LINKS to Our Friends — Bowen Classic Arms opened it doors in 1980 and incorporated about 1982. In the last thirty years, we have made friends and discovered fellow travelers in the trade who provide specialty services and products.
Most are small shops or even one-man bands. Without their skills and handiwork, our own efforts would be enormously diminished. Our customers may not always recognize the influence or contributions these craftsmen have made so we would like to introduce you to them. While this list is not complete, it covers the usual suspects:
Belt Mountain Base Pins — The part of a single-action revolver that controls as much as anything the fit of a cylinder to a receiver is the lowly base pin. It doesn’t look like much at first glace but it is a part critical to a good-running gun. Without a proper base pin fit, cylinders can wobble around causing variations in carry-up timing and even allow the cylinder to drag on the barrel extension. A good base pin can help ranging and help the gun generally run smoother. Base pins are not a cure for most revolver accuracy problems but no gun ever suffered for the installation of a nicely fitted pin.
Even if a base pin fits well, many are deployed on guns with severe recoil. Spring-loaded ‘smokeless’ style base pin latches on Ruger and Colt SAAs were designed almost 150 years ago before the advent of powerful magnum calibers using heavy bullets. Factory latches fail with serial regularity and allow base pins to move forward under recoil which can cause some real problems. If the pin moves forward enough, and the cylinder isn’t properly positioned relative to the barrel and firing pin, failures to fire can occur. Worse still, the gun will fire and if the chamber and barrel are sufficiently misaligned, the bullet can crack a forcing cone. New Model Ruger revolvers depend on the spring-loaded plunger in the back of the firing pin to keep the transfer bar from catching on the firing pin and tying up the gun so, when a latch fails on these guns, the gun may not fire at all. Even with heavier springs and heat-treated latch parts, none are dependable enough in .44 Magnum and .45 Colt, let along for custom .475 and .500 Linebaugh guns. Belt Mountain base pins are available with a couple of types of locking screws that will keep the pin in place.
Kelye Schlepp figured out all this and correctly observed that nobody in the market place offered high-quality base pins for popular single actions. Thus, was born Belt Mtn. Enterprises. Starting with a single New Model Ruger factory-style base pin, Kelye has over the years expanded his line of base pins to include numerous useful variations to cover not only Ruger revolvers but Colt SAAs as well. Not only are several styles available, including the famous Keith No. 5 type, but, in the case of Colts with their wide variations of base pin receiver holes, ages and conditions, three different diameters, all rendered in the factory style. His most recent effort is a Keith No. 5 style base pin for the wee Ruger Bearcat.
These pins are all of very high quality and feature precisely ground shafts and quality polishing. Most are available in both blue and stainless materials. We are proud to use Belt Mtn. base pins in many of our custom revolvers.
Black Hills Ammunition — This company is a great American sucess story, one that makes us proud just to breathe the same air as Jeff and Kristi Hoffman who founded and own the company. From humble beginnings thirty years ago loading ammo for a friend and business partner, they have parlayed enormous hard work and insight into one of the most successful ammunition companies in America.Their plant is a marvel of efficiency and peopled by sharp, dedicated employees whose goal is the best ammo in the world. Sportsmen and competitors use their ammo with great success. Law enforcement and military personel use their ammo in our defense with great confidence. The company also supports their local community and their extended family of friends and customers in countless ways. By way of example, our own Chris Taylor, an ex-jarhead, trucked a bunch of Black Hills ammo to a Wounded Warrior shoot this spring.
Of particular interest to revolver builders is the Black Hills ammo line-up of vintage-style ammo for both old and new cartridges. We have used case after case of .32-20, .38-40, .44-40, 44 Special and .45 Colt ammo over the years to test and regulate sights on Bowen Classic Arms custom revolvers. It has never failed us and has always given exemplary performance. Plus, anything that comes in such cool boxes has to be good.
