South El Monte, California
Robert E. Penney Jr. served in the U.S. Army, then the National Guard, until just before the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. In February 1950, Penney was hired by Vazquez & Company, a gun store owned by Roland Vazquez and Alvin Gettler, located at 972 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA. As a result of money Vasquez owed Alvin Gettler, Gettler acquired the gun store in 1952. Penney stayed on with Gettler, suggesting they name the new store Pasadena Firearms. In addition to the retail shop, Penney and Gettler became involved in the military surplus import business. Their first purchase together was in 1952 for 1500 Mexican Mausers from Mexico. In 1955 Penney separated from Pasadena Firearms to pursue a career in a different field, eventually being hired by JPL in Pasadena, CA. Shortly after Penney left Pasadena Firearms, Gettler relocated the business to 1165 E. Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena and began importing under the name of Golden State Arms. For further on Gettler and Golden State Arms, refer to the web page on the Santa Fe Division of Golden State Arms. While employed at JPL, Penney maintained his interest in small arms, which eventually led him to leave JPL, team up with John Arnold, and start National Ordnance.
Bob Penney had met John F. Arnold in the late 1940's. While Penney was employed at JPL, Arnold became involved with Pasadena Firearms and Golden State Arms. Like Penney, Arnold was interested in the military surplus business, eventually leading the two to team up together
After WWII the military surplus available worldwide was enormous. Nations were selling and/or destroying their own small arms, but also small arms captured from enemy nations. The amount of profit to be made by purchasing this military surplus and converting it to retail sales, was enormous. This profit attracted a lot of entrepreneurs and motivated more than a few small arms businesses to expand their operations. After the end of the Korean War an enormous amount of U.S. military surplus became available, and not just from the U.S. military. Nations that had been provided with U.S. small arms under Lend-Lease during WWII and as military assistance from the U.S. in the years after the war, began to sell their surplus as they updated their small arms.
The patent on the M1 carbine was owned by Western Cartridge Co. and David "Carbine" Williams, and still in effect when Penney and Arnold wanted to begin manufacturing M1 carbines in 1958. Penney and Arnold contacted Winchester-Western and offered them a percentage per carbine manufactured, in return for permission to manufacture the M1 carbine. John Olin, owner of Winchester-Western, refused. Olin, Winchester-Western, and more than a few other American manufacturers were opposed to all of the surplus weapons being returned to the United States, where they were being sold at prices the manufacturers couldn't compete with. This opposition eventually led the manufacturers and the National Rifle Association to support the Gun Control Act of 1968, which, amongst many other things, prohibited the importation of U.S. military surplus.
Until the patent expired in January 1960, National Ordnance worked with surplus GI carbine receivers and parts, assembled and sold with the names and/or markings of the original manufacturers left in place. The National Ordnance name was not placed on these carbines. During these years National Ordnance was run by Penney from his home in Arcadia, CA, and by Arnold from his apartment in Hollywood, CA.
As an example of the first couple years at National Ordnance, the first 1000 M1 carbines assembled by National Ordnance were with Winchester parts, Winchester barrels, and Winchester I cut stocks they purchased from Britain. The U.S. had provided the parts and barrels to Britain as support for the U.S. M1 carbines also provided to Britain. An additional 1000 surplus GI carbine barrels, all made by Marlin, were obtained from Numrich Gun Parts in West Hurley, NY. Mortonmoth Chemical Co. of Milwaukee, WI had acquired thousands of surplus GI carbine stocks. Penney purchased "a truckload" of them and refinished them.
U.S. M1 carbine receivers were routinely sold as scrap by the U.S. Ordnance Benecia Arsenal. Arnold and Penney acquired 15,000-20,000 GI M1 carbine receivers from one of the scrap yards. The majority of these receivers had not been cut, they had been heated unevenly to soften the metal unevenly. These were restored to serviceable and retained their original manufacturer names and serial numbers. No National Ordnance markings were placed on them.
