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Walker and 1st model Dragoon .45 Conversion


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Well I finished up my Walker Kirst Conversion this week. It is a match for my 1st Model Dragoon. Both now chambered in .45 Long Colt. They both use the same sized loading ring, so I only bought one, which saved me $175.00. LOL Both gun's frame loading channels were cut with a die grinder and hand finished. Cold blue worked great on the finishing end, no change in the frame finish is detectable. They both shoot really well and they can be switched back to black powder in seconds.






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Dusty these conversion cylinders run about $300.00 on top of the cost of the gun. The loading channel has to be ground out and refinished, which is not hard to do if you work with metal and can visualise what needs to be done. Various gunsmiths will do it, Kirst's website lists one, and his work is superb. What you wind up with is a giant firearm, totally impractical for carry unless you really want to intimidate your fellow citizens.LOL However you can be assured you probably will NOT run into another pistol like it at any shootfest you attend. The fun factor is tremendous. The top pic is the Walker and the bottom is the Dragoon. Yes Drew I bought a new point and shoot camera, I'm only screwing up about 80% of my pics now.....



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I bought a 3rd model dragoon in the 1970's.  The 3rd Model Dragoon was the most common,  the highest production version.  The shape of the trigger guard is the easiest distinction to see.

There was a gunshop nearby in the '70's that only sold black powder guns and accessories;  thereby avoiding most of the legal problems of selling guns.  I had no money but would stop by to drool. 

The gunshop owner sold me several guns,  a TC Hawken,  the Dragoon,  maybe a couple of others that had been returned because there were problems.  He was getting rid of merchandise that he could not easily sell and the prices I paid were very likely almost what he had allowed in trade on something else to the original customer.

The Hawken was a kit gun that could not hit a barn from the inside.  Eventually I made the gunshop owner angry enough that he took a serious look at the Hawken and realized the barrel wedge was loose due to problems with where the slot in the stock was placed.  I had no experience or way to obtain information in those years so I did not know.  This guy fixed the Hawken by putting a big bend in the wedge and telling me to never dissasemble the rifle again.  I did a lot of shooting with that rifle with good results after that on a private shooting range that was available to me then. 

The world changes.  That rifle spent a couple of decades untouched.  A couple of years back I got it out and tried shooting it again.  The stock split at the barrel wedge and metal parts in the lock and trigger had corroded to failure.

I was told by my current gunshop to talk to TC.  They sent me some parts- free- to fix some of it before I realized the stock was coming apart.  With a handful of big pieces,  TC asked me to send the whole rifle back to them.  I had to make a shipping container (which was fun!) and pay shipping to them.  They sent back a complete new rifle which had my original barrel,  lock plate and hammer.  All the rest was new.  My original brass fittings were there in a bag with an apology that the current stock would not fit the old brass.  Free.  Return shipping paid.

The Dragoon was,  and is,  another kind of problem.  As you stated,  It is too big for comfort and too heavy to deal with most of the time.  It is a horse pistol.  It needs a horse to haul it around.  In the Civil War it would have been carried in pairs on the saddle for balance.  Just one was heavy enough to hurt a horse after awhile from its weight pulling to one side.  The Dragoons were the "Magnum" gun of the day. I have read an anecdotal review which quoted two different Civil War cavalry men,  one Northern (Michigan) and the other Southern (Virginia),  both independently saying the Dragoons would put a horse down and kill a man in his tracks.  The Colts were lighter but not nearly so deadly.  In "Lonesome Dove,"  at least in the book,  one of the Rangers used a Dragoon and supposedly seldom bothered loading it.  Just threatening to slap one of the neer-do-wells in town with it was more than enough to keep everybody in line!

My problem is that a load of black powder,  more than 30 grains to seat the ball,  up to 40 grains max with the charge tube on the powder flask,  shatters the cap.  Tiny fragments of copper from the cap jam the hammer.  Every time.  No matter what.  Real mess clearing the hammer.  Not more than a hassle on a private range,  impossible problem on a public range.  30 minutes to load the revolver,  two hours to shoot five loaded chambers.  But,  when the thing does go off---  WOW!!!!!

I think that if parts can be found that will work,  conversion to 45 LC would be very good.  My Dragoon was made by S. Marco >> Gardone V.T. - Brescia.

Conversion to cartridge use was common after the Civil War,  so similar modification to yours and mine is historically acceptable.  I would only use handloads in mine,  however, that were loaded with black powder or BP substitute.  I will also check that conical lead bullets will not cause problems of their own.  I think I was told to only load balls.  The gunsmith may be able to do whatever is needed.

