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Marvelous Marlin and the Second Shift

It’s been said that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. I have always believed that. How else can I explain my beautiful, sophisticated wife being married to a farm boy whose most advanced train of thought gets high-centered on the problem of how to insert part A into part B. As a guy who has spent a lifetime repairing and modifying machines, I have always been deeply appreciative of, and often a little awed by the simplest ones.

Which may go some distance toward explaining my infatuation with Marlin lever actions. If you’re used to tinkering with, say, Winchester lever actions, the first time you pull the trigger plate off the bottom of a Marlin you’re going to wonder where all the action parts went. There are very few moving parts in the Marlin receiver. It’s almost disconcerting, like lifting the expansive hood of a ’72 Impala, and wondering why they put such a tiny V8 in there.

But for those of you playing the home game, one of the basic principles to bear in mind when tinkering on the Marlin is that virtually every part has more than one job to do. The real overachievers have as many as four.

To illustrate my point, let me share a brief anecdote. We recently took delivery of an 1895 for minor work, and it arrived with a note stating that the rifle did not always feed properly. Sometimes the lever had to be “giggled” a bit to get a round to go into the chamber. Thanks to a lot of experience playing with Marlins in every state of assembly, it only took me a minute to spot the problem. On the last round, the carrier (or lifter, as some call it) was falling away before the cartridge was halfway into the chamber, causing the loaded round to dangle at a precipitous angle from the chamber mouth, at which point the bolt could not shove it home.

Naturally, I suspected the magazine follower immediately. Why? Because, like most other parts in the Marlin lever action, the follower (let’s call him Jimmy) works two jobs. After he works all day shoving live ordnance into the action, Jimmy has to work a double. His second job is really not very hard. All he has to do is show up and sit there, like the proverbial bump on a log. Because that’s what Jimmy is once the mag tube is empty: he’s a speed bump for the carrier. It’s every bit as glamorous and underappreciated as it sounds.

To understand why Jimmy’s second job is so important, we have to take a quick look at Jimmy’s sophisticated dance partner, the carrier (Sally). Sally’s primary job (of the three she performs) is to lift the live ordnance, delivered by Jimmy, into position so that the bolt can ram said ordnance into the chamber. To accomplish this, Sally must also perform a delicate dance with the lever (Lew). At her midsection, Sally wears a spring loaded pawl. The function of Sally’s pawl is to hook Lew’s arm as he swings by, whereupon Lew is to grab Sally about the waist and hoist her (and her lovely ordnance) into position at the chamber mouth. I tell ya’, if you thought a Tango was tricky, try adding a couple more partners into the mix.

But let’s get back around to Jimmy on his second shift. There is this cliff-hanger of a moment during the whole drama inside the action. Lew, the lever, hoists Sally and her payload into position during the first half inch of rearward sweep from full open position. By the time Lew has swept a full inch rearward, he has skipped past Sally’s lifter pawl, and Sally is practically hanging there in midair, waiting for the bolt (which has barely begun to move forward) to relieve her of her charge. It’s as though her dance partner has thrown her straight up and then walked off for a vitamin water break. Who will catch Sally?

You guessed it. Jimmy’s the man for the job. For a brief moment, while Lew is slurping vitamin water in the wings, Jimmy, who has arrived almost unnoticed, pops out a hand to catch Sally by the head, arresting her fall. The “hand” in Jimmy’s case is actually a fresh cartridge trying to emerge, under spring pressure, from the magazine tube, thereby creating a friction stop at the nose of the carrier.

This friction is sufficient to keep the carrier in its elevated position until the bolt face can pick up the cartridge and drive it at a modest angle into the chamber. Whereupon Lew abruptly returns to slap Sally down and plants a knee in her back, holding her at the bottom of the action where she will pick up the next cartridge from Jimmy. Ok, so it’s not an altogether traditional dance.

Here’s the denouement: when Sally hauls off the last of Jimmy’s collection of cartridges, there is suddenly nothing between the two dancing partners, and they rub noses in the classic Eskimo kiss. Jimmy personally provides the friction stop for Sally during the chambering of the last round. If Jimmy doesn’t clock in on time for his second shift, the feeding of that last cartridge looks a lot like the classic Hollywood foot-chase scene, in which our hero jumps from one rooftop to the next, but falls a tad shy and just catches the gutter, where he hangs in peril until the bad guy doubles back to either step on his fingers or haul him up, as the case may be.

So, what happened in our example rifle? Well, Jimmy wasn’t himself. Someone had replaced him with a clone. Disassembly revealed that Jimmy’s clone was, in most regards, more handsome than Jimmy himself, being machined from stainless steel and nicely polished. But the machinist performed a bit of rhinoplasty on Jimmy’s clone, perhaps by accident, but more likely with the intent of lowering friction in the lever cycle.

As a result, Jimmy’s clone just didn’t have the nose for the job anymore. No Eskimo kisses with Sally. No friction stop for the last load. And so Sally fell away from the chamber mouth before she could properly deliver her payload. My guess is the clever craftsman who turned the new follower never understood why his rifle suddenly started having feed issues, which is why he sold it to our customer, who sent it to us for diagnosis.

The moral of the story is this: if you must tinker with your Marlin, go ahead. I’m not here to discourage you. Quite the contrary. That’s how I got started, and trust me, it’s not as though you’ll actually go blind from playing with your gun. But when you look at Jimmy, that humble piece of red plastic or blued steel, just remember that he’s a hard working man trying to hold down two jobs to support his family. Let your Jimmy be.

-- Adam Devine, Ranger Point Precision

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