The Colt Model 1847 Walker is one of the most valuable of all US military handguns in the collecting community, with examples sometimes breaking seven figures. However, the Walker was in many ways a remarkable failure as a service sidearm, mostly because it tended to explode. By today’s standards, it exploded quite a lot.
Basically, a combination of several factors:
– The Walker was made of wrought iron, and not always the best quality wrought iron. Cylinders had internal flaws that became weak points and failed upon firing.
– The Walker had a huge powder capacity in its chambers, between 50 and 60 grains depending on the projectile used. This was basically rifle size, and it left the cylinder design with a very small margin of safety.
– Powder composition and grain size was less standardized in the 1840s than it is today, making overpressure loads more likely than today.
– The Walker was designed for a conical “Pickett” bullet that was tricky to load correctly (point forward). Loading it backward could increase the powder volume in a chamber.
Of nearly 400 Walkers issued for the Mexican-American War, only 191 were returned after a year’s service, and only 82 of those were serviceable. Some of those missing guns were lost and stolen, but a substantial number – generally accepted to be 20%-30% – suffered burst barrels, burst cylinders, and broken cylinder arbors. Whoops!
Interesting. I was browsing cap’n’ball revolvers just yesterday and thinking about how placing all the barrel-to-breechface stress on the axis pin would require exceptional metallurgy (which as Ian notes was very inconsistent at the time).
It seems all the more pointless, since their open-top frames would be easy to finish machine from a single casting or forging.
One might be amused at the pistol loss rates in recent US combat. MPs are typically issued pistols; Infantry are not. One might look at MP unit pistol loss rates, then at pictures of a neighboring infantry unit after an MP unit saw combat.
I’m here to tell you that unless you’ve got an accompanying listing in the casualty rolls to go with the “missing” weapon…? Y’all are screwed as a company commander. That crap went straight to theater command, not least because nobody wanted to be the one explaining how some TCN or local got their hands on an American weapon with which to kill another American serviceman. I saw what the Army terms a “15-6 investigation” go on over some extremely abnormal circumstances with weapons. Like “Oh, shit… The anchors gave way on the barge, and we’re gonna have to sink it before it takes out the new floating bridge…”, and they literally sunk said barge with a nearly-new telehandler forklift and several weapons from the guys working on it. They put dive teams into the river to look for that stuff, afterwards.
They did save the bridge, however. Which meant that all was forgiven. Missing weapons, though? LOL… Much effort expended to find those, and I think they recovered at least one of the three that went down with the ship.
Other than that? Weapons accountability is supposed to go on every single day. Leaders are supposed to examine every weapon under their authority, verify the serial number and then report that they’re “up”. Some units require that twice a day, others once. Combat losses are things you’d better be able to verify with witness statements, and as I said… You’d best have accountability. If your missing weapon got blown up and/or burnt up, you’re not likely to have an intact receiver with which to verify anything, but there are parts which don’t melt, and you’d best be able to show those or explain why not.
CASEVAC weapons are usually kept with the unit; they never go on the MEDEVAC birds unless there are extraordinary circumstances. Once the responsible soldier is on his way into the medical channels, his leadership takes charge of the weapons and turns them into supply. I have heard of 15-6 investigations starting up over “discrepancies”, and they went to the extent of sending someone up to Landstuhl in Germany, from Iraq, to interview casualties about what the hell happened with their weapons.
So… Yeah. Nobody is transferring weapons between units informally. If they showed up later as “found on battlefield/installation” during an official serial number inventory, then the flags would go up big-time, because there are registers back at Department of the Army level which will be consulted to figure out where these “found” weapons came from. Some commander who has stuff in his arms room that isn’t on his Property Book for his unit? Lucy, djew got som’ ‘splainin to do…
Now, where some interesting things might have happened? The massive transfers from the US military to the local police or military. We had all sorts of “interesting” things happen with the guys who got detailed as trainers, like them showing up with brand-new Glock 19 pistols when they returned to the unit, which caused considerable nervousness on the part of the commanders. Those pistols were either tossed into “Amnesty Boxes”, or somehow, returned to the system. None of them were brought back through Customs, that’s for sure–Although, I’ve heard rumors that some idiots managed the feat through concealment of the weapons in things like fuel tanks and so forth.