During a separate operation involving Springfield 1903 rifles, Penney received a letter from Rowen & Becker of Waterville, Ohio that they could provide and/or manufacture any parts Penney might need. Two surplus M1 carbine parts Penney had trouble finding from the start were hammers and triggers. Penney contacted Ken Rowen, sent him a hammer and trigger, and shortly later Rowen & Becker began supplying National Ordnance with cast hammers and cast triggers. Penney was unaware the Rowen & Becker Company was not who was manufacturing the hammers and triggers. (more below)
The Western Cartridge Company patent for the U.S. M1 carbine expired in January 1960. National Ordnance and Alpine Sales were incorporated in California on May 6, 1960. National Ordnance maintained a manufacturer's license and was owned and operated by Bob Penney. Alpine Sales maintained a wholesale and retail license and was owned and operated by John F. Arnold. Manufacturers were assessed an excise tax based on the price they sold their products for. The impact of this tax was commonly minimized by establishing a second company to handle sales at the wholesale and retail prices. The company handling the sales had to be owned by someone different than the manufacturer. This practice was not specific to these companies, or firearms manufacturing. It was common with many different businesses. Initially, Penney continued to operate National Ordnance from his residence in Arcadia, Arnold operated Alpine Sales from his residence in Hollywood.
Preparing for the manufacture of their commercial carbine, in late 1958 or early 1959 Penney contacted Rowen & Becker Company of Waterville, Ohio regarding their ability to manufacture a cast M1 carbine receiver, in addition to the hammer and trigger Rowen & Becker were already providing. Rowen indicated they could manufacture the receiver and had someone who could machine the casting to the dimensions and look of an M1 carbine receiver.
Penney paid for the original tooling to produce the wax and mold, and a short run of 100 receivers. When he received the receivers, the threading for the barrel was not cut to align the barrel properly. The overall machining of the receiver was unacceptable. Penney flew to Ohio and on visiting Rowen & Becker, and their machinist, it became obvious to Penney that Rowen & Becker was not capable of meeting the quantity or quality Penney wanted. Penney could not recall exactly how and when he discovered Rowen & Becker had not been manufacturing the receiver, hammer, or trigger. Only that it was during this time period. Who manufactured the cast trigger and hammer, and the trial run of receivers, was Rimer Casting of Waterville, Ohio. Rowen & Becker had subcontracted the casting and machining, without telling Penney. They had also started to sell their own M1 carbines, assembled with surplus and cast parts on a cast receiver. The Rowen & Becker receiver was made from the tooling that had been paid for by Penney, without Penney knowing this. Refer to the web page for Rowen & Becker for further on their carbines.
Penney met with Rimer Casting and arranged for them to continue manufacturing the cast hammer, cast trigger, and the cast receivers, without Rowen-Becker's involvement. "NATL ORD INC" was part of the casting. Penney contracted with Calgo Manufacturing of Pasadena, CA for the machining of the receiver.
One of the challenges of machining an M1 carbine receiver is drilling the long hole for the recoil spring and recoil spring guide. This hole extends almost the entire length of the receiver and was difficult to drill straight, unless a particular Pratt & Whitney machine was used. Winchester had encountered this challenge with their first M1 carbines, resulting in a detachable recoil spring housing, until U.S. Ordnance helped Winchester obtain the proper machinery.
Investment casting, not available during WWII, offers detailed shaping of the metal, requiring less machining of the end product. Penney contacted Rimer Casting and arranged for the tooling to be changed to include the hole for the recoil spring housing as part of the investment casting process. When the cast was completed, all that remained was cleaning out the small amount of rough metal around the hole.
The openings along the bottom of the receiver were specific to the tooling used by Rimer for the vast majority of National Ordnance receivers and all of the Alpine receivers. Rock Island Armory receivers of the 1980's, and the first Springfield Armory M1 carbine receivers were made from the same tooling. These are readily identifiable by examining the bottom of the recoil spring housing.
Some of the receivers (not all) have the Rimer Casting "R" on the bottom of the receiver bridge
Normally the machining of the inside rear of the receiver removed the initials LM.
