West Hurley Meet West Hurley

By Tom Davis, Jr.

The Numrich Gun Parts Corporation C Drum

The history of the Thompson submachine gun is a very long story that began in 1916, when General John T. Thompson filed the necessary paperwork in New York State to create the Auto-Ordnance Corporation (AOC). The AOC developed several firearms in the ensuing years, but none more successful than the now iconic Thompson submachine gun, almost universally referred to as the “Tommy Gun.” After World War II this corporate product, the Thompson gun, was sold to several different proprietors including the Numrich Arms Company (NAC), then of Mamaroneck, New York. After the sale in late 1951, the Thompson assets were soon delivered to a new company location in West Hurley, New York—a site known internationally by gun enthusiasts for many years seeking parts for obsolete and military firearms. The Thompson gun was but one of many obsolete armaments acquired by George Numrich, Jr., the founder, owner and president of NAC. Sales of Thompson guns and parts were only a very small component of the overall business. This changed in 1974 with the creation of a new Auto-Ordnance Corporation, now located in West Hurley, New York. By most accounts, this new AOC was simply an extension of NAC. Its primary purpose was to market a newly developed semi-automatic Thompson rifle that had recently been approved for manufacture by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). This new semi-automatic only Thompson gun could be owned by anyone that could legally own a hunting rifle, without all the extra paperwork and cost of the $200 transfer tax due for machine gun ownership.

The new AOC also manufactured the well-known Model of 1928 Thompson submachine gun, but this was only a small part of their business model. NAC supplied refurbished World War II L drums to customers upon request, but the supply was almost immediately exhausted. This led to the production of what is commonly referred to as the West Hurley XL or 39-round drum. The only C or 100-round drum available for these new rifles and submachine guns was manufactured during the Colt era in the early 1920s. The availability of these older C drums did not meet customer demand, and the price exceeded the cost of the gun. Sometime in 1983 / 1984 the supply of XL drums was exhausted, and no .45 caliber drums were available at AOC for several years. This changed in 1988 with the introduction of a new L drum. A West Hurley C drum was introduced a few years later, first appearing in the 10th Edition AOC catalog (circa 1991). Both the AOC West Hurley L and C drums are easily identified by their solid center shaft. By contrast, the Colt-era and WWII drums had hollow center shafts.

Rifle and submachine gun users soon found that the new West Hurley L drums would work, but not as well as those from the times of Colt or WWII. However, the West Hurley C drum was problematic from the start. Drum experts blamed the poor-quality winding spring inside the drum rotor. One enterprising entrepreneur in Oregon soon became the go-to person to make the West Hurley C drums function properly. He quickly earned the title “The Drum Doctor”—a well-deserved moniker!

The passage of the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Act in 1994, commonly referred to as the Assault Rifle Ban, was responsible for the introduction of the West Hurley X or 10-round drum. As one can imagine, demand and prices for high-capacity magazines and drums were almost astronomical. The asking price for a West Hurley C drum routinely reached $1,000 or more. And then a trip to The Drum Doctor was required. Of note, L and C drums were still available at AOC as per their 12th Edition (and last) catalog—but for export or law enforcement use only. AOC L drums stamped with these restrictive markings are known to collectors.

The Auto-Ordnance Corporation of West Hurley, New York, was sold in 1999 to Kahr Arms, a division of the Saeilo Corporation. Auto-Ordnance at Kahr Arms is but a part of a large gun-making organization. Kahr Arms was quick to continue the production of the Thompson semi-automatic rifle and X drum. When the Assault Rifle Ban expired in September 2004, Kahr Arms quickly introduced a new L drum but did not release a C drum to the marketplace until late 2006, early 2007. A retail price of approximately $650 made the new Auto-Ordnance Kahr C drum somewhat expensive, but much less so than original Colt-era C drums. The reviews of the new Kahr C drum from submachine gun owners were favorable at first, but this excitement soon faded as production increased. Rumors of a change in the internal rotor winding springs in the 002500 drum serial number range circulated within the Thompson community. This brought more work to The Drum Doctor! To be fair, Kahr Arms was not manufacturing or selling submachine guns; that was not their target market. Civilian ownership of newly manufactured machine guns in the USA ended with the passage of the 1986 Gun Control Act.

In 2007, a new product was introduced into the Thompson community: an L drum manufactured in Taiwan that sold for under $200. All the skepticism surrounding these new L drums quickly vanished when it was discovered that the drums worked flawlessly. Interestingly, the plate on the body of the Taiwan L drums was marked, “THE CROSBY CO. BUFFALO, N.Y.” The Crosby markings were almost identical to the markings found on the World War II L drums manufactured by the original Crosby Company. The front plate was marked “THOMPSON SUBMACHINE GUN” and contained the winding instructions. Prices for these new “Crosby” drums were as low as $100 apiece during one period, if two were purchased. The initial lot sold out quickly. Collectors soon noted several different marking variations on subsequent offerings of the Taiwan L drums. One lot had the name “THOMPSON” milled off the rear drum plate. The reason stated by most sellers was that the name “THOMPSON” was under trademark protection by Saeilo Corporation, the current owners of the Thompson gun. Several vendors, including Numrich Gun Parts Corporation, sold many of these Taiwan L drums with the THOMPSON name removed for approximately $125 apiece. But Thompson name or not, these L drums worked!

