Warshal’s Sporting Goods was a downtown Seattle landmark, opening for business back in February 1936. It became known throughout the Pacific Northwest as the finest guns, tackle and gear emporium on the map.
Warshal’s was made even more famous in a John Wayne film titled “McQ,” in which The Duke can be seen buying a 9mm Browning Hi-Power and “borrowing” an old Ingram MAC-10 that became one of the main props in the film.
It was there, in the summer of 1973 after having saved up a wad of cash for the purchase of a .357 Magnum revolver, I encountered a handsome, deeply blued Model 19 Smith & Wesson with a pinned 6” barrel and Patridge front sight. I talked to the clerk a bit, and told him, “I’d like to see that .357 Magnum.”
After a brief chat during which we discussed ammunition, holsters and other subjects, I handed over a down payment, told him I’d be back in a few days after the paperwork cleared, and headed home.
I picked up the prize on a Saturday and drove south to Tacoma, where my grandparents were celebrating their 60th anniversary. It came in the classic blue Smith & Wesson box, wrapped in that tan S&W paper with the blue lettering. I still have the box and the paper, but the original sales receipt is gone.
The following day, I found a place in the woods to get acquainted using a mix of .38 Special semi-wadcutters and 125-grain .357 Magnum ammunition. It was and remains a superb shooter with which I won a couple of matches at a local gun range, shot some game and missed more. I often carried it in a Safariland shoulder holster during the winter and packed it along on my first trip to Alaska in 1977.
Once, on a visit to Tacoma to see an old high-school pal, I showed him the Model 19 and his eyes nearly jumped from his skull.
“That’s the biggest gun I ever saw,” he marveled (I didn’t tell him about the larger N-frame in .41 or .44 Magnum, so as not to leave him further awe-struck). This was the day I stopped at the old Chet Paulson gun shop downtown and bought a set of Herrett’s Shooting Star grips, which fit my hand better than the factory grips.
Another time, there was a bank robbery in one of the small towns my newspaper served. Naturally, I grabbed a camera and a bunch of film and headed for the crime scene. There were sheriff’s deputies searching all the local roads and one sheriff’s lieutenant of my acquaintance asked if he could jump in the passenger seat of my pickup to go check a report of an abandoned car at the end of a brushy road where his cruiser couldn’t navigate.
After a few minutes, I told him nestled in the backpack on the floor under his feet was my handgun. He didn’t skip a beat, told me to get it out and we motored onward to where the car was supposed to have been, only to find nothing. The bad guys got away.
I once allowed the teenage typesetter at the weekly newspaper where I worked to fire a few rounds in a gravel pit and surprisingly she did pretty good!
During the summer of 1974, the revolver in my backpack was never very far from my grasp. That was the “Year of Ted,” when prolific serial killer Ted Bundy was murdering women in the Seattle area. Months later, human remains of his victims were discovered at two locations in my coverage area.
It was the Model 19 that got me into handloading, first with an old Lee Loader, from which I graduated to a single-stage RCBS press. There would be Saturday afternoons when I would “mass produce” .38 Special target loads with 158-grain semi-wadcutters loaded over 3.5 grains of HP-38. They were wonderfully accurate.
Which brings us around to how a “legend” is born, or at least how a story can take on a life of its own. Late one very gray winter afternoon while stopped on a dirt road south of town with my bride and our first son, a couple of local twerps whom she knew from the local school drove up. I had just set a tin can on a log, paced back about 15 yards and, firing single action, sent the can sailing (it surprised even me).
One of our visitors was quick to declare “lucky shot.” I nodded in the affirmative, then turned and shot the can five more times.
I wasn’t trying to show off — truth be told, a couple of those shots were pure luck — but I later learned those two clowns drove back to town and told everybody what they had witnessed. It was amazing what the story accomplished. The right people suddenly wanted to be buddies and the wrong ones left me, and my young family, alone. I only learned of the unintentional favor those talkative boneheads did for me months later, purely by accident.
My 6” Model 19 has a few mileage scars, but it is still a marvelous shooter. I’ve known people who killed fairly large black bears, at least one mountain lion and plenty of small game with Model 19 revolvers. The .357 Magnum is a great cartridge, and even today, nearly 50 years after I bought my wheelgun, I still find time to churn out handloads. However, nowadays I use a progressive press.
I bought a second Model 19 some years later, with a 2 ½” barrel. It became my primary carry gun for a long time, but the 6-incher has a special place in my heart. I suppose every gun owner has at least one particular rifle, shotgun or handgun he or she favors. This one has shared a lot of time with me. I expect we’ll share a lot more.