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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Introduction to the Rock Island Arsenal

Rock Island, Illinois is an area with a fascinating history.  Its location on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River made it an early hub in the state, providing it with a lengthy and faceted history filled with Native Americans, riverboats, railroads, gangsters, military production, farm implement manufacture, and more.

The earliest history of Rock Island is centered around a geological feature known today as Arsenal Island.  Its role in forming the city is traceable back to 1809 and its history among the Native Americans extends even further.  As its name would imply, Arsenal Island is the location of the Rock Island Arsenal, a 946-acre campus with more history per square foot than most museums.  Its buildings have served many roles throughout the decades and their products are likely familiar to any collector of U.S. military arms.  To leave such a trove of local and military history left unexplored seems a grave disservice to a chunk of land that has done so much for the people of this community and nation.  That said, Rock Island Auction Company will be hosting a series of articles about the island, its buildings, its history, and its people.  It won't be easy.  An island with such a long history, often involving significant military actions of the 19th and 20th centuries, is going to have as much depth as it does breadth.  Many aspects of this parcel are well-known, but within its banks lies a wealth of historical stories, devices, and communications that shaped an area tens of thousands of people now call home.  Hopefully, some of this narrative will be new even for those intimately familiar with Arsenal Island.  However, today's article is more of a general introduction to the island and all it has to offer.  Feast your eyes on the following historical highlights from the largest government-owned weapons manufacturing arsenal in the western world.

Fort Armstrong

Ft. Armstrong located at the northwest corner of what was then called Rock Island, in order to control both paths
of the Mississippi that flowed around it.
The earliest of buildings on the island was built in the spring of 1816 to both impress the Native Americans as well as thwart potential British trade.  Located on the west-most corner of the island, Fort Armstrong was placed atop a sheet limestone drop-off of nearly 30 feet that was naturally shaped at a right angle.  No walls were needed on that side, but two perpendicular 20-foot walls were constructed on the east side of the fort to complete a square and enclose the fort.  Inside were barracks, blockhouses, and mounted six-pound cannons.  The fort was a bane for the nearly 40,000 Native Americans living in the surrounding area, marking one of many tensions that would eventually lead to the Blackhawk War.  Many famous American names serving in that war likely walked its grounds, such as Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Zachary Taylor, Winfield Scott, and Joseph E. Johnston.

Quarters One

Photo from

Quarters One served for over 130 years as the home of the highest-ranking officer on the island.  Construction began under BG Thomas J. Rodman (for whom the primary road on the island is named) in 1870, not only for housing the most senior officer, but also as an important building for distinguished visitors, public business, and notable occasions.  The design, an Italian-style villa, was his own, though he would never live to see it completed.  On June 7, 1871 Rodman passed away and the first public event held in the house would be his funeral.  The home would provide temporary housing for soldiers transferred to the island and their families, leaving a lasting legacy. It would host 38 different senior officers before the Army decided in 2006 that Quarters One would no longer serve as family housing.  For decades it was the second-largest single-family residence owned by the government, ranking only behind the White House.

Rock Island Arsenal Museum

Photo taken from
Usually what most firearms collectors want to see at the Arsenal is the museum.  The photos of their firearms exhibits are most impressive, and the small arms/ordnance collection in particular is both outstanding and nationally recognized.  This bastion of freedom was appropriately established on the Fourth of July, 1905, making it the second-oldest U.S. Army Museum, younger only than West Point's.  In addition to its renowned small arms collection, the museum also contains artifacts of the island's military production, its people, and the history of the island itself.  The museum has been closed only twice, during The Great War and WWII, to make room for additional production needs.  Some of its most notable artifacts are: M1903 serial number 1, M1 Garand serial number 2, and five weapons positively proven to have been used at the Battle of Little Bighorn.  The exterior exhibits are also not to be ignored, containing dozens of artillery pieces from the U.S. and abroad, such as a Nebelwerfer rocket launcher and a M65 Atomic Cannon.  Admission is free.

U.S. Harpers Ferry M1842.  Photo by Kevin E. Schmidt/QUAD-CITY TIMES

Military Cemeteries & Confederate Ties

There are actually two cemeteries located on Arsenal Island.  The larger of the two is the Rock Island National Cemetery, which currently houses over 37,000 interments in its 66 acres, including two Medal of Honor Recipients.  It was originally established in 1863 to bury Union soldiers, but is now the final resting place for soldiers of the Civil War, Mexican War, Indian Wars, Spanish-American War, the Great War, and World War II.