The new Taiwan L drums caused prices in the used drum market for World War II and AOC West Hurley L drums to drop overnight. Rumors circulated that a new Taiwan C drum was in the planning stage and coming to the market soon. But none were forthcoming.

Fast-forward to 2017, and Numrich Gun Parts Corporation has just released a new Thompson gun C drum—manufactured in Taiwan. A retail price of $379.95 with a family pedigree from Taiwan made everyone in the Thompson community take immediate notice. The drum is marked on the cover plate with the initials of Gun Parts Corporation—“GPC”—and the company location of “W. Hurley, N.Y.” Instructions for users to “WIND TO 15 CLICKS” are found underneath the winding key at the bottom of the drum’s front cover. The Thompson name is not present anywhere on the drum, again, for trademark reasons. However, one look signals that this new C drum means business.

It did not take long for Thompson owners to take the plunge. Initial reports on the internet discussion boards were very promising. The C drum used in testing for this story was received in May 2017 and instantly put to the test at a private machine gun shoot in Ohio. Loading and winding the drum to 15 clicks was perfect; the rotor winding spring felt strong. Winchester .45ACP 230-grain round nose ball ammunition packaged in the white and red Winchester 100-round box was used in the test. Two successive dumps with this ammunition were performed without a hitch! It takes about 8 seconds for a Thompson submachine gun to empty a C drum with one pull of the trigger. Participants at the shoot were very impressed, especially when they found out the drum was available immediately at $379.95.

Later that summer, the drum was tested again on August 5 at the All Thompson Show & Shoot in Newark, Ohio, for members of The American Thompson Association. Several C drum dumps were performed without any issues with Winchester white box ammunition. One member wanted to try the drum with steel case ammunition. Loading and winding were fine, but the drum stopped several times during the firing session. The same thing happened with Federal American Eagle ball ammunition. However, a load of Winchester white box at the end of the range time again proved successful.

Similar testing during the summer months showed that the test Thompson submachine gun and C drum liked Winchester and Remington ball ammunition. A preference for a particular brand of ammunition for a submachine gun and drum combination is quite common. There is a lot going on inside the gun and drum as 100 rounds are fed into the chamber, fired and immediately extracted and ejected. It is also not uncommon to find owners testing different recoil spring lengths to find what spring makes a certain drum work perfectly with a specific brand of ammunition in a certain Thompson gun. The recoil spring in the test submachine gun is well used and compressed to some extent, but works perfectly with all ammunition in box magazines and L drums. Every owner has to find the combination that works for each particular Thompson gun. Those that have purchased sub-caliber .22 rimfire kits for submachine guns understand it may take some time, testing and tinkering to find the right combination of ammunition and recoil spring length to make the kit function properly. Alternatively, the kit may work right out of the box. There is little doubt that Federal American Eagle ammunition will work in the GPC C drums and could be made to work in the test drum with a little more tinkering.

Preparation of the C drum prior to loading is very important. The first step is to circulate a live round by hand through the circular rail channels the bullets will travel through when the drum unwinds to ensure no tight spots exist. If a tight spot is encountered, moving the cartridge back and forth ever so slightly will expand the rails and remove the bind. Of course, a check of the rails opposite where the binding was removed is necessary to ensure another problem is not created. A very light application of graphite powder inside the drum body is the perfect lubricant. There are six drum rotor fingers extending to the outermost position of the drum, four of which will contain live rounds when the drum is fully loaded. Lubricating the ends of these six fingers with graphite is also a good idea. If graphite is not available, wiping the ends of the fingers with a very light coat of oil will also help to prevent binding as the rotor unwinds. It is also a good idea to lubricate the inside of the two channels at the top of the drum through which the rotor fingers pass. After firing the drum a few times, wear spots will appear; this is where lubrication will aid in the perfect function of the drum.

Submachine gun testing included using 1921 and 1928 actuators and buffer pilot assemblies in the Thompson submachine gun. Both systems worked well, again with Winchester and Remington ammunition. Internet reports of the drum have been very complimentary, many times with success right out of the box. However, there are a few instances where the GPC C drum did not perform as expected. Be prepared to do some testing to find the right ammunition and recoil spring combination to ensure success. A generous 30-day return policy at Numrich Gun Parts Corporation allows for a lot of testing without risk.

The last test of the new GPC C drum occurred at the Thompson Collectors Association Show & Shoot on September 17 at the Tusco Rifle Range in Dennison, Ohio. A C drum dump on Sunday morning to begin the event competition got everyone in the proper mood. The GPC C drum was loaded with a combination of Winchester and Remington .45ACP ball ammunition and wound to 15 clicks. Eight seconds later, 100 empty pieces of .45ACP brass lay on the ground. Suffice to say, this was the start of a great day for the Thompson community.

Criminal use of the Thompson submachine gun by the gangster crowd in the Roaring ‘20s opened the path to infamy for the Thompson gun. The Thompsons featured in newspapers during this time always seemed to use a drum magazine. However, professional killers understood that the drum did not always function as intended. Perhaps it was the period ammunition or the daily consumption of the product they were waging war over. The gangsters at the St. Valentine’s Day massacre used one Thompson gun equipped with an L drum and one with a Type XX or 20-round magazine. If the drum failed, the gunner with the 20-round magazine could finish the job. Seventy empty .45ACP shell casings were found at the massacre site, indicating that both Thompson guns functioned perfectly.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N4 (April 2018)
and was posted online on February 23, 2018


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