View Full Version : Walker Colt Question

Single Six
September 23, 2010, 06:21 PM
In the movie "Unforgiven", starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman as the sheriff recounts a story of a confrontation he witnessed. In the story he relates, he says that the Walker Colt used by one of the combatants blew up in the shooter's hand. Hackman's character further states that this was "a failure common to that model". Is this true? Did these guns really have a penchant for exploding, and if so, what caused it? Thanks, guys.

September 23, 2010, 06:35 PM
It'd take an awful lot of work and the stars being aligned just right to blow up a Walker with just black powder.

September 23, 2010, 06:35 PM
The Walker model had a wrought iron cylinder that did occasionally blow up with a heavy charge (the max charge, IIRC, was 60 grains of powder, which was actually a common load for a .45 RIFLE). Story was that when the Texas Rangers took delivery, they test-fired their Walkers and discarded the ones that had, shall we say, a catastrophic disassembly. The Dragoon .44's that followed had cast steel cylinders that pretty much solved the problem, along with a smaller (40 grain) powder charge and a bit less weight than the 4.5 pound Walker.

September 23, 2010, 07:11 PM
There was a problem with early Walkers blowing up. Some attribute it to the users mistakenly loading the picket bullet into the cylinder point first however this really should have had no effect. Most likely, as the previous poster stated, it was the matallurgy of the first cylinders.

Single Six
September 23, 2010, 09:42 PM
Well, now I know. Thanks as always for the speedy responses, all.

September 24, 2010, 12:02 AM
Those folks back then were just as eccentric, kind of crazy and passionate about their arms as we are now, but even more so I think because they were much more important in so many ways.

I could EASILY imagine an enthusiast carefully packing powder in a cylinder with a hardwood dowel and tapping it down for the greatest compression they could possibly get with a side bet at the local tavern that it would NOT blow up.

If the feller retained his fangers he could scrape the bet off the table ... :cool:

September 28, 2010, 11:42 PM
The later Colt C&B revolvers had no reputation for blowing up like the Walkers. The Walker's cylinder material, wrought iron, is elemental iron with inclusions of slag. It isn't homogenious like steel, and may have weak spots. This, coupled with the huge chambers capable of accepting 60 grains of powder, meant that at least a few would let go. Later Colt revolvers had cast steel cylinders. The better material and lower charge weight meant few if any blowups. The smaller cylinders also resulted in a handier sidearm (if you can call a Dragoon Colt "handy").
The powder SHOULD be compressed by the bullet when using the attached rammer. A separate dowel was necessary only for the revolvers without rammers (either by design, modification or damage).

September 29, 2010, 12:54 AM
I'm amazed that they used cast cylinders, didn't they have steel bar material back then? I'd always heard that steel is a good deal more difficult to cast well than cast iron, and now days steel is cast by the investment method commonly and possibly in a rarefied or even a vacuum atmosphere, something they probably never thought of or heard of in 1836.
The wrought iron cylinders is pretty easy for me to accept, but this discussion is making me wonder about common engineering materials in the early 19th century. Surely smaller diameters were available as rolled steel products, I just can't swallow the concept that they weren't. No one would try to make a steel cylinder out of cast steel today, as rolled steel is available in a thousand grades and sizes and will fit a bar feeder. I know the turret lathe came later than 1836.

This is fun to think about what a struggle it must have been to actually mass produce guns with such chained tooling and supplies!

Can someone point me to reading material about this? I have tons of reference materials from the 1880's, but not that early, what pioneers those guys were!

September 29, 2010, 04:12 PM
The adjutant and medical officer of the USMR in the US/Mexican War was Ben McCullough. He later arranged a post secession order of 1860 army revolvers about half of which made it into texas. The original plan was to equip each of the soldiers with two Walkers in saddle holsters . This was later modified to a single revolver with flask for the troops with none going to the officers. A resulting shortage of necessary accoutrements resulted. Although McCollough was an officer, he grabbed up two of the revolvers. He was very interested in them. observations he made at the time included:
The walkers had the range and striking force of the 54 caliber Mississipi Rifle;
One trooper "put himself afoot." when he accidentally discharged his walker into his horse's head killing it immediately;
Some of the troops, unfamiliar with conical bullets thought that the picket bullet was shapened on the bottom to make it easier to load into the chambers. According to McCollough, whether he was right or not, this practice Invariably caused the cylinders to explode.

