Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day 2008

Back during WWII, a young man in the US Marine Corps, Bill, was one of thousands tasked with taking the island of Iwo Jima. Operation Detachment, as the battle for Iwo Jima was called, was the only recorded USMC land battle of WWII where American casualties exceeded those of the Japanese. During one round of particularly heavy fighting, Bill had to use his empty .45 Colt (not an 1911A1, but a reissued and arsenal refinished M1911 from WWI) as a club, cracking the grips over some unfortunate Japanese fellow's noggin. Obviously, this M1911 had signifigant sentimental value for Bill.

None of this mattered to the thieves a few years ago that cleaned out his home of his .45 and his medals, amongst other valuables.

Being the cool old-fashioned guy he is, Sgt. Bill, even at age 82, tends to draw people close to him that are of similar morals and character. So it was not too surprising (to me, anyway) when one of his younger coworkers acquired a "bring-back" M1911 that had been "fixed up," and wanted it restored to its 1945 appearance (minus the rust that Bill's had from waterloggings during the landing.) The group that formed around this .45 decided to contact me for some input, as it became a small band of coworkers that would kick in on this project.

While not the exact same weapon, participation in this brewing sentimental gesture was too much for me to pass up. The collector's value of this gun was already ruined.

Our guest of honor for this post was born sometime between May and October of 1918.

Initial evaluation and discussion showed that the hideous target sights HAD to go. The pistol had also been "reblued," and while the chemical portion of the blue job was not terrible, the rounded corners and nearly invisible Colt prancing pony were NOT cool. Calling it overpolished is an understatement.

The supplier of the .45 (and friend of Sgt. Bill) included an era-appropriate rear sight with the pistol. How hard could it be to find a front sight that is the right size for a 1911? Enough that I ended up fabricating one.)

Rumour has it that in the 1940s, as the war was ramping up, several 1911s were put back into service after a nice black or gray parkerizing and arsenal refinish. These were issued to Marines, while Army guys recieved new production 1911a1s. Bill's, according to him during some (sneaky!) converstaions with his co-workers, was in fact, black phosphate coated.

So with clear goals in mind, I proceeded to remove the rear Millet-type sight, and the SOLDERED-ON ($^*%#@$#) front target sight. The frame and exposed parts (hammer, trigger, pins etc.) received a nice even sandblasting, and went directly into Mr. Park tank.
The slide got the kid glove treatment around the pony, and masking was destined to leave a shadow around it after inital stripping. Air on the blasting rig was turned down to 40 PSI from the normal 95, and our pretty pony got a couple of light licks. Masking ensued, and then the rest of the slide got blasting#1, followed by an acid bath to try to even up and deepen things a bit.
Blasting # 2 (Colt logo masked again) proceeded without a hitch, and then Mr. Slide took a steam 140 degree black manganese bath as well.

Being of a slightly different steel stock, the controls for the Colt came out a much deeper grey/black than the slide and frame did, which is ok, as I 'm sure that this was the case with many of the originals. the park went very light on the barrel hood, partly due to lockup and partly due to future work that will need done if this gets shot very much.

Where this pistol goes off on a "non-original process" tangent is right here.

I pulled an old (Brtitish?) trick that I read about somehwere here on da intergunwebz a while back (thank you to whomever it was that mentioned this.)

I commenced ta slather the slide and frame with a liberal application of gun grease, and said parts were then gently heated with a torch to open up the "pores' in the finish, allowing said grease to enter. Gradual heating continued until the grease was actually smoking, and evaporating off the surfaces of the parts. the parts darkened noticeably, and the phosphate coating took on a more smooth and even appearance.

The original 1911 that Sgt. Bill would have carried saw time underwater and rusted because of it.
As this is bound to be a piece with sentimental value as well, there is no need for this Colt to EVER see a new bit of rust. As long as someone can manage to oil the barrel and exposed trigger surfaces from time to time, it never will, either. A nice layer of FX7 inside the slide rails and back of the controls saw to the protection of the internals. The newly-fabbed front sight joint was sealed with a couple of small drops of matte black DuraCoat after installation.

Reassembly was followed up with a nice oil rubdown. The shadow around Pony was not as prominent after the grease/smoking, but there is a shadow. the goal was to leave the Pony visible, and it can still be seen. The front sight may not be 100% accurate, but it is darn close, and I did not have time to try and get Colt to install one off of their current 1911 production run (send in the slide. RIGHT.)

This was by FAR my favorite "rush-job," EVER.
I hope the grips that were located for it are similar to what he had, and that the overall feel is and appearance are as they should be.

Thank you, Sgt. Bill, God Bless and keep you, and happy Veteran's Day.

Thanks to the rest of you as well.

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