1877 Colt Thunderer and Lightning


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1911JMB
September 30, 2005, 06:32 PM
I have just about no interest in revolvers, but ever since I read about the lightning and thunderer in Guns and Ammo, and coincidentaly saw Young Guns on the same night, I have thought they are quite cool. I would love to get one, but I really don't want one if I can't shoot it. I also don't want one of those stupid single action only repro's. Are there any gunsmiths, like Doug Turnbull for instance, who can fix these things up to where they can be shot a fair amount without throwing the mechanism out of whack?

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Onmilo
September 30, 2005, 07:14 PM
1877 double action Colts are not noted for their durability and smooth double action pulls.
The cylider bolt and hand act against the back of the cylinder to lock these guns in the firing position, the design is functional but not well suited to long and heavy use.

Even if a Master gunsmith were to craft parts from the most modern of steels would these guns stand up to long and heavy use.
This and the rule in Cowboy Action Shooting disallowing double action guns has prevented any reproduction manufacturer from reintroducing the design today.
Original 1877 guns that haven't gone out of time can be shot using blackpowder handloads but .38 Long Colt and .41 Colt cartrdges and components are fairly uncommon and the proposition is mainly a challenge for experienced handloaders.

If you are really interested in these old double action guns, a better proposition for a shooter would be to find one of the large frame 1878 Double Action guns known as the "Omnipotent".
While larger than the 1877, the 1878 was made in common, easy to reload calibers such as .45 Colt, .44/40 Winchester, and .455 Webley.
The parts in the 1878 are larger and of a slightly better steel than the 1877 guns and this contributes to a more durable and dependable product.
I have handled and sold several 1878 revolvers and all were still functional and shootable all these years after they were made.

20 years ago one could find one of these for $200.00 to $400.00 in excellent condition.
They just didn't generate that much interest back then but collectors are beginning to appreciate these guns for what they are, the first practical large bore double action American made defense revolvers.
These guns were by most accounts, extremely popular with the gunfighter crowd of the era.
Today a shootable examble in very good condition will set you back $750.00 to $1000.00 and it is money well spent if you take care of the gun and treat it well.
These guns will continue to climb in value over time.

mec
September 30, 2005, 07:44 PM
a few years before that, they were even cheaper and you could occasionly find one with no broken springs. (not often). The Lightning would chamber 38 special wadcutters and shoot ok. There was a dude who made the highly convoluted springs for replacement and he may be the guy who fixed up the guns for the movie "Young Guns." He was quite elderly and does not seem to be in the picture anymore.

1911JMB
September 30, 2005, 08:03 PM
I know of the 1878, It just doesn't do anything more for me than a colt Python. I just like the 77 for its looks. It sounds like my hopes for a well functioning thunderer are up the creek without a paddle.

TexasRifleman
September 30, 2005, 08:06 PM
Uberti replicas can be finicky, but there is a company in Texas that takes their parts and puts together a very nice firearm.

I have a few of these in different models, and I enjoy shooting them all.

I have one particular model with well over 1000 rounds through it.

http://cimarron-firearms.com/thunderer-lightning.htm

Old Fuff
September 30, 2005, 08:35 PM
Cimarron Arms offers a Uberti revolver that is a scaled-down *single action* which is slightly larger then a Ruger Super Single Six, or about the same size as a model 1877 Colt. The backstrap and trigger guard generally follow the same lines as the Colt 1877, and look right because the frame is smaller. It can be ordered with various finishes and barrel lengths, as a 6-shot .22 or a 5-shot .38 Special.

This I think, is the closest you're going to come to a "shootable" 1877 style revolver.

1911JMB
September 30, 2005, 09:25 PM
Interestingly, I emailed Cimaron a while ago and asked why they didn't make a double action 1877. Their respone was "$250,000. is a lot of tooling for a gun we've only had one request for."

Again, I don't really like wheel guns very much. I love the way the thunderer looks, but a serious pet peeve of mine is single action revolvers. There is just no way I would ever want a single action only revolver of any kind. (Except a Walker, to sell at an auction.)

I don't gamble, but if I ever win the lottery, I'll give Cimaron a call and pay them to make a limited run of 77's.

