Tale of a Salty Old Smith

  1. christophereger
    In my lifetime of a firearms owner and collector, many different guns have passed through my hands. Ever since I was a teenager, I've bought, sold, and traded these tools of wood, steel, and (occasionally) polymer. Over the years, I've had the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some of them have stories behind them. This is one of them.

    It Started in a talk with Dan

    Dan, my coatings guy at Custom Coatings, was doing a Duracoat (link) job on my LCP and when I dropped by to see him, had an old Smith wheel gun he was working on. Always a sucker for old K-frames, I asked to look at it. It was a beat-up Model 15 .38-Special. Its previous owner had been a Hurricane Katrina victim and the revolver had sat submerged in salt-water from the epic storm's surge for days before being rescued.


    That was 7-years ago.

    Time and saltwater corrosion do not mix well and the old man was beat up and on life support. Dan broke the veteran apart, then cleaned off the old corrosion, salt, and of course now rust. Between a new set of springs, screws, and a good thorough soaking in Ballistol for all the moving parts, the Smith was up and running again.

    The S&W M-15 K38 series

    The Katrina Revolver was a Smith and Wesson K38 Combat Masterpiece model 15-3 with a standard 4" barrel and wood grips. The 15K-prefix serial number told me that it came off the line in 1977, probably one of the best things that happened in the Carter Presidency. During their heyday, the Model 15 was the standard issue side arm of the U.S. Air Force Air/Security Police from 1962 until 1992.

    It was also issued to security personnel in other branches of the U.S. armed forces, including the Naval Security Forces. Over the same period the FBI, LAPD, LACSD, and many other departments issued the weapon. They were the preeminent 'police service revolver' for about 30 years. It was only the rise of the Glock/Smith Wondernine/Ruger P-85/Beretta 92 era that did the rugged old series in with security and law enforcement.

    (Remember Denzel as a 1984 LAPD cop in Richochet? Back then they carried the K38/M15)

    The Katrina revolver in question is 9 1/8" overall and loaded weight is 34 ounces. Is complete with the factory standard 1/8" Baughman Quick Draw front sights on plain ramp, and S&W Micrometer Click rear sights that are adjustable for windage and elevation. Even after its salt-water bath and years of neglect the checked walnut service stocks still have a trace of finish and you can still see the S&W monograms. The deep bluing of the revolver has faded and is pitted in places. However, it still has the visible sandblasting and serrations around sighting area to breakup light reflections and the trigger and hammer have a nice rainbow patina. Where the revolver had extensive holster wear the rust made its way through the bluing to the frame. Its white metal there now sadly.

    The Rest of the Story


    Seeing the old smith gave me a flashback. Once upon a time, I carried a similar K-frame Model 66 with the County back during Hurricane Georges over 15-years ago. For a week me and that 66 slogged through snake and alligator infested waters, riding shotgun for the National Guard doing search and rescue missions in flood effected areas. The County moved to SIGs later that year and we traded in the wheel guns, but I never felt let down by it.


    Yes, you probably know how this story ends; the beaten Katrina Revolver is my gun now. In my opinion, it's a salty old son of the sea-- but so am I and it still has enough life in it to pass along once I'm gone. The revo handles well on the range still with fifty rounds shot on a standard state LE course still producing a qualifying score with no issues. Sure, it's rough around the edges, but it still shoots and has an action that is as smooth as melted ice-cream.

    All I gotta figure out is if I'm going to get Dan to refinish it or not.

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