Black Hills Ammunition
PO Box 3090
Rapid City, SD 57709
Phone: (605) 348-5150
Fax: (605) 348-9827
CLEMENTS CUSTOM GUNS — David Clements is one of our friendly competitors who has the skill, experience and machinery to manufacture some parts important to our operations. Having made pre-war S&W sights one at a time in our shop, we were much relieved and pleased to buy ready made parts from David. Of excellent quality, these sights are used on all of our retro-style top-strap conversions, whether the humble Ruger Bearcat or the premium-quality Freedom Arms revolvers. Another part which is a real pain-in-the-ass to fabricate from scratch is the Old Model Ruger Bisley-spur hammers David makes. These first-rate parts give the Old Model Ruger the same fast handling as our modified New Model Bisley hammers. David has other parts and services of interest to revolver junkies.
ROY FISHPAW — Widely regarded as the dean of American custom pistol grip makers, Roy needs little introduction. Since his retirement from the United States Coast Guard, his second career has blessed handgun lovers with first-rate grips in every imaginable shape, style and material. No other maker has his mastery of finger-grooved and wrap-around grips, available for most double and single-action revolvers. Roy also pioneered the use of exotic woods such as snakewood and other natural materials such as dall sheep horn. His scouts still scour the globe for every imaginable material
Roy requires the complete gun in order to fit his grips. Each set of his impeccable grips is signed and dated.
Fishpaw Custom Grips
793 Mount Olivet Church Road
Lynchburg, VA 24504
Forkin Custom Arms — is a one-man shop in the heart of God’s Country, White Sulphur Springs, Montana where Ben Forkin produces his first-rate custom revolvers and lever guns. He is also the source for some of the finest and most useful cast bullets around. Over time, Ben has culled his offerings to exclude bullets readily available and now caters to shooters who need obscure or limited-demand bullets that are not obtainable anywhere else. At this writing, his line-up includes three of our favorite cast bullets.
His 350 gr. LBT LFN GC bullet with the .500 nose is the best .45 Colt bullet available for heavy 5-shot custom revolvers. The long nose gives a considerable increase in available powder space which enables shooters to propell this bullet to 1400--1500 fps, making the .45 Colt a fearsome performer in Ruger-base custom guns. In my view, this combination is superior to the .454 with 300 gr. bullets but is at the upper end of the velocity envelope for cast bullets.
Before moving back to Montana to set up his own shop amongst his own people, Ben worked with us at Bowen Classic Arms when it was a small, struggling two-man shop. He was in the shop when the .50 Special was developed and helped produce the first ones. Based on a .500 Linebaugh (.348 Win. case) shortened to 1.160, the .50 Special bullet required a proper round-nose bullet. In those days, we had never heard of LBT bullet molds but discovered a likely style from NEI which we use to this day. Trundling along at 700--800 fps, this 350 gr. RN bullet is a lot more harmful than it looks and, even at such low velocities, will often out penetrate most effective projectiles. But those wouldn’t look right and would be totally out of character for the ultimate ‘piddling ’ cartridge.
Last but not least is a 50 gr. .251 diameter bullet thrown from an RCBS .25 ACP mold but used in .297/250 caliber rook rifles. This may not be a familiar catridge to modern American shooters but it is alive and well in the small vintagers community which conducts rook rifle matches around the country. We may not shoot many rooks and rabbits with it nowadays but it is nevertheless a wonderful cartridge, a sort of reloadable .22 LR in terms of performance. Ben’s bullets have been on the victory podium twice now at the East Enterprise Double Rifle Club matches in IN, fired in the winning Cogswell & Harrison Certus rifle.
Not to be outdone, Ben is adding an NEI mold for a 62 gr. bullet for the ever-popular 7MM Nambu. Only a real friend would accept such a charge. Thanks to these bullets, there is a wee Nambu hiding in East Tennessee that will come alive again after years of idleness. Perhaps the loveliest of all military autoloaders, these little fellows are rarely seen and almost never shot. That will change soon.
205 10th Ave, SW
White Sulphur Springs, MT 59645
GARRET CARTRIDGEs OF TEXAS — Randy Garrett started experimenting with hi-performance .44 Magnum ammunition in the early ‘70s and developed the first truly effective big-game hunting .44 Magnum ammunition that kept the .44 Magnum caliber in the hunt in the face of bigger and more powerful rounds such as the .454 Casull and .475 Linebaugh. While he has dabbled in hi-performance .45-70 and .458 Win. Magnum rifle munitions, his three .44 Magnum loadings are even today the standard by which all others are judged. Randy and his son handle all of the bullet casting and loading in-house. Accuracy is excellent in all the loadings.
