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azar92
October 22, 2010, 10:33 AM
My father has two Model 1903's, one from each of my grandfathers. Both have been sporterized to some degree. The one from his father is a U.S. Springfield Model 1903 serial number 559XXX and has been sporterized with rings and a scope (A Lyman All-American 4X in Weaver rings with some of the blueing worn off the tube), a "new" stock and a bent bolt. This rifle was my grandfathers hunting rifle, and then my fathers hunting rifle, and my older brother even took his first deer with it. It was actively hunted with until the mid-nineties. It shot well for an old rifle and never had a hiccup until a fracture near the tang appeared in the stock. It now gathers dust in the safe.

The .30-06 from my mothers father is a U.S. Remington Model 1903 serial number 3193XXX. It has an older Redfield peep sight with the insert missing. It is not drilled and tapped for a scope, but the stock is a new stock (which still looks new). My grandfather had a .30-30 carbine and wanted something with more "oomph". He had an older neighbor who owned this rifle and wanted something with less "oomph". They traded straight across but I'm not sure if my grandfather ever hunted with his "new" .30-06. I seem to recall him saying he stopped hunting shortly after that.

I did a quick google search for "Model 1903 serial number lookup" and the first hit was this one. (http://www.nps.gov/spar/historyculture/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&pageid=135789&rct=j&q=model 1903 serial number lookup) (Why the National Parks Service has a document on specific dates of serial numbers of Model 1903's has me stumped, but whatever...). According to this document the Springfield Model 1903 is from 1913 (Wow, pre WW-I!). The Remington Model 1903 is from 1942 and is the last batch of 1903's before the production of the A3. This rifle would also be one that had the improved heat treatment and improved nickel steel (again, according to that document).

Now, to my questions:
1) Is the U.S. Springfield Model 1903 serial 559XXX one that should be retired? Or could it be re-stocked and still used with standard factory loads like it's been doing for 70+ years (at least in my family, probably longer).
OR
2) Can I reload for this rifle if I keep the pressure more reasonable (sub-50K PSI)?
3) Would this action be suitable for a custom build, and if so, should I restrict the new caliber to a lower pressure round such as a 257 Roberts or 7mm Mauser? Or would there be no worries re-barreling with a new .30-06 barrel and running at full pressure?
4) Is the U.S. Remington Model 1903 serial 3193XXX action/steel strong enough to handle whatever I throw at it?

Thanks!

Scorch
October 22, 2010, 11:38 AM
1) Is the U.S. Springfield Model 1903 serial 559XXX one that should be retired? Or could it be re-stocked and still used with standard factory loads like it's been doing for 50+ years (at least in my family, probably longer).
I would retire it. My understanding of the problem with the low serial number 1903s is that there are good ones and bad ones in the mix, and they can fail at any time with no warning.
2) Can I reload for this rifle if I keep the pressure more reasonable (sub-50K PSI)?
You could, but what happens when in some far-off day your son or grandson get Grampa's old '03, goes to WalMart or wherever and buys a box of 30-06 ammo and frags the receiver?
3) Would this action be suitable for a custom build, and if so, should I restrict the new caliber to a lower pressure round such as a 257 Roberts or 7mm Mauser? Or would there be no worries re-barreling with a new .30-06 barrel and running at full pressure?
Again, I wouldn't. Low serial number receivers that have not been re-heat-treated are brittle and can fail at any time with no warning.
4) Is the U.S. Remington Model 1903 serial 3193XXX action/steel strong enough to handle whatever I throw at it?
Yes.

Mike Irwin
October 22, 2010, 11:52 AM
"My understanding of the problem with the low serial number 1903s is that there are good ones and bad ones in the mix, and they can fail at any time with no warning."

Exactly.

The workers heat treating the actions tried to do it by eye. Depending on ambient light conditions, they "burned" the actions on some and overhardened them.

There are accounts of people dropping overhardened actions on concrete floors and having them shatter like glass.

As I understand it, those actions cannot be reheattreated. The damage was done and there's no undoing it.

Once Springfield and Rock Island installed pyrometers on the heat treating furnaces the bad receivers became a thing of the past.

I have two 1903-A3s (World War II variants built by Smith Corona). One has been heavily sporterized, the other is still in mostly military configuration (stock was cut back).