Back in the era when I was shooting this revolver,  I made some leather for it.  My workmanship was quick & dirty,  but the leather accessories were useful.  The patterns were Civil War era,  some Army,  some not.  My intent,  because I had no interest in trying to do the exquisite work and careful detail of the period,  was to make functional things that might have been done cheaply and in a hurry by someone who had acquired a Dragoon,  perhaps found on a battleground.  I had and still have (somewhere) the patterns.  The leather was  scratch from the patterns and tanned cowhide with as few tools as I could get by with (or without).  Mostly on my own I created a holster pattern that would work  that has a detachable cover flap that is good for storage.  I had a cheap wide belt that sort of worked.  This big heavy revolver in my holster needs something like a Sam Browne Belt with a shoulder strap to help carry the load.




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nice pistol and those accessories look authentic! I don't know if the timing on the St. Marcos and the Uberti would be the same. I'm shooting smokeless, but they are Cowboy loads and my own low power reloads. Perhaps by increasing or decreasing the length of your pistol's hand would put a conversion cylinder into the proper indexing.

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Thank you for the flowers!

I checked the web site yesterday and it said there were no conversion cylinders currently available.  The current listed price was $350. 

My Dragoon has a very good trigger and the action is tight.  Conversion to 45 LC would do it a lot of good.

June 7,  2012,  Update:

My own conversion kit is now on backorder with Kirst Konversion's gunsmithing services included.  May need to sell a couple of my grandchildren to help pay for it.

"S. Marco" stamped on the barrel apparently means "Armi San Marco,"  an Italian gun maker.  Armi San Marco ceased to be a dozen or more years back.

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This weekend I cleaned my Dragoon again.  Some parts are worn.  Always wonder how long the little springs inside will last.  Talked to Kirst Konversions again this morning:  none of the critical Armi San Marco parts are any longer available.  The Uberti parts will not work.  I am going to do the conversion anyway but will shoot only on a very limited basis and keep good gun oils on the parts.

A couple of boxes of commercial 45 LC ammo will probably be enough.  One box of 'Cowboy' smokeless and one box of black powder loads--  if i can find some locally.  I will not reload this caliber. 

The 44 RM is very similar and I am fully equipped with ammo,  reloading supplies and equipment,  guns in that caliber.  Have even reloaded 44 RM with Pyrodex and not worried about the lube nor had a noticeable problem.  But it was only a dozen rounds;  did smear a little Bore Butter on the bullet noses as I slipped them into the chambers.  Fun & impressive smoke!

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  • 4 months later...

October 26,  2012:

My 3rd Model Dragoon came home yesterday.  I had been thinking about calling to check on status and progress.  And then suddenly the Dragoon is home again!

I paid to have the modification done.  This way it will work properly and I do not have any tooling or experience on something this drastic anyway.  Also,  it would not do if I wrecked the revolver.  The total cost of just the conversion was enough to buy a new,  top-grade revolver or maybe a couple of used revolvers.  I cringe at the big cut in the metalwork.  Maybe if I had it to do over I would buy a new Uberti and have that modified.  Or a new revolver in 45LC.  Can't change what has been done.  As stated elsewhere in this thread,  it has become not possible to shoot this revolver in cap & ball configuration but I have very mixed feelings about having done the conversions with the big modifications to the Dragoon.

I found some 45LC Cowboy smokeless loads locally.  Do not remember:  Cabela's or CheaperThanDirt.  While the Dragoon was gone to visit the gunsmith I found and bought some black powder 45LC ammo online:  Track Of The Wolf;  GOEX Black Dawg brand,  235 gr,  RNFP,  Blk Powder.  This is specifically not an endorsement of any vendor,  just a statement of info for anyone interested.

This project has been on my mind for several years.  The original post in this thread got me into acting on it.  Actual time spent has covered more than the entire summer and more money than I am comfortable about.  I will take and post some pics of the gun and try to show the work done. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

And you end up with a cartridge firing revolver without a 4473 paper trail.  :thumb:

Yes he IS ending up with a cartridge revolver sans the 4473 link!  That's the great "secret" (shssss) about buying Blackpowder revolvers and retrofitting them to accept cartridges!  However, this is completely legal, just as it is legal to construct one's own firearms for personal use.  You will note a concommitant rise in Blackpowder firearms sales (and cost) as aftermarket conversion kits have become available.

There is something worth remembering..."back in the day" when cap & ball revolvers were standard issue by the Militaries, they were not loaded or reloaded using loose powder and ball.  They made use of paper cartridges designed to be quickly rammed home - bursting the paper for fast loading, and this is the reason "military" charges were generally lower than maximum loose charges.  No sane person carrying a .36 Navy, or even .44 Army would deliberately down load it for defensive purposes unless they were using the "cartridges" of the age....similar to today.