The original die and wax for the receiver casting was designed by Lowry Manufacturing of Holland, OH.
The machining of the National Ordnance receivers 1960-1965 was handled by Calgo Manufacturing of Pasadena, CA. Hardening and bluing the National Ordnance receivers 1960-1965 was handled by a company located several buildings north of the National Ordnance building on Irwindale in Azusa. The name of the company is being researched. Changes made 1965 and later are covered in Chapter III.
National Ordnance initially used surplus GI M1 carbine barrels. Next to GI receivers, GI barrels were the most difficult surplus GI part to obtain, and one of the first to become unavailable. Many of the surplus GI barrels, U.S. Ordnance cut in half (demilitarized aka demilled) and sold them to scrap metal dealers, just as they had done with many M1 carbine receivers. Prior to locating a steady reliable source for commercially manufactured barrels in 1963, National Ordnance built carbine barrels in three different ways.
.30 caliber carbine barrels used by the original GI contractors had a number of small variations, but the gas cylinder was basically built in one of two ways. Underwood, IBM, and Marlin manufactured the entire barrel, gas cylinder included, from one piece of steel. These barrels are referred to as having an integral gas cylinder. The rest of the manufacturers used a swaged on gas cylinder.
The commercially manufactured barrels used by National Ordnance were based on the outer appearance and dimensions of the GI barrel with the integral gas cylinder.
The first method National Ordnance used was a one piece cast sleeve and integral piston housing of the dimensions of the rear of a carbine barrel, up to the point in the change of diameter approximately 1/4" forward of the gas piston housing. The sleeve was bored out, and a surplus Springfield 1903 or 1903A3 barrel was machined to fit into the sleeve all the way to the breach. The diameter and length of the exposed portion was machined to M1 carbine barrel dimensions. The sleeve and barrel were silver soldered together. The chamber was reamed for the .30 caliber carbine cartridge.
The next method used a demilled carbine barrel instead of the casting. The carbine barrel was cut off at the change in diameter, then the inside was bored out to accept a surplus GI Springfield 1903/1903A3 barrel. As before, the 1903 barrel was machined to fit inside all the way to the breach, and the outside was machined to M1 carbine dimensions. The bored out carbine barrel and 1903 barrel insert were silver soldered together. The chamber was reamed for the .30 caliber carbine cartridge.
Inner: 1903A3 barrel insert, Outer: rear half of demilled GI M1 carbine barrel, Skirt: part of the GI carbine barrel
(barrel in photo is upside down)
The third method, the Springfield 1903/1903A3 barrel was machined to the outside dimensions of the carbine barrel and threaded for the M1 carbine receiver. The gas piston housing was made separate, then welded to the outside of the barrel.
Use of the surplus Springfield 1903/1903A3 barrels was not limited to National Ordnance. Variations of the above barrels have also been found on carbines built by Millville Ordnance and Erma's Manufacturing, both of which existed during the early 1960's at the same time as National Ordnance. The lack of surplus GI .30 caliber carbine barrels was an issue all of the manufacturers had to contend with in the early 1960's.
Besides availability, there was a good reason for using 1903/1903A3 barrels as a replacement for unavailable GI carbine barrels. Generally, as there are variations, the interior dimensions of a 1903 barrel are a groove diameter of .3075 and a land diameter of .2995. The 1903A3 barrel has a groove diameter of .3095 and a land diameter of .3015. The later GI .30 caliber carbine barrels had a groove diameter between .308-.310 and a land diameter of .300-.302. Earlier carbine barrels were slightly tighter. Most 1903 barrels, and all GI carbine barrels, have 4 lands and grooves. Most 1903A3 barrels have two lands and grooves. The .30 caliber carbine bullet works in a 1903/1903A3 barrel, without having to change the inside dimensions. [The Model 1903 Springfield Rifle and it's Variations by Joe Poyer, 2nd Edition, revised][The U.S. .30 cal. Gas Operated Carbines, A Shop Manual, by Jerry Kuhnhausen]
For a short period in 1963, National Ordnance switched to pressure treated barrel. This will be covered in the next chapter.
