge, he’s one of only a very few people actively making modern ball flask airguns today. These are not mainstream airguns by any means; but if you want something modern that works and looks like it’s 200 years old, he’s the man to see.

Reams ball flask rifle
Reames’ ball flask long gun is another unique outside lock airgun that uses CO2.

Haenel 28 pistol
Well-worn Haenel 28 spring pistol was also on Reames’ table. These airguns are all-steel and made like firearms. They’re built to last forever!

One thing I noticed at this show was a large number of vintage guns had come out of the woodwork. I don’t always see many of the older guns at some shows, but this year Roanoke was loaded with them! I’m talking about rare guns from the early part of the 20th century, and some from even earlier.

For instance, there were large numbers of first- and second-model BSA spring guns. BSA invented the model spring air rifle in 1905, and the early ones date from then to 1914. They look old and obsolete until you fire them and discover they perform a lot like the modern guns of today.

There was a special one on Mike Driskill’s table. I thought it would be passed over by the crowd (a term I’m using loosely); but on the morning of day 2, our own RidgeRunner came to his senses and bought it. It needs some work, but they’re about as complicated as a drinking straw and as rugged as a Harley.

early BSA underlever
This .177-caliber 1906 BSA underlever may look old, but it can be made to shoot like a modern air rifle. This one dates to one year after BSA first introduced the modern air rifle! Mike Driskill was asking $175! RidgeRunner bought it.

Not everything at this show was vintage, however. Dennis Quackenbush brought several big bore rifles and pistols for customers who had arranged to pick them up at the show, plus he had a couple guns that weren’t spoken for. I photographed him unpacking his guns because I knew they wouldn’t last long.

Quackenbush unpacking
I photographed Dennis Quackenbush unpacking because I knew his guns wouldn’t last long on his table.

Quackenbush 50 and 308
Quackenbush had a .50-caliber Long Action (top) and a .308 Short Rifle for sale. These were not promised and could be purchased by anyone. They both sold within 2 hours of being unpacked.

Sure enough, when I saw him again a couple hours later, both rifles had been sold, along with 6 big bore pistols that he brought. One guy bought 3!

On day 2, Max, one of our blog readers who hasn’t signed in yet, got a .458 Long Action rifle from Dennis. It was a rifle that had been ordered and delivered at the show. Man, was he smiling when the show was over!

Quackenbush and Max
Max and Dennis Quackenbush finalize the deal for a .458 LA rifle.

This show’s personality
I figured it out early on the first day. This was the show to attend for killer low prices on fine vintage airguns. Diana 27 rifles? I saw at least 4 of them, ranging from $175 to 250, asking price. But how about a Falke 80 to go with my Falke 90 that I displayed at the show? Dave Bingham had it on his table. Instead of the stock that has a cheekpiece, this one had a plain elm stock. It’s believed there are fewer than 300 Falke 80s ever made, and fewer still in existence. Dave had a price of $800 on it, which gives me sort of a ballpark figure to use for mine…although, it’s not for sale.

Falke 80
A Falke 80 at the same show as my Falke 90. Notice the absence of a cheekpiece on this one.

But the whole show was like that! How about a Walther LG53 with double-set triggers? The only time I’ve seen these displayed, they weren’t for sale. But here was one for a very reasonable $500. Too many fine airguns — too few ATMs!

Walther LG 53T DST
A Walther LG53 with target sights and double-set triggers. It was for sale!

Something new
All you Crosman pistol shooters have a new toy to obsess over. It’s an adapter that allows you to connect an adjustable AR buttstock to many of the better Crosman and Benjamin air pistols such as the Marauder. But this device does more than just connect your gun to a stock — it allows you to set the length of pull, the cast-on or cast-off, the height of the butt in relation to the scope line and the cant of the buttpad. In other words, you can now fit the gun to yourself…and, with simple adjustments, fit it to your 9-year-old daughter!

Dave Rensing of www.rarmsinnovations.com invented this all-metal adapter to allow his 8-year-old son to shoot his Marauder pistol, and it works like a charm. The adapter is made of 6061 aircraft aluminum, hard anodized and attaches with no modifications or disassembly of the pistol required. Just attach it to the threaded hole that’s already in many of Crosman’s top-end air pistols!

