The Lure of the Holy Black

The first pistols I owned were replicas of Colt’s percussion revolvers, an 5-1/2″ ASM Navy Sherrif’s Model, and a Navy Arms 1860 Army .44. I loved the look and feel of those guns, and more than a few Coyotes met their ends because of them. I graduated to one of Colt’s ‘re-issue’ Pocket Navy .36s, one of the most beautifully made guns I have owned.

As an aside, the 1860 inspired me to have a T-shirt made. It read, in old-timey script, “Life Insurance by The Colonel” over a drawing of the 1860 Army, and in smaller script beneath, “Address Colonel Samuel Colt, New York, USA.”

They were fun to shoot and surprisingly accurate… but they were painfully slow to reload, only reasonably reliable and clean-up was a pain in the butt. Following the best information I had at the time I would fully disassemble each revolver, immerse it in boiling water, then scrub with hot water and dish soap, then dry everything in a warm oven before oiling it and reassembly. Eventually I was seduced away by modern cartridge revolvers, and seldom looked back.

Around a decade ago I discovered the wonderful world of cartridge-conversion revolvers, and the Kirst gated Conversions that would let me make my own from inexpensive percussion revolvers. I started off with a Remington snubby with a .45 Colt conversion, and progressed to a Colt .45 Schofield conversion.

‘The Pug,’ a Pietta 1858 Remington-based conversion in .45 Colt
‘The Outlaw,’ based on a Pietta 1851/.44. It uses a .45 Schofield Kirst Gated Conversion

Kirst makes a hell of a good product, but they aren’t cheap and I am, so it was inevitable that I would eventually start doing my own conversions. I started by boring through percussion cylinders and making breech-plates for them. In a six-shot percussion cylinder there simply isn’t room for a .45 caliber cartridge (percussion .44s have a .451″ bore, but conventional .45-caliber cases are close to .475 in diameter) which is why the Kirsts are 5-shooters. A bored-through percussion cylinder takes a .44 caliber casing with a .451 heel-base bullet, like the original .44 Colt. In other words the bullet and case are the same diameter.

I made some dies to swage 200gr LFP bullets into a heel-base bullet and bought a special crimping die and set to work developing loads, with limited success using smokeless powders. The best results were with Trail Boss, but it was still somewhat inconsistent, and not entirely satisfactory.

I also did a Colt Walker conversion, shortening the barrel and boring through the cylinder. While there is more than ample room in the cylinder for a .45-caliber cartridge I decided to go a different route… I shortened and expanded some British .303 cartridges and loaded them with my 200gr heel-base bullets- it is, in effect, a ‘stretched’ .44 Colt. With a wonking great charge of Trail Boss behind it, it worked well enough. Since the case will comfortably hold 55gr. of Black Powder I called the resulting cartridge .44-55 Walker.

.44-55 Walker
This is Thumper, my Walker cartridge conversion

Eventually I bought a cop-and-ball revolver to convert to fire cartridges, and it came with a flask of FFFg black powder. Just for fun I loaded a .44 Colt cartridge with it. I’ll make a note here- BP is dead easy to reload in cartridges designed for it. Since you cannot have air gaps in the chamber when dealing with BP, cases are designed to hold the correct amount of powder. Simply fill the case almost to the rim and you’ve got the right load. Stuff a bullet on top, crimp it and you are good to go. I also loaded a few .44-55’s with it. I took the guns off to the range and, with some trepidation, touched off a few rounds.

Wow. It was a transformational experience; the guns barked with authority and set a massive cloud of smoke downrange. Finally my .44 Colts were acting as they should. The .44-55 Walker was even better- it actually recoiled like it meant business, though it’s still not at all uncomfortable. Since my latest .44 Colt conversion also has a percussion cylinder I loaded that up and tried it. The same grin-inducing boom-and-buck.

Remington ‘Brasser’ conversion, with cylinders for .44 Colt and percussion. cased with ammunition and reloading supplies for the percussion cylinder.

I don’t think I am going to get back into cap-and-ball revolvers at this point in time- but FFFg is my powder of choice for these two cartridges from here on out. I’m even planning on doing a rolling-block carbine in .44-55 Walker to complement ‘Thumper’ (The converted Walker revolver.)

Yes, clean-up takes a bit more effort, but my standard cleaning regimen works just fine- some Hoppe’s #9 followed by a bit of CLP and the gun is good to go. The guns do need to be cleaned immediately after coming back from the range; black-powder residue is hydrophilic and rapidly attracts moisture, so you want it out of your gun as quickly as you can conveniently manage.

I have a number of antiques that fire black-powder cartridges like .450 Adams, but having developed satisfactory smokeless loads for these guns I am a little reluctant to expose them to the mess.

So, the Holy Black is back in my life- for limited uses at least!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 26 April 2019

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