The Garretts offer three important .44 Magnum cartridges, each with a specific application:
310 gr. ‘Defender’: Achieving around 1000 fps in 4 in. revolvers, this round offers great penetration without the heavy recoil associated with the more powerful loadings. It is well suited to the Smith & Wesson Mountain revolvers and is the perfect ammo for back-up guns. 310 gr. ‘Hammerhead’: Designed for all steel-frame .44 Magnum revolvers. At 1300+ fps from 7 ½ in. barrels, it is a fearsome performer. 330 gr. ‘+P Hammerhead’: For only large-frame Ruger, Dan Wesson and Taurus double-action revolvers, this is the ultimate .44 Magnum ammo propelling these bullets at close to 1400 fps in 7 ½ in. barrels. With the bullet’s incredible sectional density, it penetrates all out of proportion to its caliber. It is our favorite loading for Redhawks. Not recommended for revolvers with barrels shorter than 4 in. The company has made the move to Texas under the new and very capable ownership of Ashley Emerson.
GRAND MASTERS, L.L.C. (formerly Power Custom) — Ron Powers hardly needs any introduction. Founding member of the American Pistolsmiths Guild, Ron’s Smith & Wesson and Ruger Redhawk work is legendary. No better hand at double-action revolvers ever plied the trade. Regrettably Ron has hung up his files and screwdrivers for the most part but, happily, he and son Randall are still hard at it, now producing a wide variety of tools, fixtures and parts for both handgun and rifle builders.
Of particular interest to vintage single-action revolver buffs are his Ruger two-piece steel grip frames. Available in both blue and stainless and for Old and New Model Rugers, these Colt SAA-size parts are a great way to dramatically upgrade the quality of Ruger revolvers. Not only are the grip frames possessed of better feel, they are of classic two-piece construction which enables grip makers to produce one-piece grips without screws. Better still, Ron and Randall now produce Keith No. 5 style grip frames made from a tracing of Elmer Keith’s storied No. 5 Colt. The other part of particular interest is the Old Model Bisley-spur hammer and companion trigger.
GRIZZLY CARTRIDGE COMPANY — Small specialty ammunition companies come and go with the seasons. Mike Rintoul, founder of Grizzly Cartridge Company intended that his company, founded in 2003, would come to stay. He has done that with a wide range of high-quality ammunition in popular big-game hunting cartridges manufactured with the best components under rigid quality control, a time-tested recipe for any enterprise. Of particular interest to us are his ultra big-bore revolver cartridges which are a boon to non-reloaders. There are four hi-performance loadings for the venerable .45 Colt which make this round competitive with the .44 Magnum. Our house favorite is the +P 300 gr. LNFGC. Even more impressive is the even wider array of loads for the .475 and .500 Linebaugh cartridges, still our favorite ultra big-bore cartridges even after 25 years. Our testing has always given excellent accuracy.
Grizzly Cartridge Company also owns the Cast Performance Bullet company founded by Kelly Brost and is an excellent source of hi-performance cast bullets, most in the classic LBT patterns that have gain an enviable reputation in the field over the last several decades.
Grizzly Cartridge Company
P. O. Box 1466
Rainier, OR 97048
DUSTIN LINEBAUGH — Son of the famous revolver builder John Linebaugh, Dustin carries on the family tradition of excellence and innovation in the field of custom single-action revolvers. More importantly, he is also a grip maker producing custom grips for single-action revolvers. Conventional in style, they are as good as it gets in execution. Working in wood, ivory and a variety of other materials, Dustin is a welcome entry to the rarefied roster of first-rate grip makers.
DAN LOVE — Dan Love is not only a first-rate engraver but also a first-rate gunmaker who has a great deal of experience working with custom revolvers. While he does not offer his grip making and gun making expertise to the public, his experience and knowledge of classic American revolvers, especially those of the great builders of the past, gives him a good feel for the engraving many other engravers simply do not have. His design work shows a wonderful understanding of the revolver form and his execution is flawless. He has engraved numerous guns for our customers over the years, including the USFA Keith No. 5 revolver that graces the cover of our book The Custom Revolver.
