If you’re a RevolverGuy, you’ve got one. A story, that is, about “the one that got away.” Actually, if you’re like me, you probably have several, but there’s one that just nags at you more than the rest, and which probably says more about you and your tastes than all the others. As I sit here thinking about it, there’s a handful of lost ballistic opportunities that still sting. Some of them were mine for the asking, others were just long shots, but all of them make me wonder, “what if?”
There was the time that a pair of middle-aged women walked into the legendary King’s Gun Works in Glendale, California (RIP!), with a minty-looking Winchester 94, looking for an offer. Winchester had stopped making the Model 94 just a few years before, and prices were climbing, so I was immediately interested and worked my way to a position where I could hear the conversation with the clerk. The clerk made a reasonable offer, but the women didn’t bite. Instead, they walked out the door to shop the levergun around for a better price. I only had enough in my wallet for lunch that day, but always wondered what would have happened if I’d followed them out into the parking lot and offered to beat the price by $50, if they followed me back into the store to do the paperwork. I think they might have done it, but I’ll never know.
There was the Model 66 with the chipped stocks and the broken ejector rod lockup in the underlug. The gun wasn’t a prime specimen, and would require some work to make it functional, but there was a shortage of pre-lock Smith & Wessons behind The Golden Curtain (then and now), and I had been wanting a stainless version of the Combat Magnum for many years. I passed it up at first, but went back the next day because I decided it was worth the effort. Yeah, you know how this ends. It was gone.
You’d think that I would have learned, but I did the same thing to a neglected Model 14 a few years later. It seemed OK—mechanically–but the grips were cracked, the finish was worn, and there was light surface rust, which was funny because the insides had been over-lubricated and were full of gummy oil residue. She needed a good cleaning and new stocks to start with, and chances were good that she’d need some new springs (and possibly some other light maintenance) to get her up to speed, but the bones were there. I’d always had a passionate interest in the K-38, and desperately wanted a clean one in my collection, but they just never showed up where I was looking. I passed on this one because it had been rode hard and put away wet, and I didn’t know if I wanted a project gun. Later that week I convinced myself that a good rebluing and a few parts could save this grand old gun from an ending that it didn’t deserve, but I guess someone else recognized the beauty in the rough before I did, and snatched it up before I got there.
We all have “that shop” in our AOR where the manager seems to think everything he has is made of gold, and deserves a hefty markup. I was browsing in mine one day and saw a pretty clean Smith & Wesson Model 68 with CHP markings sitting next to a similar Smith & Wesson Model 67 with CHP markings. Obviously, some former “Chippy” had traded in his old duty guns to finance whatever he had a hankering for, and there they sat, waiting to come home with me. I was turned off by the price tags, both of which were about a C-Note too high, so I passed them by. I kept coming back to look at them though, and for months and months they were always there on the shelf to greet me . . . until one day they weren’t. Looking back, I probably should have paid the markup to keep the guns “in the family.” If I’d bought that 68, I wouldn’t have had to borrow one for my story here in the pages of RevolverGuy.com, and could have photographed it with a matching 67 to boot! Ah well.
The one that really bugs me though will probably come as a surprise, because it’s the most pedestrian of them all. I was browsing in a shop and a young lady walked in with a blue Smith & Wesson cardboard box in her hands. She went to the counter and took a spot right next to me, and the clerk came over to see how he could help her.
She explained that she had just broken up with a boyfriend who had purchased this gun for her, and she wanted to get rid of it. She had never fired it, and didn’t know what it was worth, but she wanted to see what their best price was.
Opening the box and unwrapping the brown, waxed paper with the S&W logo revealed a 4”, bull barrel, Model 10 with walnut grips. The manual and string hang tag were there in the box, too. This was a factory-new gun. It didn’t even look like there were fingerprints on it. It may have never come out of the box.
The clerk took the gun in the back to consult with the owner and while he was gone, I had a quick conversation with the young lady. I explained that she couldn’t expect them to offer her what her boyfriend had originally paid for it, because they deserved to make a profit on the gun, but given the condition, she deserved a better than average price. I told her what a fair offer for the gun would be, and encouraged her to try another place or sell it privately if she didn’t get it.
The clerk came back in a few minutes and gave her an absolutely ridiculous, low ball price. Honestly, it was insulting. There were Jennings .22s in the case I was leaning on that cost as much. It was clear they were trying to take advantage of her. She glanced at me quickly and saw my frown, and told the clerk she wanted more. The clerk insisted it was their final offer, so she smartly walked out the door with the mint M&P. I silently wished her well.
I wanted to chase after her and make a fair offer for the gun, but I was TDY to the location on military orders and wasn’t a resident of the state we were standing in, so it wouldn’t have been legal. I had no choice but to watch that beautiful, heavy barrel Smith walk away with a girl that now knew what she had. Actually, I hope she kept it and learned how to use it.
What’s It All Mean?
A 4” M&P isn’t going to turn any heads. It’s not expensive, it’s not unique, and it’s not exciting. When it comes to guns, it’s about as simple and boring as you can get, and if you told a gun guy you were Jonesing for one, he’d probably laugh at you. No matter. It suits me just fine.
I’m a blue steel and walnut, .38 Special kind of guy. There’s more sophisticated, powerful and ornate guns out there, but I’m a simple guy at heart and my taste in guns is too. I’ve never been much for bling, bells, and whistles, and have always appreciated basic, rugged, dependable designs. While I genuinely appreciate and admire the beauty and grace of engraved steel, fancy finishes, and exotic wood, I’ve always reserved them as a playground for other people. There’s a classic, honest, subtle beauty in blue steel and walnut that my eye and soul appreciates like no other.
Stainless and the new high-tech finishes are more durable and require less care than blued steel, but I was taught that a warrior maintains his weapons, like a craftsman takes care of his tools, so a little extra maintenance never scared me. My Great-Grandfather chased Pancho Villa around Mexico as a U.S. Army cavalry officer with a blued Colt on his hip, and later took it to Europe to defeat the Kaiser. None of the rifles, submachineguns, or carbines my Grandfather used to chase the Nazis around North Africa and Europe, or the ChiComs around Korea, were stainless. My Dad worked the streets for decades with a blued Colt on his Sam Browne. All of them managed to keep their arms in good order, so I can do the same.
I have friends who revel in the latest advancements and have to live on the cutting edge of technology, but I’m the one who’s more comfortable with the old and the proven. I’m the traditionalist, the conservative, the one who wears stuff out. I’m the guy who sometimes wishes he still had his flip phone, who will go to his grave without ever having had a Facebook account, and who’s still driving a 1989 Ford F-150 because it does everything I want it to. It’s plain, unsophisticated, and old, but it’s in good shape, has classic good looks, and it works . . .
. . . just like that beautiful Model 10, “the one that got away.”