|Home - Volume 2 (2007) - Issue 3 (Summer '07) - A Pilgrimage to Hartford|
A Pilgrimage to Hartford
An article by Hunter Lee Elliott (Hunter, )
Wednesday July 18, 2007 a dream of mine came true as Mark Roberts, Director of Marketing for Colt's Manufacturing, arranged for myself, Dan (OD from m1911.org) and his wife to tour the current Colt factory. The plan was to meet Mr. Roberts at 08:30 at the front desk of Colt, so we left the hotel in plenty of time.
Upon arriving at the factory I did notice how it looked much like most any other commercial building in Hartford, except for the Colt sign with the Rampant Pony near the street.
The administration building and one picture of the factory from the outside.
We walked into the front doors and saw a large mural of an engraved Colt cap and ball revolver positioned behind the security desk. I approached the desk and informed the gentlemen that Mark Roberts was expecting us this morning; as we signed in, they called for Mr. Roberts. We sat in the waiting room looking at the various framed Colt historical letters with names such as Buffalo Bill Cody, Bat Masterson, and George S. Patton, Jr.
It was then we were informed that Mark Roberts had not been able to come in because he was under the weather. I will be honest, my heart sank thinking the tour would either be postponed or cancelled, and Dan was quite disappointed as well. As we were feeling that all was lost, Richard Churchill, Commercial Sales Coordinator, came in and informed us he could give the tour if that was agreeable, which of course it was. I had hoped to meet Mark, but one cannot blame him for his absence. I was glad to meet Mr. Churchill, as he was the one who helped me find my Special Combat Government, a Colt that took some doing for me to secure. We entered the administration building through a metal detector to the right of the security desk, and entered the offices of Colt Manufacturing. Rich started off by giving us a brief tour of the administration building, after which we exited onto a small courtyard area that you cross to arrive at the factory itself. There were greeted by another set of metal detectors that must be cleared and, to its right; was the security office where we had the pleasure of talking to several security officers who then issued the three of us our safety glasses. I looked around and noticed a lot of Colt memorabilia that would look great in my house. After that we entered the factory.
The first order of the tour was to see the area of the factory where the materials are machined and polished, as the transformation from raw, oversized, forged billets to a completed pistol begins.
The factory is a large place and smelled of cutting oil and coolant. As I looked around I noticed there were more machines than people, and many of the machines sat idle. As for the milling machines themselves, they were vintage Bridgeport's. I am no machinist but my gunsmith, Tom Beliveau, uses an older Bridgeport milling machine and from what I understand that is quality equipment. Aside from the fading green paint, the machines looked to be in excellent operational order. As we walked through the plant Mr. Churchill was explaining the process and showing us parts in different stages of competition. He showed us a large wooden box filled with forged billets that were awaiting the machining process and sort of resembled receivers and slides. To hold this raw receiver billet and then look at a completed receiver is an eye opener. There is more metal machined away than is left, once the process is over. That is a labor intensive and costly way to produce parts but quality is not compromised with that method. I was impressed.
Next we stopped by some smaller milling machines, where slide stop billets were being machined using the same process. There we watched barrel bushings going through final machining. One at a time, the barrel bushings were being cut down as an older gentleman was controlling the machine.
We then walked to the area where the machined parts were being polished by hand to remove any remnants of the machining process. There we watched a man polish charging handles for the AR 15, after a few moments he noticed the audience and stopped his work. I was concerned that he had been distracted and did not appreciate us watching, but as he stood up he removed his work glove and introduced himself as Bob while shaking my hand. We stood and visited several minutes, talking a little about where we were from, where we were staying, our trip to Connecticut and about Colt in general. He did seem a little surprised we had come so far to see Colt-if he only knew.
We watched a woman at another station assembling hammers for the Single Action Army revolvers. After that we walked through the rest of the polishing machines, seeing parts in various stages of completion. We did notice there was a lot of "hands-on" work during the processing of small parts.
The next stop was the assembly area; there were large bins full of completed parts waiting to be assembled. There were men sitting at what looked like large drafting tables hand assembling pistols. We watched as they picked and chose their parts carefully from the bins, to be fitted into that particular pistol which they were building. They seemed very methodical in their task and you can see they are very good at what they do. Just to the left of the assembly area was a man running a machine that, at the time, was staking the stock screw bushing to the frames of the M1911 reproduction, one at the time.
We really began to understand the amount of time it takes to build each pistol and the reasons for the low production numbers compared to other firearms manufactures.