Interesting anecdote, for some of ya… I may have mentioned this before, but we turned up a near-new M9 pistol when detail-cleaning trucks for the Department of Agriculture in Korea after an exercise over there. Poor bastard cleaning the truck decided that the best way to get all the mud out of the cavity in the hood where the headlight/turn signal wiring goes was to take off the access plate and blast it out with the pressure washer. This was done on one side, and he discovered something rattling around that cavity after the mud was blown out completely. The rattling turned out to be an M9 slide + magazine, covered in grease and in a Zip-loc bag. He went “Huh. That’s weird…” and went on to do the other side. It, too, was packed with mud–And, rattled when cleaned out. That side produced an M9 receiver, again greased with GAA and wrapped in a Zip-loc.
As you can imagine, that created some consternation when he did the right thing and turned it over to his leadership. It also got him a visit from CID, who decided that the pistol was where it was because he stole it (several weapons having gone missing during the exercise from other units…), and chickened out about taking it back to the US. That was their theory, anyway…
Upon messaging the people in the US responsible for such things, it turned out that that specific pistol had been issued to a soldier from the 82nd Airborne Division during Operation Just Cause, the invasion of Panama. Said soldier had reported it lost during their parachute drop, and it was never recovered from the drop zone. This information had zero impact on CID or their theory of the crime–They just stepped up the stupid and claimed that our guy had obviously stolen the pistol in Panama, somehow, and brought it to Korea with him. He would have been age 13 during Just Cause. He’d only ever served at Fort Lewis.
Took the intervention of the I Corps commander to stop the stupid, and get him out of Korea and the hands of CID. He’d been planning on re-enlisting. After that experience, that didn’t happen, which was kinda sad because he’d been doing very well with his career, having been Soldier of the Year for his former Fort Lewis unit before being a hand-select to drive for one of the muckety-mucks who’d moved from that unit to Corps Headquarters…
The real mystery we never solved was “How did that pistol get into a truck which had never, ever been off of Fort Lewis or out of Washington State since the day it left the factory…?”. Only thing we could figure out was that since our former Motor Sergeant had been the number-one user and abuser of the cannibalization point over at the Logistics Center, maaaaybe he’d grabbed a hood assembly off a vehicle that had gone to Panama with 7th ID at Fort Ord, and the vehicle had gotten coded out and sent to the Fort Lewis Logistics Center at some point before the thief could get at it. One of the guys who’d been in 7th ID when it went to Panama remembered that there’d been some incident during the retrograde movement, and a bunch of their vehicles had gotten damaged during shipment…
Seriously, one of the more bizarre and inexplicable things I witnessed in the course of my Army career.
But… Missing pistols from an MP unit, appearing as if by magic in an adjacent Infantry unit? No. Just… No. That sort of thing might happen with one pistol, one place, but the idea that it happened routinely? Nope. Not something that’s even possible, without making headlines, somewhere.
Beats the story I heard second hand from a USN supply chief friend after he deployed. Can’t recall if it was Iraq or Afghanistan, but they had a guy in the unit who dropped his Beretta out of his locally obtained shoulder rig into the blue of a portajohn. Then didn’t say anything.
I guess they had to check several with sticks before finding it. Didn’t use a pump for some reason. I imagine it looked like Ed Harris’ hand after fetching his wedding ring in The Abyss…
The things that have gone into portajohns…
Once upon a time, one of our company lieutenants dropped his CEOI (Communications/Electronics Operating Instructions, the booklet which used to be used for callsigns and encryptions–A highly important little document…) into one, while trying to cram himself+gear into said portajohn. Then, he compounded his error by failing to notice that he’d done that. Cue several hours of not noticing, an intervening sanitation truck, aaaaand… Yeah. When he went to put out the new callsigns and passwords that evening, there was a bit of a kerfuffle, followed by mass fear and panic in the forest. The CEOI was eventually recovered when it jammed the pump on what we used to colloquially refer to as the “shit sucker”. Owner of which was quite irate, and he went ballistic on the contracting officer about what sort of junk people were putting into his toilets. The rest of us were quite pleased to be taken off of “hands across Fort Lewis”, searching for the little lost CEOI. The LT? Not so much… The commander decided that his job was to account for the entire thing, and since it was shredded and filthy with the ordure of several day’s worth of GI excreta… I don’t think he was a happy camper.
