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By Frank James

More than a few of us have demonstrated a propensity to modify or customize gadgets to our particular needs or individual tastes. Whether or not the idea of customizing a personal handgun started with automobiles would prove debatable, I suppose, but the fact remains many of the terms often used to describe a customized handgun trace their origins to custom cars "Chopped and Channeled:' "full-race and "street-legal" are all terms that were first used to describe the custom hotrods often found parked in select parking spots at the drive-in 40 years ago. However, now these same terms are used to describe the latest iron "teddy-bear."

          When I was much younger I noticed this trend to change things in our cars. Obviously, many of these modifications were performance related. The installation of a ĺ cam with solid lifters and a four barrel carburetor with a high rise manifold did nothing to improve the gas mileage of the 283-cubic-inch V-8 in a '57 Chevy coupe, but it sure shortened its elapsed time in the quarter mile.

The same thing is often seen in custom autopistols with the 1911 pistol being the most common vehicle for such work. Yet, what many forget are the little things frequently needed to make a revolver work better or shoot more accurately.

A few of you who are recent arrivals to the world of handgunning will probably voice the thought revolvers are a waste of time today because of their relatively low ammunition capacity and dated desiqn. Being something of an old-timer, I can honestly say I remember when revolvers were chosen for serious social purposes first above all others simply because the average revolver was more reliable than the standard grade autopistol.

No, that's no longer true-and that's what's called progress. Things have improved. At least with respect to autopistols, their reliability and the ammunition we put in them.

However, it's still hard to teach an old dog new tricks and, when it comes to revolvers, that's certainly true in my case. I like wheelguns and I'm certainly partial to Smith & Wesson .41 Magnums because I've owned a slew of 'em over the years. About a year or so ago, Smith & Wesson came out with yet another Mountain Gun, only this one was in my favorite flavor.

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Gun Details

            That's right, it was the Model 657-4.41 Magnum Mountain Gun. It was a revolver I had long thought would prove just about ideal in this caliber. It came with the old style 1950-ish thin barrel that was four inches in length. (I would have preferred five inches, but we can't get everything we want in life, can we?) The cylinder was radiused and rounded at the front and generally the entire revolver followed the established format for a lightweight, heavy caliber revolver from Smith & Wesson.

            The stainless steel frame featured a round butt, which is another design aspect I've never been too crazy about. Smith & Wesson N-frame revolvers have always been large pistols. They're not the largest around by any means, but they are large enough in my view that rounding the butt achieves little in terms of increased concealability while at the same time losing some essential grip dimension needed for increased control during rapid-fire strings.

            Additionally, this was the first Smith & Wesson N-frame revolver I've ever owned that had the firing pin located in the frame and not on the hammer. The hammer and trigger on this model are M-I-M parts, which means they're produced by injecting liquid metal at high temperature and high pressure into a mold. Some experts have questioned the resulting quality, but engineers at Smith

& Wesson assured me these guns would be every bit as good as anything I'd seen in the past. Regardless of my concerns, as it came in the box it didn't take long for me to decide the revolver needed a trigger job and some new grips. I needed a shape that would better accommodate my grasp, as well as correct the afore mentioned deficiency of the round butt design. The trigger pull was heavy and stacked more than I liked at the end of the pull on double-action, and the single-action pull was over six pounds.

            With all of these concerns in the back of my mind I had a preplanned agenda when I struck up a conversation with Bill Laughridge at the IDPA Nationals. Laughridge is the head guru at Cylinder & Slide, and I've known him for years. During the summer competition season Laughridge can be found at many of the big matches rescuing shooters who have their guns go down. I've never been to his home base in Fremont, Nebraska, but his traveling shop isn't too shabby and his attitude toward shooters in distress has always been one of courtesy mixed with humor and helpfulness. In short, I like Bill Laughridge and always wanted to send him some work, but up until this revolver arrived I could never find the right gun for a project.

Actually, I sent him two revolvers, but I'll get to the second gun in a moment. Before I sent Bill my .41 Mountain Gun I had visited Raj Singh at Eagle Grips and requested a pair of his "Classic Grips." A do-it-yourselfer, I had custom shaped a pair of grips and wanted to show Raj my work to see if he would produce a similar product. Well, imagine my surprise (and his!) when upon examination of his Classic Grips for a large frame doubleaction revolver we discovered they were extremely similar to the pair I had handshaped. There were small differences, but they were minor.

The Classic Eagle Grips corrected my round butt problem with the shape and profile of a gun on a square butt frame. Perfect, that's just what I wanted.

