OGLESBY’S RUGER VAQUERO
By RONI TOLDANES
A true artist is not bound by his materials. Someone with genuine artistic talent can make something exquisite using lackluster pieces, but he can also take something that’s beautiful to start with and turn it into an even more breathtaking piece of art.
That is especially true with those artists who dabble in steel. Bill Oglesby is one of those artists. He builds single-action guns that would make every Old West aficionado proud.
Oglesby’s thoroughbreds take life as inexpensive factory guns.
Under Oglesby’s hands, single-actions are custom-tuned and transformed into pistols that are indeed fun to show off to friends or for shooting in Cowboy Action tournaments.
When we commissioned Oglesby to build a centerfold gun, he picked the popular Ruger Vaquero. Single-actions bearing the Ruger brand are great for cowboy shooting because of their inherent safety features, including the company’s patented transfer bar mechanism that prevents accidental discharge.
The single-action’s mystique is such that it brings to mind images of cattle drives, gamblers wearing Stetson hats, and gunslingers on Main Street.
More than a century after its invention, the revolving pistol’s appeal remains an enigma. Experts say this appeal lies in its extreme simplicity, its appearance and its nice feel in the hand.
As legend has it, Samuel Colt designed his first single-action revolver as a midshipman aboard the brig Corvo, which set sail for Calcutta, India, from Boston in August of 1830. During the long voyage home, the 17year-old boy noticed the ship’s wheel and windlass. In the operation of both devices, movement is sometimes halted and the equipment secured by special locking devices. Colt realized that these revolving and locking features could be adapted to a revolving-cylinder firearm with a single, fixed barrel.
After years of experimentation, Colt received his first patent on February 25,1836. He then enlisted investors and formed a manufacturing company in Paterson, New Jersey. About one year after Colt’s company began operations, Paterson models hit the market. From that day on, single-actions have always been carried with five rounds loaded, with the hammer resting on an empty chamber.
The world of single-actions began to change in 1973 when Sturm, Ruger & Co., Colt’s major competitor in the U.S., introduced its Blackhawk models, which were equipped with transfer bars. Previously, all Rugers operated the same as the Colt Single Action. The Ruger transfer bar mechanism made it safe to carry a single-action with a full complement of six rounds in the cylinders.
The Vaquero shown here was also based on the mechanism of the Ruger New Model Blackhawk. Oglesby enhanced this Vaquero’s performance by lightening its trigger to provide a 2.5-lb. trigger pull. Smooth as only a fine single-action can be hand-fitted.
Oglesby adjusted the loading gate, hand-polished the cylinder stop leads, lapped the barrel and installed an extra-power cylinder stop spring.
Oglesby hand-lapped and sized the pistol’s chambers. He replaced the Ruger factory leaf-type springs with his own variable rate springs. With the factory hammer and bolt springs replaced, cocking the hammer suddenly felt as smooth as slicing butter with a sharp knife.
Those custom improvements are included in the Los Vaqueros Package offered by the Oglesby shop in Springfield, Illinois. Oglesby makes three sets of modifications on the stock Ruger Vaquero.
You can go up to the elegant Signature Grade Package, which includes checkerings on the ejector rod and the pistol’s loading gate. The top-of-the-line package comes with a custom cryo-accurized barrel.
The principle behind the mechanism of a revolver is quite simple. Multiple chambers turn around an axis and are aligned with the barrel.
Early revolvers were generally rotated and locked by hand, but virtually all revolvers since the Colt Paterson design operate in the following fashion: While the hammer is being pulled back — either manually or by compression on the trigger — a hand or pawl extends from the frame and makes contact with a ratchet-like star at the rear of the cylinder.
This turns the cylinder to align the next chamber with the barrel. With most factory single-actions, however, perfect and consistent alignment between each of the several chambers and the barrel is almost impossible to achieve.
That’s why Oglesby’s custom improvements, including the lapping work on cylinders, make single-actions much more reliable. Oglesby fitted and hardened and custom-timed the cylinder stop of this centerfold Vaquero to ensure consistent alignment between each of the chambers and the barrel.
Oglesby, a well-known exhibition shooter, also offers several custom parts for the Ruger Vaquero, including a competition-grade strut assembly, adjustable overtravel on the hammer and on the trigger, and a speed bolt.
Straight from the factory, this Ruger Vaquero came in stainless steel. The Vaquero’s stainless model has the appearance of a classic nickel-plated pistol. Early versions were sort of satiny, instead of showing a nickel-plated finish. The only difference you can tell between a nickel finish and Ruger’s new stainless is a slight nuance of color; one is more silvery than the other. But the only time you can see the difference is by putting them side by side.
With Ruger’s new polish, there’s no problem of flaking, a distinct weakness with nickel plating. Ruger Vaqueros pass the strict rules imposed in Cowboy Action Shooting.
Vaquero revolvers have been equipped with a rounded blade front sight with no ramp and a fixed notch rear sight in a groove on the top strap. The Vaquero is available in two classic calibers – .44-40 Win. and .45 Long Colt – but is also offered in .44 Magnum caliber.
The .44-Magnum was Oglesby’s caliber of choice as it provides an option for the shooter to load the gun with the lighter-kicking .44-Special ammunition.
To complete his custom work, Oglesby replaced the factory rosewood grips with stag horn grips, which blended well with the shiny stainless finish.
Oglesby assigned Larry Hopewell of Taos, New Mexico, to transform the revolver into a museum-quality pistol. Hopewell, 60, has been an engraver for 28 years and has also done engraving work for knife collectors. Hopewell recently weaved his masterful artwork on a new model Colt, which went on the auction block at the Golden Boot Awards in Hollywood for $11,400.
While most people would not consider a rifle, shotgun, or pistol a piece of art, when these items pass through the hands of master engravers they become more than the sum of their parts. With engraving, guns can be admired, not for what they are fundamentally, but rather for having risen above their intended purpose.
Hopewell engraved this gun with half-coverage classic Colt Single Action design. The engraving wrapped half of the 7 ½-inch barrel, including its muzzle end. This embellishment gave justice to the pistol’s accuracy.
Bill Oglesby’s custom Ruger Vaquero consistently fires groups of within an inch at 50 yards. It’s a quick-shootin’ single-action that’s not only utterly gorgeous. It’s “the gun that would have won the West.”
(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)