I recently received a unique piece of history to work on, so naturally I had to make a write up about it. A good friend of mine came to me with a Remington Rand 1911 from his personal collection and asked me to give it a once over, go through it, and see if it was fit to shoot. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity. It meant a great deal to me because first off, my friend is a veteran and secondly, we both have family that were World War II veterans.
For those who are not World War II weapons history aficionados, Remington Rand was awarded a contract starting in 1942 to build 1911 pistols for the U.S. Military. Remington Rand was actually a typewriter company. E. Remington and Sons, the firearms company, had a side venture with one Christopher Sholes. Sholes had an idea for a typewriter that Remington helped him develop, but in 1886 E. Remington and Sons sold the typewriter company. At that point the company became the Remington Typewriter Company, and in 1927 merged with Rand Kardex Corporation. This brings us to Remington Rand who made their money developing and selling adding machines, filing cabinets, and a whole array of office equipment.
So how in the world does an office equipment company end up making military side arms? I am going to go out on a bit of a limb here and say Sunday morning December 7, 1941 may be the turning point in our historical narrative. When Japan decided to bomb the Naval and Air forces stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii the United States could no longer stand idly by, and She was ill prepared and ill equipped to jump into a multifront world wide war which had been raging for nearly a decade. Many forget Japan began its push into Manchuria in 1931 which snowballed into the Second Sino-Japanese war by 1937. This avalanche of aggression cascaded across the Asia-Pacific region culminating in the attack on Pearl Harbor. And while most everyone is familiar with Hitler’s push into Poland in September of 1939; very few recall that between 1935-1941 Italy, allied with the Germans, jumped off into places like Greece, Ethiopia, Albania, France, and Egypt. By the time the end of 1941 rolls around Germany had gobbled up large swaths of the European and Mediterranean countryside, and Japan had control of vast tracts of Asia and the Pacific. The U.S. allies were certainly spread thin but with an attack on an American military installation the U.S. could no longer pursue its course of neutrality.
Now in desperate need of equipment, arms, munition, aircraft, vehicles, vessels, and just about everything the outlook for the United States was rather bleak. I’d have to agree with the late Col. Bud Day, a WWII vet himself, when he said there wasn’t much good news to be had in the United States in ‘41-‘42 except for maybe Jimmy Doolittle.
The need for war equipment would fall on all facets of American Industry. There were almost no commercial goods made during the war years. America had to literally improvise, adapt, and overcome by tooling civilian production into war time materials. For instance, Ford Motor company produced B-24 bombers to the tune of 18 per day at their facility in Willow Run. By the end of the war they had produced some 86,586 complete aircraft (total not just B-24s), 57,851 aircraft engines, and 277,896 vehicles of all shape and sort. Ford is only one example of countless companies that contributed to production of war materials. This type of desperation for materials is how a typewriter company ends up making guns. They were certainly not the only company out of their element making guns people like Singer, Inland, Saginaw gear, Guide, and a plethora of others produced arms of all types. It was this concerted effort of both civil and military might coupled with our tenacious brothers in arms from across the globe that eventually stemmed the tide and brought the ultimate defeat of the Axis powers.
I apologize for putting everyone to sleep on my historical rant, but I believe many times people forget this was a bleak time, a literal world war, and it took a world effort by the collective allied powers to bring things back into equilibrium. It is important to mention because it secures the freedoms we enjoy today and gives a roadmap of what to look for so that the events are not repeated, and it is precisely why these arms, their history, and preservation are important to me.
Historical rant and weapon history over — back to the gunsmithing project! The project is a seventy-three-year-old military side arm. Its owner wanted it cleaned up and checked out to make sure the old girl was sound and aging well. I could hardly believe my eyes. I had never seen one of these old war dogs in person before. This particular specimen was in very good shape. Without asking permission I immediately checked the pistol and then field stripped it right there on the counter. I was shocked to see that it appeared the pistol had hardly been shot. I thought maybe it had been rebuilt, but it only had one proof mark and one acceptance stamp. I am by no means an expert on those things, but it led me to believe she was probably carried more than fired. The barrel and frame ramps looked nice and had not suffered over ramping by an ignoramus. All the parts and pieces seemed to be intact and fit as well as GI guns fit back then. One part in particular stood out as I was inspecting things, but I kept my thoughts to myself. I asked again what all my friend expected as far as work on the pistol. He said in effect go through it and see if anything needs to be done to make it reliable and make certain it is safe to shoot. I was astounded in all the years he has owned this pistol he had never shot it. I agreed to give it the ol’ once over.
I got the old war dog back home. I noticed when I field stripped the pistol earlier that the extractor did not match the rest of the pistol’s finish. This puzzled me, and I thought either the extractor had been replaced or it was one Rand purchased from someone else and used to assemble this specimen. In any event I pressed on through my checks. I found the lock up was acceptable, yet when I pressed on the hood the barrel tipped down. Knowing I was dealing with a GI pistol as well as understanding how to remedy this ill I pressed on. The barrel headspaced and had the acceptable amount of unsupported case area. At this point I felt the pistol was certainly sound enough to consider shooting. I then gathered some dummies and magazines to see how the pistol fed. I quickly realized the answer to that question was not at all. I have a photo here of the classic three-point bind Mr. Shuey talks about.