Throughout the Civil War, more than 12,000 Confederate prisoners would be interred at Rock Island Prison Camp, also located on the island.  Often referred to as the "Andersonville of the North," it saw nearly 2,000 Confederate soldiers die from disease, malnutrition, and exposure.  The three acre parcel that contains the Rock Island Confederate Cemetery is the only remaining feature of the camp.  There are 1,952 graves in total.

Production Facilities

Image from

Obviously a very large part of Arsenal Island's history is its wartime production, a job it has performed since the 1880s.  Most collectors are familiar with their production of M1903 bolt action rifles and M1 Garand rifles, but the list of items that the island has produced is shockingly lengthy.  Everything from saddles, canteens, howitzers, holsters, rifles, artillery, artillery carriages, tool sets, recoil mechanisms, gun mounts, aircraft weapons, grenade launchers, barrels, tank parts, armor, and more.  Today, they perform a myriad of other manufacturing duties (foundry, castings, prototype creation and testing, machining, laser work, chemical analysis, calibration, Humvee armor, etc), as well as logistics for the Army, and support to the island's tenants and their 4,000 employees.  Hopefully, even this minuscule glimpse of what they do is a bit staggering.

These small paragraphs are only the beginning not only of each individual subject, but they also barely scratch the surface of the island itself.  Other historic points of interest are the original 19th century workshops, Colonel Davenport's House (for whom Davenport, IA is named), the site of the first bridge built across the Mississippi, the Clocktower, and the current functioning Government Bridge with its swing section built in 1896 (shown below).  We can't wait to share with you some of the rich history of Arsenal Island and the towns that grew up around it.  Even if you're not local to it, there are enough adventures, famous names from  history, battles, and firearms to keep you reading one story and looking forward to the next.

"Govt bridge anim2" by Kbh3rd - Own work using pd images from the Corps of Engineers' webcam[1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

-Written by Joel Kolander


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Inland M1 Carbines: Past and Present

Lot 2874: World War II Inland Mfg. M1 Carbine with American Optical Co. M3 Infrared Sniper Scope, Power Pack, Mounting Bar and Carrying Case
The rumblings of a modern production M1 carbine from the newly founded Inland Manufacturing have been around since October of last year.  For those awaiting these new carbines, it has been confirmed that they have started shipping approximately one month ago.  Established in 2013, Inland announced in fall of 2014 their intent to produce 3 versions of the well-known U.S. military arm:

The "M1 1944": A wood stocked M1 without a bayonet lug + 1 10-round magazine
The "M1 1945": A wood stocked M1 with a bayonet lug + 1 -15 round magazine
The "M1A1 Paratrooper": Wood forestock & pistol grip with folding wire stock + 15 round magazine

When the announcement was made, the first two models were to be available at $1,049 a piece and the Paratrooper was slated to cost $1,179.  Now, those are reasonable prices for a number of reasons we'll discuss later on, but the first question on your mind is likely the same on on everyone else's, "Can't you buy an original for less?"  Furthermore, why would someone purchase a new production model over a model with actual WWII history?  Aren't there companies already making these reproductions?  These are not bad questions, so let's take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly between a modern and an original M1 carbine.

Lot 4668: Two M1 Semi-Automatic Carbines

History of Inland

First off, let's review a little bit of Inland's history.  Originally known as "The Inland Manufacturing Division of General Motors," the company can trace its organization all the way back to 1922 where, according to Inland's webpage, they "manufactured wood wrapped steering wheels" in buildings that previously housed the Dayton Wright Airplane Company.  Those hangars are the only buildings of the original Inland company still standing today, thanks to their historical significance.  Their shape inspired the Inland Logo.

Photo of hangar courtesy of

Even though Pearl Harbor wouldn't happen until December 7, 1941, in September of that same year the industrial might of the United States was already rolling for the war effort.  Inland was producing the M1 carbine by then, three months prior to the surprise attack, as seen in the black and white photographs below.  They were the first to start production of the approved Winchester design since Winchester was already swamped with other commitments to the war effort.  By then they had also manufactured the necessary tooling not only for themselves, but also for the other nine contracted companies that would also produce the rifle.  On its face, it would appear that the United States was anticipating their involvement - to an extent they were.  The carbine began its development in 1938 (the same year Hitler was declared Time's Man of the Year and was allowed to annex the Sudentland in an act of appeasement), so future conflict may have been foreseen by the U.S.  However, whether or not that meant the anticipated war is another thing entirely.  The M1 carbine was a popular Lend-Lease weapon and Inland no doubt would have been producing them for our Allies in the European theater.  
Already producing M1 carbines in mid-to-late 1941, by June 1942 Inland was running at full steam creating not only the carbines, but also sights for anti-aircraft cannons, tank tracks, aircraft components, and many other small parts.  Inland's website states that, "Inland became one of the most important divisions of General Motors supporting the war effort," and the numbers support it.  They produced 3-10 times more carbines than any other contractor and was one of only two original manufacturers of the M2.  By the end of World War II, Inland had produced the following quantities for the war effort in just over 38 months:

