Sunday, December 09, 2007
Sunday Smith #26: Model 544, 1986.
In 1873 Winchester introduced a new cartridge for their brand spanking new M1873 lever-action rifle. The new chambering was known by them as the .44 WCF (Winchester Center Fire,) but quickly became known as the ".44-40", as it utilized a .44 caliber bullet propelled by 40 grains of black powder. The factory loading lobbed a 200gr bullet out of a carbine barrel at roughly 1800 feet per second and became a wildly popular general purpose cartridge.
In seemingly no time, Colt began offering the round as a factory chambering in the Peacemaker, and Smith & Wesson followed suit in their No. 3 top-break revolvers. This was enthusiastically received by people who wanted a carbine and pistol chambered for the same round. As the century turned and Smith debuted their new large-frame Hand Ejector wheelguns, the .44-40 continued to be offered as a standard cartridge. As newer cartridges like the .44 Special came to the forefront, interest in the old .44-40 began to wane; when production was discontinued during World War Two to focus on revolvers for the military, that seemed to be the end of the line for the venerable .44 WCF in Smith wheelguns. After the war the chambering did not remain in the catalog.
In 1986, Texas celebrated the Sesquicentennial of its independence from Mexico, commemorating the year with a wagon train that wound through the state. Smith & Wesson commemorated the event with a limited edition revolver; a blued steel 5" N-frame, the Model 544 "Texas Wagon Train Commemorative" chambered for the old .44-40 cartridge. According to Smith's records, 4782 of these revolvers were shipped, all with special serial numbers with the "TWT" prefix. They came with a fitted basswood box sporting the Texas Wagon Train logo on the lid, and smooth basswood target stocks. They were the first S&W revolvers chambered for the .44-40 round to ship since 1940, and their collectible status has earned them a place on the "Curio & Relic" list from the BATFE.
The above revolver was purchased for some $275 back in 2003. It came with the original basswood box and the original stocks, which are not shown in the above photo. Given the amount of wear and the minor freckling on the gun, it is probably worth only about $350-375 in today's environment. Given that I've used it to bust rocks at 100 yards down on the Rio Grande in Big Bend country, to me it is priceless.