U.S. Fire Arms Mfg. Co. — A Look at the Premier “Colt” Model 1873 Single Action


USFA Rodeo chambered in .45 Colt

U.S.F.A. Rodeo chambered in .45 Colt

Fans of my blog posts on firearms (by far my most popular) have probably guessed by now that I’ve recently been on a Western kick, most notably with Winchester lever action rifles and copies, and clones of the 1873 Colt Single Action revolver:

I rather thought I’d had enough of this trend, but a couple of months ago my favorite local gun store (Collector’s Gun Exchange) had on consignment something from a company with which I was unfamiliar — U.S. Fire Arms Manufacturing of Hartford, Connecticut.  If that town sounds familiar, it’s because Hartford is the original home of one of the most storied names in U.S. gun manufacturing — Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company, later renamed by dropping “Patent” from their moniker.

USFA Rodeo

U.S.F.A. Rodeo

U.S. Firearms began as in importer of Uberti-made parts for the Model 1873 Single Action revolver, a Colt design best known as the “Single Action Army“, “Peacemaker”, or just “Colt 45”.  U.S.F.A would then hand-fit these Uberti parts into superlative copies of the Colt Model 1873.  But U.S.F.A. evolved, and later began making all their own parts.

Uberti El Patrón; USFA Rodeo

Uberti El Patrón; U.S.F.A. Rodeo

These all-U.S.F.A. revolvers soon took on the reputation of being the best-made versions of the Model 1873 ever produced, exceeding in quality even the Colt originals, and far beyond anything Colt produces today.

Uberti El Patrón Competition; USFA Rodeo

Uberti El Patrón Competition; U.S.F.A. Rodeo

But when I first saw this U.S.F.A. “Rodeo” version I had no idea what I was seeing.  The matte “blue” (actually black to my eye) and the hard rubber grips made the weapon look uninspiring, to say the least.  It was only after I started researching U.S.F.A. and their later in-house products that I understood the significance.  Handling the revolver and operating the hammer, cylinder, and trigger confirmed what I’d read.  For instance, I have quite simply never handled a revolver on which the cylinder did not exhibit at least a very slight amount of “play” in the lock-up with the frame . . . up until I held this Rodeo.  The cylinder exhibited absolutely no play whatsoever, not even a hint.  It was the tightest cylinder-to-frame lock-up I have ever encountered, far beyond such highly prized revolvers as Colt’s Python, Ruger’s GP100 Match Competition, Uberti’s El Patrón Competition model, or even offerings from Smith & Wesson’s Performance Center.

Uberti El Patrón Competition; U.S.F.A. Rodeo — Note the hammer/firing pin differences

Uberti El Patrón Competition; U.S.F.A. Rodeo — Note the hammer/firing pin differences

And the U.S.F.A. Rodeo was their “cheap” offering!  Not from any degradation in the fit and tight tolerances, but rather that matte finish and the hard rubber grips.  Considering when new these Rodeos went for several hundred less than their case-hardened brethren, I think that matte finish was a small price to pay for a pistol of this quality.  Apparently so, too, did Cowboy Action Shooters, who snatched these up whenever they could.

USFA Rodeo hard rubber grips

U.S.F.A. Rodeo hard rubber grips

And then there was the caliber.  This U.S.F.A. Rodeo was chambered for .45 Colt, which matched another weapon I had planned on having Mike DiMuzio convert for me, an early Interarms-Rossi M92 copy of the famed Winchester Model 1892.

"45 Colt", sometimes referred to as .45 'Long' Colt, or .45 LC

“45 Colt”, sometimes referred to as .45 ‘Long’ Colt, or .45 LC

Interarms Rossi M92 in .45 Colt

My intent, up until Mike’s unfortunate and very untimely death late last year, was to have the Rossi converted as I had the one pictured below, mimicking the Winchester Model 1892 used by Chuck Connors in the classic 1958-to-1963 television series The Rifleman.

Mike DiMuzio “Rifleman” conversion top; early Interarms Rossi M92 below

Rossi Ranch Hand pistol top; DiMuzion “Rifleman” conversion below

Well, Mike unfortunately has passed, and I was left with a .45 Colt Winchester clone.  As any cowboy will tell you, your rifle’s caliber should always match that of your sidearms, and my Uberti Single Action revolver is chambered in .38 Special/.357 Magnum, which matches my “Rifleman” conversion, but not my Interarms Rossi.  So, the Interarms Rossi simply required a similarly chambered .45 Colt revolver.  That’s the story I gave Ursula, and I’m sticking to it.  So, after much research and considerable “Do I really need this?” soul searching, the U.S.F.A. Rodeo finally followed me home like some abandoned puppy, complete with original foam-lined box and protective gun sock (top foam piece removed to show U.S.F.A. label).

