On the eve of the great American muzzleloading revival of the early 1960s, before Italy had emerged to dominate the traditional muzzleloader market, a handful of American gunmakers toiled away on designs.
Some, such as Royal Southgate and Hacker Martin, became famous in their sooty sphere; some did not. One of these unheralded craftsmen, Bob Tingle of Shelbyville, Ind., lays claim to several firsts, including the first 20th-century American percussion target pistol, the first American percussion arm using coil springs, and the first American percussion pistol featuring a frame-mounted firing pin. But Tingle’s most ambitious achievement was the mighty Tingle .44 Blackpowder Magnum Revolver.
Never heard of it? Welcome to the club.
Predating Ruger’s Old Army .44 by more than a decade, the Tingle .44 Blackpowder Magnum Revolver is all but forgotten today. Only 25 of these massive single-action revolvers were built. What is most odd about them, though, is not that so few were built, but that they were built at all.
An Unpredictable Genius
Born Sept. 18, 1925, in Decatur County, Ind., Robert G. Tingle was a cranky World War II veteran who set up an all-purpose blacksmith and welding shop just outside the smallish town of Shelbyville in east central Indiana. According to Jim Guy, Tingle’s sole full-time paid worker, Tingle was an unpredictable eccentric with a knack for shaping metal.
“Bob was a mechanical genius,” Guy said, “and he could out-cuss anyone I ever met. When he got in a bad mood, which was fairly often, he’d lock himself in his shop and yell at anybody who tried to get in. I never really figured him out.”
In 1959, Tingle decided to put his talents to use manufacturing black-powder guns. According to Erwin Fagel, one of his shooting buddies, it seemed the thing to do at the time.
“Bob and I were shooting black powder in the early 50s, long before it became popular,” Erwin said. “We’d go out to Brady Meltzer’s farm and shoot all day long. We shot original guns because they didn’t make replicas back then. Pretty soon, Bob decided he could probably make a decent gun himself. And he could. He could make anything.”
Machined mostly from scrap metal and surplus barrels acquired by sorting patiently through scrap piles, Tingle’s first gun debuted in late 1959 as the Tingle Blackpowder Magnum, a single-shot .40-caliber percussion pistol with a center-mounted hammer. John Amber, editor of Gun Digest, wrote admiringly of Tingle’s pistol, and it was a big hit at the National Muzzleloading Rifle Association’s annual shoot the next year. Tingle was inspired to enter the gun business full-time as the Tingle Manufacturing Co.
The Next Step
What next? A revolver, of course. It would be called the Tingle .44 Blackpowder Magnum Revolver, and production of the resulting handgun began with a 25-unit test run. The enormous six-shooter was the first American percussion revolver to be manufactured in almost a century.
As it happened, the first run of 25 was destined to be the last. According to Fagel, Tingle decided that building them was too labor-intensive to be practical, and one day he simply stopped the project and never resumed it.
If you get a chance to examine a Tingle .44 Blackpowder Magnum Revolver — such as the one in the NMLRA Museum in Friendship, Ind., for example — your first reaction will probably be an awed, murmured expletive.
The gun is a strikingly eclectic mixture of features. If a Colt Walker and an 1858 Remington sneaked out of their holsters and had children, this is what the offspring would look like.