There’s nothing like a fine casehardened finish, the kind you find on Period First Generation 1873 Single Action Army Colts or on the guns finished and refinished by Doug Turnbull. I have discovered something by examining the photographs of some of the guns used by my favorite old-time western stars. Those guns weren’t blued and casehardened but finished completely blue on the barrel, cylinder and frame.
I’m not going to get into why the Western was so popular. If you’re reading this magazine you know why, you know the nerve that it touched. But this popularity came at a cost; this outright explosion of shows, every one of the three networks having multiple western programs from Wagon Train to Rawhide to Pony Express and The Lawman and Wyatt Earp—and I could go on for the length of this article. But I was talking about full-blue-finished SAAs (Single Action Army) and the proliferation of TV Westerns was one of the major factors. Hollywood TV and movie studios found themselves needing guns for multiple productions.
“They needed single-actions,” recounted Peter Sherayko, founder of Caravan West Productions, one of the major suppliers of Old West guns, holsters, saddles and costumes to movies such as Tombstone and TV projects such as Buffalo Girls and Wild West Tech. “In the 1940s it was standard operating procedure for movie studios and the big rental houses to refinish SAAs that got worn by simply bluing the entire gun. I have several guns in my collection that are stamped “Fox Studios” under the barrel and they’re all blue guns.” Refinishing worn guns full blue wasn’t the only reason there were so many on TV. Sherayko continued, “Like I said, the ‘50s TV series needed lots of SAs. Problem was, there weren’t a lot of SAs.”
Colt had ceased production of the SAA in 1940 and had not yet geared up a second-generation version of the pistols. In fact, it was the great demand created by the consumers watching TV westerns that made Colt bring the fine, old gun into production again. Since the process of fine, case color hardening wasn’t easy or cheap, manufacturers like Great Western and J.P. Sauer of Germany supplied full-blue guns. “If you look at some of the stills of James Arness as Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke,” Sherayko revealed, “You can see his single-action is a J.P. Sauer because the cocked gun reveals a missing firing pin. The Sauers had transfer bar safeties.”
The makers of these cathode ray tube westerns didn’t care what color their SAs were. In fact, many preferred the businesslike look of the full-blue gun. When the Have Gun Will Travel TV series reappeared recently on DVD, it became clear that the show’s armorers liked the black look so much that they had even painted Paladin’s SAA’s wood grips black.
As a Have Gun Will Travel fanatic as a kid, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for that clean, all-black finished SA. So you can imagine my elation when I discovered that the EMF Company, who had resurrected the Great Western with their fine Great Western II SA revolver, will custom finish the Great Western II in full blue. Along with a case colored frame version by Pieta and shiny and matte-finished stainless guns, EMF could make my dream come true.