U.S.F.A. Rodeo complete with box and gun sock

U.S.F.A. Rodeo complete with box and gun sock

I tried to date this weapon as best I could using the serial number, but that turned out to be an exercise in stupidity on my part.  I say stupidity, because I originally estimated this Rodeo as dating back to around 2002.  Then I noticed the fine print on the label.  U.S.F.A. revised their inner box label in July, 2006 (see lower left corner), and copyrighted the label that same year (lower center).

U.S.F.A. MFG. CO., Hartford, CT (Connecticut) label

U.S.F.A. MFG. CO., Hartford, CT (Connecticut) label

Now my revised estimate is a manufacturing date sometime between July 2006 (duh!) and the company’s demise sometime in 2011 (another duh!), with my best guess being late 2006 to sometime in 2007.

U.S.F.A. MFG. Co. HARTFORD C.T. U.S.A.

U.S.F.A. MFG. Co. HARTFORD C.T. U.S.A.

Why did U.S.F.A. fail?  It’s what I call “The Walmartization of the American Economy”, in which Americans grow increasingly addicted to lower prices at the expense of quality.  And, like all addictions, this one is also bad for us.  It depresses everything from standards to wages, but I digress.  Just quit Walmart for Target,  and exchange your Sam’s card for one from Costco is all I say on the matter.  You, your neighbors, your country, and your grandchildren will all eventually thank you in the future.

Bottom line:  U.S. Fire Arms could not price this high-quality, hand-fitted firearm to a point where it was profitable to continue making them, even with the cheaper matte finish.

Authentic Colt Patent Stamps: Sept. 19, 1871; July 2, 1872; July 19, 1875

Authentic Colt Patent Stamps: Sept. 19, 1871; July 2, 1872; July 19, 1875

What makes the U.S.F.A. better than, say, the Uberti?  Other than the incredibly tight tolerances and hand-fitting, I mean?  How about authenticity.  For one, the Uberti uses a low-profile style hammer for easier, quicker cocking; whereas the U.S.F.A. version has a more correct silhouette.  The U.S.F.A. firing pin is also conical, as was the original Colt, while the Uberti uses a tapered firing pin.

Period correct conical firing pin on the U.S.F.A. Rodeo

Uberti tapered firing pin

Uberti tapered firing pin

The trigger on the U.S.F.A. Rodeo is very good . . . but it’s not quite as good as that on Uberti’s El Patrón Competition.  Both exhibit minimal-to-nonexistent trigger movement and an exceptionally clean break, but the El Patrón Competition has, as you would expect from the name, a competition trigger that breaks at what I estimate to be barely over two pounds.  Most people would consider that a “hair-trigger”.  The Rodeo trigger requires slightly more force to trip the hammer, but not much.  Thus, the Uberti wins on three counts — trigger pull, price, and finish.

Uberti case-hardened finish; U.S.F.A. Rodeo matte blue finish

Uberti case-hardened finish; U.S.F.A. Rodeo matte blue finish

That’s not to say that this rodeo was exorbitantly priced.  Far from it.  Comparing to what other Rodeos in similar condition are commanding, it appears this one went for a little more than half what one would expect, especially as I suspect that this example is unfired.

U.S.F.A. Rodeo loading gate

U.S.F.A. Rodeo loading gate

Now this next comparison is a bit of a shocker.  As tight and solid as the U.S.F.A. Rodeo feels in hand, it actually weighs in at nearly three ounces less than Uberti’s offering — 2.82 counces/80 grams less, to be precise.  It could be that the added weight on the Uberti results from beefing up both frame and cylinder to handle the higher pressures of the .357 Magnum round, or it could be the Uberti’s wood grips come at a weight premium over the U.S.F.A.’s rubber, but those are just guesses on my part.

U.S.F.A. Rodeo .45 Colt comes in at 38.16 ounces/1,082 grams

U.S.F.A. Rodeo .45 Colt comes in at 38.16 ounces/1,082 grams

Uberti El Patrón in .357 Magnum/.38 Special weighs 2.82 ounces/80 grams more

Uberti El Patrón in .357 Magnum/.38 Special weighs 2.82 ounces/80 grams more

There are two guns that vie for the title “The Gun that Won the West”.  Both were introduced to the American public in the year 1873.  One was a lever action rifle — the Winchester Model 1873.  The other was the original version of the revolver you’ve read about today — Colt’s Model 1873 “Peacemaker” Single Action Army.  I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s modern interpretation of this Colt classic.  Next week we return to the Chile-to-Santiago cruise aboard the Golden Princess.  Next stop — Nicaragua.

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