As a general rule, Dan prefers to work through other gunmakers who can send him the work completely prepared for engraving. Guns must be disassembled and be completely polished to white.
Dan Love Firearms Engraving
P. O. Box 145
Arthur, IA 51431-0145
MANSON PRECISION REAMERS — Dave Manson learned the reamer and tool making business at the old Clymer Manufacturing Company, eventually becoming the plant manager. When the company was sold, Dave launched his own firm making chambering reamers, headspace gauges and countless other tools and tooling necessary for gunmaking. Thanks to his efforts over the years, we have had the first-quality chambering reamers we use every day in each and every caliber conversion that leaves the shop. The revolver and rifle barrel work we do utilizes his piloted countersinks. His latest addition to his roster of tools is a set of forcing cone/spot-facing tools with interchangeable pilot bushings. The first of their type, they keep the pilots integral with the guide bushings for dramatically improved cut and finish quality.
PAUL PERSINGER — Nothing sets off a piece of fine revolver work like a fine set of grips. Nothing sets off an exhibition-grade piece of work like museum-quality grips of carved ivory. Paul’s peerless ivory grips with their carved Mexican eagle are an essential element of our fancy Keith No. 5 guns, whether based on a Ruger Flat Top or a dedicated USFA effort. Other elaborate carved grips, perhaps the famous ‘steer head’ being the most popular, are available. Paul is also adept at checkering and monograms in ivory. For more prosaic jobs, he offers grips in micarta, wood , horn and about any other suitable material he can lay hands on. Most are available in one or two-piece configuration. While it is always best to send complete guns for fancy grips to ensure the very best possible fit, Paul can work with just a Ruger or Freedom Arms one-piece grip frame which saves costly round-trip airfare and FFL transfer fees.
Mr. Paul Persinger
Persinger Custom Grips
10441 Mackinaw Street
El Paso, TX 79924
JOE POLANCO BEAR HUNTS — Alaska is the last frontier left in this country and is one of the last places to find the big bears, both black and brown. There is no better way imaginable to hunt these critters than with Joe Polanco. Since the interior is nearly impenetrable, bear hunting is mostly confined to narrow strips along the Alaskan coast. There are no roads, only access by water or air. Joe’s approach is to travel by water in his floating campsite, a lovely 59-foot pre-war ex-Swedish Navy rescue vessel refitted as a small inter-coastal cruise ship, complete with amenities such as heat, showers, and berths with clean sheets very night and Joe’s excellent cuisine from the galley. An experienced Alaska hand with vast experience as a bush pilot and sailor, Joe’s bottomless store of tales, anecdotes and lore, to say nothing of the storied Alaskan scenery and the mere joy of being at sea, conspire to relegate the wonderful hunting to almost an incidental activity. There is no greater experience than a few days with friends and family in Joe’s capable hands, whether hunting or fishing or just touring and bear watching.
Rim Rock Bullets — An old friend and customer recommended Rim Rock Bullets to us. Always on the hunt for sources of high-quality handgun bullets, we were especially pleased at the reference. Rim Rock supplies a wide variety of useful styles and weights, everything from casual bevel-based plinkers to premium, hard-cast gas-checked LBT hunting bullets.
Rim Rock Bullets, Inc.
103 Main St SW
Ronan, MT 59864
Rob Rowen Custom Grips — Roy Fishpaw can be said to be the dean of custom grip makers in America since he has been at it professionally for years and pioneered high-quality workmanship using exotic materials. While generous with his time and talent, he has mentored closely virtually no one until now. When Rob Rowen decided to retire from the corporate rat race and pursue his dream of custom gripmaking, he went right to the master to learn the trade. While a relative newcomer, thanks to Roy's guidance and great native talent, Rob is already a first-class maker, very much in the vein of Roy Fishpaw. Rob's offerings are varied in style, material and guns. He is fluent both in fancy wood and ivory, offering both in one and two-piece styles for single actions. Happily, he is at home on double-action revolvers and is willing to undertake production of factory-style grips, a boon to S&W and standard Redhawk owners.