I did hear stories from a friend of mine who’d spent significant time on airborne status, doing jumps around the world. Two stood out in this regard, one from “back in the day” in Korea, wherein a fellow parachutist went into a rural Korean cesspool and nearly drowned, having to divest himself of all of his gear, inclusive of weapons and night vision devices, which sank to the bottom of the cesspool. Recovery of that set of weapons and equipment required several days of work and the acquisition of pumps and required the setting of guards on the cesspool until all sensitive items were accounted for.
The other one wasn’t a weapon, it was an entire vehicle that vanished during a drop near a reserve training area somewhere in the Southeast. Nobody could find it, and all concerned were mystified as to where it went. Several weeks after the exercise was over, a call from an irate dairy farmer was taken at said reserve center, and it transpired that the vehicle had gone into the sewage lagoon of said dairy farmer’s main barn operation… It had been discovered when he went to pump it out, and the parachute system got sucked up with the sewage.
No weapons lost, there, but… Wow. I can’t even conceive of just writing off a vehicle and going home from an exercise without it. That, however, is apparently an “Airborne thing” that we legs just wouldn’t understand…
Never underestimate the power of sheer stupidity. As for your first account, I found it a prosecutor’s fallacy. “He shows up with a broken gun, therefore he MUST HAVE STOLEN IT.” Even a fictional lawyer as pitiful as Phoenix Wright (trademark character from CAPCOM, mind you) could have picked the CID’s argument apart in a court of law (ESPECIALLY WITH THE PANAMA DEPLOYMENT ISSUE!!) and forced the CID to kowtow before the judge as an apology for wasting the court’s time on a fool’s errand. I could be wrong.
You’ve obviously never dealt with the reality distortion field surrounding some CID agents. I’ve seen some excellent ones, and then I’ve seen some that made Inspector Closeau look like Sherlock Holmes. The ones working this case were the latter sort… The CID office at Fort Lewis was incredulous at the whole thing, so much so that they sent one of their senior agents over in person to see what was going on. He returned within 48 hours, reported in to the Corps commander, and then the Corps commander started in with the phone calls.
Part of the issue is that CID in the Army has its trained, brought-up-from-within agents, and then it has guys that get seconded into that job on an as-needed basis. Some of those guys can be pretty good, and some can be… Shall we say…? Questionable? Would that be a good word? Yeah, it would–I always told all my guys working for me that it would be best to live a life of virtue, rather than draw attention from the official agencies by doing anything even remotely “hinky”, ‘cos military investigations tend to ground out through the first person they find who was doing anything not in accordance with a strict interpretation of the regulations… ‘Specially when you’re running an Arms Room. What they term “Sensitive Items” and a “loose interpretation of the regulations” emphatically do not go together, unless you’re at least a two-star General Officer sort.
I saw an item yesterday claiming that the Taliban had captured huge numbers of the latest U.S. weapons, from M4s to MBTs.
But their own video, which the “journos” were using to back the claim showed;
1. A dogpile of cacked-out M16s and M16A1s, that likely dated to the fall of Saigon and probably came out of Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia;
2. Another dogpile of equally ancient AKs, most Chinese Type 56 and 56-1 knockoffs, with most of the finish on their receivers gone;
3. And three or four M40s with black stocks (composite?) and what looked like commercial Tasco scopes.
Whether this was an insanely devious Taliban deception operation, or typical journalistic ignorance of anything as “evil” as a weapon, I leave as a subject for debate.
Awesome story. Thanks for relating all of that.
“What did you do with your pistol, private?”
“I threw it at the enemy, so it would explode among them, sir”
I wonder how much difference the extra chamber space caused by ‘point down’ loading would contribute to excess pressure, even if the charge was the same. Were Walkers issued with any kind of ‘official’ measure, or did soldiers just eyeball the cylinder?