My instructions to Laughridge were pretty simple because the things that need to be attended to on a revolver are usually not as extensive as those found on the average autopistol. The first thing was a trigger job. This was pretty much standard stuff a couple of decades back, but the truth is the world has become so autopistol oriented there aren't that many gun-plumbers out there anymore who can do a decent trigger job on a revolver.

Added to this was my need for a better front sight. There's nothing wrong with the factory front sight if you are 23 years old and have 20/20 vision. I still have close to 20/20 vision, but Iíve reached that point in my life where reading glasses are no longer a luxury, but a necessity, and it is sometimes hard for my eyes to find a front sight quickly.

A McGivern-style gold bead installed on the backside of a black Partridge front sight works for me. I asked him to sight it for 50 yards and sent him a 20-round box of my favorite ammo for the .41 Magnum, the Winchester 175-grain Silvertip round, for testing and sight-in. The only other extras Laughridge performed on this gun was to chamfer the cylinder chambers for easier reloading and to remove all the sharp edges on the frame.

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The result is a delight and to top it all Greg Kramer provided what I have found to be an extremely good I-W-B carry holster for this four-inch N-frame revolver. It's called the "Thomas Perfectionist" and it's a little unusual in that it positions the gun higher than most and has a more radical butt-forward tilt or rake. It is comfortable and the whole thing came together during harvest here on our farm as I carried this Mountain Gun everyday without a trace of discomfort.

When I was working in my soybean field that allowed me to take a coyote at 75 paces. In order to shoot something you have to have a gun that will hit. The Kramer holster guaranteed the Mountain Gun was where it needed to be and Cylinder & Slide's trigger job and custom gold bead front sight delivered the accuracy necessary to take out one yodel dog at an extended distance.

The second gun I sent to Bill Laughridge was the Colt Magnum Carry Essentially, the now discontinued Colt Magnum Carry was a redesigned and beefed up version of the Colt Detective Special. 

I especially liked the Colt Magnum Carry because of its excellent grip, first of all, and my gun proved to be one of the best shooting examples I've found for any .357 Magnum snubnose revolver. All is not perfect, however, because whoever designed the front sight must have f figured it really wasn't needed because it is a smooth stainless steel blade offering little or no contrast. Additionally, for some reason the ejector rod on my example had a tendency to stick and if you worked the double-action fast it was possible to bind up the trigger. Not one of these shortcomings was cause for endearment, but the gun itself was a solid design, so the gun was packaged and sent to Fremont, Nebraska. Included in the written instructions was a request for Laughridge to sight the gun in at 50 yards with  185-grain .357 Magnum ammo after installing a Partridge front sight, complete with the McGivern gold bead. 

Perhaps some of you may be wondering, 50 yards? A straight back Partridge front sight on a snubnose? This is a belly-gun! Yeah, it is, but I figured the Colt Magnum Carry had the intrinsic accuracy to hit targets at that distance if I could just sight the gun properly.

Well, the result after treatment at Cylinder & Slide was nothing less than magic. Laughridge corrected the ejector rod sticking problem. The double-action feels like silk-no matter how fast I work the trigger, and there's -absolutely no binding. It works like a charm.

But the best thing is the front sight. What Laughridge did was machine off the original. Then he machined a dovetail and fitted a tall Partridge blade. After this he took the gun to the range and sighted it at 50 yards with 158-grain JHP .357 Magnum ammo. Once he had the correct sight height, he installed the McGivern gold bead.

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Other items he attended to on the Colt Magnum Carry included removing all the sharp edges at the front of the frame and cylinder. (There were several.) He also chamfered the rear of the chambers for increased reloading ease.

Tony Kanaley at Milt Sparks Holsters provided an extremely easy riding IWI3 holster for the Colt Magnum Carry with two belt loops, retained by snaps, that will not collapse when the gun is out of the holster. It makes it far easier to carry this six-shot .357 Magnum than any other I've carried over the years.

Final Notes

Colt Manufacturing no longer offers the Colt Magnum Carry, but if you already own one and want to turn it into the best gun available for its size, weight and power range I heartily recommend you send it to Bill Laughridge at Cylinder & Slide and ask him to do his magic on it. It's worth it. The basic Colt Magnum Carry is good, the Cylinder & Slide treatment makes it better, far better, but then the same could be said for what he did to the Smith & Wesson Model 657-4 Mountain Gun.

Cylinder & Slide takes the good, and makes it better. It's just that simple.

Originally published in
Combat Handguns ©2000


            For more information, contact:

Cylinder and Slide, Inc.
P.O. Box 937 Dept CH
245 E. 4th St.
Fremont, NE 68025