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And Now For Something Completely Different

So my reloading bench is currently occupied by Lionel 665 and Lionel 2046 Hudsons in various states of disassembly.

I had acquired both as basket cases, and decided they’d had enough time sitting around my garage and got around to getting them back into running condition. The 665 needs more attention, requiring a some new parts, polishing years of grime and corrosion off the rods, replacing the motor brushes, tuning the E-Unit, and a new paint job after gently squeezing a dent out of the cab roof. The 2046 so far just needs a new eccentric crank and some attention to its drive, but it’s a decent runner as is.

For information and reference, both the Postwar Lionel site and the collection of repair manual PDF’s at Olsen’s have been invaluable. So far my main sources for parts have been Olsen’s and Just Trains, but I note that the online Lionel parts market is in desperate need of some web 2.0. Or even 1.0.

One might reasonably ask why is a grown-ass man spending time playing with toy trains? The short answer is that I’m a grown-ass man and I do whatever the hell I want. I could say they’re “for the kids”, but neither of mine have displayed a lot of interest in them after a few minutes of running. I am, however, fortunate to have a couple of nephews who are entranced by the whole thing and now ask to see “Uncle pdb’s trains!” rather than “Uncle pdb’s house!” But the real answer is that I’ve always enjoyed model railroading, and for reasons of lack of money and a general finescale snobbishness missed out on the whole 3-rail experience. These models are crudely detailed and “wrong” in several nitpicky ways, but their charm lies in their heft and presence and kidproof ruggedness. And the racket they make as they race around the track captures the track side train watching experience a lot better than a rivet-counted correct model sitting on a shelf.

There’s also the appeal of working on a hefty mechanical device that not only can be repaired and serviced, but is worth the effort. Both the 665 and 2046 represent the happy years of Lionel’s postwar existence, when they shipped all-metal trains of high quality that were designed to take a beating, get some wear parts replaced, and come back for more. The current iteration of Lionel has lost its way, preferring to ship highly profitable, plastic trains full of cheap Chinese electronics that aren’t intended to be played with, broken, and repaired.

By contrast, I recently picked up an Athearn Genesis model of a recent prototype. It is, and I use this term deliberately, perfect. It was fairly expensive, but it’s a good value, as the detailing is both superb and accurate, right down to the locomotive specific details. This out of the box model would have been winning contests ten or fifteen years ago, and now anybody can get one.

But there’s nothing left to do to it. You put it on your shelf, or layout, and run it, and that’s it. It doesn’t need any work. It doesn’t need me. The 665 does. There may be an analogy in there about Glocks vs 1911s, but c’mon. It’s just toy trains.

A Turd By Any Other Name: Moore’s Machine Co. Is Now Bear Creek Arsenal

A year ago, my cousin made the mistake of buying a Moore’s Machine Co. AR-15 clone at the peak of the 2013 Great Panic. Fortunately, the retailer was kind enough to take it back unfired and let him walk out with the S&W M&P-15 he should have bought in the first place (which has continued to be a fantastic buy. It came out of the box zeroed, and was capable of 3″ at 100 yards with inexpensive steel cased ammunition). Before he took it back, he let me have a look at it, and I documented my findings in this post. Cliff’s Notes: Critical parts were built wrong, from substandard materials, finished and assembled incorrectly and that was obvious from just a cursory look. It was literally the shittiest AR-15 you could buy, except for maybe an Olympic or Hesse / Vulcan. That review has been one of the most linked-to posts that I’ve done in the last few years, gathering new hits as “great deals” on the MMC AR pop up here and there.

And much like fellow purveyors of junk, Hesse / Vulcan, MMC has changed corporate identities and is now trying to distance themselves from the MMC reputation by going as “Bear Creek Arsenal“. They’ve already appeared on Slick Guns and Classic Arms is also selling them. I have yet to see any of their products, but this kind of shady behavior is not done by legitimate companies selling quality rifles.

Folks, an AR is not an AR. There’s absolutely no reason to take a risk on a low dollar piece of junk like this when you can get an S&W M&P-15 for just a few dollars more, or a Colt 6920 for a $1000 sure thing. If you have extensive experience with the type and know that the exact configuration you want isn’t available off the shelf, then rolling your own might be an economical alternative as long as you’re not tempted to cut corners.

Buy once, cry once. Even if it’s only a “range toy”, buy something that won’t make you hate yourself every time you hit the range.

Ask The Gunsmith Part 2: Ruger Mega Snubbie!

Mr CAMM1520 asks:

I have a 5 inch Ruger Redhawk that never gets any work. I have the crazy idea of getting the barrel shortened to the end of the extractor housing and using it for a giant snubby for home defense. I have seen a wide range of prices for this work.
Any idea of a fair market price to get a revolver barrel shortened, muzzle crowned and front sight reinstalled?

Joe sez:

I think it’s an awesome project, I really like big snubbies. I’ve seen the short Redhawk thing executed extremely well, and I’ve seen others that look like goat crap.