It’s probably a red herring
The powder has already been measured and dispensed into the chamber before the bullet is inserted
are you going to put more powder in there retrospectively, after the bullet is seated?
I used to think that, inspite gunzines, people were usually fairly logical
The past 18 months has convinced me that outside of the usual comentariate here
Surprisingly few people are capable of critical thinking
Interestingly, critical thinking doesn’t seem to correlate with IQ at all.
It’s not likely that the reversal of the picket ball would’ve allowed overloading of the guns, as the standard practice for loading a cap-and-ball revolver is to fill the cylinder with powder to the top, insert the ‘ball,’ and the use the loading lever to press the ball into the chamber, also compressing the powder at the same time and ensuring that there was no ‘air gap,’ the presence of which would almost certainly cause the gun to explode. Most likely, the thickness of the material, in this case porous and fragile wrought iron, simply wasn’t sufficient to contain 60grs of fine black powder blowing up. Later Colt .44 revolvers such as the Dragoon series were made with steel cylinders, and were able to withstand 55gr loads without exploding.
By the way, the illustrated revolver is NOT a Walker; It is a 3rd Model Dragoon of circa 1851~1860.
According to my Lyman Black Powder Handbook (1975 edition), the maximum (safe) chamber capacities of the Colt .44 revolvers were;
Walker; 60 grains
Dragoon; 40 grains
1860 Army; 28 grains
The Remington 1860 Army’s maximum safe chamber capacity was 37 grains.
From this, it’s very likely that after the failures of the early Walkers in service, the later models were not only “scaled down” in size to make them handier (remember, the Walker was considered a saddle-holster pistol), but also to reduce the chances of failure due to overloading, intentional or otherwise.
Also, the “picket” bullet was primarily a projectile used in target rifles, not pistols. The Colt Walker and Dragoon revolvers were some of the few for which “picket” bullet moulds were even provided;
Note the difference between the early Walker type and the later Dragoon type. The latter has a more “modern” ogive shape, and more importantly has a parallel-sided rear giving greater bearing surface on the rifling.
Picket bullets for rifles were often either purely conical in shape or even shaped like a “sugar loaf” of their day;
What all such bullets had in common was that they required very careful loading. Due to their small bearing surfaces, they had to be initially inserted into a rifle’s muzzle with a “bullet starter”;
And then carefully pushed down onto the powder charge with a slow motion of the ramrod- which had a “cupped” head to keep the bullet’s nose centered in the bore.
This kept the rear of the bullet “square” atop the powder charge.
Loading such a bullet in a revolver with an attached geared or hinged rammer, there was a good chance that the bullet would be rammed down, not “backward” but canted to one side in the chamber. A cartridge with a misaligned bullet can very effectively cause a chamber explosion even in modern weapons; what it could do in a cap-and-ball revolver with wrought-iron chambers is fairly obvious.
I would suggest that the failures of the Walkers were due to a combination of overloading, plus probable “picket” bullet jamming on firing due to the difficulty of loading such a bullet correctly every time.
Colt apparently noticed the problem, which would explain both the reduced chamber capacity of the Dragoon vs. the Walker, as well as the change in bullet profile.
Not to mention Colt’s contracting with the Hazard Powder Company (just down the street from them in Hartford, CT) to supply “pre-prepared” combustible cartridges for all their percussion revolvers from .31 to .44 caliber.
With the bullet properly aligned and firmly glued in place in the front of the cartridge, right in the box. The instructions said that the rammer wasn’t really needed with the combustible cartridges; just pressing them fully into the chamber with thumb or finger pressure was “good enough”.
And probably avoided a lot of accidents in the field.
in SIXGUNS by Elmer Keith, he used 50 grains regularly in a Colt Dragoon. Records are that yes, you could jam a bit over sixty grains in a Walker, and there was not a lot of firearms training when the Walker was issued. As for all the off-subject stories of firearms being hidden, lost, etc, U.S. Customs Inspectors were called in to replace Military Customs Inspectors for units returning from the SandBox in 1991/92/93. At Fort Bliss, a Lt. and some of his men were busted smuggling AKs etc hidden in their trucks, etc. An ATF agent I talked to said they think about 2500 Full Auto weapons, mostly AKs, were smuggled into the U.SD. by returning troops.