Just before you reach the custom shop is the area where the pistols were packaged and sent out into the world. To the left of the packaging area is the repair shop where Colts come in for repair; the repair shop also performs some customization work on customer's weapons. We had the chance to talk with one of the gunsmiths, "Little John," who has been a Colt employee for an amazing 43 years and is still the "junior" man in the repair shop. He, too, was very accommodating of all our questions and showed us many tools of his trade. There were shelves of Colts awaiting minor customization or repair. I did notice there was a small surplus of parts for pistols no longer in production, which Dan would have loved pocketing. Here again, I have confirmed my faith in the knowledge of these men who are responsible for repairing our beloved Colts.
From the repair shop we headed towards the glass doors which allow entrance to the world famous "Colt's Custom Shop." The factory was as I pictured a factory but the custom shop was closer to an operating room, with white floors and walls. To our left as we walked into the Custom Shop, we found Joe Canali, the man who oversees the daily operation of the Custom Shop. We talked to him a few minutes about where we were from, etcetera, and our mutual interest in Colt. Both Dan and I have spoken with Joe numerous times on the phone and he has always been extremely helpful; we both were happy to finally meet Mr. Canali in person. Across the room from Joe's desk is a secretary containing various Colt pistols from the custom shop. These included several modified Government Models, the prototype of the Special Combat Government and an extremely rare Wildey Magnum with the entire famous Colt markings. This is a pistol made by Colt when there were some preliminary talks of Colt producing the big Wildey pistol. Just past that is the door leading into the Custom Shop proper, where two craftsmen were busily engraving a couple Colt Single Action Armys. We watched as a master engraver chiseled the scrolling onto the steel. He, too, was kind enough to put his work aside and visit with us, answering questions and showing off the completed SAA cylinder he was finishing up work on. We watched as a craftsman assembled a blue and color-case hardened Single Action Army.
That was the extent of our factory tour and we were all very impressed. These skilled men and women are still building firearms in the way of old world craftsmen.
Now we made our way to the Customer Support offices, where we had the pleasure of meeting Carol Plumadore and Paul Smarrelli. Cindy Lapointe, Senior Supervisor of Customer Service, was on vacation during our tour and we had hoped to meet her in person as well. I have dealt with Cindy and Carol many times in the past and they have always been very professional and helpful. Paul is relatively new to Customer Support but has been extremely helpful to both Dan and myself in our dealings with him. There we talked some more and Rich gave us each a Colt tee shirt and Carol gave us a Colt M4 lapel pin. At this point we wound down the tour and Mr. Churchill walked us out to the front doors. We are very grateful for him taking the time out of his busy day, and on such short notice, to show us the factory. That tour is one of the highlights of my life and has given me an even deeper appreciation for Colt and their product. I am inspired for another Colt purchase.
My thoughts on the Colt factory
Stepping into the Colt factory was similar to stepping back in time. The factory is well kept, but some of the equipment is dated. In my mind this is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, as the older Bridgeports, for example, are still some of the very best non-computerized milling machines made. Vintage equipment does require an experienced hand to run correctly, and Colt employees certainly have that in spades. This labor intensive method of manufacturing can and does yield very good products, but at the cost of time-and time is money. Even though there is a separate area of Colt labeled "Custom Shop," the entire factory is essentially that, as all firearms are hand-built and hand-fitted. When you take all of this into consideration, Colts are really very reasonable in cost to the consumer.
The vast majority of the employees were older, skilled craftsmen and craftswomen. While that is beneficial to producing a quality product and instills a sense of pride, who will fill their shoes when they retire? All of the folks we met were extremely nice and accommodating but I would have liked to see younger apprentices learning the trade. I know Colt has a high standard of who builds their firearms but I am hoping they can continue as the employees change. There are a lot of people who complain about the lack of variety in the Colt line up. I know we all would like to see a larger product line, but not at the expense of compromising the current quality and cost. For Colt to produce a Python in the quality we have come to expect, it would be out of reach for the average consumer's budget. In the end, it is the bottom line that matters and overextending their efforts could get Colt in more trouble than to continue with business as usual. I believe that Colt is still building firearms with the traditional "old world craftsmanship" in a similar manner to years past, when Colt first acquired its reputation of quality.
I will be the first to admit that Colt is not a perfect company, and has produced products that were not well received or were flawed. There is a lot to be said about this firearms manufacturer and, like them or not, one cannot deny that Colt and much of America's history are intertwined. I shudder to think where we would be if Samuel Colt had kept with his father's ideas and proceed with a life at sea.
