View Full Version : Colt Lightning Rifle Ejection Problem

April 20, 2010, 09:23 AM
I posted this in the Black Powder forum, but I didn't get any nibbles...I probably should have started here first.

The gun was made in 1884, the first year that Colt made them. It's in great shape, except for one really frustrating problem: Most of the time, the bolt gets stuck about halfway open after a round is fired. The spent case is stuck about 3/4 of the way out of the chamber. The only way to cycle the action is to get a small screwdriver between the front of the ejection port and the mouth of the case and pry like the dickens. Then, of course, the case is ruined, but the action will cycle...until the next round is fired.

This happens probably 75% of the time. It only happens with spent brass, not if I cycle live rounds through the action. It doesn't matter if I'm shooting black powder or smokeless cowboy loads. And, because the ejection port is the early style that's contoured to the shape of the cartridge, I can't really see what's going on down in the action. But something is hanging up somewhere. Also, for the 25% or so of the empties that do eject OK, the top of the mouth is caved in some, like a "V", as if the mouth is getting crushed at the front of the ejection port. I haven't reloaded any cases yet, but I kind of suspect that if I get one reload out of one of these, I'll be lucky.

Here are a few pictures, in case anybody can see something obviously wrong.

Ejection port:

Ejection port open:

Receiver right side:

Receiver left side:

If it matters, I shoot mostly Pyrodex RS and an occasional smokeless cowboy load. The load doesn't seem to have any effect on the ejection problem. Oh, and one other thing, because somebody's bound to notice...I didn't put the scratches in the receiver! I've got the right screwdrivers :D Blame Gramps!

I honestly wouldn't be heartbroken if it's not fixable, since the gun is a family heirloom and probably should be hanging on the wall in well-deserved retirement, but every now and then it calls to me...and it's a kick in the pants to shoot.

April 20, 2010, 10:00 AM
Very nice gun, is that chambered in 38-40?

April 20, 2010, 10:09 AM
Very nice gun, is that chambered in 38-40?

Yes. The picture doesn't show it well, but the barrel is marked "38 Cal." because Colt wasn't about to engrave ".38 WCF" on one of their guns!

James K
April 20, 2010, 12:59 PM
Is it possible that the problem is in the case itself? That old type ejection port doesn't leave a lot of room and if the case expands in the chamber enough, it might be too big to make it out the port. That would explain why you can cycle unfired rounds OK.

Here is an idea. Take an unfired round, preferably one you actually cycled through the action. Use an inertia bullet puller, or cut the case neck, to remove the bullet without enlarging the case neck. Place the case in the chamber directly (not easy), then see if it extracts and ejects OK.


April 20, 2010, 03:00 PM
Excellent suggestion, Jim. I'll give that a try tonight and see what happens.

April 20, 2010, 03:49 PM
I was going to suggest casting the chamber to make sure no one messed with it in the last 125 years, Jim's method is faster :).

April 20, 2010, 03:49 PM
I have an idential gun also in 38-40.Looked about the same when I got it so I took it all apart cleaned and oiled it and headed off to the range.I had the same problem and it had me fustrated for some time.When I put it back together I reversed the left and right ejecters
The two ejecters(the long bar held by one screw on the side of the reciever) look similar but they are not interchangable.Remove the screw and change sides.The screw driver scratches tells me that Grandpa had them out before.Swap them and get some fired brass and see if it solves the problem. If not put them back where they were.

April 21, 2010, 09:32 AM
Chamber could be bad
Way to fix that is to install a barrel liner. That way you have a new barrel with a old look

April 21, 2010, 10:20 PM
Howard31 wins the "Why the hell did they make it that way?" award. I'll bet it's been a hundred years since that gun has ejected a round the right way.

The two ejecters(the long bar held by one screw on the side of the reciever) look similar but they are not interchangable.

Oh, they're interchangeable, all right :(

April 22, 2010, 09:19 AM
Well, Howard31 maybe gets half of the "Why the hell did they make it that way?" award. Or three quarters.

I should have taken a picture, but I'm going to describe what my keen (corrected with glasses) eyesight noticed last night. As the shell moves back out of the breech, the front of the ejectors supports the rim until it reaches the end of the milled-out sections of the ejectors. If you take a look at the second picture that I posted, you'll see, at the back of the ejection port, the left-side ejector. Most of what you see there is the milled-out piece of metal, but you can just see the tip of the "business" part, where the rim hits the ejector and stops. At that point, the mouth of the case would flip up and the empty case pops up, out and down the back of my shirt.

However, what's happening in my situation is that the rim hits the ejector and everything freezes because there's still a good quarter of an inch of brass still waiting to clear the front of the ejection port. Now, I can't imagine that Colt really wanted that to be so - it's terribly hard on the brass and can't be all that gentle for the gun, since you've really got to manhandle the slide to get it to eject.

So I have this epiphany this morning. Of course there's a reason that they made the ejectors the way that they did! They're designed so that one receiver will work with several calibers without having to machine a lot of separate parts. The only hitch is that I think that the .38-40 was the shortest cartridge that the medium frame rifle was chambered in. Still, it's clear to see that ejectors are too short for the rounds I'm using.