Crosman pistol stock adapter
This adapter from R Arms Innovations allows you to connect a collapsible AR stock to several Crosman and Benjamin air pistols. It adjusts for a perfect fit for all sizes of shooters.

More power!
Want to shoot field target with a 150 foot-pound big bore air rifle? A club in Puerto Rico did, so they had Dick Otten of Rhino Targets (formerly After Hours Targets) build them some field targets that can take the abuse.

Rhino Targets big bore field targets
Dick Otten shows several big bore field targets he’s made. They can take 150 foot-pounds!

Rhino Targets tree targets
These Rhino Targets are for mounting in trees. They force shooters to shoot up. It’s a special challenge.

Otten wasn’t at this show last year due to illness. This year, he pulled out all the stops and showed many dozens of different innovative field targets. That crow of mine that you all marveled at a week ago is an Otten creation.

That’s all!
No, there’s a lot more to report, that’s just it for now. The question isn’t if there will be a Part 2, but if there will be ONLY 2 parts! This show was that good.

Crosman model 116 .22-caliber bulk-fill CO2 pistol: Part 2

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

Neat fix for bulk-fill CO2 guns
Part 1

Crosman 116 pistol
Crosman’s 116 bulk-fill pistol is a .22-caliber single-shot pistol.

Today, we’ll look at the velocity of the Crosman 116 .22-caliber bulk-fill CO2 pistol. A couple things will complicate this test. First is the fact that the pistol has adjustable power. I’ll account for that with several power adjustments, but that isn’t all that’s going on.

The bulk-fill process is itself somewhat complex; because if the bulk tank doesn’t have enough liquid CO2 in it, or if the tank and the gun are both warm, the fill will be less dense and will therefore produce fewer total shots. Let’s look at the fill process before we examine the gun.

The bulk-fill process
Filling an airgun from a bulk tank requires that the filling tank has sufficient liquid CO2 inside to transfer the maximum amount possible to the gun. When I say the maximum amount possible, I mean what’s maximum under safe operating conditions. It’s possible to overfill a CO2 tank or gun and create a dangerous condition.

CO2 pressure is controlled by the ambient temperature rather than by compression. If you make the CO2 storage vessel volume smaller somehow, you don’t compress the gas inside. Instead what happens is more of the gas condenses into liquid. It will continue to do so right up to the point that there’s 100 percent liquid inside the tank.

While that sounds good, it isn’t; because when the liquid inside the tank heats up, it tries to expand into gas again. As long as there’s space inside the tank for the liquid to evaporate into gas, you’re safe; but when the safety volume is filled, all the liquid CO2 can do is increase in pressure. It does so at an astounding rate, quickly developing over 10,000 pounds per square inch at temperatures that are still well within human tolerance. That’s why tanks rated for CO2 storage contain safety burst disks to prevent the tank from becoming a dangerous bomb. It’s also why several airgunners have been startled when their tanks’ burst disks actually burst while stored in their cars on hot days. Once the burst disk ruptures, all gas is lost and the burst disk must be replaced before the tank can be used again.

These days, most airgunners get their bulk tanks filled at paintball stores; but in my day, they filled them at home. There were even larger bulk tanks of CO2, holding 20 pounds of liquid. They came from the food and beverage industry, or they were large fire extinguishers. I own 2 of these 20-lb. CO2 tanks that I use to fill my bulk CO2 tanks for guns.

Filling bulk tank
The 12-oz. paintball tank is coupled to the 20-lb. CO2 tank for filling. This big tank has a siphon tube, so only liquid escapes the valve when it’s in the upright position. Couplings are custom made for this.

Once the smaller bulk tank has been filled, it’s time to fill the gun. Remember, the object is to transfer as much liquid CO2 as possible for a dense fill. That doesn’t give more power — it gives more shots. The CO2 controls the pressure, depending on the ambient temperature.

filling gun
The 12-oz. paintball tank is then coupled to the CO2 gun like this. With the CO2 tank hanging down, the liquid in the tank is just behind the valve, where it will flow readily from the tank into the gun. This paintball tank has a special adapter with a wheel to control the opening of the valve.

