This rifle came to light prior to the Rock Island Premier Auction in September of 2013, and sparked some interesting discussion amongst Ross collectors…
I had the chance to take a look at the gun firsthand at RIA, and filmed a brief bit of video of it:
Since I wasn’t able to disassemble the gun, I was a bit limited in what I could find out at the time. However, after finding some additional photos taken when the consignor had disassembled the rifle, we are able to see a bit more. The mention of this rifle in The Ross Rifle Story (by Roger Phillips) consists of this:
The self-opening phenomenon exploited by Blish was investigated during the development of General Thompson’s submachine gun ans was incorporated in the Model P. The firearm, an autorifle, was developed by Oscar V. Payne and Theodore H. Eickhoff, in Cleveland, Ohio and was tested in 1920 at the Springfield Armoury, where it set a record for reliability for such rifles in the 5,000 round test.
An interesting feature about all this was that when Thompson began experimenting with the Blish principle (starting with US Patent 1,340,943, filed November 26 1917) he found it would not work with high velocity rifles. This problem however, was overcome when Payne and Eickhoff modified a 1910 action Ross rifle to attain a true and successful Blish application. Reference to this is found in US Patent number 1,247,576, wherein rotation is accompanied and facilitated by a drop in pressure.
This explanation has some errors in it, as the patent listed as a modified Ross is actually for a cigar vending machine. Payne and Eickhoff were the core employees of the Auto-Ordnance company (which was General Thompson’s firm, established to build the Thompson Auto-Rifle and later the Thompson SMG), and do not appear to have had any relationship with Sir Charles Ross or the Ross factory. In addition, the Thompson rifle never set any such reliability record – in fact its unreliability was noted in testing reports from the time. If Payne and Eickhoff ever actually did experiment with a Ross rifle, it is not this one. While this rifle has a Ross magazine, barrel, and furniture, its action incorporates no Ross parts and it has no mechanical similarity to the Ross.
As a straight-pull bolt action rifle, the Ross is in many ways ideal for experimental conversion to semiauto, since a gas piston need only push straight back on the bolt handle to open the action (unlike the more common turnbolt rifles, which would require a camming action to translate gas piston travel into rotary motion). This type of conversion is precisely what Joseph Huot built as the Huot Automatic Rifle. The Blish system, however, does not utilize locking lugs in the same way as a bolt action, and there would not have been much reason to use a Ross action as a testbed to modify.
Ultimately, we have no verifiable knowledge of who built this rifle. The poor fit of the wooden parts and the lack of markings tends to suggest against it being made at the Ross factory, and there is no real evidence to suggest that it was made by Auto-Ordnance. It is certainly a unique piece, and I suspect it was made by an enterprising firearms designer who never managed to make it fully functional. Over time its history became hazy, to the point that all we can do today is try to analyze its parts and guess at its story.
Here are additional photos of the gun for your perusal (small ones taken from the RossRifle.com discussion forum and the really big ones from Rock Island Auctions):
For what it’s worth, the winning bidder at auction spent $11,500 to become the new owner of this rifle.