Old Fuff
September 30, 2005, 09:41 PM
Well then, this is the best I can do ... ;)

http://www.gunbroker.com/Auction/ViewItem.asp?Item=37789195

Dr.Rob
October 1, 2005, 02:43 PM
I've had the same thought... a mechanically 'different' or (gasp) modern guts with a lightning look... I've come close to buying a re-blued Lightning several times.

But as far as having a 'shooter' a 38 cal small frame DA that looks like a Lightning/Thunderer would be just dandy.

New New Fronteir 1878 Colts are getting harder to find too.

And you can bet if the SASS allowed DA revolvers we'd see one come in from Italy.

1911JMB
October 2, 2005, 12:58 PM
"Cimarron Arms offers a Uberti revolver that is a scaled-down *single action* which is slightly larger then a Ruger Super Single Six, or about the same size as a model 1877 Colt. The backstrap and trigger guard generally follow the same lines as the Colt 1877, and look right because the frame is smaller. It can be ordered with various finishes and barrel lengths, as a 6-shot .22 or a 5-shot .38 Special.

This I think, is the closest you're going to come to a "shootable" 1877 style revolver."

Old Fluff, Ironically, if you are who I think you are, I have an article you wrote about these Uberti's somewhere in my magazine collection. Anyway, about that Lightning you linked me to. If I was to buy that or a similar one, how much could I probably shoot it without having to get it worked on?

Iggy
October 2, 2005, 02:40 PM
Old Fuff..

I have a Thunderer that looks just like that one in your link..

It is in a little bit better shape.

It was given to me my the last train robber in Wyoming, when he was an old man..

He served his time, and bought a motel in Laramie WY.. This gun was under the counter for years and years.

Link is a story about one of my encounters with Ol Bill.

http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Pines/5005/IGGY10/IGGY10.html

Old Fuff
October 2, 2005, 02:44 PM
The only reason I gave you that link is because I know the seller to be honest and reliable ... :)

During its entire period of production, (1877 to 1909) Colt made a point in later years to point out that it wasn't certified to use smokeless powder, just black. They went so far as pasting a warning label on the box to this effect. So to start with you are limited to using black powder.

The .38 is a better choice as a shooter (if there is such a thing as a "better choice") because the cylinder walls are thicker then on the .41, but not by much.

The .38 Long Colt cartridge originally used a heeled bullet, like today's .22 L.R. The front part of the bullet was the same diameter as the case (.375) and the back, which fitted inside the case was .356" to .358". I'm not sure if heeled bullets are available commercially, but bullet molds are - or at least were.

You can make brass by trimming .38 Special cases, (or for that matter use untrimmed casses - the chambers are bored straight through - although I understand that some of the smaller ammunition makers that supply cowboy action shooters are offering .38 L.C. - but it is loaded with smokeless powder so don't consider using it! I believe the new stuff is also loaded with regular .38 bullets sized to .358" - the undersized bullet would shoot O.K., but decent accuracy would be a something thing, maybe good but likely not.

At one time, .38 L.C. was offered with .358" diameter bullets with a hollow base. The idea was that the base would expand and seal in the oversized bore. Again, maybe, maybe not ...

You could try loading a .38 L.C. case, or trimmed .38 Special with a 148 grain full wadcutter with a hollow base. These are commercially available. The weight of the bullet is pretty close because the original loads used a LRN bullet weighing between 146 to 150 grains. Seat the bullet to the mouth of the case, and if it doesn't want to go all of the way in, reduce the powder charge. With the bullet seated, the powder should be slightly compressed.

I have shot model 1877's on a VERY LIMITED basis, but don't recommend it. If something breaks in the lockwork you could be in a real fix trying to get it repaired. Broken lockwork relates more to how many times the action is cycled, rather then actual shooting.

I understand your desire to shoot this interesting and very historical revolver, but I hope that your experience is limited. The remaining guns are getting very expensive, and are not particularly good shooters from an accuracy standpoint.

Edited to add: Apparently the revolver is in reasonably good shape. One grip is cracked, but original style replacements are available for about $20.00 or so. It undoubtedly needs a good cleaning and lubrication, with come extra attention to the bore and chambers. Beyond that I think it is shootable (on a very limited basis) within the qualifications that have been discussed on this thread - in particular, using black powder only. You also have to understand that the gun is probably over a century old (maybe well over) and subject to small part breakage. Shooting original antiques carries some pleasure, but a lot of risks.

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