A Model 27 Reborn
©2014 Thomas C. Dugas
In the early 90’s I was living in Texas, slowly working out the kinks in life and getting firmly established in my career.
As the saying goes, times were hard and money was short. But I had the good fortune of living near a large metropolitan city and there was a gun show almost every weekend. I didn’t let lack of money keep me from my favorite pastime. I handled a lot of firearms in those days, looking for my next acquisition.
My arsenal at the time was relatively small, mostly consisting of the firearms of my youth. I had dutifully carried these old friends with me after I departed home to make my way in the world. My battery consisted of a Mossberg Model 500 in 20 gauge, a Winchester Model 61 22LR; a Harrington & Richardson single shot 20 gauge, and a well-worn Smith & Wesson Model 14-4.
All of those firearms were old friends. The Mossberg was the first firearm I ever paid cash money for, $74.95 at TG&Y. My mother attended the sale as I forked over the cash in 1976. The H&R single shot was a gift from my grand-father, the first firearm I had been trusted with. The Winchester 22 was earned two years later when I proved my responsibility with the shotgun. The lone revolver was a Smith & Wesson Model 14-4 with a six inch barrel. I earned it in trade over a long summer casting bullets for a Sheriff’s deputy in my hometown. That Model 14 had kept me company for 15 years as I matured. I had shot thousands of rounds out of that Model 14, and considered myself a diehard revolver fan.
My first job after college was working at a large airport. I had long hours and about 15,000 acres to occupy my time. I spent a good amount of my time driving over the runways and taxiways. I was delighted to discover that part of my duties would be monitoring the abundant wildlife both inside the airport perimeter and outside of it. Long shifts on the weekend had me watching deer, rabbits, and other critters scamper over the airport, ignorant of the fence that was supposed to keep them at bay. From time to time we were required to thin out the deer herd to reduce the population to manageable levels and keep deer and airplanes separated. The deer were inside the city limits and they seemed to know they were relatively safe from most predators, both four legged and two legged.
My issued firearm was a 12 gauge shotgun. A handgun was deemed verboten by those in charge. Getting into shotgun range with those wily whitetails brought back many memories of hunting them in the Louisiana swamps and forests when I was a kid.
It wasn’t long before my old friend the Model 14 managed to find its way into my duty car. I’d take the opportunity to plink at tin cans or other targets of opportunity on the weekend when things slowed down at the airport. I shot mostly quiet wadcutters or other ammunition I could scrounge up with my limited funds. I was never tempted to try my hand at hand gunning a deer. I knew my limitations.
My running partner was another airport employee who appreciated revolvers. Informal shooting matches would occur when we’d partner up during a shift. He carried a well-worn six inch Model 27-2. We’d find a quiet spot and out would come the wheel guns. I remember thinking life wasn’t turning out too bad. I had a job I was growing rather fond of and the benefits seemed to outweigh the few hassles I occasionally encountered. Shooting at work was a perk I had not discussed during the interview. I often wonder what I would have said if asked about it.
On the weekends I didn’t work I attended every local gun show, in those days they were numerous. I was looking to upgrade my handgun battery. One weekend found me walking down the aisle at the Houston Astrohall Gun show and I stopped at a dealer whose wares I knew well. A new Smith & Wesson Model 27-2 with a 5 inch barrel was lying near his hand. Cased in a presentation box with the usual accessories, the revolver caught my eye. I kept my hands and heart steady and asked him if I could examine it closely. Wise old man that he was, he knew I had been hunting for a 5” 27 for some time. He handed over the revolver without a word but a perceptible crinkle in the corner of his mouth told everyone he knew he was about to make a sale.
He was and he did. When I hefted that big N frame in my hands I knew I had to have it. We dickered a bit but I walked out of that gun show $500 poorer but with a big grin on my face.
After I had the 5” Model 27 in my hands I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted it to do for me. I purchased a small amount of factory 357 ammunition and found the revolver had a large bark to go with its bite. Shooting wadcutters barely moved the pistol. On the back forty of the airport a milder load was called for to keep things respectable as to noise.
Visiting a friend one weekend when he was cleaning house, I inherited about twenty years’ worth of “Shooting Times” magazines and rediscovered Skeeter Skelton. As a kid in South Louisiana I used to hang out at the local drug store which had the only magazine rack in my small town. I carefully held the pages by their edges and read Skeeter’s stories which paralleled some of my youthful antics. When I got the dusty magazines home I found reloading articles in some of the yellowed pages, I decided I was going to become serious about reloading for my new pistol.
Over the next 15 years I developed a number of hand loads that shot well in the Model 27. An early favorite was Skeeter’s .38 Special load with the Lyman 358156 Gas Check. I shot thousands of those rounds at various targets over the ensuring years. But, I favored wadcutters for plinking use. A lot of Texas cottontails ended up in the pot because of those wadcutters.
That big N frame seemed to fit my hands perfectly and it pointed right where I wanted to shoot. It was a good match for the both of us.
