In the late 1970’s and 1980’s a small group of US. Intelligence personnel and Special Forces Soldiers, fought in the shadows and in the jungles of Central America against the rising tide of Communism, mainly in the area of the Honduran-Nicaraguan border. Because of the presence of the Standard Fruit Company in Honduras, agents and operators claiming to be plumbers or carpenters working for them was a simple, somewhat believable and effective cover story.
As a young American kid growing up in Honduras during that time, I had the opportunity to meet some of these men. As the situation along the Nicaraguan border worsened and the engagements between the now out-of-the-closet Communist Sandinista government and the “Contras” intensified, the presence of new “American” faces in our small town grew in numbers. The Plumbers and Carpenters, as they soon became known at our household, were often guests for lunch, dinner and the occasional Bar-B-Que. One of the things that I remember the most about them, is that they loved their 1911 pistols, some carried other handguns; however, the Colt 1911-A1 was the preferred handgun of the group.
For obvious reasons, their 1911’s were not your General Issue 1911-A1 with US Government markings; they were beautiful commercial guns with the classic wooden double diamond and checkered grips, adorned by the gold Colt medallion. But there was one handgun that stood out from all the rest. It was a matt silver 1911-A1, more than likely stainless steel, wrapped with black rubber Pachmayr grips, a custom beaver-tail grip safety with a commander style hammer. In a sea of blue steel, this gun looked like a bolt of lightning, a tool of battle, and I wanted one! That stainless steel 1911-A1 belonged to a Vietnam Veteran I’ll call Max. I remember Max as a very polite and quiet gentleman, who always had time for the questions of an inquisitive 13-year-old who wanted nothing more than to be 18 and join the Army.
Thirty-four years later, I was visiting with my good friend Russell Simpson (probably the finest gunsmith in South Florida) of AWA-Inc. and the topic of custom 1911’s came up. When it comes to handguns and specifically 1911’s Russell is a wealth of knowledge, so I started picking his brain regarding the history of the Custom Combat 1911-A1. I told him about that stainless steel beauty that after all those years still called out to me. We continued talking about 1911’s, their history, the guys who started the customizing movement and of course, the Plumbers and Carpenters. By weeks’ end, I decided that I would customize a Colt 1911-A1 similar to those 1911 beauties of my childhood and I could only think of one person to assist me. The next day I walked into Russell’s shop and said, “I need your help customizing my 1911.” That same day, we were drawing out a plan!
After months of working on and learning the intricate details of the 1911-A1, I developed a new found respect for the genius of John M. Browning, and understood why so many of our Veterans, War Fighters and Law Enforcement Officers love the 1911. As the days and weeks continued to pass, I began to think more and more about those guys, who I knew as “Plumbers and Carpenters” and how they had influenced me throughout my military service and law enforcement career.
I remember Max telling me that I should never do anything in the shadows that I wouldn’t do in the light. It really bothered me that their service to our country was largely unknown, and what little information was available, made them look like thugs!
Pretty soon, what started out as a personal custom 1911 project evolved into something else; the Plumbers and Carpenters Project 1911, which is dedicated to remembering and honoring our Cold war Veterans, who served our country with little to no recognition. This 1911-A1 pistol had to embody the spirit of these brave men; it had to be a Colt, it had to be chambered in 45 ACP and it had to look period correct.
After some research, I decided that the new Colt 1911-A1 Competition Model would serve as the foundation for the build. The initial 200-round test run proved that the gun was an excellent performer out-of-the-box; extremely accurate reliable and full of proven custom features, like a fitted Colt National Match barrel, lowered and flared ejection port and hi ride beaver tail grip safety. The fit and finish was very good and required very little work to get rid of minor tool and machine marks, after which the pistol was completely de-horned and polished by hand. The standard cast internals were up-graded to hi quality forged parts. Russell tackled the action and final fitting before the pistol was put through its paces once more.
Then the question of what finish to apply came up, and initially we considered a custom Cerakote color; however, no matter how many custom colors we came up with, that stainless steel gun from my childhood kept calling to me, and like a message from the great 1911 beyond, Jodi at Robar Guns contacted me. She informed me about Robar’s NP3 finish and sent me a link to their website. I was immediately taken by the look it gave the pistol and the specs were outstanding as well. A few days later, I contacted Jodi and the Colt was shipped to Robar for their NP3 treatment. My experience with Robar has been outstanding, the gun came out amazing and I’m now a big fan of their NP3 finish.
As soon as I got the gun back from Robar, I took it for a work out of 250-rounds of assorted FMJ and JHP ammunition. I don’t consider myself a great shot with a handgun; yet, I had no problems looking like a pro with this gun! The way the gun handles and the outstanding, clean and crisp action, made it almost too easy to shoot quickly and accurately. The Pachmayr grips not only give the gun that cool retro 80’s look, it gives you a great purchase on the gun that doesn’t feel like you’re holding on to asphalt. I’ve never believed that the 1911 chambered in 45 ACP is recoil heavy at all; however, I did feel the difference in felt recoil between the wood and G10 grips and the Pachmayr grips.
The response from our Servicemen and Women, Veterans, Police Officers and gun owners who have held and or fired the gun, which has become known as the MAX, has been amazing! To see their reaction when they pick it up, or shoot it for the first time, never gets old. Soon they begin to share their 1911 stories and I get see just how influential the 1911 pistol really is.
When I started the project, I wanted to make sure that the gun not only paid tribute to our Cold War Veterans and to the Plumbers and Carpenters, I wanted a gun that these men, or any of our War Fighters or Police Officers would carry into harm’s way without hesitation. I wanted a tool of battle, not a safe queen or a conversation piece. As I look at my Colt Competition in all its NP3 glory, I know that these guys would love this gun as much as I do and that makes it all worthwhile. To all our Veterans, past and present, to our Servicemen and Women, to our First Responders, thank you for your service and sacrifice!
“In the shadows and in the light.” – Max
EDITOR’S NOTE: I grew up in South Florida and the Cuban anti-Castro movement when midnight forays into that Communist Island were common with both positive and tragic results. One night as a young boy I distinctly remember listening on short-wave to one of the Fuller boys, caught in Cuba during a raid, being put against a wall and shot as well as meeting the man…well…that story will have to wait. As with Erick, I remember the Plumbers and Carpenters all over South Florida with .45’s and Hi Powers as well as the many safe houses, facilities and the second-largest CIA base in the country as a open secret in Miami. Yes, for those brave people who were trying to unseat a bloody Communist dictator, or fight Communist insurgents and terrorist narco-traffickers in Central and South America this honor is well deserved.