The trick there is shopping around for a smith that you like the look of the work. Some of Hamilton Bowens Redhawk stuff is dead sexy and the guy I’d send it to be done since I don’t have my own mill. Also a guy named Kent Kelly in Burwell Nebraska: Kelly Custom Gun Service. His pistols are amazing. I’ve had him do work for me. He’s a huge revolver smith, that’s pretty much his bread and butter. He smiths as a side gig so he’s inexpensive but it takes him a bit.

Where I work that job would cost 65 dollars for the cutting and crowning of the barrel. The installation of the front sight would be where the cost might bite you, depending on how the sight was installed, or what sight you wanted. Just cutting a dovetail and installing a bare bones basic front sight would likely be around another 65 dollars. Plus the sight, if you blend, or weld, or install the same type of front sight that’s on the gun now you’re looking at machine time. My shop runs 90 dollars an hour for that. So realistically I’d expect to spend somewhere between 200-350 to have it done exactly the way you want it, and the down and dirty cost would likely be around 150 bucks.

Parts not included in prices, of course.

Got a question for the ‘smith? Ask here or there or email it in!

Ask The Gunsmith Part 1: Dat Plunger Tube

Commenter Dave asks:

Best fix for a loose plunger tube?

“The best bet is to restake it if there is enough usable material and if not new ones are pretty inexpensive. They make a fixture for doing it that is the best bet as far as I know to do it.

It came loose because it wasn’t staked as well as it should have been from the factory, and recoil will gradually nudge it loose. Also full sized grips as designed for the 1911 are a failsafe that will hold the tube in place rather than let it run away like thin grips will.”

Got a question for the gunsmith? Comment here or there or email it in!

Ask The Gunsmith?


So Gunsmith Joe, the fellow responsible for taking my box of Norinco 1911 parts from derp to awesome, mentioned that he’s got lots of opinions and wanted to generally raise the clue level of the gunblogosphere, and yet just didn’t have enough attention span and give-a-crap to run his own blog. So what about some guest posting here?

If you’ve got any dumb questions that you’ve wanted to run past a real live for real srs gunsmith and were too ashamed to, here’s your chance! Joe is a trade school educated gunsmith who came to the profession after a lifetime of sport shooting, hunting, and a stint in the US Army. He currently is up to his eyeballs in broken guns for a very large south eastern sporting goods store, is known for his custom AR and 1911 builds, loves a good shotgun, detests crappy guns, tacticool and outside-your-lane bullshit, and loves a good book in front of the fire after a long walk on the beach.


Please leave your question in comments here, or if you’re too ashamed, feel free to email me.


And We’re Back, Again!

One year, I will remember to reup my hosting before it’s due. This was not that year.

Remington Has Already Screwed Up The R-51

As I’ve mentioned previously, as both a founding member of the 3913 fanclub and a recovering C&R addict, I am unreasonably excited about Remington’s new R-51 9mm pistol. A rebirth of the unsuccessful Pedersen locking breechblock pistol of the 1920s, the R-51 looks art-deco Raymond Loewy awesome, and is something genuinely new and unique in the carry pistol market by offering (hopefully) a decent trigger in a slim single stack 9mm package that doesn’t have a cheap feeling polymer frame.

Unfortunately, it looks like things are already going sideways. To coincide with SHOT Show 2014, Remington released some promotional materials, including this video:

While slickly produced and showing some good footage of the gun in action, the tone and atmosphere is completely wrong. This is not a pistol for young, tacticool, camo pattern of the moment shooters. It offers neither the capacity nor service cred of modern double stack nines, nor is it small or light enough to be a good pocket pistol. Yet everybody shooting this gun is young and looks like they subscribe to SWAT and Recoil and read Soldier Systems with their morning MRE.

So who should the R-51 be marketed to? I’ll give you a hint:


The R-51 is, the way I see it, the modern reincarnation of the Colt 1903 or Vest Pocket. A classy, safe, coat-pocket-able pistol that’s easy to shoot even if it’s been a while. It’s not a gun for multi-case range weekend classes or 32 round USPSA stages, it’s for tossing into the glove box of your Mercedes Benz or into a Zero-Halliburton briefcase for a trip downtown.

Back issues of Gun Digest are literal catalogs of excellent, but now dead designs that were marketed incorrectly, and I hope the R-51 doesn’t share that fate. Not only has the runaway .mil and LEO legitimacy arms race done damage to our public image and led manufacturers to market products to people who don’t really need them, but I’m starting to wonder if all this gritty FDE gung-ho isn’t turning off more than a few shooters too? Even though we appreciate the excellence in design, durability and reliability that successful military or law enforcement service brings a gun, we should remember that there’s shooters out there who don’t need a pistol that’s suitable for fast roping out the space shuttle ninja camp. They enjoy taking pot shots at tin cans in the field with their tactically unhip guns and occasionally need to pack something. That’s perfectly okay, and the R-51 is the gun for them.

The R-51 doesn’t need to be advertised in Guns ‘n Ammo, it needs to be in Popular Mechanics or Car & Driver.

Minute of Dip Can

As mentioned while describing the “Nomad” AR, being able to hit a dip can as far away as one can see a dip can is a pretty decent test of rifle and shooter. Seeing as how inducing gum cancer is an increasingly rare hobby around here, I decided to make a printable target instead.