I have absolutely no qualms about firing any commercial .30-06 ammunition through them, or any handload developed to proper book specifics.

James K
October 22, 2010, 01:53 PM
The reason the NPS has that data is that Springfield Armory was closed years ago and turned into a National Historical Site, under the adminstration of the National Park Service. They have all the records or at least the ones that were kept; SA was rather lax about record keeping, as shown by the fact that they couldn't give a fixed serial number for the change from single heat treatment to double heat treatment. The best they could come up with was that they "thought" rifles over 800000 were OK.

Jim

SIGSHR
October 22, 2010, 02:02 PM
Get Hatcher's Notebook, he was the investigating officer for the various Springfield receiver failures. IIRC he found the bad receivers were made in 1906-1907 and 1911 or so.

Mike Irwin
October 22, 2010, 02:07 PM
I thought many of the bad receivers were made in the lead up to World War I, given the pressures of manufacturing to arm a larger military.

Ah, interesting. This site gives a very extensive rundown on the issue.
http://m1903.com/03rcvrfail/

Apparently the year with the most receiver failures was 1904.

Apparently Hatcher's determination was that many of the receivers that failed after years of service (in 1917-1918) did so because the brass cases failed, not having been manufactured properly.

James K
October 22, 2010, 02:45 PM
I don't think Hatcher was able to pin the problem down to specific years, but there have been several studies purporting to do so. Some, unfortunately, seem to be out to support one point of view or another. One even "proves" that there was some kind of conspiracy and that Hatcher was covering up for the "evil" Army. The whole thing didn't really make sense, but few conspiracy theories do when given a hard look. Another study "proved" that no M1903's ever blew up, it was all put out by Hatcher to promote his book! The figures cited by Lyons to promote his "no problem" thesis are really worthless; he uses 33 receivers out of nearly a million to support his ideas, but that is a very small and unscientific sampling on which to base anything. Further, since the M1903 went out of service, no one has been keeping track, even though blowups have been reported.

I do caution against firing the "low numbers" because of the unknowns, but there is no doubt than the vast majority of those rifles are OK and will continue to be. But no one knows which ones.

Jim

azar92
October 22, 2010, 03:27 PM
I appreciate everyone's feedback. I'd love to "revive" this rifle as it has a lot of sentimental value. Also, the older I get the more I really like older rifles and classic calibers, especially military calibers. I'd love to restock and maybe even eventually re-barrel (I'd keep it as .30-06 though) and put the old war horse back into service as a reliable hunting rifle.

I especially appreciate the tip to check Hatcher's Notebook as I opened it up and am reading about it right now. I should have thought of that first!

I still welcome further feedback if anyone has any.

Buzzcook
October 23, 2010, 01:23 PM
I wonder if there's a way to test a specific receiver?

Then we could just pop on down to the local metallurgical engineer and have him check the metal for brittleness.

Avenger
October 23, 2010, 05:37 PM
I wonder if there's a way to test a specific receiver?

There are ways...but they are either destructive or very expensive.

James K
October 23, 2010, 08:55 PM
Well, you can do what I did, hit the side of the receiver with a hammer and watch three pieces fall on the floor. But that is not "non-destructive" testing.

Jim

Mike Irwin
October 23, 2010, 11:03 PM
As far as I know there is no positive way to test a receiver to determine if it's properly hardened without running the risk of destroying it if it isn't.

azar92
October 24, 2010, 03:58 PM
Well, if the receiver isn't any good I'm not sure I'd care if it was ruined. If it's a potential liability the gun isn't worth keeping except for sentimental reasons. Is there an inexpensive way to test the receiver?

James K
October 24, 2010, 10:42 PM
Destroying or harming that receiver to test it would not be wise. Those older M1903's are very desireable to collectors and more valuable than the newer ones if in original configuration or restorable. Those folks are well aware of the situation and what they are buying so I would have no qualms about selling the rifle to a collector. If in doubt, I would have him sign a paper saying the gun is sold as is and is not to be fired.

Jim

azar92
October 25, 2010, 04:00 PM
The low serial number 03 has been drilled and tapped, the bolt has been modified, the stock replaced... I doubt it has much value to a collector. But not being a collector, I really wouldn't know.

