Fightin' Iron: The Safe Queen

Not all queens are meant to be locked away in a castle.

posted on January 13, 2023
Colt Single Action Army

There’s an interesting term in the gun-guy’s lexicon. It’s “safe queen,” meaning a firearm of such great value that it remains in the safe, unused, unhandled and absolutely unfired. To violate any of these rules is to invite economic ruin down on the head of the unwary owner. In my strong belief that the various makers built their guns to be used hard, I was inclined to look down on this practice. It was sort of a “don’t bother with it if you aren’t gonna shoot it” attitude. But, as time passed, I had to accept the fact that some guns have investment value, and subjecting them to actual use lowers that value. While I have no true safe queens, I do have several high-condition guns I would not fire. Usually, that is because I have something else that will do.

But, this business of not shooting valuable guns is really taking on serious proportions. One of my old favorites is a perfect example: the Colt Single Action Army (SAA) revolver in a variety of chamberings and barrel lengths. The history of the gun is well-known. Built for the U.S. Army and introduced in 1873, the SAA—or Peacemaker—was the single most dominant handgun in the world. Progress in the development of better revolver types and those newfangled semi-automatics eventually replaced the grand-old gun around the turn of the last century. Nostalgists in our ranks kept the gun alive in the 20th century, but lots of guys used Peacemakers in police, military and outdoor-enthusiast roles. One of the guns used by Frank Hamer when he stepped out onto a rural roadway to deal with Bonnie and Clyde was an engraved Peacemaker. George S. Patton identified himself with another one that was fancied up a bit. 

Does anyone shoot these things for any reason today? I seriously doubt that Peacemakers are in service use anywhere in the 2020s. There are reasons why this is true, and it is sort of the gist of what I am rambling on about. Colt Peacemakers of the second generation (made after World War II) are seldom listed at any price less than $3,000. For most shooters, that is prohibitive. It is a real no-brainer when you look at an Italian copy that costs significantly less than a grand. Further, it makes little sense when you factor in the lineup of modern, incredibly rugged Ruger single actions. Either of these classes of guns will do just fine for most SAA uses—unless you just have to shoot a genuine Hartford-made Colt. 

One of the guns used by Frank Hamer when he stepped out onto a rural roadway to deal with Bonnie and Clyde was an engraved Peacemaker.

Several years ago, I noted a peculiar trend in the online prices of used Colts. While the original-format revolvers with round-top frames and fixed sights had out-of-sight price tags, the New Frontier version was often downright reasonable. Developed during the Kennedy presidency, the New Frontier had a broad, flattop frame and a ramp-style front sight. The rear sight was an adjustable Accro or even an Eliason. Finished up nicely with case-hardened frame and Royal blue, it was a fine revolver, but they were never as popular as the maker intended. In fairly recent times, I have seen used New Frontiers at prices as much as a half or two-thirds of a comparable Peacemaker. The trend is disappearing fast, but it was there and I took advantage of it.

I found a much-used New Frontier and set to work. The gun was worn, as only guns carried often and fired sparingly are. The bluing was about 70 percent, but the innards were in good shape. My new 5.5-incher in .45 Colt had a clean bore. Generally, it seemed like a gun that lived a service life in the hand and holster of an outdoor type who knew what he had. I set out to build an everyday shooting SAA. The unique nature of its interchangeable cylinders presented an interesting option.

I decided to build up my gun in a caliber that was more common in my little armory. While I have great respect for the .45 Colt and its distinguished history, my favorite big-bore revolver cartridge is the .45 ACP. For a host of reasons (cost, variety, availability), I have used it in SAAs and N-frame Smith & Wessons for many years. For almost everything, it has as much “smack ’em” as I need. Therefore, I didn’t even bother with a second cylinder chambered in another caliber. 

The gunsmith who built my creation was Andy Horvath of the Diagonal Road Gun Shop. He has a growing reputation in the custom-gun field, but will take as much time as is needed to get your project done right. Horvath is worth the wait. Things were delayed a bit when I had to do some serious scrounging to come up with a barrel for it. I found a Smith & Wesson Model 25 barrel and sent it to Horvath along with the gun. It’s just a personal quirk of mine; I don’t care for flattop frames with round barrels—I prefer the aesthetics of a ribbed barrel.

What came back was what you see here. The entire gun has been carefully reblued in a dull sheen, with a sort of satin look. That oh-so-hard-to-find Smith & Wesson barrel had been fitted to the Colt frame. The gunsmith cut the shank off the barrel and machined a new one with threading compatible with the Colt pattern. Shortened at my request to 4 inches, this retains the Smith & Wesson front ramp, to which the ’smith added a Patridge sight with a gold bead. Horvath cleaned up the action and returned the gun without grips. As soon as it came back to me, I sent it off to Joe Perkins at Classic Single Actions. We used a favorite wood—African Blackwood—for this one. He fitted the grip in the old one-piece style. 

So, what do we have? It is a handsome revolver, to say the least. The weight-forward design of the heavier barrel shifts the balance and it handles very well. With this little gem, I have a Peacemaker I can shoot to my heart’s content. It’s configured to my preferences and the caliber is common. If I am going to shoot a gun, I want to hit with it, and that explains my insistence on adjustable sights.

There’s no way this will ever be a safe queen. It’s fightin’ iron.


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