A point worth making is that the "ideal" modern rendention of a cap & ball era revolver is the 1858 Remington .44, and if possible the 5.5" barrel model.  Forget converting it to take cartridges, for FAR LESS money you can buy two or three spare cylinders, each of which can be PRE-loaded and carried much like speedloaders.  The loading rammer acts to anchor the base pin, so to quickly reload one need only place the revolver on half-cock, release the loading rammer, then slide the base pin forward to drop out the cylinder.  The bullet seating stem on the loading rammer can be removed so the lever can be simply released and dropped without the stem entering the cylinder and binding up the gun.  So, from a RELOADING standpoint, an original configuration is superior to modern cartridges, close to par with a swing-out cylinder using speedloaders, and FASTER than a swing-out cylinder being individually loaded!

On the other hand, an original .44 C&B converted to .45 Colt - or even .45 ACP results in a far more powerful weapon. 

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Posting and putting pictures here,  of course,  almost certainly assures that the BATFE has my gun on the equivalent of speed dial.  Also,  when I sent the gun to the gunsmith I had to provide a color picture of both sides of my driver's license.  There is probably a 4473 on file.  The attached paperwork that accompanies the parts from the manufacturer asserts in no uncertain terms that any future transfer of ownership carries a mandatory obligation to comply with the rules for cartridge firearms.

My Dragoon has its own limitations.  It requires black powder or BP substitute.  That means that when fired it will announce its presence and location with a huge cloud of smoke.  The smoke itself has a unique smell.  The user cannot hide. 

The conversion cylinder might do fine with light loadings of smokeless powder,  but I would be very uncomfortable about the barrel assembly's ability to cope with those pressures.  I have factory cartridges loaded with black powder and using BP lubes.  I also have dies to reload the cases with Pyrodex.  I have not found appropriate bullets yet or an affordable lube. 

Something never mentioned is extraction of fired cases.  Kirst Konversions has and can install extractors on the later Army C&B revolvers but there is nothing for these Dragoons.  Having a small,  short ramrod on the holster or gunbelt would seem to be desirable?

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  • 1 month later...

January 3,  2013:

A few days ago I went to the movies to see "Django Unchained."  I found it to be a good story.  It is mostly about some of the worst abuses of the era,  worst-case slavery and worst-case law enforcement.  At the start it specifies that the time depicted in the first scenes is two years before the Civil War.  1858 - 1859?  I found it amusing that dynamite is used in the story and all characters are familiar with dynamite or at least the reputation of the stuff.  Wikipedia says Alfred Nobel patented and released dynamite to the world in 1867.  Then,  "Cherokee County,  Mississippi?"  Google maps could not find such a place.  But that is "Poetic/Literary License,"  so OK.  Time sequences are rather ragged.  Some things need days or longer,  but other preceeding and following events seem to fit around in only hours?  Maybe it is my memory of the sequence of events?

This thread is about shooting cap & ball revolvers.  "Django Unchained" has a lot of black powder revolver action.  Almost worth the price of admission just to watch all those revolvers.  I was trying to see if they were really cartridge revolvers.  If they were,  I could not tell.  At least no cartridge reloading was ever done.  There was a rifle that may have been a Sharps.  It was a lot like a Sharps (True Grit?),  and was treated in the film as a front-stuffer,  only seen from camera angles that kept the breech end hidden.  The audience never sees any guns being loaded,  but they do (seem to) run out of ammo on time and more already-loaded guns get put into action.  I was not paying as much attention to the design of the revolvers as I should have.  I think most of them were 1858 Remington's. There was no place where the unique cylinder change of the Remington was done or mentioned at all.  So I am not sure.  There did not seem to be much smoke from any of the guns.  Just as well;  with real black powder and the smoke the movie would have been an audio experience much of the time with a screen showing billowing shades of gray.  It is possible that gun designs from well after the Civil War were actually used in some scenes but treated as cap & ball for purposes of the movie?  Some one care to post what they saw?  That would be nice.

My hearing is pathetic.  My attention was constantly diverted to reading the little gizmo offered by the movie theater that gave me my own private sub-titles.  Actually,  the sound was better than usual and with my hearing aids I could follow most of the script,  but sometimes the print-out device was wonderful.  Anyway,  I am not going to go see the movie again just to check out the correctness of the props!

Final note:  This flick is rated "R."  Believe it.  Do not take any children under 35 or any women to see it.

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