Airguns of the American West Part 2
Delivering Western Justice – The Umarex Colt Peacemakers
By Dennis Adler
The Umarex Colt Peacemakers are more than just BB or pellet-firing CO2-versions of America’s greatest single action handgun; they are a tribute to one of the most significant eras in American history.
The original Colt SAA models were introduced in 1873 but the majority of early production was for the U.S. military, in fact, few civilians had even seen a Colt Peacemaker until 1874 or 1875. Many Americans actually got their very first glimpse of the new Colt revolvers in May 1876 at our nation’s International Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park. The Exposition was opened by President Ulysses S. Grant and Dom Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil. As thousands waited to enter they could see, close by, the vast Main Exhibition Building. Beyond were the towers and expanse of Machinery Hall, the Gothic barns of Agricultural Hall, the arabesque architectural intricacies of Horticultural Hall, the art galleries of Memorial Hall, and twenty-four state and other buildings covering 236 acres. At the time it was the largest exposition in American history.
For the Centennial Exposition, Colt’s had prepared a pinwheel display of 18 specially engraved and ivory stocked Single Action Army models as the centerpiece of the company’s massive presentation case. Between May and November 1876 more than eight million people from around the world visited the Philadelphia Exposition, including nealry one out of every five Ameicans!
Style and Purpose
There was a sense of both elegance and simplicity in William Mason’s design for the Colt Peacemaker. Aside from frame, barrel, cylinder, and grips, the mechanics of the six-shot revolver were confined to only nine parts: mainspring, hammer swivel, hammer, short sear, short sear spring, long sear, lifter with spring (operates the lifter and long sear), trigger, and trigger spring. The remaining components of the SAA were cylinder pin and retaining screw, triggerguard and backstrap, hammer roller and hammer screw, hammer cam, hand (pawl), bolt, trigger, firing pin, and ejector assembly. The exterior bore three screws in the side of the frame (one of which was the hammer screw), plus the retaining screw for the cylinder arbor, two screws for the backstrap and one for the grip strap. When two-piece grips were introduced, a new grip screw was added to the parts list. The Umarex Colt Peacemakers recreate these details and features as accurately as possible while combining the differentiating internal mechanisms required for a CO2-powered air pistol. Interestingly, most of the operating features of the original William Mason design are still used in the .177 caliber models since the airguns operate almost exactly the same way!
The Colt branded, .177 caliber Single Action Army models are accurate in virtually every detail, right down to the SEPT. 18. 1871 JUL2.72JAN.19.75 patent dates stamped on the left side of frame and the Rampant Colt emblem. With an overall length of 11 inches and weighing 33 ounces, the 5-1/2 inch barrel length models weigh about 4 ounces less than a .45 Caliber 5-1/2 inch barrel length Colt Peacemaker. The minor differences are in the hammer face with a smaller firing pin used to activate the CO2 firing mechanism, as well as the hammer’s resting position back from the rear of the frame (as a .45 Colt SAA might appear with the hammer at half cock). There is a different arrangement of the transverse latch with an added screw to secure it inside the crossbolt, and, of course, the hole in the bottom of the grip strap for the hex head tool (attached to the left grip panel) used to tighten the seating screw and pierce the CO2 cartridge.
At a glance, even these differences are minor in appearance. The greatest departure from the tenets of Wm. Mason’s design is the requisite manual safety for the airgun, which is discretely hidden under the frame and just forward of the triggerguard. It blocks the action from working when set; in the fire position a red dot appears on the safety switch. It’s barely noticeable unless you turn the gun over.
Both of the models being tested are the nickel versions, the pellet firing model with a slightly brushed (coin) nickel finish and black Peacemaker grips, and a hand-engraved BB model from the first series of hand-engraved Umarex Colt Single Actions with white plastic grips. The holster for the test (if you’re testing a western gun, you might as well look the part!) is one of the new Western Justice models with a single drop loop and full length skirt design, stamping on the borders, and a rich mahogany stain. It is worn on a Western Justice cartridge belt designed with correctly sized loops for the BB and pellet cartridges. While the Umarex Colt is based on a .45 caliber model, Colt’s offered the Peacemaker in a wide range of calibers, including .32-20, which was another shared pistol and lever action rifle chambering, and about the correct size for the BB and pellet shells, which are just a little smaller in circumference than a .38 S&W caliber cartridge.
In Part 3 we put steel and lead downrange.
A word about safety
Blowback action airguns provide the look, feel and operation of their cartridge-firing counterparts and this is one reason why they have become so popular. Airguns in general all look like guns, blowback action models more so, and it is important to remember that the vast majority of people can’t tell an airgun from a cartridge gun. Never brandish an airgun in public. Always, and I can never stress this enough, always treat an airgun as you would a cartridge gun. The same manual of operation and safety should always apply.