Filling the gun takes just a few seconds. It actually makes a sound, and you can tell when it’s full because the noise of the transfer stops abruptly. The outside of the gun may become cold and wet with condensation when the new CO2 inside evaporates to gas. As long as you do this transfer at room temperature, everything will be safe, for the liquid CO2 will evaporate and stop the fill before the gun accepts too much liquid. The gun is now full and ready to test.

Shot count
Because the pistol has adjustable power, I tested it on high power first. I found that there were 21 good powerful shots with the gun set on the highest power. Then, I adjusted it to medium power and finally to the lowest power. Medium power was very close to high power in all respects, but on the lowest power the total number of shots per fill increased to 32.

Crosman Premier
This is a Crosman gun, so Crosman Premier pellets sounded like the best place to begin. On high power, they averaged 390 f.p.s. The range went from a low of 384 to a high of 409 f.p.s. At the average velocity, this pellet generates 4.83 foot-pounds at the muzzle.

On medium power, they weren’t much slower — averaging 386 f.p.s. But on low power, they averaged 331 f.p.s. for an average 3.48 foot-pounds of energy.

RWS Hobbys
Next, I tried RWS Hobby pellets. In .22 caliber, these weigh 11.9 grains and average 423 f.p.s. in the test pistol. That’s a muzzle energy of 4.73 foot-pounds. The low was 413 f.p.s., and the high was 435 f.p.s. On medium power, Hobbys went an average 402 f.p.s.; and on the lowest power, they averaged 369 f.p.s. That’s good for a muzzle energy of 3.60 foot-pounds. On low power, the low velocity was 355; and the high was 383 f.p.s.

RWS Superdomes
The last pellet I tried was the RWS Superdome. This pellet weighs 14.5-grains in .22 caliber and is a favorite among many airgunners for all 3 powerplants. On high power, Superdomes averaged 376 f.p.s. The low was 362, and the high was 391 f.p.s. At the average velocity, Superdomes generated 4.55 foot-pounds. On medium power, they averaged 367 f.p.s.; and on low power, they averaged 345 f.p.s. On low power, the low velocity was 341, and the high was 348 f.p.s. At the average velocity, they generated 3.83 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.

Trigger-pull
The trigger-pull on the test pistol measures 4 lbs., 2 oz. That’s a little heavy, but it’s very crisp, so it’s going to be okay for target work. There are no provisions for adjustment on this trigger; so if I want to change the pull, I have to do some gunsmithing.

Odd note
I noted that when the gun was fully charged, the velocity always started lower and climbed into the good range — just like a precharged gun that’s overfilled. On the lowest power, the gun sometimes failed to discharge. CO2 guns aren’t supposed to do that, so I assume either the valve return-spring has weakened over the past 60 years, or someone has been inside the valve and changed things. Either way, that’s a good reason for an overhaul. The transmission sealer worked and now so does the gun; but it doesn’t work exactly as it should. That’s also probably why the number of shots per fill was lower than expected.

Overall evaluation
To what can I compare this air pistol? How about to a Crosman 2240, which is also a .22-caliber single shot but runs on 12-gram CO2 cartridges, but in many other ways is like the test pistol? The 2240 has a 7.5-inch barrel, so it’s a little faster than this 116 with a 6-inch barrel (Premiers averaging 448 f.p.s. to the 116′s 390 f.p.s.). Its sights are fully adjustable. The grip, while a bit larger, feels very much the same. So, if a 116 and bulk-filling aren’t in your future, know that there’s a good alternative.

I do think the test pistol is shooting a little slow for a 116. Maybe it would be best to get it overhauled to see what one in top condition can do

Crosman model 116 .22-caliber bulk-fill CO2 pistol: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

Neat fix for bulk-fill CO2 guns

Crosman 116 pistol
Crosman’s 116 bulk-fill pistol is a .22-caliber single-shot pistol with power and accuracy that surpasses many of today’s air pistols.

