Post WWII Commercially Manufactured M1 Carbines (U.S.A.)

Alpine


Azusa, California

 

Background

The M1 carbines that have the Alpine name on the receiver were a continuation of the National Ordnance M1 carbines. In order to understand the history of the Alpine carbines, it is necessary to first read the history of the early National Ordnance carbines. I am in deep gratitude to Mr. Robert E. Penney Jr. for his patience and enthusiastic assistance. Mr. Penney founded National Ordnance, and in Fall of 1962 separated from National Ordnance, manufacturing the carbines that bear the Alpine name.


The Birth of Alpine

Alpine Industries was incorporated in California in March 1959. On May 5, 1960 Alpine Sales and National Ordnance were incorporated. From Fall 1960 until the Fall of 1962, National Ordnance manufactured commercial M1 carbines with the National Ordnance name, under the ownership of Robert E. Penney. To lessen the amount of manufacturer's excise tax they would be required to pay, National Ordnance sold a percentage of their carbines at a low price to Alpine Sales, owned and operated by John Arnold. Alpine then sold the carbines at the price that would net the desired profit for National Ordnance. Operationally, Alpine was the sales division of National Ordnance. In reality, Penney and Arnold were partners. This method of lessening the impact of manufacturers excise tax was common practice for many different companies.

In November and December 1960, Alpine Sales placed the below retail mail order advertisement in The American Rifleman. The carbines Alpine sold, were the first National Ordnance carbines. The response from these ads sold every National Ordnance carbine in stock. The response was so overwhelming Arnold and Penney decided to sell wholesale only.


November and December 1960 issues of The American Rifleman. Alpine Sales sold National Ordnance carbines Fall 1960-Fall 1962.

Under Penney, National Ordnance manufactured M1 carbines and M1 Garands. By 1962, Arnold wanted to expand the business to include Springfield 1903 rifles and other weapons. Penney wanted to manufacture only M1 carbines and M1 Garands. Arnold wanted to machine the carbines in-house, Penney wanted to use subcontractors. At the time, National Ordnance was located in a 4,000 sq. ft. facility at 235 S Irwindale Ave, Azusa, CA. In the Fall of 1962 (Sep/Oct) John Arnold took the name National Ordnance and moved to a temporary location in So. El Monte, CA. Robert E. Penney retained the Alpine name and relocated Alpine to a smaller facility located at 964 W Foothill Blvd, Azusa, CA. To avoid conflict between the two companies and their owners, who were now both manufacturing and selling M1 carbines, Arnold agreed to market to the east coast of the USA, Penney agreed to market to the midwest, and both sold to wholesalers they knew on the west coast. There were a few exceptions, based on friendships that had already been established.


The First Alpine M1 Carbine

Owned by Robert E. Penney Jr., founder and owner of Alpine. This stock is a Winchester I-cut and not used on the Alpine carbines.


Manufacturing the Alpine M1 carbines

When Alpine relocated to their new facility, the resources Penney had initially established for manufacturing the National Ordnance carbines, continued to be used for manufacturing the Alpine carbines.


Alpine receivers were investment cast by Rimer Casting of Watertown, Ohio.
This receiver was drilled and tapped for a scope mount, later the holes
were filled in and ground down. This was done by an owner, not the manufacturer.


Machining of the cast receiver was done by Calgo Manufacturing of Pasadena, CA.
(The hole in the receiver for the slide pin to hold the slide and bolt back, does not go all the way through the receiver.)


Penney had learned while operating National Ordnance and making their first carbines, drilling a straight deep hole for the recoil spring
was extremely difficult without a particular, expensive, deep hole driller. This same issue was encountered by Winchester during WWII.
Winchester's answer was a detachable recoil spring housing. Penney's answer was an investment casting mold that included the hole.
During machining, the hole was just cleaned out.

The above cast receiver mold was owned jointly by Penney and Arnold. It was used throughout the production of the Alpine and National Ordnance M1 carbines. Years later, in the mid 1980's, it was used by Bob Reese of Reese Surplus and Rock Island Arsenal to manufacture the Rock Island M1 carbines.

All of the barrels used on the Alpine carbines, throughout production, were 1903A3 barrels machined to the outer dimensions of a carbine barrel, the chamber was reamed for the .30 carbine cartridge, the breach was threaded to fit the carbine receiver. The gas piston housing was manufactured separately and welded onto the barrel.


1903A3 barrel machined into Alpine .30 Carbine barrel

GI parts were used in assembling the Alpine carbine, as long as the surplus part was available. As parts were no longer available, they were cast by Rimer Casting and machined by Calgo Manufacturing. The entire bolt assembly (bolt, firing pin, extractor, ejector, springs, etc) were surplus GI throughout production.