James K
October 25, 2010, 10:07 PM
You are correct; the collector value is gone.

Jim

azar92
October 27, 2010, 02:19 PM
So I guess the questions still stands, is there a way to test the strength of the receiver that won't harm if it isn't one of the defective ones? I.e. your example of rapping it with a hammer destroying a bad receiver. If it happened to be one of the non-defective recievers would this "hammer test" (or any other test) then cause damage to one that didn't otherwise have any defect? Or is that question too theoretical to to really get an answer? :p

Thanks for all the feedback, it's appreciated.

P.S. Exactly how hard did you rap it with a hammer?

James K
October 27, 2010, 02:54 PM
A good whack but it wasn't a very big hammer.

At that time, anyone having a low number receiver could exchange it, through the DCM, for a new one. They didn't care what shape the receiver was in as long as they could read the serial number. A friend had a SHT, so he removed the barrel and stripped the receiver, per instructions, and we were packing it up when I decided to see if the stories of brittleness were true. They were. Made a believer out of me.

Also made me just a bit queasy, as we had been firing that rifle the day before.

Could such a test "prove" those receivers? No. If the receiver breaks, it is gone. But if it doesn't, nothing would be proven one way or another. I know you want to hear that there is some way you can be certain your rifle is safe, but there is none.

At one time, some companies claimed to be able to re-heat treat those receivers, but the little I know of metallurgy tells me they couldn't make them safe and probably made them worse, either soft or more brittle, if they didn't warp them and make them useless.

Jim

azar92
October 28, 2010, 11:51 AM
Could such a test "prove" those receivers? No. If the receiver breaks, it is gone. But if it doesn't, nothing would be proven one way or another. I know you want to hear that there is some way you can be certain your rifle is safe, but there is none.
It's true, I would love to hear that there is some way to definitively (and cheaply) test that the receiver is not one of the defective ones. I wouldn't trust a re-heat treatment either. I figured I was grasping at straws, but I had to ask. It saddens me as neither of my grandfathers had much money of any sort and these guns are a few things that could really be passed down. It seems like one will be fine but the other cannot be determined to be safe. Oh well, no sense worrying about it now.

I really appreciate everyone's feedback.

Ideal Tool
October 31, 2010, 12:16 AM
Hello, I have been following the opinions about low no. Springfields for years. One thing I have never seen discussed is the safty of a mild cast-bullet load in them. I have one..and I don't have the # right at hand, but it has brl. date of april, 1917. with blued reciever. I shoot the Ideal/Lyman 311413 g.c. cast of range scrap lead, using 18 grs. of IMR 4227. What do you guys think?

Mike Irwin
October 31, 2010, 05:40 AM
I think if the shock of a hammer or being dropped can break a low number receiver, I'm sure that the shock of even a light load of powder could do it, as well.

Sorry, but if I ever come into possession of one it will be honorably retired and never fired.

Chris_B
October 31, 2010, 08:25 AM
I agree with Mike on this

The risk is simply too great. Steel doesn't improve with age anyway, and going into the equation knowing such a big question mark existed back when they were brand new makes choosing to shoot the rifle despite knowing these things a form of madness in my opinion

TX Hunter
October 31, 2010, 08:58 AM
Cant you just do a Rockwell Hardness Test on the reciever to determine if its britle?

Chris_B
October 31, 2010, 11:38 AM
I'm sure the receivers could be tested

But on one hand, I think that if a receiver was incompletely treated, hardness testing in one area may not mean integrity overall regardless of the results of testing. On the other hand, the average Joe doesn't have the means to do it in his basement, which presumably means some type of money is paid to have the test done.

Mike Irwin
November 1, 2010, 08:34 AM
"Cant you just do a Rockwell Hardness Test on the reciever to determine if its britle?"

As I understand it, that only tests the surface.

The surface of an action is supposed to be hard, but the metal in the core is not supposed to be hard, it's supposed to be a lot more malleable. That's what gives the action its strength - the combination of those two properties.

In that sense it's a lot like safety glass, a lot more durable than standard window glass of the same thickness.

If, however, the metal is the same hardness all the way through, it becomes brittle and is prone to shattering, which makes it more like regular glass.