Further Adventures In TSMG Repair




In the December, 1996 issue of this newsletter, Bob Higbee and I chronicled the troubles he experienced with Colt Thompson #6942 as we performed one of our make-believe gangster shootouts in Shreveport, Louisiana last May ("That blankety-Blank Thompson Goes On The Blink"). Having retired his 0riginal Colt ’21 bolt, Bob uses either a Gunmachines fixed firing pin bolt or a Gunmachines fixed firing pin speed bolt whenever he shoots the weapon. Ruptured primers led him to shorten the length of the fixed firing pin. Our December article concluded with the triumph ant declaration that, with repairs affected, #6942 functioned flawlessly during a July 6, 1996, show in Paris, Texas.

Sadly, said repairs were short-lived.

On Saturday, October 19, 1996, Reenactments, Etc. ("Early Thirties Crime") staged a mock bank robbery in Denison, Texas. Our script for the day's entertainment called for Bob Higbee, armed with #6942, and fellow reenactor, Bob Andrews, armed with Colt Thompson #2107, to play bandits who shoot their way out of a police trap. Higbee was slated to bedazzle spectators with a display of full-auto pyrotechnics as he covered the outlaw's retreat. Unbeknownst to us, a host of hateful Thompson hobgoblins lay in wait to sabotage our best intentions.

Brandishing their Thompsons, our robbery team entered the Denison "bank" as scheduled. An alarm was sounded and the building was quickly surrounded by "lawman". When Higbee exited the structure, he raised #6942 to his shoulder and squeezed its trigger. The weapon sputtered to life and then died . The twelfth round fired out of a drum of fifty had failed to extract. Exasperated attempts to remove the offending spent cartridge and revive the firearm proved fruitless.

One drawback in performing before a live audience is the fact that when things go wrong, one can not stop and start over. Actors must improvise in order to complete the play. In a virtual repeat of his Shreveport performance, Bob abandoned his Tommy Gun and reached for his backup handgun. In Louisiana, he had used a Smith & Wesson 38 revolver to finish the show. At Denison, his backup was a blank-adapted 9mm Star Model B semiautomatic pistol (Copy of the Colt Government Model). The Thompson gremlins apparently held sway over the Star pistol as well for it also jammed with the first round fired. A frustrated Bob Higbee was forced to meekly surrender to his adversaries. To quote an axiom attributed to the famous John Dillinger, "Never trust a woman or an automatic pistol." Bob can agree with the part about the pistol.

Flushed with victory in having successfully embarrassed #6942, the Thompson trolls celebrated by attacking #2107. At some point early on in the melodrama, one of the ears of the submachine gun's actuator snapped off. As most Thompson aficionados are aware, the actuator is the most fragile of all the exposed components of a Model '21 or a Model '28. If dropped upon a hard surface or banged against a solid object, one or both ears can easily crack or break. In the instance of a crack, it may take years for the wing to finally give way and come off. And at some point in its lifetime, #2107 was dropped. A dent in the top of its Lyman sight attest to this.

Ironically, as part of a program to replace and retire as many original Colt parts as possible, the actuator had been slotted for replacement sometime after the October 19th event. The submachine gun already contained a W.W.II Savage bolt outfitted with Numrich firing pin, hammer, and extractor; and replacement wood. Just prior to the Denison shootout, a M1928A1 trigger frame had been substituted for the Colt frame (like a human organ donor, #S-218869 made the sacrifice in order that #2107 might live). Call it bad luck or an act of gremlin mischief that the Colt actuator was ruined before it could be retired. Like car wrecks and plane crashes, these things happen.

A post event examination of #6942 failed to yield even single clue as to why it had malfunctioned. A baffled Bob Higbee brought the firearm to Oklahoma where, on November 9, 1996 Reenactments, Etc. recreated the 1933 shootout between members of the Clyde Barrow gang and a Dexter, Iowa posse. Cast in the role of Barrow crony, W.D. Jones, Higbee test fired #6942 before the show began. It digested a XX box magazine full of .45 ACP blanks without complaint. At Colbert, the Thompson gremlins were in a more charitable mood . They waited until the final curtain began its dissent before striking. During the gunfight, Bob successfully exhausted two L drums. He inserted a fresh twenty round box magazine into the submachine gun just as Bonnie, Clyde, and D.W. made good their escape (As happened in 1933). At that juncture, the Thompson' s extractor broke.

#2107 escaped calamity at Colbert.

To be sure, Bob will continue to tinker with #6942 until he gets the bugs out. One possible culprit might be the excessive amount of gummy powder residue that cakes upon the bolt face and under the extractor whenever one shoots blank ammunition. In the motion picture business, the property master cleans firearms between takes. The resulting screen illusion presents machine guns as bullet hoses that never malfunction no matter the amount of ammunition run through them (Unless, of course, the script calls for such). It may be that in a live performance, such as the mock shootouts created by Reenactments, Etc., firing one hundred rounds of blank ammunition through a Thompson approaches the upper limits of what the firearm can endure without a cleaning.

As for the Thompson gremlin, if garlic wreaths and the crucifix can not keep them at bay, we may be forced to call in a priest to perform an exorcism. As with all live ammunition, possession of silver bullets at a reenactment is a violation of club rules!

(Colt Thompsons #6942 (upper) and #2107 (lower). Minutes after this photo was taken, #6942 would be out of action and #2107 would have a broken actuator.)

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