Before we start, a word on the “fix” for CO2 guns that Dennis Quackenbush gave me. Some folks are concerned that this will ruin the guns it’s put into. Well, it will soften the seals, and eventually those seals will dissolve into a jelly-like material that won’t seal the gun. How fast that happens depends on how much of the automatic transmission sealer you use. But here’s my thinking. The gun already doesn’t work. If this restores it to operation for a few years, or even for only a few more months, that’s more than you have now. In the end, you may need to replace all the seals anyway, but that was what you faced when you decided to do this. No permanent harm has been done. And you got some use from a gun that needed seals.

Don’t add the sealant if you don’t want to — that’s always your decision to make. But some of you are glad to know that there’s a quick, cheap way to fix many of these guns right now.

For those who are paying attention, we’ve actually reported on the 116 in the past. One of these is a blog that I did, and the other is a guest blog by blog reader Paul Hudson. Today’s blog is just the beginning of a traditional 3-part report, so we’ll be looking at this gun in greater detail.

History of bulk-fill CO2 guns
Carbon dioxide guns descended from pneumatic guns in the 1870s, when Paul Giffard first started building and selling his 4.5mm, 6mm and 8mm gas guns for the public. They were based on the Giffard multi-pump pneumatics that had been around for 20 years, but these new guns offered something the older pneumatics didn’t. They could be fired many times from one charged tank of gas. When the tank was finally depleted, it had to be returned to a filling station, which was hopefully located in the same country as the gun! That inconvenience overpowered the novelty of the guns that fired without gunpowder, and they did not last very long.

Giffard air pistol

Giffard gas pistols can be restored to work today — 130+ years after they were made!

Crosman started experimenting with building and selling entire commercial shooting galleries for the public in the early 1930s, and they chose gas guns for these galleries. Each rifle, designated the model 117, was tethered to a large tank of CO2 (that was essentially a fire extinguisher) located inside the gallery, and they must have gotten tens of thousands of shots from one tank.

After World War II, Crosman redesigned the model 117 into a rifle that used a self-contained 12-gram CO2 cartridge, and they designated it the model 118. Perhaps a number of unsold model 117 rifles were rebuilt into model 118 rifles and sold to the public because 117 airguns are extremely rare today. Model 118 air rifles, in contrast, do exist in numbers large enough for many collectors to have them.

But these aren’t the guns we’re looking at in this report. We’re looking at guns like the model 111 (.177 caliber) and 112 (.22 caliber) gas pistols that were filled from 10-oz. tanks of CO2. These started selling as early as 1950 and ended production in 1954, according to the Blue Book of Airguns. The 10-oz. tanks that filled them were designated as the model 110, though not very many people know it. These 2 pistols had 8-inch barrels and got as many as 70 shots per fill of gas. Of course, that depended a lot on the density of the fill, or how much liquid CO2 was put into the gun’s reservoir.

Bulk-filling in brief
When you fill a gas gun from a bulk tank, the liquid CO2 inside the tank used for filling is under tremendous pressure from the gaseous CO2. Carbon dioxide has a vapor pressure of 853 psi at 70˚F. When it’s forced as a liquid into a reservoir of any size, it evaporates instantly until the pressure inside the reservoir reaches the same pressure as is inside the tank that’s doing the filling. This liquid will remain a liquid until the gas pressure in the tank drops, such as when filling another tank or a gun. Then, some of the liquid will flash to gas, boosting the pressure back up to whatever is dictated by the ambient temperature. So, CO2 is a gas that regulates its own pressure. Unfortunately, it’s also a world-class refrigerant!

As CO2 liquid flashes to gas and expands, it takes a lot of heat from its surroundings. So much, in fact, that shooters run the risk of instant frostbite when a CO2 cartridge exhausts to the atmosphere. Because of this, CO2 will cool the gun in which it is used. As it cools, its vapor pressure drops. Guns that are fired fast in rapid succession will shed hundreds of feet per second of velocity. Many shooters think this is the CO2 bleeding off and losing pressure, but it’s really just a reaction to the rapid change in temperature. Shoot the same gun slower, and the velocity will remain high and consistent much longer. That’s true for all CO2 guns, whether powered by cartridges or bulk gas. Just for clarification, fast means as fast as you can pull the trigger, and slower means waiting at least 10 seconds between shots.

