October 17, 2008
A Memorable Gun: Colt New Service Revolver
By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
From time to time I like to write about guns that have stuck in my mind over the years, even though I saw them only briefly. This is about a Colt New Service revolver in .45 Long Colt that fell into the hands of a talented gunsmith who made it into something altogether different.
The New Service was in continual production from 1898 until 1944. It was a monstrously big revolver, and you needed a magnum-sized hand to shoot the damned thing. Over 360,000 were produced in many different barrel lengths and 11 different calibers. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police adopted it, and The New York State Police carried the New Service in .45 Long Colt, in a holster supported by a Sam Brown belt. Above the revolver were two rows of the big cartridges. An old-time trooper once told me that the gun and the ammo hung right at eye level as you approached an automobile, and that it seemed to calm down excited drivers. Like most of the old Colts, they were beautifully made, inside and out.
Anyway, the troopers eventually phased out the New Service, and they could be had pretty cheaply. A very talented gunsmith friend of mine got one, and made what was known as a belly gun out of it. He chopped the barrel back to 3 inches and replaced the blade front sight with a big bead. He ground off the hammer spur and slicked up the innards for a flawless double-action pull. He cut off the front of the trigger guard so you could get at the trigger faster, and carved a pair of custom grips to fit his hand. The formerly huge, awkward revolver was now fast and sleek—or as sleek as something that big could be.
Loaded with hot handloads, it would make a believer out of anyone, and was lightning-fast out of a holster. In these effete days of 9mm automatics, it is something out of another era. If you’re thinking of getting a New Service and doing the same thing, I wish you luck. Even the plain ones, in good shape, now cost $1,000, and the scarcer models are worth a lot more. --DP