The Connecticut State Library
The day before our scheduled tour at the Colt plant, we met with Harwood Loomis (Hawkmoon) at the Connecticut State Library. Kathy Johnson (who Dan and I made friends with while she worked at Colt customer service and who was instrumental in setting up this tour with Mark) was good enough to meet us at the hotel and show us around Vernon and Hartford. Well, I am sure you all are wondering what we were planning on doing at a library? Here I would also like to thank Cindy Lapointe again as she was good enough to leave us a map and directions she put together to some of the must see spots in Hartford, Thanks Cindy.
The Connecticut State Library holds an amazing display of Colt firearms that is worth the trip in itself to see. The library is located in downtown Hartford, a beautiful New England city.
When we arrived Mr. Loomis was patiently waiting. As I walked into the room of the Colt display I was a little overwhelmed and it took me several minutes to take it all in. I will apologize for the picture quality as these Colts were under glass with lights above. I did ask the guard nicely about getting a few of the firearms out for some better pictures but he did not see the humor in that (I really was not joking but decided not to press it).
Here are a few pictures of interest. The entrance of the Colt display
Colt 1911 Serial Number 1
A 1942 1911A1.
Two Colt Gatlin Guns.
Colt Serial Number 1 Super .38.
A 1949 Colt Commander.
A Commander prototype from the 1920's in Super .38 (20 years before the Commanders were introduced).
1955 Colt Python.
Colt 1902 .38 caliber.
A 1945 Service Ace.
Model 1908 Colt pocket .25.
Two examples of engraved Colt Government Models
1940 Colt SAA.
Two more Colt SAA including a "Buntline".
1957 Colt Gold Cup National Match.
The centerpiece of the display the original Rampant Pony from the Colt dome.
The Colt display at the State Library is an interesting cross section of Colt firearms that will stick with me from now on.
A brief history of Colt
(according to the information I have these dates are correct)
July 19, 1814 Samuel Colt was born to Connecticut farmers Christopher and Sarah Colt (maiden name was Caldwell). He was one of seven siblings, four boys and three girls
1816 Samuel Colt's mother passes.
1818 Sam's father remarries Olive Sargeant
1825 Sam was indentured to a farm in Glastonbury
1829 Colt was sent to work at his father's textile plant in Ware, Massachusetts.
1832 At age 18 father sent Sam to learn the seaman's trade. While sailing from Boston to Calcutta on the ship Corlo on a missionary trip, Sam would watch the ships wheel as it would be turned and locked in place and his concept of the revolving cylinder is born.
1832 Sam returns to America and his father finances two protype revolvers, but cheap labor yields poor quality. One pistol exploded when fired and the other did not work. Colt began working in his father factory, where he learned about Nitrous Oxide. He made a living demonstrating laughing gas. Also around this time period he made arrangements with gunsmiths in Baltimore to begin building guns February 25, 1836 U.S. Patient number 138
Colt applies for a patent for his revolver with an example on the way.
1835 Colt travels to England and is awarded his first patent number 6909
February 25 1836 Colt is awarded patent number 138 for a "revolving gun"
April 1836 Colt forms a corporation to facilitate his company.
March 5, 1836 The Patterson Arms Manufacturing Company in Patterson, New Jersey, named the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company is chartered from New Jersey Legislature.
Colt develops three different revolver models and two different rifle models
1842 The Patent Arms Manufacturing Company closes.
Sam Colt befriends Samuel Morse while trying to market his underwater electrical detonators. The principals of his electrical detonators were applied to running Morse's telegraph cable.
1845 The US Dragoon forces and Texas Rangers attribute their success against the Indians to their Colt revolvers.
1846 the Mexican-American war breaks out and Captain Samuel H. Walker seeks out Colt to design another, more powerful revolver. The Walker Colt is born and the U.S. Ordinance Department orders a thousand. Colt finds himself without a factory to produce the ordered pistols so he collaborates with Eli Whitney, Jr. (son of the inventor of the Whitney cotton gin), who had a factory in Connecticut and by mid-1847 the order is shipped.
1851 Colt has an exhibit at the London's Crystal Palace. Colt becomes the first American manufacturer to open a plant in England
He began purchasing property then called the South Meadows, an area of Hartford that fronted on the banks of the Connecticut River. The land was subject to flooding so the price was very low. A two-mile-long dike actually cost almost twice as much as the 250 acres.
1853 Colt establishes a factory in London.
1855 the plant becomes operational and is incorporated as Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company. The famous Colt dome is constructed with the Rampant Pony crowning the dome.
June 5, 1856 Sam marries Elizabeth Jarvis, the daughter of the Reverend William Jarvis.
His mansion, Armsmear, is constructed at 80 Wethersfield Avenue.
January 10, 1862, Samuel Colt passes away. His estate worth about 15 million dollars. His brother-in-law, Richard Jarvis, assumes the factory responsibilities.