The majority of stocks used on the Alpine carbines were manufactured by Wayne's Wood Carving in Los Angeles. The Alpine stocks were manufactured from walnut or alder, whichever was readily available at a particular time. Some were configured with an oval sling cut and high wood area covering most of the right side of the slide. Some were configured with an oval sling cut and low wood area below the slide. Alder is a light colored wood that does not retain wood stain very well. These are easily identified by their light color.


High wood covering part of the slide, light colored wood was alder (not birch)

The earlier Alpine carbine used a wood handguard. When John Arnold at National Ordnance designed and manufactured a solid metal "low profile" handguard, Penney purchased a large quantity of these and thereafter used them on the Alpine carbines.

On some of the Alpine carbines, the bluing along the top was polished to a glossy finish. On others the finish along the top was glossy black, as on the receiver ring below.

The buttplates used by Alpine and National Ordnance are distinctive as, unlike other commercial carbines or any GI carbines, the metal was smooth with no texture (below). The finish on these buttplates was black oxide. It's not uncommon for these buttplates to develop small areas of rust over time.

According to Penney, production at Alpine was approximately 200 Garands or 250 carbines a day, on the days devoted to assembly. Each rifle was test fired and inspected for proper functioning after production. Total production averaged approximately 10,000 carbines a year, for a total of approximately 25-30,000 Alpine M1 carbines. The book, United States Martial and Collectors Arms, issue 20 Apr 1982, by Stephen L. Fuller, published by Military Arms Research Service, San Jose, pages 79 & 81 indicates Alpine produced 17,000 M1 carbines. The author's exact source for this information is not known. The author's credits for his sources are listed together, with no indication as to who provided what information. John Arnold, Jack Karnes, and Wyant LaMont are amongst the list. These men were involved with National Ordnance at the time Penney manufactured the Alpine carbines. Penney was advised of the total of 17,000 indicated by this book and said this information is incorrect. The records had been sold when Alpine was sold, and were destroyed by the buyer. Penney estimated the total was between 25,000 and 30,000, with 25,000 being a firm minimum.


Alpine Carbine Markings & Serial Numbers

The name "ALPINE" appears on the receiver behind the rear sight. When the receiver was cast, the Alpine name was part of the casting. If the name did not show up clearly, it was stamped, as shown below right.

The Alpine carbine serial numbers were not necessarily sequential and may be found in one of four locations. These locations appear to have been used randomly and do not correlate to the serial number sequence. Penney indicated serial numbers were stamped by Calgo Manufacturing after machining. All of the Alpine records went to INCO when Alpine was sold. INCO destroyed the records.

Penney estimated approximately 250-300+ Alpine M1 carbines were sold with the receiver drilled and tapped with a scope mounted. The scopes were manufactured by Ordnance Optics, another company owned by Penney. The serial number on these particular carbines started with 100. The serial number was stamped on top of the rear sight platform, just forward of the rear sight.


Serial number on the left side of the receiver

Serial number on top of the rear sight platform, forward of the rear sight


The Closing of Alpine

In November 1965 Penney sold Alpine, due to a serious personal illness. INCO of Burbank, CA, owned by Steve Kessler, had been a distributor for Alpine. Kessler purchased Alpine's inventory from Penney and closed the company the same day. Kessler continued to supply retailers with Alpine carbines until his inventory was depleted.


Walter Craig ad Shooting Times magazine February 1966

After his illness stabilized, Penney continued to assist friends in various small arms design and manufacturing. In addition to restoration and collecting WWII vehicles unique rare airplanes (he's a pilot), and small arms.


Other Historical Notes of Interest relative to Alpine and Robert E. Penney Jr.

The "Tanker" Garand

While visiting Springfield Armory in Springfield, MA about 1961, Penney had the opportunity to examine a shortened Garand known as the T-26, which had not been adopted by the United States. This led Penney to construct what is known as the "Tanker Garand". This was never a military issued weapon, it was designed and built by Penney during his last year with National Ordnance and throughout the duration of Alpine [Tanker Garand; An Apocryphal Martial Weapon by Phyllis Benson, Man At Arms Magazine, November/December 1980, pp.49-51]. Many people have assumed this version of the Garand was a government issued weapon, as the markings are the original manufacturer of the barrel, receiver, and parts. Penney did not add the National Ordnance name or the Alpine name to these Garands, or any of the Garands he assembled. Ten to twenty years later, John Arnold of National Ordnance, Burton Brenner of Federal Ordnance, and Springfield produced their own "Tanker" Garands based on Penney's design.


Walter H. Craig of Selma, Alabama advertisement, Shotgun News April 15, 1965

The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy

On Friday, November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The suspect's weapon was a 6.5 x 52 mm Italian Carcano M91/38 bolt-action rifle with a six-round magazine. Mounted on the left side was a 4 x 18 telescopic sight, with markings indicating Ordnance Optics Inc., Hollywood, California and Made in Japan.


