Katrina Victim Rises from the Muck
by Bob Londrigan, published in Front Sight Magazine, March 2006
A few of months I got a call from Jay Andry, one of my customers from the New Orleans area. Since I had not heard from him since Katrina, I was glad to get his call. Fortunately he was fine, however, the same could not be said for a couple of his open guns that I had built for him over the past few years. As you can see from the photos, the guns were in pretty bad shape. Jay wanted to know if there was anything that could be done to restore them. I asked him to send me the guns to take a look at them. I was not certain anything could be done because, from the sound of things, they were in pretty bad shape.
|Jay said the guns had spent three days inside a safe that had been totally submerged under brackish water. He was finally able to get them out by cutting off the top of the safe with a battery operated saw. Once he had the guns out, he disassembled them as far as he could. Because some of the parts had already rusted together and because he had limited access to tools, total disassembly was not possible. He then submerged the parts (including the grip) in a mixture of motor oil and mineral spirits. He left them in this mixture for two months until he sent them off to me for evaluation.|
|When I first saw the guns I became a little more encouraged. Although they looked bad, I was able to knock most of the rust off. The bore of the barrels also looked fine once I ran a bronze brush through them. Even the grips appeared to be salvageable. This surprised me as I thought the mineral spirits surely would have eroded them. I then began the restoration process one gun at a time. First, I continued taking the gun completely apart down to the smallest pieces. All the springs were toast, and the sear/hammer were rusted to the frame. Any part that was not made of stainless steel or that had not been chromed was rusted beyond saving. There were also some small pits of rust on some of the chromed parts, especially where there had been rub marks or friction wear.|
The C-more would actually turn on and display a dim dot. However, since it looked like the electronics were at least partially corroded and because none of the adjustment screws were moveable, I recommended replacing it. Although the scopemount was severely pitted, it probably would have been functional, but Jay said to replace it. The hammer and sear needed to be replaced, as did the trigger bow. Since Jay wanted to switch from 38 super to super comp, we would also be replacing the extractor.
Once everything was torn down and the ruined parts were discarded, I continued by bead blasting the remaining components to remove all rust and any remnants of the chrome. When this was done, I discovered that many of the small pinpricks of rust I had first noticed actually had larger pits of rust underneath. These larger pits had to be dealt with, as they would continue to rust. So another round of bead blasting followed. After everything was blasted and there were no remaining rust spots, I began polishing. The flats on the sides of the slide were not pitted too badly, so I was able to restore them to original condition. I blended in the comp and top of the slide and was also able to remove most of the pits there. Some of the pits on the rear of the slide, the cone of the comp, and around the ports in the barrel were too deep to remove, so I cleaned that area up as much as I could. It was evident that the hard chrome finish had saved most of the surface.
Now it was time to re-assemble and check for function and accuracy. My agreement with Jay was that I would put the gun back together and test fire for accuracy and velocity to make sure the barrel was still ok. If I were to run into problems, the barrel/comp would have to be replaced and this would significantly increase the cost of the project. Fortunately everything worked out fine. The gun shot a little over an inch group at 50 yards and was functioning reliably. The velocities were consistent with other guns with barrels the same length so everything was all right. Other than some minor pitting in a few areas, the gun was as good as new.
I then disassembled it completely, prepped it for chroming, and sent it off. When it came back from chrome, I reassembled it and put it through another round of test firing and break-in. I shot another group just as a final check. As you can see from the pictures, the project was a success. Now it is on to gun number two. Jay and I are both hoping for the same results.