The 116
The 115 and 116 models are very similar to the models 111 and 112; except, instead of 8-inch barrels, both these pistols have 6-inch barrels. The Blue Book says they were introduced in 1951 and lasted until 1954, but what I think actually happened was all 4 pistols went away when the first model 150/157 came out. That was the first gun Crosman made that used a 12-gram CO2 cartridge. Their gas reservoirs, which are brass tubes under the barrel, are scaled to fit the shorter barrel, so of course they hold less gas. I’ve seen a .177 version of this pistol — the model 115 — get as many as 50 powerful shots on a fill, but I think 30 is a more realistic number. We’ll test the 116 over a chronograph and figure out the actual performance data for ourselves.

All 4 pistols and the 2 rifles that were their companions (models 113 and 114 in .177 and .22 caliber, respectively) have adjustable power! That’s right, they had adjustable power all the way way back in the early 1950s. A screw at the rear of the receiver is turned in to put more tension on the striker and thus give longer valve open time and more power. In that respect, these pistols function very much like modern PCPs.

Crosman 116 pistol power adjustment
Turn the lower knob in to increase the power — out to slow down the gun and get more shots per change. The upper knob is where you grab the bolt

The sights are also adjustable. The rear sight is a simple notch and the front sight is a tall squared-off post. The rear sight leaf slides from side to side in an oval slot with a lock screw holding it position. A second smaller headless screw provides a range of elevation.

Crosman 116 pistol rear sight
The rear sight slides from side to side and also adjusts up and down.

If the grips appear similar to what you see today, they are! Crosman got it right the first time and really didn’t change it that much over the decades and across the models. These grips come in 2 pieces that wrap around the grip frame, where today they’re flatter panels that leave the frame showing through; but the overall shape and angle are very similar.

The finish is paint, which was completely expected and acceptable in the 1950s. The barreled action is painted with a gloss black paint and the grip frame is painted with a crackeled finish. Hobbyists can reproduce these finishes today, so it’s not surprising to see an old gun that looks like new.

The barreled action is made mostly of brass tubing and parts, and the grip frame is made of pot metal. Small parts such as the trigger, sights, screws and power adjustment knobs are steel.

The grips are plastic, and the .22 models started out with reddish-brown grips, while the .177 models were sold with whitish grips that sometimes have thin lines of other colors running through them. Of course, you can find any color grips on a gun today because the grip frames are all identical and a lot of swapping has been done in the past 60 years. The grips are ambidextrous and only the crossbolt safety keeps the entire gun from being completely friendly to people favoring either hand.

The pistol has a conventional turnbolt that both cocks the striker and opens the breech to load a pellet. I call it conventional, but it will only seem so to someone who has seen a lot of 1930- to 1950s-era airguns. There’s no bolt handle. Instead, you turn a knurled knob counterclockwise; and when it unlocks, pull it straight back until the sear catches the striker. Then, the pellet trough is open to load one pellet. Pushing the bolt back home and twisting it clockwise seats the pellet into the rifling and also aligns the gas transfer port with a hole in the bottom of the hollow bolt.

Trigger
If these pistols can be said to have a weak spot, it’s the trigger. It’s a thin blade acting on a direct sear that releases the striker. It can be easily gunsmithed to be a light release, as long as you appreciate that it may not always be safe that way. I’ve owned all 4 models of this pistol, and a 111 that was my first one had a very nice, light trigger. The trigger on this 116 is neither light nor especially crisp. It’s better than a lot of modern pistol triggers but is only average for one of these older vintage guns.

Accuracy
I’ll never forget the accuracy of my first 111 pistol. I actually thought it was almost as accurate as a 10-meter target pistol. At 10 meters, I had little difficulty keeping 10 shots on a nickel. But since I haven’t shot this 116 yet, I have no idea where it’ll be. I do know that Crosman called it a target pistol, and it’s hard to argue that it isn’t. I think you’ll be surprised when I test it.

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