M1 Carbines: 1,954,224 - 1,984,189
M1A1 Carbines: 140,000 - 140,882
M2 Carbines: 199,500 - 200,000
M3 (T3) Carbines: 811
Several hundred experimental versions

Total production between: 2,625,591 - 2,632,097
(ranges for total production are given since respected sources differ slightly on the matter)

The following black & white photos are courtesy of

After the war, Inland found itself returning to its automotive roots producing brake linings, bumpers, etc.  By the early 1980s it was building the fiberglass mono-leaf springs for Chevy Corvettes.  At the end of the 80s it was merged with Fisher Guide, a division of GM that produced torpedo bombers for the Navy during WWII, that normally produced body moldings and interior parts.  This merger was called (creatively) Inland Fisher Guide, and would eventually merge with GM's other component divisions to become the Automotive Components Group (ACG).  ACG would be renamed Delphi Automotive Systems (whose parts you have likely seen in your vehicles at one time), which separated from GM in 1999.  Delphi filed for bankruptcy in 2005 amidst several executive resignations and an SEC investigation involving charges of "irregular accounting."  The building had been empty since 2008.  Through all the mergers and corporate shuffling, the original Inland building still stood in Dayton, OH until 2014 when the building was razed.  Thankfully, as mentioned earlier, the original two hangars were preserved.

Just as the building was being demolished and the death knell of Inland was truly sounding, somewhere else, a new business was being organized, Inland Manufacturing, LLC.  Out of the ashes of the original facility, less than two miles away, arose the manufacturer of the new Inland M1 Carbine.  The current Inland Manufacturing property was owned for many years by the owners of Inland, who were leasing it to Chiappa Firearms.  When Chiappa relocated their North American operations building to a new and expanded facility elsewhere in Dayton, OH during 2009, it wouldn't take long for Inland's owners to wisely utilize their own building.  After some remodeling and retooling, Inland was ready for business.

Reproduction Details

Just so we can accurately discuss these reproduced rifles, here are some details.

Inland, long since parted from one-time parent company GM, states that these carbines will be "100% American-made with 100% American parts."  These parts are all new manufacturing (no milsurp pieces) and are contract made by U.S. companies which are then assembled/manufactured in Dayton, OH.  Actually, Inland does claim milsurp parts for "non-essential items" such as the oiler.  Other than that the guns are promised to be built to the same specifications as the originals: able to use replica and original magazines, uses a short-stroke piston action, rotating bolt, and a quick call to Inland revealed that they even use the same stain formula that was used on the original walnut stocks.  Appears they have an eye for detail.  Thankfully, to avoid confusion in the collector markets, the stampings are MOSTLY identical to original M1 carbines.  Some are given minor modifications and some new marks are added where they cannot be seen without disassembly.  Again according to Inland, even the cartouches have been given minor changes to help differentiate them from originals.

One of the major differences between the original and new M1 carbines is that the original was manufactured with a forged receiver, while the new ones feature a "high quality cast receiver."  The new M1 carbine is also claimed by Inland to be more accurate and said to fire 2-inch groups at 100 yards.  On the surface, it sounds like the new Inland carbines have a lot going for them, so let's really break down their pros and cons.

Lot 902: Two U.S. Military Semi-Automatic Carbines

PROS (The Good)

Accuracy: As mentioned earlier, the new production models are said to have improved accuracy over the originals. The Inland website states the M1 carbine is "substantially more accurate than the originals due to the design and construction of the new carbine," but fails to reveal any more details than that. Part of the accuracy could be attributed to the barrels. The new barrels are "precision bored" with a 4-groove 1:20 twist rate, but perhaps more importantly, they haven't been repeatedly fired over the last 70+ years. They also mention bedding "the barreled action to the stock and a correct fitting recoil plate coupled with the type 2 or type 3 barrel bands," but again fail to mention how that differs from the original (if at all) or how that would be an improvement.

