28 October 2009

Fun with Dick and Bob

For over 60 years the Holmes brothers, Dick and Bob, have been making firearms for friends and neighbors in their little corner of North Carolina. This may not seem like much until you consider that they started their arms-making “career” when they were mere lads.

Dick relates, “As kids, my brother and I were always fascinated with guns, especially pistols. Being too young and also not having the means to buy one, we did the next best thing - we made some for ourselves and some to sell. Most were pretty well-made affairs, but simple. We used an in-line system and brass barrels.”

Dick also adds that their endeavor was not without its challenges as they had to stay a step ahead of the local lawman, and those who bought the brothers’ wares were sworn to secrecy. Dick explains, “Any boy that bought one from us had to swear not to tell where he got it. Never got caught, but came close.” He goes on to explain, “The local police chief was asked one time where a guy might purchase a cheap handgun. His answer was, ‘Go see them two boys down on the other end of town. They got'um, but I ain't never been able to find'um.’”

Their fledgling arms business faced other challenges, too, such as a supply of suitable loading components for their guns, as Dick relates, “Ammunition consisted of match heads, firecracker powder and plumbers lead rolled into round balls for bullets.”

Hey, sometimes you just have to be resourceful and use what you have.

Then in the 1960’s the Holmes boys found Herschel Logan’s wonderful book on underhammer guns. That's when their gun-making kicked into high gear when they decided to copy one of the rifles featured in the book. Dick said, “Through trial and error, we learned to bore, ream and rifle the barrel for it. The only thing we bought to build that rifle was a brass butt plate casting. We made everything else - even the metal and wood screws.”

Now sneaking up on his mid 70’s, Dick is still making underhammer guns of one sort or another and he has sent us these pics of some of his favorite underhammer pistols. All display fine workmanship and good quality materials. You can click on the pics to take a closer look at the details of the different mechanisms he employed in making them. Then click the Back arrow to return to the text.

Following is Dick’s brief description of his pistols.

1. A Target Pistol of 36 cal., 6 ¾-inch rifled barrel, takes a # 11 cap, cherry grip, two piece firing mechanism. As the spring hammer is pulled to cock, the rear of the spring pushes the rear of trigger forward to engage the sear in front of trigger with the hammer notch. This pistol has adjustable sights.
This second photo is of Dick's sketch which displays the utter simplicity of the mechanism of the first pistol which is not readily apparent in the photo.

2. The Carleton Reproduction is 36 cal., 7 7/8-inch rifled barrel, takes a # 11 cap, walnut grip. Early understriker design, trigger guard serves as hammer spring, has adjustable sights. (Editor's note: There is a sketch of the unusual Carleton mechanism in an earlier post further down this page entitled, The Underhammer Rifle - a book for builders.)

3. This is a Gambler-type Pistol of 40 cal., with a 4 ¾-inch smooth bore barrel and takes a # 11 cap, has a walnut grip. The hammer is a spring and rotates for capping nipple. Safe to carry in pocket because the trigger blocks hammer, can be fired double action.

4. This Hale Design has a 3 5/8-inch rifled barrel, takes # 11 cap and has a maple grip. This is a conventional underhammer with a backstrap around the grip.

5. This Ladies Pistol is 31 cal. and has a 2 ¾-inch smooth bore. It is a pill lock and has maple two-piece grips. The hammer is also a spring and rotates to insert the priming pill, as in no. 3. It’s a very safe gun to carry concealed as the trigger blocks the hammer until pulled. It can also be fired double action.

6. The photo to the left is of an H. E. Leman reproduction in 41 cal. with a 13 7/8-inch rifled barrel. It takes a # 11 cap and has a maple grip. Also has a holster and ramrod over 19 inches overall. Brass mounted with fully adjustable sights. If a fellow had one of these and a Hawken Rifle going West back then, he was a big man.

Our thanks to Dick and Bob for sharing their history and to Dick for sharing his fine collection of underhammer pistols with us. Please accept this as our humble tribute to your lifetime of contributions to the ongoing history of underhammer arms.



b-strick said...


I enjoyed the posting of pistols. I really like the simplicity of the "nub" design. So much that I have simple half cock design. One extra hole, a fly and a flat spring.

Simple is GOOD!

Christine said...

Hi-I'm doing some research for a fictional story set in the near future (2015) and I'm hoping you could give me some info specifically on hand-casting bullets with the codicil that there is no electricity available and limited resources.

What materials would one need to make bullets? I have handguns and rifles and shotguns - but I'm unsure which could use homemade shot or even what homemade shot would consist of!

If you are interested in consulting on this I would mention you in the Acknowledgments section of the book.

R.J. Renner said...

Hello Christine,

I would be happy to help you with your project. Please contact me directly via my e-mail: underhammers@safe-mail.net and we can set a time for Q&A outside of this cumbersome communication system.

Hope that's helpful.

Roger Renner

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About Me

Roger Renner

Hi. I've been a student, admirer, and designer/builder of underhammer guns for over 30 years. In that span I've built over 200 semi-custom underhammers exploring the possibilities from the ordinary to the exotic. In 1996 I founded Pacific Rifle Company to explore the market's interest in a high-quality underhammer rifle. Thankfully, that interest was, and still is, there. I sold PRC in 2006 but continue to craft high-end underhammers as I am truly afflicted with underhammeritis - which can be contagious!