So, I wonder if, at some point, the original ejectors wore out and one of the grandpas either had new ones made or made some new ones (great grandpa and grandpa weren't too shabby at metalworking), but got 'em a little short. The other option is that the .38-40s that I have are too long - I didn't have time to measure the empty case this morning.

Anyway, to make an already too long story a little longer, I wonder, Howard31, if you can measure the distance from the front of your ejectors to where the milled part ends and the cartridge ejects. Hopefully that will be the end of my problem.

James K
April 22, 2010, 10:18 PM
Just FWIW, I worked on several of those guns years ago and can't believe that someone would actually reproduce that POS.

Those ejectors are also the bolt guides and I don't think they are interchangeable. Anyway, to work right, the base of the case has to hit both ejectors at the same time, otherwise the case will be pushed to the side opposite the one that it hits first. Not sure if this helps, but I think you did say something about the case going to the side.

Can you put the bolt in without installing the bottom piece and watch through the bottom as the case hits the ejectors? Also, check to see if the case rim is dragging on one or the other ejector ahead of the ejector "step", acting as a false ejector.


April 22, 2010, 11:05 PM
I'm looking at the gun now and I think that I see what you're talking about, Jim. Here are some pictures - let's see if you agree with what I think that I'm seeing.

Here's the case at the point that things get stuck. This is the left ejector

Here's the right ejector

Here's the left ejector with the action open

So, it seems to me that the rim is hitting the very start of the left ejector just a tick before the right ejector, then binding up between them. At that point, the mouth of the case wants to flip up, but it's still partially in the breech and can't pop out unless it's really manhandled. Then it looks like this:


That's the result of being ejected five or six times. One ejection leaves a peak and two divots, matching the front of the ejection port.

I guess that the proof is in the pudding: if I loosen the ejector screws slightly, the round pops right out. Is the solution to put a dab of locktite on the screws and put them in until they just snug up?

FWIW, it also looks like the diameter of the rim is critical. Just a hair big and it'll jam up. A bit too small and it will be fine. Maybe mine are a tad on the large side. It's a little late to go digging up my calipers, so I'll save that for another day.

April 23, 2010, 08:34 AM
Too bad, Numrich (http://www.gunpartscorp.com/catalog/Products.aspx?catid=6687) lists the ejectors as sold out.

April 23, 2010, 09:12 AM
Hardcase,you never said whether or not you changed the ejectors from one side to the other.When you take the ejecter out and look at the muzzle facing end you see that it's not evenly milled.The long side must face down.
When I said interchangable I meant that the ejecters will fit in either side but the gun will not work if they are wrong.
The fact that loosening the screw helps shows that they are on the wrong side.

April 23, 2010, 01:39 PM
Howard, sorry for not being clear - the ejectors are installed correctly, per the excellent pictures that you emailed me.

To my uneducated eye, what appears to be happening is that the case is getting bound up between the two ejectors - it's hitting the right one first, then pivoting slightly and jamming up between the two. If I loosen the screws slightly, the case doesn't jam up and slides all the way back to the end of that milled section, where it ejects normally.

Now, I'm not as convinced today as I was last night that it's a case of the right side engaging before the left. You can look at the pictures of the inside of the receiver and see that the metalwork on the ejectors is pretty rough, to say the least. Is it possible that because it's so rough rim of the case is getting bound up on the metal from the downward force of the extractor?

James K
April 23, 2010, 09:13 PM
I am not sure this has a bearing, but the question of rim diameter does arise. Not all old cartridges are made today to the same dimensions as they were made in the old days before SAAMI standardization. It might be simply a matter of changing cartridge/case brands.

The point about the ejectors occurred to me when I saw the distance the front of the ejector protrudes on the inside. I know the gun is an antique, but I would see no problem in smoothing up the ejector or even removing a little metal to allow the gun to work like it should. It is also probable or at least possible that the gun was not made that way and that wear on the front of the ejector is allowing it to go further in than it did when it was new. If that is the case, another idea might be to put a drop of something like JB Weld on the ejector and trim it down to fit properly.

Edited to add: I took another look at the picture of the left ejector and that is awful machine work, not at all characteristic of Colt. I wonder if those ejectors might have been after market or surplus parts that were never properly finished.


April 24, 2010, 12:03 AM
Here's a closeup of the right ejector out of the gun:


It does look rough and I can certainly feel the marks if I run my fingernail over the metal. This gun is serial 647, so it is a very early model. It makes sense that the old ejectors may have worn out or, as one of the first of the model, it may still be suffering from growing pains.

You can see along the edges of the extractor where the cartridge rims have worn some of the metal away. When I hold the rim of an unfired round against the ejector, imitating the path that the rim would take as it is ejected, it's pretty clear to see that the rim diameter is greater than what the ejector was cut for (if the wear on the ejector wasn't enough of a clue.)

It doesn't look to me like the front of the ejector is going in farther than it's supposed to. The outer front edge where the screw head fits is flush with the corresponding part of the receiver. It just looks like a rough-machined part, for whatever reason.

I think that I'm going to, very carefully, smooth up the rough part of the ejector and see if that does enough to keep the empties from jamming up.

And speaking of that, I'm using Starline brass. I don't know if that makes a difference. I think that the only other choice of brass is Winchester.