Shooting a 140 Year Old Gun


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Slick Pilot
March 8, 2006, 01:46 PM
A model 1866 Trapdoor Springfield rifle fired for the first time in at least 60 years last Saturday, March 4, 2006. Apparently, it is a 2nd Allin Conversion of the 58 caliber 1863 rifled musket. The rifle was converted to a breech loader by milling out the top half of the barrel ahead of the breech plug, cutting a chamber, and adding a hinged breech block about 140 years ago. To bring the caliber down to about fifty, a rifled sleeve was inserted into the barrel and braised to secure it. It is the first rifle chambered for the 50-70. My dad acquired it in 1946 by trade for some weather-stripping work.

The cases were loaded with 3.8 cc of Pyrodex RS (then compressed about one-eighth inch), pushing a Lee 515-450-F cast bullet made from range lead that easily scratches with a fingernail. The bullet was hand lubricated with 50-50 beeswax and petroleum jelly. The case was Starline brass with a Remington 91/2 large rifle primer.

First shot was by remote control with the weapon secured against a tree and observed from about 50 feet. Upon opening of the trapdoor, and holding the gun with the muzzle up, the case slipped out without encouragement. Visual inspection of the case indicated absence of bulges or other defects and the primer area gave no indication of excess pressure.

My father, who will be eighty-three next month, fired the next round. He did not complain of recoil and allowed me to fire the third and successive shots. The recoil was about that of a 12-gauge shotgun.

We chose an old fence post as a target and discovered that the rifle shoots about 1.5 inches high and two inches left at roughly thirty yards. Several of the bullets went though the post, which is about eight inches in diameter.

I plan to shoot it some more and try to get the bullet to stay aligned with the vertical plane of the sights. I will report progress.

But it was FUN to shoot, and my dad got a kick out of it.

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Dr.Who
March 8, 2006, 01:52 PM
Neat, Thanks for the report....

Preacherman
March 8, 2006, 02:16 PM
Great! It's always nice to see an old warhorse back in its element. Where are the pictures?

old4x4
March 8, 2006, 02:19 PM
Very cool! My dad was given an 1859 Sharps carbine with the .50-70 breechloader (Lawrence) conversion. The first shot was fired similar to yours. What fun that gun is! My 64 year old father can outshoot my brother and I and took a 5 pointer with it one year.

Azrael256
March 8, 2006, 03:46 PM
I'd like to see some pictures as well. One of my history professors has a trapdoor just like yours hanging in his office. I've been begging him for four years to let me try it out.

CZ-100
March 8, 2006, 05:00 PM
Slick Pilot, I also have an 1863 Springfield that was converted to a trapdoor, but I have not fired it yet, havent got my hands on any ammo yet. Where did you get yours? load yourself.

Father-in-law gave it to me for my 40th birthday last year, it has been in the family for over 100 yrs.

pauli
March 8, 2006, 06:49 PM
i seem to recall somebody announcing at shot show that they were going to start making commercial 50-70 ammo.

Trebor
March 8, 2006, 06:52 PM
I shoot a 126 year old Martini Henry converted to .303 in 1898 a couple months ago. I need to get the stock fixed (wood got a little brittle) and I'm going to shoot it some more.

History Nut
March 8, 2006, 08:21 PM
Slick Pilot,

Sounds like you have a winner. I have an M1866 also. Mine came from the MGM Studios Auction many years ago. At the time, Dixie Gun Works carried the cartridge cases. They were headstamped: "Old Reliable" and came in cardboard boxes with a pale green label. The last ones I bought from Dixie were headstamped with DGW. My biggest problem when I got mine was that Lyman had discontinued the bullet mold. Everyone advised me to just load round ball but I persisted in my search. As luck would have it, I found the mold blocks on a Swap Meet tool sales table.

I haven't shot it lately but I remember it being fun. I loaded the cases with FFg Black Powder in a slightly compressed load. I never tried it on a target, just shot it for fun. I picked up one of the reproduction CW 'Cartridge Boxes' and use it for the ammo. I have a bayonet for it too. There are period correct slings available for the rifle also. Remember that these rifles were used just after the Civil War and most of the soldier's equipment was left over from that conflict. I even made up some of the packets the ammunition came in so I could use the Cartridge Box properly. The ammunition came from the factory in paper-wrapped 20-round packets with pressboard dividers inside. A soldier put two packets in his Cartridge Box, one on top of the other. The top packet is torn open using a pull-string and the cartridges are pulled out one by one for use. When the top packet is empty, it is pulled out and the lower one is opened for use. The soldier was supposed to put the empty packet back in his pouch and the fresh one on top so he could more easily reach the rounds. I suspect the top one was just discarded and the lower one used in place instead.

For a 'combat report' regarding these old rifles, read up on the "Wagon Box Fight" near Ft. Phil Kearney in 1867.

I hope this information helps.

Jim K
March 8, 2006, 08:33 PM
Check at

http://www.jouster.com/cgi-bin/trapdoor/trapdoor.pl

for lots of trapdoor talk.

Jim

Dienekes
March 8, 2006, 10:50 PM
Every now and then I get to wanting a '66. I live about fifteen miles away from Fort Phil Kearny and the Wagon Box site is still fairly isolated--not as pristine as it was when first went there in 1972, but if you go there on a nice quiet day and use your imagination it works.

The Hay Field fight up at Fort C.F. Smith went the same way.

There is also a story, possibly apocryphal, about a army sergeant out on the Powder River circa 1867. Out hunting by himself, he was approached and attacked by three Sioux on horseback. He dropped to a sitting position with his '66 rifle and took one out of the saddle, whereupon the other two left him alone. No supporting documentation, but a good story nonetheless.

I have worked on a '66 ('conservation') for the local museum but have never owned or shot one--yet. Not many rifles have that kind of history.

gezzer
March 9, 2006, 12:22 AM
Super sounds like a lot of fun was found.

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