Here’s a .pdf for you to print up yourself: minuteofdip.pdf

So, print up a few and hit the range! How far out can you do it? Remember, it doesn’t count if it’s off the bench!

Even More Open Carry Fail

[h/t to Bob Owens @]

December 28: Open carry advocate Derek Poe decides to open carry his AR-15 in a Texas shopping mall to “exercise his rights”, “normalize firearms carry” and such. The popo disagrees and hooks him up for disorderly conduct.

One week later: That selfsame shopping mall, which had previously had a corporate policy against customers carrying concealed pistols on the premises but was all “don’t ask, don’t tell” by not posting against it, now has signs at the entrances banning concealed carry.

Way to go, man! You sure increased awareness and exercised your rights straight into getting lawful carry banned for everybody!

Open carry demonstration advocacy has been politically successful in the past, but only when tightly focused on a contradiction in existing law, like the VCDL restaurant visits or Florida Carry’s fishing expeditions. Every time these guys try to “increase awareness” or “desensitize” or “normalize”, they end up screwing it up for everyone, just like this and in California.

Hey guys, the root word of “normalize” is “normal”. Strutting around the mall with your AR, dressed up in your zombie rig damn well isn’t normal behavior and will make people uncomfortable. If open carry advocates weren’t so goddamned Aspie and had some capacity for being sensitive to the emotions of others, they might understand why it’s detrimental to their cause.

If you want to do Open Carry right, don’t be a dick, put the rifle and MOLLE away, put on a decent pistol in a retention holster (ie, not an XD in a Serpa), dress up neatly, obey the law, don’t be a dick, and go about your business.

Otherwise, this is what you look like to the normal people who you’re trying to convince:


Yeah, that’s normalizing all right. How’s that workin’ out for ya, Cali?

Operation: Blank Check

Life is the management of compromises and tradeoffs. Do I buy a less expensive house further away from the city but spend more time and money on my commute? Should I get the full rack of baby back ribs or the giant plate of chili cheese fries? Our desires always have to fit inside the envelope defined by our resources and abilities.

Such as building up an AR-15. When I built my guns, I had a set of requirements in mind, but I also had a fiscal ceiling to work under. More than a few component decisions were suboptimal based on my budget and what was available at the dawn of the Great Panic. Don’t get me wrong, both ARs work fine and I’m quite happy with them, but they’re not what I’d put together if I could get exactly the parts that I wanted and could afford them.

So what would that AR look like? As luck would have it, sick of talking to me about 1911s, Gunsmith Joe and I have been batting ideas for our next AR-15s back and forth. His requirements mirrored mine: a lightweight and reliable rifle, easy handling, friendly to shoot, capable of dealing with targets from bad breath distance to down the street, with an emphasis on up close over distance shots, an all day carry rifle instead of a heavy tack driver for the bench. A fixed stock and mid length gas system for comfort, smoothness of recoil and reliability, and that we wouldn’t be sharing the rifle with others who might benefit from an adjustable stock.

And after a few backorders and horse trades came through, here’s how his turned out:

Jackalope Rifle Company "Nomad" Mk1 Mod0

Jackalope Rifle Company “Nomad” Mk1 Mod0

Apologies for potato grade picture, he still hasn’t gotten around to either getting a real camera or understanding that whole “lighting” thing.

Here’s how the build went down: Starting with a custom engraved lower from York Arms, Joe installed a set of Colt internals, including recoil buffer and receiver extension, except for a Rock River Arms 2 stage trigger group. Buttstock is a noname A2 length fixed stock, and a Tango Down TG-16 pistol grip was fished out of the parts bin. The upper receiver and barrel were sourced from Bravo Company, using their 14.5″ midlength gas and lightweight barrel profile. A Noveske KX3 “Firepig” flash suppressor was pinned and welded onto the barrel per ATF specs to bring total barrel length to 16″. Then a Midwest Industries gas block was setscrewed in place under a 15″ Troy Alpha free float tube. Front and rear sights are fixed with a Troy up front and a Noveske in back. Bolt carrier group and a Gunfighter Mod4 extended latch charging handle are also from Bravo Company.

A few components were selected because they were on hand, and will be replaced when able. In particular, the RRA trigger group will be swapped out for an ALG set and an A1 length buttstock will replace the A2. Sling setup, white light and optic are yet to be determined, but the rifle is ready for use as is. It weighs in at 5.9 pounds empty and test firing has gone smoothly so far, despite the Great Panic limiting 5.56 to what was ratting around in a shoebox. Joe reports the gun will shoot into a dip can as far away as he can see a dip can (You know you’re in the South when…), and is quite agreeable in the hands. Envisioned support equipment include a lightweight Rhodesian style chest rig with 20 round Pmags and a single 30 on the first line belt. It isn’t a “stand and deliver” bullet hose for when the zombies are at the gates, but something to keep Evil at bay while you cover a lot of terrain in a hurry.

I think the “Nomad” has a lot going for it in a setup that isn’t available off the shelf, but within the reach of a reasonably competent hobbyist. I don’t think mine is going to look much different. But about that .300 BLK…