February 4, 1864 A major part of the Colt armory is burned.
1867, the company began producing Dr. R.J. Gatling's machine gun
1872 Colt began the manufacture of its first breech-loaded revolver using self-contained metallic cartridges. The Colt Single Action Army Model 1873.
1876 Colt exhibit displayed at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition.
1899 The Model 1899 double action swing out cylinder revolver is introduced. January 21, 1894, Caldwell Hart Colt passes away.
1897 John Moses Browning is awarded Patent 580924.
1901 Colt Armory sold.
August 21, 1905, Elizabeth Colt passes away
1911 The Colt Automatic Pistol is adopted by the US Government.
1936 Robert Courtney and other employees saved the shipping ledgers from a bad flood.
1942 Colt has 15000 employees in three plants.
1955 The company is sold to Penn-Texas Corporation and the name is changed to Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company
1960 Introduction of the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, followed by the M16 military full-automatic version.
1961 The Commemorative firearms introduced.
1964 The name is changed to Colt Industries. The Rampant Pony is dropped and a symbol resembling a machine gear is adopted.
1976 the successful sale of the Colt National Sporting Goods Foundation auction firearm encouraged Colt to establish the Custom Shop.
1981 The factory and offices are moved to West Hartford.
1984 The Combat Government Model and the .380 Government Model automatic pistols are introduced and the US Government adopts the Beretta M9 as it's official sidearm.
1986 Colt's 150th anniversary and a line of commemorative firearms, which included the Single Action Army Sampler Edition The labor strike by the UAW, which began on January 25 and would continue for four years.
1988 Colt losses the Government contract for M16 rifles.
1989 Colt Firearms Division sold to C.F. Holdings Corp. was announced
1990 the company was sold to private investors, the State of Connecticut, and the union employees (renamed Colt's Manufacturing Company, Inc.). That signified the end of the UAW strike. The Double Eagle double-action pistol, the Colt Anaconda .44 Magnum double-action revolver, and the redesigned Sporter Rifle introduced
1992 Colt enters into chapter 11, litigation commenced between Colt's Manufacturing Co., Inc., and C. F. Intellectual Properties.
1993 The M4 and .22 Automatic is introduced.
May 1994 The Hartford Armory closes and the relocation of the entire company to their West Hartford facility. Colt was awarded the contract to supply nearly 19,000 M4 carbines to the U.S. Army. September, a new group of investors purchased the company and Colt is saved from bankruptcy.
1995 Colt unveils the last Single Action Army that was built in the Hartford plant. Colt .22 Target pistol, the Colt Match Target rifle and Colt .38 SF-VI revolver introduced. The Colt .22 Target pistol was named "Handgun of the Year" by the Shooting Industry Academy of Excellence. Colt is awarded another contract to produce 16,000 M4 carbines.
1996 Colt and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association team up and in celebration a Single Action Army revolver, "The Legend," was introduced.
1997 Colt is awarded another Government contact for 6,000 M4 carbines The Pony double action pistol, the DS II revolver, and 3" Defender pistol, Gold Cup Trophy and Python Elite introduced.
1998 Colt is awarded another U.S. contract for 32,000 M16s. Also outlined in this contract is updating 88,000 M16A1 rifles to the A2 configuration for the U.S. Air Force. Colt buys Saco Defense, a Maine based company specializing in automatic weapons for the military.
1999 starts with a backlog of military rifle/carbine orders amounting to approximately 59,000 units. This also includes provisions to produce the M4 carbine through the year 2010. Ultra Light Arms, Inc. is acquired. The Colt Cowboy revolver and Pocket Nine pistol are introduced. September, 1999, General William Keys assumes the role as president.
November 4, 2002, Colt is split into separate companies. Colt Defense LLC handles military production while Colt's Manufacturing Company is the civilian side.
2002 World War II reproduction is introduced
2003 World War I reproduction is introduced.
2004 Single Action Army chambered in .32/20 added to the current crop of SAA while the Python and Anaconda production is stopped.
2005 Colt Defense completed its acquisition of the Logistics & Defense Division, Diemaco, from Heroux-Devtek Inc. Renamed Colt Canada.
2007 Colt New Agent is introduced.
On behalf of The M1911 Pistols Organization, I would like to thank the following persons for making this tour a reality:
You may discuss about this article in this thread in our Forums Site:
COLT'S MANUFACTURING COMPANY
Web site: http://www.coltsmfg.com/
|Home - Volume 2 (2007) - Issue 3 (Summer '07) - A Pilgrimage to Hartford|