By mid to late 1963, the overwhelming majority of National Ordnance M1 carbine barrels were newly manufactured barrels with 4 lands and grooves, purchased from Small Arms Manufacturing Co. in Bridgeville, PA, a custom barrel manufacturer. They did not include the gas piston housing, which was made separate and welded to the barrel.
The first carbine parts actually made by National Ordnance were the M1 carbine handguards, which were initially made and assembled at Penney's home. Penney located a major furniture manufacturer in South Los Angeles to have the stocks and handguards made locally. Within a matter of months, Penney switched manufacturers, using Wayne's Wood Carving in Los Angeles, CA. This manufacturer had the equipment necessary to manufacture rifle stocks and was used throughout production by National Ordnance and Alpine. What they initially lacked in stock manufacturing knowledge, they more than made up for with their attention to small details.
Stocks were made using walnut or alder. Configuration of the stock included an oval cut slingwell, some with high wood in the slide area, some with low wood. alder is a very light colored wood and does not retain wood stain well. alder produced what Penney referred to as a "blond" stock.
From almost the beginning of production and throughout production, National Ordnance, and later Alpine, used a smooth buttplate manufactured for them by Short Run Stamping in El Monte, CA.
National Ordnance utilized surplus GI trigger housings as long as possible. When the supply ran out, they arranged for Rimer Casting to manufacture an investment cast trigger housing to GI size specifications and dimensions. Trigger housings cast by Rimer can be identified by the letter R forward of the hammer, down inside the housing.
Surplus GI parts were obtained wherever and whenever National Ordnance could get them. Regular major suppliers included:
As the surplus GI parts became available, they would arrange for cast parts. Some of these will be covered further in Chapter III.
In late 1960 National Ordnance moved into it's first a commercial location, a 3,200 square foot building located at 235 S. Irwindale Ave, in Azusa, CA.
Penney and Arnold initially intended on selling all of their carbines retail by mail order. Their first advertisement was placed in the American Rifleman November 1960. Because Alpine handled sales, the advertisement was placed by Alpine Sales and did not mention National Ordnance. The carbines sold by these ads were marked with the National Ordnance name, not the Alpine name (those came later, see Chapter III).
The response to the ads was so great, it overwhelmed them. Thereafter, National Ordnance and Alpine sold wholesale only.
By 1962 Arnold wanted to expand both Alpine and National Ordnance to become the "Winchester of the West Coast". Penney wanted to stick with manufacturing M1 carbines and M1 Garands. Arnold was interested in implanting manufacturing, Penney wanted to subcontract.
Penney arranged for Rimer Casting to manufacture a test run of cast receivers for research into the feasibility of using them to manufacture National Ordnance 1903A3 rifles in 30-06 caliber. After receiving the test run, machining, and hardening, Penney submitted the receivers for ballistic strength testing to H.P. White Laboratory, Incorporated of Street, MD. White Laboratory determined these cast receivers were more than strong enough to function safely with 30-06 ammunition. [The Springfield 1903 Rifles by Colonel William S. Brophy].
National Ordnance made no rifles for Golden State Arms or their Santa Fe Division. Golden State Arms had their own machine shop, in Pasadena.
In September/October 1962, before production of the 1903A3 rifles commenced, the differences between Arnold and Penney regarding the future of National Ordnance motivated them to go their separate ways...
235 S. Irwindale Ave.
Right: Bob Penney examines a National Ordnance carbine before it is boxed for shipment.
Left: There are 913 National Ordnance carbines in this photograph. 39 in the rack, 2 in the box on the floor, 436 cartons containing 2 carbines each.
Left: Penney acquired surplus shipping boxes used by U.S. Army Ordnance, Rock Island Arsenal, for shipping M1/M2 Carbines post WWII. The boxes contained a cardboard separator that also held the magazine, sling, and oiler for each carbine.