Fremont, Nebraska, is a city with
approximately 22,000 residents on the banks of the Platte River in the
eastern part of the state. Such a setting is in stark contrast to the
large urban centers where custom pistolsmiths such as Swenson, Hogue,
and Pachmayr practice their craft. In spite of this unlikely setting, I
recently discovered a pistolsmith there producing work the equal of such
Bill Laughridge is a man young in years,
but long on experience. He customized his first gun at age ten. When he
was 12, he shot his first .45 Auto and a long-lasting fascination with
the big auto developed. While still in college and newly-married, he
took out a loan on his car so he could own a .45 Auto. Extremely limited
funds confined his shooting to ten rounds a week, but he gradually
mastered the weapon.
A tour of duty in a Special Forces
Reserve Unit provided him with the opportunity to shoot and repair a
wide variety of weapons. His formal gunsmithing career started on a part
time basis for a local firm. He repaired their customers' guns in
exchange for guns and ammunition. When this outfit went out of business,
he approached another sporting goods shop in town and started a gun
department and repair service that was soon grossing $200,000 a year!
Demands for custom handgun work gradually
increased until Bill found himself doing these sorts of modifications to
the exclusion of all others. Bill's shop is the equal of any I've seen
with lathes, grinders, and mills everywhere. Unlike many others, his is
strictly a one man operation. His return may be little longer because of
this, but Bill never has any worries about the quality of the work that
leaves his shop.
Bill can and does work on virtually any
handgun, but specializes in four areas; target .45 autos, combat .45
autos, combat Browning Hi Powers, and big-bore conversions for S&W N
Bill produces a top notch .45 target gun.
He has tried all kinds of barrel and bushing setups, but has found the
Micro bushing produced excellent results when fitted properly. Fitting
of slide and frame along with tight lockup at the back of the barrel
produce outstanding accuracy in his target .45s. The number of satisfied
target .45 users is shown by the fact that the bulk of his business in
this area is generated by referrals from satisfied customers.
Bill's combat .45 work is not too unusual
or different. He believes in close fit coupled with total reliability.
This requires a bit more work but it produces an accurate, combat
reliable weapon. Bill likes the S&W revolver sight installation
favored by many custom pistolsmiths, but installs them in a different
manner than most. He mills out the original dovetail a bit deeper and
installs the S&W rear sight in what he refers to as a
"protected" installation. This is an ideal approach for a
combat weapon, as the recessed sight is protected from damage.
He also offers a number of the more
commonly encountered modifications such as: squared and checkered
trigger guards, checkered frames and back straps, beveled magazine
wells, match triggers, lowered ejection ports, extended slide releases
and ambidextrous safeties. He also offers a variety of finishes ranging
from a highly practical sandblast blue to master blue or Armology.
The custom combat .45 Bill built for me
is based on a light weight Commander. I've carried this gun in basically
unaltered form for almost eight years as an off-duty and plain clothes
Bill performed the following
modifications on my .45: S&W revolver sights in protected style with
white outline rear and orange insert front; Micro barrel bushing and
match barrel link; barrel ramped for wadcutters; lowered ejection port;
beveled magazine well; ambidextrous safety; left-handed extended combat
slide release; combat large head magazine release; Pachmayr combat
rubber grips and mainspring housing; long match trigger fitted to the
gun; stainless steel recoil buffer; back of slide serrated; and master
blue finish. The result is a highly attractive weapon that is accurate
with total combat reliability.
Bill's Hi-Power work is similar to his
.45 combat offerings. He does, however, offer excellent trigger work on
the Browning 9mm unlike most Browning builders. He accomplishes this by
tightening the slide, shortening the trigger reconnect distance, and
honing all contact points. Most Browning "trigger jobs"
consist of removing the magazine safety and little else. Bill has found
the Browning to produce sufficient combat accuracy without the Bar Sto
stainless barrel, but will provide and fit the barrel for those who
require match grade accuracy from the 9mm.
Another area where Bill's talent is
evident is in the area of big bore revolver conversions on the S&W N
frame. He can provide them in a variety of calibers, but the two most
popular are the .44 Special and .45 ACP. He rebores the cylinder to the
new caliber, and can either install a new S&W barrel (in .45 ACP
only) or install a custom Douglas barrel with solid rib and ramp. He can
further provide an ejector shroud and custom contour the barrel. His
double and single action trigger pulls are superb, with trigger stops
provided if desired. The end result is an accurate big bore revolver
with the quality reminiscent of long ago.
As mentioned earlier, Bill can work on a
wide variety of handguns. He specializes
in custom modifications for handicapped shooters, and is an authorized
Colt warranty center. For prices and other information, contact Bill at
The Cylinder & Slide Shop, 523 N. Main, Fremont, Nebraska 68025.