Peace of Mind: An easy to address pro to buying new is that, well... it's new. Just like buying a new car, you don't have to worry about who made what modifications, what's original and what's not, what's damaged, what needs replacing, and so on. You forfeit all those worries the moment you decide to buy new. The new carbines even come with a 1-year warranty, a definite plus, though the Inland website does not specify what exactly that covers. Some folks will only want to buy an original and so the newness will not appeal to them. However, the benefits of a warranty and new parts cannot be denied, so long as the quality of the new parts holds up, at a minimum, to the old quality standards responsible for keeping the old carbines running for the past three quarters of a century.

Looks Good:  Part of the argument for buying a reproduction is that a buyer would then get to experience the gun how it would've appeared as it left the factory line. For the new Inlands, that argument holds mostly true. While they are certain to be in excellent condition, the guns have been designed with the collector in mind by what GunsAmerica calls in their review, "a slightly aged patina." These are meant to be in NIB condition, yet look like an authentic version that would carry an undoubtedly heavy price tag.

CONS (The Bad)

Lack of History:  Something these carbines will never be able to overcome is their lack of history.  There is an intangible magic that comes from holding a piece of honest-to-goodness history.  To many gun owners, a reproduction will never appeal to them, even as a shooter.  It might as well be any new semi-auto rifle in their mind.  Even with all of Inland's attention to detail and what appears to be earnest attempts to make several improvements, some folks still want, "the real thing."  There's nothing wrong with that.  It's a simple personal preference.

Price:  The prices mentioned in the second paragraph of this article were released via several shooting and outdoors news outlets.  The price puts Inland in an interesting position.  They're more expensive than "shooter" versions of original M1 carbines, but cheaper than the pristine original models sought by collectors.  Yet, being a reproduction, they're more likely to be fired and used than to be part of a collection, so why would a shooter buy this new model?

Granted, you are allegedly paying for more accuracy (I say allegedly because I was unable to locate any shooting results or field tests), but is accuracy really what you're buying when you buy an M1 carbine?  Are you going to take it to a 3-gun match, a schuetzen match, or even hunting? (Confession: I secretly love the idea of hunting with an M1 carbine)  Most hunting rifles are specialized for their purpose and made to do one thing.  Why use a carbine that, even in in its infancy wasn't designed with a single purpose, but instead to bridge the gap between side arm and standard service rifle?

Association:  I debated on whether or not to put this paragraph in the "debatable" section below, but placed it here and I'll explain why.  Inland Manufacturing is using MKS Supply, another Dayton business, to distribute and market the reproduction M1 carbines (I assume that MKS is also providing the same services for the 1911 pistols Inland is also manufacturing).  MKS performs the same duties for Hi-Point, a brand known more for its affordability and customer service than its reliability.  In fact, when you visit the MKS homepage you see the following graphic.

Many press releases surrounding the reproduction M1 carbines pointed people to the MKS sight, and what's the first thing people see?  A reference to Hi-Point.  All of a sudden people are wondering and maybe a bit confused.  Is MKS making these?  Does MKS make Hi-Point?  Is Hi-Point manufacturing the carbines?  With all the parent companies in the world, seen even in Inland's own history, these aren't the craziest questions in the world.

Now, that said, allow me to clearly state the following:
1.  Inland is its own separate company.
2.  Hi-Point is its own separate company.
3.  MKS is taking care of the distribution and marketing for Inland.
4.  MKS also takes care of the same for Hi-Point.
5.  Inland and Hi-Point are in no way related other than their mutual business with MKS.
6.  Oh, both manufacturers are located in Ohio.

I am also making a safe assumption that MKS handles the website design for both companies, given the similarities between the two.  In any case, Inland has no attachment or relation with Hi-Point, but that doesn't always matter.  Public perception is everything!  Merwin & Hulbert unfairly suffered detriments to their reputation by having their firearms manufactured by Hopkins & Allen.  The Daisy V/L rifle we covered last month was viewed as a cheaper product thanks to the plastic stock.  These are only two examples of many that show how a negative reputation can help sink a gun.

Lots of people saw Hi-Point's name next to Inland's and may have assumed the worst or that MKS is some sort of parent company.  I put this in the "Cons" section because at best, people will know that the two manufacturers are completely separate and it won't affect their buying decision at all, but at worst people can be misinformed and spread that misinformation, possibly turning away potential buyers.  Granted, this whole section on "association" ultimately has no effect on the gun itself nor its performance, but it may be a factor behind someone's decision to purchase and that bears real consequences.