Lt. Col. Robert D Whitting III, The Colt Whitneyville-Walker Pistol.
Is the definitive work on the Walker. He reports the information form McCollough and also says that of the original 1000 contract revolvers, half were issued during the Mexican war with the other half sitting in the New Orleans Arsenal awaiting a shipment of flasks. Apparently, these revolvers were issued to the Texas contingent after the war ended. Whitting came to believe that instead of a large number of walkers blowing up in service, some were rejected, returned to the whitneyville factory and made right before being issued. The large number of reports of damaged revolvers came not only from battle field damage but also from false reports by Texas Rangers who decided to keep the revolvers.

September 29, 2010, 07:53 PM
I have the 3rd gen Walker 150 year anniversay and never been fired. I did notice it has only 2 cocks. Safety and full cock. I would like to sell it and comes w/flask and box. Too big a gun for me to play with but would be a great collector piece since Walkers are gettin popular and can come w/RD conversions. I think only 800 of these were made that I have:D:D:D

September 29, 2010, 08:40 PM
mec you are right on the matter, sometimes the walker cylinders exploded because they where not loaded correctly ,did you ever hear off an exploding patterson ? colt was already making revolvers for several years !

September 29, 2010, 10:45 PM
I never head of a paterson blowing up but prior to going onto the market, Colt did quit putting a plate over the chambers that wern't aligned with the barrel. also quit enclosing the caps inside the breech. The prototype arrangement seemed to be asking for a blow up as the enclosed breech created a race way for fire from the caps to race around and ignite any chambers with loose caps. The front shield would leave the cross fired power and balls with no place to go.

The bessemer steel making process was coming into use in the late 1850s and there was quite a bit of noise about the "silver spring steel" colt started using about that time. The controlled carbon content and supposedly greater strength prompted Colt to come out with a batch of armies with fluetted cylinders. The Texas models were among these. The story goes that a number of these did blow up. The modern repros, however, are plenty strong and it seems that there were no such problems with the 36 caliber pocket police and the handfull of 61 navies made with fluetted cylinders.

September 30, 2010, 04:28 AM
This is fun to think about what a struggle it must have been to actually mass produce guns with such chained tooling and supplies!

Can someone point me to reading material about this?

Elisha K. Root - The Man Behind Sam Colt?


October 1, 2010, 10:44 PM
As a machinist the whole history of machining is interesting to me, and gun making was one of the big drivers of innovation in machining. They not only didn't have carbide tooling they didn't even have "high speed steel" (HSS) tool bits.

HSS was invented around 1910, and carbide in the late 1920's I think. About the only metal cutting tool we use today with carbon steel is files.

The equipment they had in 1836 was very limited as to both the speeds they could run and the accuracy of the cuts they could make, safe to say that most of what they would have called "tight" tolerances were worked up with emery cloth to final size. The frames were light by modern standards, the amount of cast iron needed to resist defelction wasn't understood yet.

An old machinist told me that though they didn't cut at high speeds they did take very heavy cuts, and I have to think they had the means to cool the cut though one doesn't see pans on that old equipment to recirculate coolant.

Among the things that weren't used were micrometers, hand held mics hadn't been invented yet! It's all just mind boggling to me, what we take for granted now, and the beautiful weapons they managed to mass produce!

Those men were giants.

October 11, 2010, 12:50 PM
It occured to me in a flash of genious last night that I had put Ben McCollough where I should have Put John S. R.I.P Ford in discussing cylinder blowups.

Ideal Tool
October 12, 2010, 11:41 PM
Hello, This discussion of Walker cylinder failure is interesting! The early steels were very inconsistant..some were brittle from too much carbon, or if cast, the molecular structure just wasn't there as if it were forged. In these cases the old wrought iron was superior..after all, American gun makers had been forging twist steel barrels for their Penn./Kent. rifles for over 150 years prior to Colt's revolvers. During the war between the states, the southern gun mfg. tried to get around their steel shortage by using wrought iron for cylinders, but twisting it when red hot..thinking it would strengthen them. There were blow-up's with these.