So, we have a pistol that will not feed, but why does it refuse to do so? The answer to that question lies in understanding how the arm works. The 1911 is a short recoil, link locked, CONTROLLED round feed firearm. It may be other things, but in gunsmith lingo that tells us a ton about how this pistol works if we understand the terms. I am not Gene Shuey, and I am not teaching design, function, or build of the 1911. Since the issue here is feeding I will expound upon that. There are many factors that contribute to a successful 1911 feed. I knew the round was bound three places, the breechface, barrel hood, and ramp. These surfaces and the cartridge had intersected in a way that stopped the round’s forward motion. The question was which part is at fault. I tried several different bullet weights and nose configurations to no avail. The round pictured is a regular hard nosed full metal jacket. I then went to the next simplest solution and tried a different brand magazine. No luck there. In addition to different brands of magazines there are to my knowledge three types of feed lip shapes for the 1911. There is the original Browining design (sometimes called the GI feed lip), the parallel or semi wadcutter design (the most prevalent today), and the hybrid (a gentle blending of the previous two mentioned designs). I own all three and you guessed it tried all three. None of the different designs put a round any closer to the chamber.
I was a little perplexed but undaunted. I could go crazy and reprofile the barrel mouth. It is a GI barrel after all, and most if not all current 1911s wear a wider ramped mouth. That might work, but the gun was certainly designed to feed the hard-nosed ammo in its current configuration. I decided to assemble the pistol without the recoil spring or guide and attempt to feed a round. I simply cycled then cleared multiple times hoping some brass wash would turn up somewhere indicating my bind. I disassembled the pistol and found no evidence on the frame or barrel mouth. The breechface was also clean, but when I looked at the extractor it told the tale. Since the 1911 is controlled round feed firearm the extractor must freely allow a cartridge to run up it as the slide moves forward. The pile of brass wash on this extractor indicated it was failing to allow the round to slide up the breechface. My suspicions about the extractor finish served me well. Upon removal I found the extractor had a perfect square ninety-degree hook both top and bottom. Again, I am not Gene Shuey and I also completed my primary, secondary, as well as post-secondary education in the great state of Mississippi, but even I know a round cartridge head will not fit in a square extractor. It is a matter of simple geometry. A round object is much easier to run up an inclined plane than intersect a perpendicular one. Essentially round pegs do not fit in square holes in this case.
I now knew my offending part and set about what Gene calls tuning the extractor. He explains it so much better than I can. I took my needle files and simply tried shaping a forty-five-degree angle on the bottom hook as well as slightly undercutting hook. I then took a craytex bob and smoothed out my filing marks. I have the photos of the hooks before and after. I then reassembled the pistol and viola it fed! It fed all the types of ammo I had from each style magazine. I again disassembled the pistol performed a trigger job, fitted a new link, and polished the barrel mouth and frame ramp. On reassembly I had a pistol with consistent rear lock up, a three-and-a-half-pound trigger that also happened to now feed rounds.
Test fire time! That is always my favorite time. I happened to be able to make a swift range trip and had the Rand on hand. I had a few magazines and some old ammo that had been rotated out of everyday carry pistols in the console of my truck. I grabbed my mags and threw the varied assortment of cartridges in a clean coffee cup and headed for the firing line. I figured if the pistol would run on the five different types of ammo I had it was surely “fixed”. As is my general practice with test fires I stepped up to the line and loaded a single round in the magazine. I dug through my assortment and found a regular 230 gr FMJ. I loaded it in the magazine and racked the slide then verified the round had chambered. Looking good so far! I was the only one on the range, but I had neglected to set up a target frame in my excitement. I scanned the range and saw an assortment of eight-inch steel plates off in the corner near the burm. I just wanted to verify the pistol functioned, so I leveled off on a clean plate with zero expectations of hitting it. I got a good sight picture, squeezed the trigger, and plung! The pistol functioned flawlessly fed, fired, ejected, locked back, and also hit its mark. I was astounded I immediately ran to my truck and retrieved my range finder. The eight-inch plate was fifty-one yards from the firing line. Certainly not an impossible feat, but a surprising one nonetheless. I decided to set a frame at a more reasonable distance of twenty yards and shoot my hodge-podge ammo. When I did my part really well the pistol consistently grouped inside an inch at that distance. I would call that acceptable accuracy especially for a three-quarter century old war relic.
I begrudgingly returned this artifact to her rightful owner. He was most certainly elated with my findings and the work that had been done. Though I certainly coveted this piece I count it a privilege to be entrusted to work on it. There is a certain amount of pride I get in working on such irreplaceable historical artifacts and bringing them back to what they should be. I believe this has been my most rewarding project to date. I hope my friend can consider his pistol a fitting tribute and testament to the sacrifices his father made over three quarters of a century ago in the virtually forgotten and brutal campaigns of Italy and North Africa. May she always stand not only as tribute, but also ready should she ever be needed again.