Lot 2949: U.S. Inland M1 Semi-Automatic Carbine with Bayonet and Magazines


New vs. Old: This is a debate that will never be solved because it's completely subjective.  Some folks want newer guns because they're getting parts that haven't been sitting around for seven decades.  Many will want those parts nice so that they can shoot the gun reliably.  Other folks want the history, and if you're going to buy a modern gun, go buy one that's designed for the task you wish to perform.  The only thing that is not subjective is value.  Real pieces of military history will continue to become more and more rare due to fires, floods, rust, negligence, and time.  As they become more scarce, the value of remaining examples will increase (assuming demand also remains in the market).  The same thing cannot be said about reproductions.  Condition vs. originality: the battle rages on.

Contractor Produced Parts:  Some people don't like the idea of "contract produced parts," and then having those parts assembled by a manufacturer.  For those folks I have bad news: then you probably don't like the car you're driving, or any one on the road for that matter.  You also probably don't like the original M1 carbines.  They were made with roughly 60 parts and none of the primary 10 manufacturers produced more than 15 of said parts.  For those math whizzes out there, yes, that means that original M1 carbines were made with at least 75% contracted parts.  Heck, one of the primary manufacturers during WWII only made the receivers!  This business of not liking contracted parts is pretty easy to counter, but it is included here because it's inevitably going to mentioned by some.

Website:  I definitely appreciate a lot of the things on the Inland website.  They cover the basics and give a pretty nicely summarized company history (with some really great photos).  Also, they make contact info very easy to find.  When I called them I spoke with a extremely helpful PERSON who picked-up promptly and was able to answer my questions without redirection; I was super impressed.  The website homepage also has a big link to join the NRA - icing on the cake.

However, the Inland website could definitely clear up a lot of the remaining questions that collectors and buyers will want answered.  I know the business has only been established since 2013, but with a major product launch, one would think a business would want their customer to be able to review a warranty and feel confident in it.  Obviously, I'm not slamming their warranty (I can't, I don't know what's in it), it's just one example.  Buyers may also wish to know WHY they feel a cast receiver is better than an original forged one or how the list of features that enhance accuracy actually do so.  In retail jobs, that's Sales 101.  You can't just tell a customer the features and expect them to be impressed.  You have to tell what it does and how that benefits them, and to be fair, they have mentioned the benefits in describing the small 100-yards groups and potential sub-MOA accuracy.

Again, this is another thing that doesn't affect the rifle directly, but it sure doesn't help people go forward with a purchase.

Availability:  Since these carbines just started shipping a month ago (with a few exceptions), no one knows yet how widely available these will be.  Will we see them in "big box" stores?  Will they be snatched up quickly at first and be more available once demand dies down?  No one can say for sure, but with literally millions of original M1 carbines created, you shouldn't have any trouble finding one of those.

Speaking of availability, there are many original M1 carbines in our upcoming June Regional Auction.  You can click here to see them.  they range in price from $2,500 for an M1 with an M3 infrared scope, to $1,000 for TWO standard M1 carbines!  That's much less than the price of the Inland carbines.

Other reproduction manufacturers:  During the 1960s, there was a glut of surplus gun parts and, therefore, no shortage of companies willing to assemble them to try and make a quick buck.  Some of these were sensible, but most were made with relatively low quality and an disproportionally high price.  Many of these companies dried up with the abundance of surplus parts.  These manufacturers aside, there are already companies that currently reproduce the M1 carbine such as Auto-Ordnance and James River Armory.  Why does Inland think they can enter into the reproduction market, at a higher price point, when two manufacturers are already trying to satisfy the market and original M1 carbines are still far from rare?  Does the Inland name give them an advantage?  Is there room in the market to support another reproduction manufacturer, indicating an increasing consumer demand for WWII weapons even if they are reproductions?  I have a feeling we'll know a lot more in the next six months.

Lot 835: U.S. Winchester M1 Semi-Automatic Carbine

Condition versus provenance.  Functionality against history.  Brand new pitted against "they way they used to make 'em."  All are arguments that buyers could have for days -just like 9mm v .45 ACP, Glock vs 1911, or AK vs AR.  Long story short?  What people value is going to rest in different places.  There's no right answer, there's only what's right for you.  So whichever your prefer, the tried-and-true originals or the fancy new productions, just go shoot what makes you happy.

-Written by Joel Kolander