The revolver slowly acquired the normal wear and tear of a weapon in near constant use. The finish began to thin in places, and nicks and scratches begin to accumulate. Like my favorite handgun, we both began to show the ravages of time. An unfortunate accident with a harsh chemical on my work bench removed some of the bluing on the cylinder. I decided it added character and left it as is.
A few years after I purchased it I found myself in El Paso Saddlery while in El Paso for business. While passing the time of day at the small customer counter I noticed a box off to the side that contained holsters for sale. Don advised me that these were considered factory seconds for minor imperfections. As fate would have it, the first holster my eyes dropped on was clearly for a left handed shooter (as I am). I pulled it out of the box and it was for a 5” N Frame, set for a cross draw. I had to buy it. I don’t recall what the asking price was but it I probably would have gladly paid twice for whatever they asked for it. I didn’t need to question good luck. I’ve been a fan of El Paso Saddlery since that fortunate day.
That holster and my 5” 27 met later that day and have spent the following years together in my range bag. They were made for each other.
Fast forward to present day. After discovering that I had shot 75,000 or more wadcutters in that Model 27, I wrote about it in an article entitled “75,000 Wadcutters in a Model 27".
I was surprised by how well it had held up over so many years of constant use.
As fate would have it, the following month the trigger pin broke on the first round of factory .357 I fired at a range session. The revolver continued to function but I knew something was wrong with the trigger after the first shot that day.
The drive home was filled with anxiety and worry.
I confirmed the broken trigger stud when I returned home and dissembled the revolver. My heart sank. I realized that for the past 15 years or more that revolver had accompanied me to nearly every range session. It deserved another chance and I wasn’t ready to part ways with it. I decided to return the Model 27 to Smith & Wesson to get it repaired, and re-blued. The cost of the repair never entered my mind.
The next day I took the unusual route of calling Smith & Wesson customer service instead of email or a letter. A friendly employee patiently listened to my plight as I detailed how long I had owned the revolver and how much it meant to me. I told her that it had to be repaired and returned to its former glory. She advised me that Smith & Wesson would be happy to receive the revolver back at its place of birth and make the necessary repairs. I was told to expect a wait of 12 weeks or more. I wasn’t in a hurry.
On August 31, 2012 I packaged the revolver for its return home and sent it via FedEx overnight. The following Monday I was notified that it had arrived safety. Approximately two weeks later I received an invoice from Smith & Wesson advising me of the repairs required and presenting the total. It was nearly what I had paid for the revolver more than 20 years ago, but I didn’t hesitate. I called Smith & Wesson and promptly paid the bill.
I didn’t hear much until last October, a few months later. Returning home from work I noticed a FedEx delivery tag stuck to my kitchen door. I wasn’t sure what I had ordered but the tag was silent as to who the shipper was. The Model 27 was way in the back of my mind, but didn’t come to the forefront of my thoughts for some reason.
The following morning I drove to the local FedEx depot and after presenting the call tag I was handed a box that was heavy. I couldn’t help but notice the Springfield MA return address and knew my Model 27 had returned. Barely 90 days had passed since I had returned it to its place of birth.
I didn’t open the box until the following Sunday morning. It was nearly 7AM, a quiet day in Northern VA. I sat at my reloading table on my favorite stool. I took a sip of steaming hot coffee and then slowly peeled the box open. Inside was a brown cardboard box that I knew contained the revolver. I opened it and under a sheet of S&W logoed VCI paper lay what looked like a brand new version of my trusty old friend. I paused to take the view in as my eyes traveled over the revolver.
The blue was deep and even. Gone were the scratches and damage to the finish from the accident years ago. A small Ziploc bag contained the replaced parts that I had requested be returned. I noticed Smith & Wesson had replaced the center pin, cylinder stop, hand, missing ejector pins and various screws and springs. The action seemed a bit stiffer, but it was hard to tell. It felt and looked as good as new. The end shake and timing had been checked and repaired. The barrel had also been set back, due to wear. My clearance gauge barely allowed a .003” blade between the cylinder and the barrel. The replaced trigger stud was hard to discern under the deep blue finish. Polishing the finish with a soft towel revealed a deep dark blue finish that reminded me of the day I first picked it up at that gun show.
I slid my old friend back into that leather holster and put both in my range bag.
I was impressed with the work. I was happy to have my old friend back. I pondered how easy it was to turn back the clock for that revolver and wondered if I could do the same.
While the 27 had been home visiting with old friends, I had re-discovered my Model 14-4. I had not fired it since 1999 according to my range book. I was surprised by how small the grip felt. My hands felt the difference between the big N frame and the smaller K frame. I was happy to discover it shot as well as I remembered. I put over a 1,000 rounds of wadcutters through it while waiting for the 27 to return. It seemed like old times.
Both revolvers occupy a special place on my gun safe door. Near the top, along with the other firearms I regularly take to the range.
I’m happy to have my re-born 27 back. I felt like an old friend was in the hospital and I couldn’t visit or know when he’d return. When I slid it back into that old holster the world felt right again.
I’ll bring it with me to the range as I’ve always done.
Welcome back old friend.
Before the re-birth, circa 2010:
After (October 2012):
Close up of the trigger stud replacement area on the frame