Where Military and Sporting Rifles are Made
( Originally Published 1907 )
IT WAS Lieut. Col. E. Wurtele who courteously offered to conduct us over the Ross Rifle factory. It was Mr. Henry Bock, the able Superintendent, and Mr. W. O. Baines, of the staff, who brought our visit to a delightful close, by kindly suggesting some off hand shooting with the Ross rifle, that we might judge for ourselves of its efficiency as a military, and as a sporting weapon.
We were first taken into the "small parts" department, which occupies the entire lower floor of the immense building. Here in orderly alignment along many aisles were hundreds of ma-chines tended by skilled workmen and turning out the various parts of a finished rifle. Now it may not be generally known that there are some 70 different pieces in such an arm, and each piece may have to pass through many machines before it is completely finished. All this machinery is complicated, but particularly designed for its specific work, when guided by human intelligence. And here let us say that we have never seen a more highly organized body of men, alert, keen and capable, and proud of their work. To attempt a detailed description of all this machinery would be quite outside the scope of this article, but it may be passingly said that there are planes that would shave a hair, lathes to turn a double eccentric on the most minute part of a rifle, borers that will drive a hole the size of a pin point through six inches of steel, burnishers that give a looking-glass polish, metal testers that tell to a fraction the tensile strength of steel, gauges that size every part of the rifle to prevent misfits anywhere, for the reader must bear in mind that in a rapid fire rifle there must be no clogging, the gun must be in as good working condition after rounds and rounds of ammunition have been fired as at the first shot. Therefore, minute accuracy and high finish are absolutely necessary in every piece of the mechanism.
We mounted to another floor, which is devoted to the larger work, the turning and finishing the gun stocks, and the boring of the rifle barrels and their polishing. Again dexterous machines guided by highly skilled attendants perform the work. The round solid steel bats for the rifle barrels are specially made for the Ross Co., but the boring is done in the factory. An immoveable drill is horizontally set and the bar of steel is made to revolve against this drill at a very high rate of speed, and with a sufficient pressure to cut its way through. Reaming and polishing then follow. Eccentric lathes fashion the gun stock, and other ingeniously contrived machines groove it for the barrel, and cut it for the reception of the lock and breech. The final polishing and oiling of the stock is done by hand.
In another large room, dozens of women and young girls were examining and gauging all the small parts of the rifle. The slightest irregularity discovered, the part is sent back to the machine room for alteration and correction.
Now that barrel, stock and parts are completed they are sent to another department, where a large staff of skilled opratives put them together, and the rifle is now ready for its first working test. This is a severe and critical one, yet it is only one of many that follows before the rifle is accepted by the Government. The department of Militia and Defence keeps a corps of experienced officers at the factory to test every arm. There is a 1,000 yards range and each rifle is set in a fixed stand, sighted for the distance, and a certain number of shots fired and the score record must come up to the fixed standard of hits. The regulation 303 ammunition is alone used. Other firing tests are made, such as a test for heating or blocking. Major Pym, of the Imperial Service, is the officer in charge of the Government Inspection.
Our tour of the factory over, we made a practical test of the shooting quality of the rifle by firing fifty or sixty rounds at some buoys in the river at distances of from 700 to 1200 yards. The firing was done standing and without any artificial rest. The scoring was remarkably good. Our octogenarian friend, Mr. John Budden, led us all in the number of hits, and he was quite prepared to say that a caribou would have had no chance of escape from any of our markmanship.
The claim of superiority for the Ross rifle as a military weapon is that it is 1 1/2 lbs lighter than the Lee-Enfield. The bolt action is simple, requiring but one motion to unload, and a forward one to recharge. The magazine is contained within the stock and the five cartridges which it carries may be literally dumped in at once. No tedious process of laborious working in one cartridge at a time into the magazine. The sights for long distance work differ from any other in the market in simplicity, and for rapid and effective shooting. All these are advantages which every rifleman will understand.
