GENERAL TOPICS > Saddlebag Tales

Old Guns

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1stSgt Fritz King:
“People should appreciate things for what they are.”

The 1863 Springfield Rifled Musket was one of the greatest killing machines ever devised.  It caused more casualties on either side of the Civil War than any other weapon.  There were lots of weapons used; knives, bayonets, swords, pistols, carbines, shotguns, even artillery.  But the lion’s share of the butcher’s bill was written in blood by this unassuming, single shot, muzzle loading rifle.  Or more specifically, the round it fired.

The Minie Ball was invented by a Frenchman.  It was cast of soft lead, slightly undersized, so it could enter the bore more easily when the piece was fouled.  It had an expanding skirt the engaged the lands and grooves when fired, making it very accurate.  Original sights were calibrated to 500 yards.  A well-trained soldier could hit a mite farther.  A good tang sight or telescopic sight could make it deadlier still.

At the end of the war, percussion weapons like these were obsolete.  Erskine Allen of the Springfield Armory devised a way to convert these muskets to use metallic cartridges.  These “Trapdoor” Springfields continued to serve well into the Indian Wars.  Fritz himself had carried two of these weapons while serving with the Army and the Marshals.     

Fritz stared at the gun on his work bench.  It had been modified extensively from its original form.  Maybe its owner took it home after the war, and modified it to suit his needs.  The stock had been cut about three inches past the first barrel band.  It wasn’t a hack job; the edges were rounded and smoothed, and the stock re-stained to match.  The barrel had been cut and re-crowned to match the carbine configuration.  This made the ramrod stick out too far from the wood.  Fritz would find a way to make it more aesthetically pleasing.  The original sights were missing.  The front sight had been replaced with a ramp and a blade, adjustable for windage.  The rear sight had been replaced with a peep, which was adjustable for elevation.  It looked like something Bill would’ve come up with.

He thought of Bill and Patches while he poured himself a coffee.  He hoped they and their kids were well.  Fritz pulled his copy of the ordnance manual off the shelf, and laid it open on his bench for reference.  He began a complete teardown.  Fritz was amazed by the beautiful color case hardening on the backside of the lock.  The outside had either been burnished by a soldier, or had lost its coloring during its service life.  Even though it was a mass-produced weapon, someone had taken the time to make it pretty. 

He heated water on the stove.  The manual called for a gill of warm water to be poured into the bore, and the tampion placed so that it could be shaken.  Bill had once recommended a little soap be added as well.  The hot metal would expand, opening its pores and releasing any toxins it held. 

Fritz heard rather than saw Scarlet ride up.  He needed his glasses to see now, but he could do this work by feel alone.  She came up behind him and put her arms around him, nibbling his ear.

“What’ya got there darlin” she whispered.  A thrill went through him when she spoke.  It always had.

“Oh, just something I traded for,” Fritz replied.

“You have a fascination with old military stuff,” she giggled.

“Hey!  I AM old military stuff!” he replied.

“My Whitworth is more accurate,” Scarlet said.

“True,” Fritz countered, “but this one loads quicker.  A well-trained troop could fire four shots in a minute.

Scarlet grinned wickedly.  “Well, you only need one.  How about we have a shooting match when you finish fixing her up?  Loser does laundry for a week.”

Scarlet was his equal in most things, his better at some.  The Whitworth was a sniper’s rifle.  The hexagonal rifling and matching bullet were extremely accurate at long range.  And she was very good with it.

“Hmmm,” Fritz said.  “Like comparing apples and oranges, but okay.  However, with the shorter barrel, I’ll need a tang sight to make it fair.”

Scarlet smiled.  “I’ll leave you to your toys then.  Until later…?”

