Monday, July 13, 2015

A blast from the past--New rifle follows me home.

I have no idea whose attic this old relic has been sitting in or for how long, but it's mine now.
It's a rather neglected Model 1866 Springfield rifle, caliber .50-70, also known as a Second Allin conversion.
Now mine's not as nice as the one pictured in the link above at the NRA museum, but then again, mine was a lot more affordable, being somewhat shopworn and in need of several missing parts. But parts are out there and I'll find them. And when I find those parts, I plan to shoot this rifle.
These early Springfield breechloaders, also known as "Trapdoors" due to the pop-up breech on the action, were all made from Civil War .58 muzzle-loading muskets which were obsolete by the end of the war. As usually happens at the end of a war, the government had a lot of these obsolete rifles that they couldn't really use, and we were expanding into the West and running into major problems with those pesky Indians, a problem which required newer rifles. Since our government was notoriously cheap back then, it chose to convert thousands of the old muskets to new breech-loading cartridge rifles by sleeving the barrel down to .50 and cutting the rear of the barrel to add this breechlock.
The new rifles were then issued to US troops out west starting in 1867, and none too soon as the Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne Indians had just gone on the warpath against white settlers and the Army in 1866, totally wiping out a force of 81 soldiers in the Powder River area of what would later become Wyoming in December of that year. The fallen troops had the old muzzle-loaders and the Indians had learned by now that all they had to do was wait for the soldiers to fire their rifles and then they could attack and kill them while they were reloading. New troops were sent out, and the Indians attacked them again in July of 1867 in two battles known as the Wagon Box Fight and the Hayfield Fight. The soldiers had been guarding woodcutters and haycutters when the Indians attacked, and they took up defensive positions as the Indians tried their old trick of rushing them after the first volley of musketry. But the Indians got a surprise that day, as these new breechloaders could be reloaded very fast, and the Indians got their feathered butts handed to them in a fashion that would have made John Wayne proud.
Eventually these Model 1866 rifles were replaced with the newer Model 1873 Trapdoor in .45-70, which was factory-built as a breechloader, but many of these old ones soldiered on for a long time. In fact, William "Buffalo Bill" Cody used one, which he named Lucretia Borgia in tribute to it's deadliness, to kill an estimated two thousand buffalo to feed railroad workers while he was employed as a hunter for the Union Pacific as it worked it's way west across the plains.
Well this old warhorse has certainly seen better days, but given time, it will be cleaned up, repaired and firing again. Right now though, I'm still inspecting it. This one has a breechlock and a sideplate with later dates, indicating that the originals were replaced sometime during it's shooting life, but aside from a few missing screws, it seems complete and functional.
This one has the US stamp on the buttplate, indicating military issue, but no signs of who it was issued to.
But even without any unit history, this rifle is one heck of a piece of American history, and I feel pretty lucky to have come across it. I can hardly wait to fire it for the first time in who-knows-how long, just as soon as it's fixed and I make up some black powder loads for it.
Oh wait--I just checked under the buttplate and found an old yellowed piece of paper that reads: "Issued to Old NFO, 1868."

If true, that certainly explains the shortage of Indians today. Old NFO can still shoot like Hell!

22 comments:

  1. "Issued to Old NFO, 1868." now that's funny

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  2. Chuckle, laugh, guffaw in that order because the Old NFO blurb just seemed to keep getting funnier. Good luck with the rifle.

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  3. "Hey, I've been looking for that rifle ever since we defeated the Kaiser!"

    - Double Fake Old NFO

    I've never owned a trapdoor, but my Dad tells of one he had in high school or college that apparently got 'horse-traded' waybackwhen. After his younger brother passed away last year, he found that my uncle left an old SxS shotgun from the early 20th century (not a LCS) that had been owned and traded by Dad and three or four of his high school buddies in the '50s. No one could figure how my uncle came to own it - maybe had found its way to my grandfather (an avid bird hunter) at some point, or just traded to a younger group at the local high school. Anyway, after nearly 60 years, it's in Dad's possession again, and interestingly, the action locks up as crisp as can be.

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  4. Even though it often gets an asterisk (*) in loading manuals, or when buying .45-70 ammo, the trapdoor is a fascinating look back, somewhat like the Richards conversions for revolvers, to a time of American ingenuity.

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    1. This one is a .50-70, but I do have a .45-70 Trapdoor as well. Thing to remember when buying or loading ammo for them is that they were designed for BLACK POWDER cartridges, which generated a lot less pressure than modern smokeless propellant. Modern-day .45-70 ammo in a modern rifle is great for moose or grizzly bear but one of those rounds will turn a vintage Trapdoor into spare parts quicker than you can call 911 after firing one. There are smokeless loads available for them but for safety and simplicity's sake, I just load black powder, 70 grains BY VOLUME, like the gun was designed for.

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    2. What are your thoughts on using Trail Boss as a BP alternative? Could save some cleaning time after range sessions...

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    3. Trail Boss seems to be a decent option, and a lot of people say a lot of good things about it. I just haven't gotten around to trying it yet.

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  5. Nice rifle ML! NFO is gonna get you for that ya know!

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  6. Hey Murphy,

    Glad you own a piece of history...Nothing like it.....but Old NFO lived it though......
    We anxiously await your shooting it in good time:)

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    1. Lived it? He MADE it!

      Found a dealer in old Trapdoor parts. Waiting on missing screws and such now.

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  7. Nice rifle, haven't seen one like it in years with the nearest to it being a 45/70 Calvery Model. There are aftermarket bolts, screws and such not replacement parts for the rifle too. Should you have any difficulties finding such a machine shop can easily fabricate some of the parts. If you decide to blacken any parts look up the apple vinegar or 50/50 water & vinegar method.

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  8. I wondered where that one got off to... :-) Nice find! And I hope you can find the parts quickly!

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    1. After a fair bit of discussion with a collector in Las Vegas and several pictures sent back and forth via Al Gore's internet, I think that the correct parts are enroute.

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  9. Nice find. I look forward to seeing it all restored.

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  10. Fascinating piece of American and firearms history.

    Glad to see it found a good home!

    Be very interesting to hear about shooting it. I'm far too much of a rookie to ever consider a gun like that.....

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    1. Rookie? Jim, you have the keys to the USS Iowa and her 16" guns, if I recall.

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    2. Yeah....but.....we don't have any powder (6 100lb bags are required) and all the shells are dummys.......

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  11. A great piece of history

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