In taking our leave, Mr. Bock, the superintendent, remarked : " I am very glad to have had the opportunity of showing you over the factory, as there is an opinion somewhat prevalent that we are not doing much, when, as a matter of fact we are employing over 500 hands, and running the factory night and day, and we are, as you have seen, a pretty busy concern. We are already enlarging the factory, and when the addition is built, we shall increase our force of operatives, and our output."
The distinctive feature of the Ross Rifle is popularly supposed to be the straight-pull bolt action, but in reality one of the chief reasons which led to the adoption of this rifle by the Canadian Government was the great improvement made in magazine construction. The Ross magazine possesses the great advantage that it can be loaded, both from a clip and with loose cartridges, and further it can be loaded with loose cartridges as quickly as a clip or charger can be inserted in any other rifle.
In adopting this rifle the Canadian Government obtained a weapon that any change in firing tactics would not make obsolete, and further they had the advantage of being able to retain single loading tactics without sacrificing possible speed of fire for any interval of time.
The bolt form of breech closure is the sole survivor of all -the various forms put forward in the early days of magazine arms. This form can be subdivided into two classes according to the manner of moving the operating handle :
First--Those in which the bolt is opened by first giving the handle a quarter turn and then drawing it directly back; reversing these operations closes the bolt.
Second--Those in which the bolt is operated by moving the operating handle directly forward and back in closing and opening the bolt.
The Mannlicher rifle and carbine of the Austrian army, the Schmitt of Switzerland, and the Ross of Canada, are examples of the second class. The advantage of the second or straight pull class lies in the greater rapidity with which the bolt mechanism can be operated and in the fact that it is unnecessary to remove the pieces from the shoulder in employing the magazine.
Until the advent of the Ross Mark II. Rifle the primary extraction of the cartridge shell in all straight-pull rifles could only be effected by storing up enough momentum in the first movement of bolt to cause the extraction to deliver a blow against the cartridge rim sufficient to start it out of the chamber.
The first Ross Mark I rifles were fitted with this form of extraction. When the first rifles of this mark were issued it was found that the great rapidity of fire attainable with the combination of the straight-pull action and the Ross magazine was such as at times to heat the barrel to such an extent as to make the extraction inconveniently difficult. While this was a demonstration of the inherent advantages of the Ross Rifle, yet it was a matter demanding correction in order that the full benefit of these inherent qualities might be attained. The bolt action was accordingly re-modelled. A powerful cam was applied to effect the primary extraction and in order to increase the ease of manipulating the bolt and decrease the fatigue of the soldier during rapid firing the compression of the main spring was effected during the opening of the bolt instead of during the last part of the closing movement.
These improvements were embodied in what is known as the Ross Mark II. Rifle of the Canadian Militia, which is without doubt the most perfect and formidable weapon in the hands of any troops the world over.
The qualities which make the Ross Mark II. Rifle pre-eminent among military guns have been fully recognized by the sportsmen of the Dominion as being very desirable in sporting weapons and the demand for such rifles built on the Ross system has developed to such an extent that the Ross Rifle Company has already undertaken the manufacture of three lines of sporters equipped with the Ross Magazine and the Mark II. action.
The Mark II. Model M rifle is a combination sporting and target rifle, being equipped with long rangé sights. Its calibre is .303 and it is chambered for the British service cartridge.
The Mark II. Model B Rifle uses the same cart-ridge. It is a purely sporting weapon, and exhibits in finish the acme of perfection in the gun-maker's art.
The Mark II. Model H Rifle is a special high velocity weapon. Its calibre is .280. It gives the marvelous velocity of 2,700 feet per second. In finish it belongs to the same class as Model B.
In order to make room for this new and rapidly growing branch of their business, and looking forward to taking up the manufacture of shot guns and automatic pistols, the Company have decided upon the erection of a branch factory, and are at present studying the advantages of location for such a branch factory in different Ontario cities.