Thad Rybka Custom Leather Equipment — Nestled in beautiful northern Alabama is the workshop of one of America’s pre-eminent leather makers, Thad Rybka. Among leather cognoscenti, Thad’s designs and execution are without peer. Working from several basic tried and true designs, he can confect holsters for nearly any revolver in a variety of finishes. In addition to holsters, Thad produces belts and ammo carriers. All are made from premium cowhide and most are hand-stitched in the best style.
His signature ‘rough-out’ style holsters are at once both practical and handsome. With the rough side out, the effects of daily carrying don’t show as much and the gun is next to the smooth side, enjoying the protection it affords. Since there is no liner, the holster is lighter and more compact. In addition to working leather, Thad can produce fancier pieces with wondrous carved and stamped exteriors in a variety of traditional motifs.
For information and details, write to Thad. He is quite old fashioned and eschews the use of phones and computers. He can be reached at:
Thad Rybka Custom Leather Equipment
2050 Canoe Creek Road
Springville, AL 35146
Turnbull Manufacturing — Founded in 1983 by Doug Turnbull, Turnbull Manufacturing has matured into one of the finest vintage firearms restorations shops in the country. Much of their fame is founded on their unique color case hardening process which produces vivid and authentic colors without damaging the underlying heat-treament to high-strength steels used in modern firearms. The Turnbull system is perfectly compatible with Ruger revolvers which are produced out of 4140 steel, one of the toughest materials used in firearms manufacturing. Thanks to this innovation, Bowen Classic Arms is able to offer hardy modern revolvers with glorious coloring.
Turnbull Manufacturing is best known for their meticulous Colt handgun and Winchester rifle restorations. Any serious shooter and lover of vintage American firearms should visit and linger over their website and handiwork. Only the brain dead can fail to be impressed with a model 1876 Winchester rifle, made new, fitted with 4X presentation wood and lavishly engraved in the factory style . Teddy Roosevelt would have been proud.
6680 State Routes 5 & 20
Bloomfield, NY 14469
JIM WILSON & BUSCADERO PRODUCTIONS — Once Elmer Keith, Skeeter Skelton, Jack O’Connor and countless other iconic gunscribes passed on, you’d think we’d be out of characters by now. While it is true there aren’t many left, there are still some out there. You don’t have to be old, have notches in your gun grip or have a scalp stuck in your hatband to be one. While characters are a hard sort to describe or define, like the Supreme Court justice so famously said when pondering pornography "I know it when I see it". So it is with characters...we know them when we see them. Anybody that can sing, write, ride, shoot and get us in touch with our inner cowboy can fairly be said to be one.
Regular readers of the American Rifleman and its several sister publications and Rifle and Handloader magazines from Wolfe Publishing will recognize Sheriff Jim Wilson’s name and associate it with insightful essays on guns and gun handling and his colorful tales of life in the Border Country. What few of his readers may know is Jim is as much a hand pickin’ and singin’ as he is pecking away at a typewriter. His first album Border Bravo, released in about 2002, is a delightful collection of cowboy songs and border ballads that will transport real and frustrated cowboys alike to our last frontier which is, as Jim says, a land of ‘proud walking women and slow talking men’.
Jim’s soulful voice, backed up by a talented gang of western/bluegrass musicians from Lubbock, Texas, will put a smile on your face and make you glad just to be alive.Each song is a gem, a window into life in this glorious country. You can tell just by the song titles: Mountain Home * Seven Days from Musquiz * The Pistol * Come to the Bower * Agua Verde Crossing * Heartaches Come Stealing * Across the Great divide * Blue Mountains of Mexico * The Road To Sonora * Borderline * Evangelina * Old Borunda Cafe
Well, Jim has gone and done another album, this one entitled West of Somewhere. In addition to familiar classics Pancho & Lefty and Magnolia Wind, this one features songs by Ian Tyson, Tom Russell and others and Jim’s own title track West of Somewhere. Rock music is written by children while country music is written by adults. Cowboy music, on the other hand, is written by poets and philosopher kings. Nobody can hear Eighteen Inches of Rain or Dancin’ Days without seeing some light. Tom Russell’s Blue Wing as Jim renders it is as powerful a piece as there is from any genre. Even if you don’t know one end of a horse from another, you owe it to yourself to hear this character sing.