I suspect that that ATF agent was overly optimistic about the numbers involved. 2500 sounds awfully high, to me.
During our redeployment to the US during OIF, one in 2004 and another in 2006, the customs folks were all military personnel, and they knew the ins and outs of where things would be hidden a lot better than the civilian Customs guys did. Civilian Customs folk? Never wanted to get their hands dirty… Military guys? Yeah; they’d be armpit deep in every single fuel tank and fuel cell, knowing the likely spots to look. I was BS’ing with one of them during our Customs inspection, and he was telling me that they’d spotted some suspicious-looking brazing on a truck radiator, which had fresh paint flaking off of it… A little judicious probing, and they produced a set of broken-down pistols. This is what happens when you assign mechanics to Customs duties and they employ their subject-matter expertise.
I’d speculate that about 90% of the whole “smuggled weapons” issue would go away were they to allow actual legit “war trophy” stuff to come back openly. There’s an atavistic instinct to acquire and maintain such trophies, and denying the exercise of that instinct is an exercise in futility. We’d be better off if we simply authorized it, and ensured that the full-auto examples were thoroughly deactivated.
It was really egregious, in some regards, how far we went in the other direction. 101st Airborne Division had a full 40-foot container full of “war trophy” stuff they’d acquired for their museum during their first deployment–To included the stuff taken from the final hideout of the Hussein brothers there in Mosul. All of that was force-repatriated to the Iraqis, mandated by CENTCOM in the name of “They’re our friends and allies, we don’t take their property…”.
Several repatriated weapons were subsequently captured again during the 101st’s third tour in Iraq, from what was related to me. Senselessness, personified.
Unforgiven, 1992 movie, Gene Hackman as Sherrif Bill Hagget “two gun shoulda had two guns that night ’cause his Walker Colt exploded which was a falin’ of that model.”
Wrought iron, is a wonderful material,
It has to be properly understood
As Ian says, it has slag inclusions as a defining feature
Until the (very expensive) Huntsman crucible steel process, that was developed in Sheffield to provide steel suitable for making reliable clock springs
The only iron alloys available were,
1)grey cast iron; brittle, but capable of being formed by casting and filing, chiselling, machining…
2)white cast iron, can be formed by casting, but it is ridiculously brittle and ultra hard. Below the boiling point of water, it’s actually beyond 7 on the Mohs scale of hardness, and it’s still used for pipes and chutes in mineral processing plants.
3)wrought iron, a beautiful but very complex material. It’s effectively a composite of ultra low carbon iron, and glass
It needs to have the glass component stretched out into thin fibres, it also needs to have been done by people who’s skills you trust.
I’ve a scan of a 19th century book about “the iron masters”
It describes Humphrey Davey, son of a blacksmith and good looking eye candy to bring wealthy young ladies in to afternoon lectures at the Royal society…
Examining samples of iron work from Africa
It was universally excellent, having been smelted from hand picked, choice pieces of ore, with charcoal, and forged by highly skilled smiths.
In their turn, the African smiths regarded European and north American commercial wrought iron that they received in trade, as abysmal (shite)!
There were all sorts of qualities of wrought iron, depending upon the works that made it, the mines that the ore came from, the process used, who was foreman on that shift…
The idea was to get the directional grain structure as fine and as directional as possible
This was a material comparable to wood or rope, or today’s directional fibre composites, a craftsmanship material, rather than the relatively predictable engineering properties of fluid steels.
4)Carburised wrought Iron
This was the original “steel” before Huntsman (OK, the Anglo Saxons may have had fluid steel, but the art of making it was lost again)
How to use a very directional, fibrous composite in critical strength components?
And how to show to discerning customers that you have done it right?
Particularly as numerical stress calculations didn’t arrive until 1898 (the kirsch equation for stress around a circular opening in an infinite plate).
The answer was to align the weak direction of the material with the minimum stress
Hence the twist barrel.
