50 Famous Firearms You've Got to Own: Rick Hacker's Bucket List of Guns (2015)
RUGER SINGLE SIX
The three-screw Super Single Six, shown here with a 61⁄2-inch barrel, was introduced in 1964, and featured a ramp front sight and an adjustable rear sight that was integral with the frame. Chambered in .22 Long Rifle, this model also came with a matching 22 Magnum cylinder. The Super Single Six was discontinued in 1972 to make way for the New Model transfer bar series, which is still in the line.
For shooters, the word nostalgia means any gun that reminds them of their youth. For me and others of the baby boomer generation, that definition certainly qualifies for the Ruger Single Six. This trend-setting .22 rimfire revolver made its appearance in 1953, and the timing could not have been better. It was on the eve of the golden age of television Westerns. Gunsmoke had not yet made its appearance, but the earliest cowboy heroes—Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, The Lone Ranger, and the Cisco Kid—were already rounding up posses of youthful fans as they galloped across the new-fangled television screens that were becoming as commonplace as toasters in practically every home in America.
What’s more, six years earlier, Colt’s had voluntarily dropped the reins on its 76-year hold of the penultimate “cowboy gun,” the Single Action Army. In 1947, the company announced, in the American Rifleman, that it would not be resuming production of the Model P after its wartime interruption. That left the single-action field wide open for a couple of young gunmakers named William Batterman Ruger and Alexander Sturm, whose fledging Sturm, Ruger & Company was flush with the success of their first product, the .22 semi-automatic Mark 1 Standard Pistol. But the pair needed a follow-up act, and for Bill Ruger, there was no doubt as to what that would be. A youthful fan of “B” Western movies, he and his partner would build their own version of the classic cowboy six-shooter.
Unfortunately, Alexander Sturm died suddenly in 1951, leaving Bill Ruger to continue with his dream. Already having achieved success with a .22 rimfire, Ruger decided to stick with what he knew. Still, he realized that a single-action based on the full-sized SAA frame but chambered for the diminutive .22 would be excessively heavy and prohibitively costly, given the technology of the time. The obvious solution was to scale down the gun, yet still keep the basic profile of the time-honored Peacemaker. An inveterate antique automobile aficionado, Bill Ruger christened his new revolver the Single Six, after the 1920 Packard Single Six Model 116 sedan. It was a fitting play on words, as his new revolver would be a six-shot single-action.
Manufacturing problems kept the little gun from being completed as soon as Ruger would have liked, but given the pending Western craze about to sweep America, the delay proved fortuitous. Ruger quickly realized that milling the gun out of a solid block of steel, as Colt’s had done and as Ruger tried with the first few prototypes, would make his single-action too expensive. As a result, Sturm, Ruger & Company became the first firearms manufacturer to use investment castings for its major components, including the chrome-molybdenum steel frame. As a result, the Ruger Single Six debuted in June 1953 with a very affordable price tag of $57.50, making it an immediate “must have” for anyone who had longed for, but couldn’t afford, a Colt Single Action Army.
An early Ruger Flatgate.
Indeed, the Single Six clearly took its inspiration from the SAA. Yet in spite of its traditional upswept knurled hammer, angled ejector rod housing, and plow handle grips, there were some improvements that separated the Single Six from its predecessor. The black anodized one-piece cast Alcoa aluminum backstrap and trigger guard and an unbreakable coil mainspring were two notable features. The gun also sported a fixed notch rear sight. However, the most apparent change was the unique flat loading gate, which Ruger had devised as yet another way to reduce manufacturing costs. Collectors have since dubbed this early Single Six the Ruger Flatgate, which has assumed a collectable’s status all its own. The Flatgate era lasted only until 1957, when consumer demand resulted in the adoption of a more traditional rounded loading gate, which was incorporated around serial No. 70,000.
Another improvement occurred, in 1955, when Ruger added Nylok screws to keep the gun from “shooting loose,” a common malady with the old Peacemaker. In that same year, the company brought out an aluminum-framed version of the Flatgate, the Lightweight Single Six. In 1964 the Super Single Six was introduced, featuring adjustable sights and an interchangeable cylinder for .22 Magnum rimfire.
Although conceived as a handy and economical handgun for plinking and small-game hunting, the Single Six was also enthusiastically snapped up by thousands of fast-draw hobbyists who were entering the TV Western-driven sport that was achieving national prominence. Indeed, many contestants who switched to the larger-framed Ruger Blackhawk when it was introduced in 1955 were weaned on the Ruger Single Six. I recall our own fast-draw exhibition group, the Arizona Young Guns, having one member who dressed in black and sported a Ruger Single Six. Chuck was fast, even though .22 rimfire blanks were harder to come by than the centerfire blackpowder blanks the rest of us used.
Initially the Single Six was offered only with a 51⁄2-inch barrel, but throughout its lifetime 45⁄8-, 61⁄2-, 71⁄2-, and 91⁄2-inch tubes have been added. Although a few experimental Flatgates had case hardened receivers, this was quickly abandoned for a more practical all-blued finish. Interestingly, some of the very earliest cast frames ended up with a purplish hue, and this forms the basis for another sub-category of Single Six collecting today.
In 1973, the Ruger Single Six went through a dramatic but necessary metamorphosis, when a transfer bar safety system was incorporated, thus permitting it (and other Ruger single actions), to be safely carried with six rounds instead of five. This variation has subsequently been dubbed the New Model Single Six, and pre-transfer bar guns are now know as the Old Model Single Six. Although free conversion kits are still offered by the company, many collectors prefer to keep their early guns original, even though it means carrying the Old Model Single Six with the hammer resting over an empty chamber. Subsequent New Model Single Sixes have been offered in stainless steel and in additional chamberings for .17 Mach 2 and .17 HMR, and the gun remains as coveted today as when it was first introduced more than 60 years ago. Indeed, while the 1921 Packard Single Six was not very popular in its day, the namesake Ruger Single Six has more than made up for it.