Recollections of a Combat Master

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  • Elden Carl

Decision Time 1960




It was at the Barona Indian Reservation in San Diego County, California in the spring of 1960 that I, in one practice session, developed the first “from the holster” two-handed speed shooting technique for semi-auto pistols. I used what is now called the isosceles stance. I soon after found that the “both thumbs to the weak side” two-handed hold also worked for revolvers. From those days in early 1960 I've never found it necessary to use any other practical pistol shooting system.


Once I had the hold and stance perfected I still had a lot of work ahead of me. I wanted to develop my rather crude military 1911 A1 into an effective and easy to operate combat/quick-draw pistol. I also needed to find a competition holster/rig so that I could develop the best possible “from the leather” speed shooting technique.


After some research I settled on Alfonso Pineda in North Hollywood, California to build what I believe was the first metal lined holster and matching gun belt for the 1911 semi-auto pistol. The rig fit the pistol perfectly and didn't “wiggle” during the quick draw movement. In other words, although not perfect, it was about “as good as it gets” for a start. Several improvements were made in later rigs that Alfonso built for me.


While my first Alfonso rig was being built, I turned my attention to my stock military 1911 A1. I knew very little about semi-auto pistols at the time, but I quickly realized I would have no speed from the holster with the 1911 unless the pistol was cocked and locked with a round in the chamber. That meant that I needed something better than the “crunchy” six pound trigger pull and difficult to operate thumb safety with which the pistol came equipped.


My first trigger job was done by a San Diego military pistolsmith, the great Charlie Frazier at S.A.T.U. (Small Arms Training Unit of the U.S. Navy). I had one thing left to do before I could start developing an effective draw and shoot technique from my new Alfonso holster rig. I needed to improve the thumb safety. My nature is such that I can not tolerate my ability to perform at a high level to be compromised by an instrument or equipment problem or limitation. For example my DR650SE Suzuki multi-surface motorcycle has approximately three dozen improvements that I made to it including several inventions.


The most difficult problem that I faced with the 1911 thumb safety project was to make it work lightly and smoothly without causing the slide stop or safety to malfunction. Being handy with tools I used a “moto tool” and some files to reshape the factory “bump” on the thumb safety thereby creating a “ledge” to which a small piece of flat rectangular steel was soldered by Charlie Frazier. After carefully shaping and polishing the new safety ledge, I took it to master plater Jack Neeson who industrial hard chromed the finished piece before I installed it on my 1911. By the way, my customized thumb safety and slide stop have been operating without failure since I installed them 58 years ago. I am not sure if it has been copied although I did on request allow Armand Swenson to examine my finished two-tone combat 1911 after a Big Bear shoot in 1962. This was three years before Swenson released his first combat 1911.


Now that my 1911 had a good trigger and proper thumb safety, I decided to begin dry fire practice of my draw and point skills from the new Alfonso holster, using both one and two-handed hold techniques.


About the end of April 1960 I was ready to head for my live fire practice range at the Barona Reservation. My 1911 practice session at Barona went well, and by the time I left in the early afternoon I knew I had the basic techniques worked out. Now all I had to do was make sure that I took the correct pistol to the 1960 Leatherslap in August.


I had a couple of steel impact targets made that were the shape and size of the steel and balloon targets used at the Leatherslap. Over the next several months I practiced often at Barona with both the 1911 and my S&W D.A. Model 19 duty pistol, working out of the custom Don Hume reinforced holster. I ultimately settled on the D.A. because I felt more confident with it from the one-handed point. In fact, I concluded that were I to employ the 1911, I would feel compelled to shoot from my two-handed stance in order to feel more certain that I would qualify for a place in the “man against man” finals.


I had a lot going on during the first half of 1960 because Chief Joe O'Connor elected to send me and three other El Cajon Police Department rookies to the three month San Diego Police Academy. Between my time at the academy and my Saturday Leatherslap practice sessions at Barona I was a busy guy. I did lots of pistol training with my duty S&W D.A. during the academy which further convinced me that it was the pistol I should take to the 1960 Leatherslap.


After completing my July 1960 academy class as its Honor Man, I returned to “rookiedom” at the El Cajon Police Department. And I went to Barona every chance I had to practice for the Leatherslap, which by then was only a few weeks away. I concentrated almost completely on my one-handed point shooting with the D.A. By the time I headed for Big Bear in late August, I felt I was as ready as I would ever be to compete in the nation's senior combat/quick-draw match.


The 1960 Leatherslap went pretty much as I had planned. I qualified on the 12” gong with 5 solid hits and times good enough to place me in the upper third of the 16 qualifiers who would move on to the balloon shoot man against man finals.


The man against man finals went better than I had anticipated. Not only did I win each match decisively, but in the final “shoot-out” against Jack Weaver for first place I was able to maintain excellent accuracy from one-handed point while at the same time shooting just fast enough to stay under Jack's two-handed times. As a result, I walked away with the trophy, a presentation pistol and 500 silver dollars.


Immediately after winning my first of three Leatherslaps with my model 19, I turned my attention back to the 1911 knowing full well it would serve me best in future combat pistol competitions. I also knew that to get where I ultimately wanted to be, I not only had to acquire great skill, but I had to further develop my 1911 A1 which was still lacking some improvements and modifications.


Unfortunately for me my 1911 shooting skills developed much faster than did the pistol. In fact, I lived with no additional improvements on my military 1911 A1 except for the improved trigger and the “slick” operating thumb safety until late 1961, at which time my S&W adjustable sights and Colt match barrel, among other things, were installed. The world's first two-tone full combat/quick-draw 1911 was nearly completed.


In closing I'll just say that 1960 was an exciting year for me thanks to my pistols, both the D.A. and the semi-auto, but the future promised to be even more exciting, due in part to the acquisition of a shiny new S&W Model 29 6½ inch 44 Magnum.