The glass inclusions were aligned around the barrel
Etching and browning of the barrels reviewed the structure and orientation of the materials
A fine twist indicating plenty of elongation to refine and align the fibres
The makers name indicated a skilled and known craftsman
Skill and beauty combined
How much of this video topic was chosen because it enabled working both “most expensive” and “pistol exploded” into the title?
I wonder if small charges and barely rammed bullets, leaving the famous air gap, might have contributed?
That is a possibility. If you look at how the rammer on a percussion revolver is made, it can only extend so far into the cylinder chamber, and is intended to fully seat the ‘ball’ and compress the powder correctly at the limit of the rammer piston’s stroke. Less powder would almost guarantee an air gap.
The Walker was the first mass produced sort of successful repeating handgun made for the military. How come they didn’t simply lower the powder charge to reduce the possibility of cylinder destruction? Modern reproductions say to stop at forty (40) grains of powder and add a wad to fill the extra space. This could have made the originals much more serviceable and easier to shoot. Also, any black powder revolver with cap and ball configuration needs a layer of something like grease (lard) over the chamber mouths after the bullets or balls are seated to reduce possibility of chainfire.
All of this took place at the very beginning of the percussion revolver era, and the guns were designed by an amateur intending to provide a powerful revolver to supplant a cavalry carbine, and built for him by a manufacturer equally ignorant of this new technology. They both made mistakes, but those mistakes were corrected on subsequent models such as the Dragoons and 1860 Army revolvers, which, besides having steel cylinders, had their cylinders shortened or rebated to ensure that safe powder charges could not be exceeded.
As to the ‘greasing’ of chamber mouths, this was NOT a usual practice during the period of use for these guns. A properly-fitted ‘ball,’ available at the time due to guns being provided with a fitted bullet mould, is just slightly larger than the diameter of the cylinder bores, and is swaged slightly on being rammed, ensuring a good seal. In the early days of El Cheapo Real Italian replicas, the available balls were not a good fit, did not properly seal, and the use of Crisco to seal the cylinder bore mouths was recommended.
Most ‘chain fires’ on early percussion revolvers started at the other end of the cylinder, at the caps and nipples; Poorly-fitted caps allowed the flame from one cap to travel to and under the next cap, and so on. This is the reason for the deep troughs in which the nipples were placed, or ‘fences’ around the nipples on other designs. Manufacturers recommended their own properly-fitting caps for a good reason.
All Walkers, in the state of delivery, were equipped with a powder flask with a dispenser, designed for an adequate amount of powder for this model.
Therefore, to increase the charge above normal, you will have to add gunpowder separately.
It is unlikely that someone was engaged in such a fuss on purpose, rather this is possible when using the spout of a flask from another weapon.
You have to also look at the fact that black powder of the era was not a product of precision production. The testing they had was primitive, and it would not be a bit surprising if there were lots of it that were highly variable. Said variability would not necessarily be that noticeable when fired out of your usual front-stuffed single-shot weapon, but when you’re setting it off in something like a Colt Walker…?
I think I’ve read somewhere in the personal accounts of the era about the need to test powders with percussion revolvers. One noted authority of the era that I remember reading when I was a lot younger advised that one should carefully work up one’s pistol-powder loads, never automatically assuming that specific lots of powder would be exactly the same. I don’t remember what pistols this guy was writing about, and it may indeed have been Colt Walkers.
I wish I could remember a cite for that, but other than the raw fact, I just don’t remember that much. There was a time when I was reading all I could get about the Mountain Man/Frontier era, and I was ordering in stuff from the regional libraries that was first-person accounts and journals of the period.
Yes Steven, filling a chamber(possibly on horseback) is a pretty tricky process! ANY method not using the powder flask is even harder .The proper flask operation resulting in correctly measured charges would have been the usual method. I have seldom found accounts of spare loaded cylinders being used much in the field,I guess the extra cost discouraged this.
There were several powder grain numbers, as well as many independent manufacturers for each number. And standardization was rather arbitrary.
In practice, when purchasing each batch of gunpowder, acceptance was reduced to a visual assessment and firing from a test device. Often, due to the absence of such a device, they limited themselves to test shooting from a “reference” weapon to assess the “fall” of a bullet at a known distance. Obtaining an indirect idea of the initial velocity of the projectile.