Ordnance Optics Inc. 4 x 18 scope on Lee Harvey Oswald's Carcano carbine

At the time of the assassination there were no computers. There was no way of knowing where the rifle had come from, other than it was a surplus Italian military rifle that had been imported into the United States in quantities exceeding tens of thousands. Ordnance Optics, on the other hand, had been owned by Robert E. Penney Jr.

The day after the assassination, Penney was contacted by Sgt. Jeff Gonzalez, LAPD. Gonzalez and Secret Service Agent Darwin D. Horn met with Penney regarding the scoped Carcano. Penney had sold Ordnance Optics to Martin B. Retting in Culver City, CA. However, he was aware the Ordnance Optics scopes had not been sold individually or unmounted. They had all been sold to one of Penney's largest customers, Kleins of Chicago. Klein's sold them only as part of a package deal, mounted on Italian Carcanos. Contact was made with Kleins via telephone.

Given the serial number, Kleins verified they had sold the Carcano rifle with the Ordnance Optics scope attached, that had been recovered during the investigation of the assassination. This discovery opened the door for the Secret Service to trace the rifle to Lee Harvey Oswald. [Hearings before the Subcommittee To Investigate Juvenile Delinquency, of the Committee On The Judiciary United States Senate, Eighty-Ninth Congress, May-July 1965. LAPD report DR#63-578 686 dated 11-23-63, Sgt. J. Gonzalez #3834, LAPD Robbery Detail]

As a side note not related to Penney. If you have opinions regarding the assassination of President Kennedy and the abilities of the Carcano rifle, from personal experience, I strongly recommend going to Dealey Plaza in Dallas and standing on the large X in the center lane of Elm Street. Then look up at the book depository sixth floor window of the room where the rifle was found. Unless you see it first hand, it's difficult to comprehend the distance, angle, and direction of movement of the limousine in relation to the window where the expended casings were found. Then, if you haven't fired a Carcano with an inexpensive scope that's been correctly sighted in, give it a try. Preferably at a rifle range.

The Bianchi M1 Carbine Stock

John Bianchi came to Penney for assistance designing the Bianchi M1 carbine telescoping stock, based on the stock of the M3 Grease Gun. Penney made a number of suggestions and brought in his stock maker, Wayne's Wood Carving of Los Angeles to help Bianchi with the design. Wayne's Wood Carving manufactured all of the Bianchi M1 carbine stocks. A number of manufacturers purchased the Bianchi stock and included it as standard on some of their carbines. It was also available as an accessory from many different retailers.


Shotgun News January 1, 1966

Eastern Firearms of New Brunswick, NJ, a major military surplus supplier since the early 1960's, was owned by Mike Kokin. Penney and others had purchased many surplus carbine parts from Kokin. In the early 1960's Penney fronted Kokin the money necessary to relocate Eastern Firearms to Pasadena, about 1966. Prior to the 1968 GCA a felon could possess an FFL. After passage of the 1968 GCA in October 1968, convicted felons were prohibited from having an FFL. Kokin had been convicted after selling an M1 carbine and M2 parts to a customer, then showing the customer how an M2 was assembled. The loss of his FFL caused Kokin to stop selling weapons and file for bankruptcy with Eastern Firearms. Kokin then started the large surplus parts distributor, Sherwood Distributors aka Sherwood International. Unconfirmed reports that Kokin was given a Presidential Pardon by President Carter during his last days in office, is the subject of continuing research.

Wilkinson Arms

When Penney moved National Ordnance into their facility at 235 S. Irwindale Ave. in Azusa, next door at 231 S. Irwindale was a Go Cart parts manufacturing business run by Ray Wilkinson. Penney and Wilkinson became acquainted with one another and the friendship continued after Penney moved to a different facility in Azusa, where he manufactured the Alpine M1 carbines. Wilkinson's business eventually closed, and Penney sold Alpine. In 1968 Penney funded Wilkinson and they developed a 9mm carbine known as the M68, and later, the M80. The difference between the two was the location of the bolt handle. It was moved off the top of the receiver and onto the right side. The company name they were produced under, was J&R Engineering.


Gun World April 1969

The carbine proved to me extremely accurate but suffered from a persistent extraction or ejection problem. But the thing that killed the entire project was the 1968 Gun Control Act and it's ban of mail order gun sales.

Wilkinson eventually solved the problem with extraction and/or ejection, and renamed it the "Linda 9mm Carbine", after one of his daughters. He went on to sell the carbine under the name of Wilkinson Arms of Covina, CA. Wilkinson eventually moved to Idaho and the last several thousand Linda's he made various modifications to and renamed it the "Terry 9mm Carbine" (another daughter). Wilkinson also manufactured a .22 semi-auto pistol named "The Sherry" (yep, another daughter), and a .25 auto semi-auto pistol named "The Diane" (his soon to be 2nd wife).


Bob Penney
December 2008