Parvusimperator reviews the Det. Harry Callahan Special

As mentioned elsewhere, my first gun was a Glock 19 Gen4. When I went back to the gun store to pick it up after completing the necessary paperwork to appease the fascists, I saw the clerk checking out something that had been brought in and sold. An old Smith & Wesson revolver. A famous one. A Model 29, complete with original wooden box, original papers, and a basketweave, thumb-break, police-type holster. Probably had given some police officer loyal service for many a year. Whoever it was, he had good taste. I have a weakness for iconic weapons, and this one is near the top of that list. Plus it’s got some police history (and I like old police guns). Most importantly, it’s absolutely gorgeous. I held it, felt the weight, and spoke those famous words:

“I know what you’re thinking, punk. Did he fire six shots, or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you gotta ask yourself one question: ‘do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?

Then I put money down on it. Couldn’t resist. It would be mine. Evildoers beware!

I know I felt lucky to find this one. According to the serial, and some obsessive research, it was made around 1976 or so. It’s a three-screw frame, like most post-1960 Smith & Wessons. It was made long before S&W made their stupid pact with Satan–er, the Clinton Administration, so the frame doesn’t have a dumb lock that will break and render the gun unusable. Also, those frame locks are hideous. My Model 29 has a proper pinned an recessed barrel, which is another nice old feature that they did away with. It looks good, and its preferred by collectors. It was, of course, removed by Smith and Wesson as a cost cutting measure in 1982. Most importantly though, my Model 29 is absolutely gorgeous, primarily due to the legendary Carbonia bluing.

Carbonia bluing is the name for a process used by Smith and Wesson (and only Smith and Wesson) on their non-budget revolvers prior to 1978. It was a complicated and labor intensive process requiring careful heat control and polishing. It was based on an oil mixture from the American Gas Furnace Company, who sent Smith & Wesson the oil as a base, and S&W later added a whole bunch of other stuff to make it work. The story goes that there was only one guy at Smith & Wesson who knew the formula, and he kept it written in a notebook. When he died, his widow wanted $50,000 for it. By this point, Smith and Wesson had changed their bluing method to something less labor intensive, so they declined. She destroyed the notebook shortly afterwards. Now, American Gas Furnace Co. will happily provide you with an ingredient list if you ask, but the proportions aren’t on there. They don’t make the oil needed for the base anymore either. Several other ingredients are now discontinued, because they’re awfully carcinogenic. Oh, and one of them’s sperm whale oil–good luck getting that. And then you’d have to mess around until you got the process right. It might just be worth it though, because the Carbonia treatment gives a blue-black color that will have different color highlights as the light hits it. I might describe it as vaguely oil-like, but I’m no artist, so the technical term is lost on me.

Now that we’ve established the gun’s pedigree and gorgeous looks, you’re probably wondering how it handles. It’s heavy. It’s got a six inch barrel, wooden grips, and is all steel. It points reasonably well in the hand, but really needs two to be held comfortably. Once you fire the .44 magnum loads, however, you will appreciate every ounce of weight that it has. The trigger is a revolver trigger, but it’s an old, reasonably well used revolver trigger. So it’s been polished the slow and expensive way: by being fired a lot. Firing double action is heavy, of course, because you have to cock that hammer and rotate the cylinder. It is a textbook rolling break, and once you’ve fired it a few times you can stage it and get some wonderful results. Single action is a perfect glass-rod break. In fact, it might almost be too perfect. It’s very light, and there’s no takeup, so pressure will make it go with little warning that it is about to go. In any case, the trigger is wonderful in either mode.

Interestingly, I’ve left this gun completely stock. It has the sights that came on it: the front blade has a red plastic insert for high visibility, and the rear sight is adjustable with a white U-notch. Not that I could really do much about the sights without sending them off to a smith. The grips are the wooden ones that came with it. I could get something else, but somehow, that just doesn’t seem right. Maybe a set of vintage Pachmayr grips–I’ve heard those are better than the new ones. Still, somehow I don’t really want to mess with it–this is the Dirty Harry gun. It’s iconic the way it is.

No, it’s not the most powerful handgun in the world anymore. I don’t care. It’s a blast to shoot.

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