He watched her leave.  Fritz appreciated the view.  She had some sliver in her hair now, and small lines where she laughed and cried.  But she was just as beautiful today as she was when he’d first met her in Mexico, all those years ago.  They’d made a good life for each other.  After he’d left the Army, they spent ten more years marshalling.  Then they retired to their ranch and the real work began.  She taught him everything she knew and he learned it well.  They weren’t rich by any means, but they were comfortable.  They had enough.  And despite her misgivings, God had blessed them with not one, but two children.  The oldest had graduated college, married and had a career.  Their youngest had followed his father’s footsteps into the Army.  With his connections he could’ve gotten him into the Point, but his son wanted to be a common Soldier, like his dad.  Fritz ensured he’d be in the Cavalry; that was a given.

Fritz was so proud when his son came home to visit.  He’d brought his new weapon with him.  It was a Krag-Jorgensen carbine, firing a .30 caliber bullet, using smokeless powder.  It allowed for higher velocities with the smaller projectile.  And the Army finally trusted it’s troopers with a repeating arm; it was a bolt action rifle with five rounds in the magazine.  Fritz noted there was still a magazine cutoff…some things never change.  

As he scrubbed the bore, Fritz thought about all his old friends, and wondered where they were, and what they were doing…   

medic15al:
Now this is a good story. Keep up the great work!

pony express:
Hey, Fritz! been a long time since you were at Ft Leonard Wood, and shooting with C.O.W.S. Glad to see you back here.

1stSgt Fritz King:
The bore had some light surface rust, but some judicious scrubbing with a shotgun brush took care of that.  An inspection with a mirror and a lamp revealed strong rifling with no pits.  He removed the rear peep sight, ran an oiled patch down the bore and set the barrel aside. 

Fritz noticed the sear was polished, but all the other lock parts were blued.  He ran a finger over the edge and felt a burr.  “Someone’s been messing with you I see,” Fritz whispered.  He stoned the edge of the sear until it was smooth.  Someone had tried to lighten the trigger pull by filing the sear.  They didn’t understand that this was a military arm, not a sporting rifle.  It had to be reliable.  It had to fire every time.  Fritz re-blued the sear and wiped it down.

Fritz scrubbed all the metal parts with fine steel wool and alcohol.  Ella had brewed him a large jug just for that purpose.  He thought about his “battlefield angel” and smiled.  He hoped she was well.  He also wiped the grime off the stock with alcohol and clean rags.  Once dry, he hand rubbed linseed oil into the stock and set it aside. 

Fritz would need to find replacement front and rear sights for the Springfield, which meant a trip to town tomorrow.  He oiled all the metal parts and laid them out for reassembly.  He’d been sitting for a while and was so focused on his task that he didn’t notice the pain.  He was in pain almost all the time these days.  Old injuries from his service days plagued him.  The wound in his side from Cutter bothered him the most.  He’d remember that fight for the rest of his days.  He thought he’d lost Scarlet to that butcher, and almost lost his own life as well.  He might’ve died from peritonitis from the one .31 caliber ball Fritz put in him.  Scarlet’s Dragoons and knife did him in quicker.  He was glad for that.

He could feel she was near, and the light in the room changed.  Fritz turned in his chair, noticing that it was dark outside.  Scarlet was carrying the bedside lantern.  Her hair was loose about her shoulders, clean and brushed.  She wore a simple white nightgown, tied at the throat with lace.

“Why didn’t you call me in?” he asked.

“I know you well,” Scarlet replied.  “Better than you know yourself.  When you focus on a task, everything else fades from sight.” 

The lamplight made her hair gleam like polished bronze.  A slight breeze caused the flimsy fabric to move about her body, accentuating her curves. 

“I am focusing on something else entirely now,” he said, smiling.

“Well then,” she purred, “focus on this.”  Her hand moved slowly to the ribbon at her neck.  Scarlet pulled the loose end, and the fabric fell away from her shoulders.  It caught for a second on the curve of her breasts, and then fell free.

“Do you want me?”

Fritz blew out the carbide lamp.

“Always.”

medic15al:
Oh my! This is getting good indeed!

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