Big Jim Charles
For many of us, the terms “1911” or “Government Model” bring to mind the original blue steel and walnut gripped classic that John Browning, Gen. John T. Thompson and the U.S. Army Ordnance Board created in all it’s venerable, traditional glory.
The grand old gun that truly would make the ghost of Gen. George S. Patton admit with shame that he was wrong when he referred to some long gone, obsolete rifle of all things as the “greatest battlefield implement of all times.”
There is nothing like the traditional “Army .45” to bring a lump to the throat of any real pistoleer or warrior. Many a raw doughboy owed his very life to the genius of Mr. Browning, and we all enjoy our limited and diminished freedoms thanks in no small part to this great gun. Each month, it seems somebody is always rushing to bring out the latest, newest, trendiest, High techiest, polymer-based blaster worthy of a starring role on the hip of some Hollywood Starship Trooper, but despite being considered (by those who don’t know much) as obsolete, the grand ole’ .45 is more popular now than it was when released nearly a century ago.
These days hardly a gun store, let alone pawnshop doesn’t have a wide variety .45’s, chopped and channeled, full sized, compact, alloy framed, two toned, dull matte finished or military original parkerized or ten.
Such was not always the case. Today’s Cooper troopers may take the staggering and bewildering variety of 1911’s from a veritable barbarian horde of manufacturers for granted, but go back a couple of decades and the pickin’s were slim. For example, you could get the full size 1911 from Colt or the alloy framed Commander. You could get military surplus 1911s’ from Union Switch and Signal, Singer Sewing Machine or other wartime makers and….well, that was about it.
Finishes were commercial blue, military parkerized and nickel, and…outside of custom gunsmiths that was that.
One of the first makers to change all this was a small firm that had its’ beginning in the airline industry. Yep, I’m talkin’ ’bout the Randall.
Randall may not have been the first maker to produce a stainless steel government. Model. Some would argue the firm of AMT (then known as Ordnance Manufacturing Company) or Vega were first, but there can be no doubt that Randall was one of the best, and Randall paved the way for other companies like Colt and Springfield to dip into the increasingly popular customization market.
Randall produced a variety of well made 1911 clones of investment cast 17 ph stainless steel. The guns were sturdy, generally well made, and eagerly sought by users as well as collectors. Randall made exact copies of 1911’s, left handed 1911’s, 1911’s with (then) state of the art “combat” features, and chopped down officers model 1911’s, thanks to inspiration from Legendary General Curtis Lemay.
Like many people who bring something out that is too good too soon, the company folded, but oh, what a legacy they left. Would there have been a Detonics, or for that matter a Colt Officers Model if it weren’t for Randall? Probably, but it definitely would have taken longer.
Were Randall pistols as good as everyone says? Well, like the products of many makers, it depends. At different times in the companies brief but glorious history quality control could be sporadic, but Randall’s have a reputation for being solid, well made guns, and if my own experience is typical, that reputation was well earned.
As a young man growing up in eastern Kentucky, I frequently saw Randall pistols in better gun stores that catered to serious shootists (as opposed to the types of places that specialized in poke stock shotguns and .25 autos). Last year I stopped in at Mert’s Guns and Ammo in Allen, KY, and Mert, a fellow who knows this customer by heart had two things to show me. A used enhanced Colt .45 GM and a well worn but sound Randall Service Model. Being a man of some dignity and self restraint, I informed the pistol peddler I had two full size .45’s with stainless finishes, and did not need another. I got about halfway to Pikeville before turning around and running back to put the Randall on Layaway until payday.
The pistol was in very good condition, and at a very good price. It had an extended thumb safety, a full length recoil spring with a hexagonal cut on the end, and high visibility (for them days) sights. It was smooth operating, and actually fairly tight, much tighter than a Colt GM from that era. There were myriad scratches as well as some rust stains on the thumb safety, and the skip line checked wood grips showed the dings of the years. But all in all this was still a beautiful pistol.
Taking her immediately out to the woods, I discovered two things. Number one, she shoots as straight as a brand new 1991A1, and two, she doesn’t like hollow point fodder. But with the 1911 you don’t really need hollow points now, do you?
For that matter, my brand new Colt Combat Commander doesn’t like hollow points either, and is nowhere near as accurate as the Randall. Soon, I found myself carrying the gun regularly, and in no time at all it was my primary defense gun.
Oh, every so often I break out the snub .357 revolver for comfort, but sooner or later the big stainless Randall returns to my hip. The 1911 may be “obsolete” but it is no less deadly efficient than it was when it came off the assembly line. Powerful, accurate, proven durable and dependable with ball ammo, it is as good as anybody could possibly need in a serious self defense piece. And it shoots as straight as a long barreled magnum revolver. How many plastic frame .40s’ have owners willing to make that boast and sign their names to it?
The medieval broadsword is obsolete, but it will still deal death in a second. Same thing for the old Colt Peacemaker and the 1911. And, just like the Randall, quality never goes out of style.
Occasionally I toy with the idea of replacing the 80’s style sights with either the currently popular Novak style “Evel Kneval motorcycle ramp” sights and the traditional quick draw spur hammer with a burr head thumb bruiser, but I look at my prize and realize that it is just fine the way it is. There are plenty of Colt’s, Springfield’s and Kimbers out there that are as trick as trick can get. I think I’ll leave this classic the way it is, as a working piece of pistol history.
The Randall is gone, but pieces like my prize acquisition remain, to remind us of the pioneers of today’s .45 industry. One other gun from that era remains, and is almost identical to the Randall in my own experience, the AMT Hardballer. One of my pistolero buddies packed a long-slide Hardballer for a decade, and the two pieces are very similar. With all the new players on the block this old .45 toter hopes the AMT doesn’t follow the Randall into obscurity.