And often, the quality of gunpowder was judged by such “parameters” as the sound of a shot, recoil, density and delicacy of the smoke.
As interesting as these revolvers are, I think I would be even more interested to see how they were manufactured in the 1840’s. I wonder if any of the tooling for these or even Civil War era Colt’s still exists?
This post has so many comments, I fear that mine will be buried but I’ll Squib here and maybe drop Ian a note as well: Why in the name of all that is good and right are we still talking about grains and velocities? I have to solve that equation every time (or have my app do it for me I should say). Why not just go with SI units for energy? If the Colt Walker produced x Joules and that is > .45 super or whatever…apples to apples and no more E= 1/2 mass*velocity squared
Can I get an Amen?
Because it’s a US website with a mostly US audience?
Because, as you noted yourself, the most likely use of these numbers will be to compare Walker loads, apples to apples with a modern cartridge, using information from a US manufacturer, retailer, or ammo box, none of which will be in joules?
Say Mike .. Anyone really interested in old guns (particularly a COLT_WALKER!) should be up to speed on old fashioned measures grain, drams. gauges . “calibre” “gauge” “BORE” etc it is a great field of interesting study! The science of metallurgy was in its infancy (the chinese were still sacrificing plump princess into furnaces to flux the alloys (bronze for bells & cannon) then as now advances in science compete with detail .It was stronger metals trying to contain heavy charges then, today it is new batteries to contain more electricity!er. rail gun anyone? My mate & I dug up a colt dragoon which had been years in a swamp (bog) It cleaned up amazingly well but we sure never thought of firing it!! regards Down Under New Zealand
I certainly appreciate and agree with your reluctance to load that powerhouse Dragoon up with real charges, but it would be a lot of fun to pop some caps at least! Cheers from Nevada.
You’d lose continuity with the historical record. They used grains and ball weights, well… Yeah. If you’re reading an historical account in the original format, you’re not going to find SI anywhere in it, until well into the late 19th Century.
I’ve been playing games with units since high school, and I’m kinda over my initial enthusiasm for SI, TBH. It has its points, but there are also distinct disadvantages to it… Y’all really haven’t lived until the guys you’re doing demo training with misplace a decimal point on their calculations, and wind up with a 100kg charge where their actual calculations for safety setback reflected the correct 10kg charge. I’m not saying it’s impossible to make an error like that with SAE, buuuuuuttt… You tend to notice it a lot quicker. Decimal point shifted one or two places to the left or right…? Not so much.
I don’t think there’s what I’d want to term an “ideal” measurement system out there. That’s yet to be invented, because they all have their trade-offs. And, I might point out, they’re all about equally arbitrary–In the end, how much difference is there between a unit defined as “Length of the path travelled by light in a vacuum in
1/299,792,458 of a second” and one defined as “the distance from King John’s elbow to his wrist”? From where I sit, there’s zero difference in arbitrariness.
Personally, I’d prefer something in binary with a unit base that is reasonably consistent and logical–Say, the base being the diameter of a proton shell, and the numerical system used being as versatile in terms of divisibility as base 16. With decimal notation, you can only divide your base unit by 2, 5, or ten–16? You’ve got 2, 4, 8, 16, and you can evenly divide that base unit by quite a few more terms.
Decimal really doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense, when you get down to it. How often do you need to do things in thirds or quarters of a unit, and when you’ve set yourself on decimal as a system, then you’re into fractions or working to the right of the decimal point in imaginary numbers that don’t end anywhere cleanly.
As the old catchphrase goes “Six of one, half a dozen of the other…”.
I read a piece about English coinage, that touted 12,30,and 60 as the useful basis for currency (since even though people could and did cut coins into bits, intact coins were better). Two, three, and four go into 12. Two, three, and five go into 30. You’d have to go out to 210 to fit 7 in. The English system had a large currency unit (a pound?) which was worth 240 pence. There were a variety of coins to break it into. A dozen pence = one shilling = 1/20th pound, 30 pence = halfcrown, 4 crowns = pound.