One Man’s Dream and Labor of Love
One American Vietnam Veteran who’s love of firearms led him down the path through Gunsmithing School to a machinist and then a creator. Hower with the love of his life Carolea at his side supporting and participating in his creation of the Hower 12 shot Revolver.
Several years’ back Kenneth and Carolea Hower were browsing through the Shot Show and came upon a cap and ball Lemat revolver sold by Navy Arms. Kenneth was always intrigued by Jean Alexandre LeMat’s revolver design so decided to order one. About a month later in the mail came their Navy Arms Lemat.
Kenneth took his new Navy Arms Lemat and studied it very closely. He like the general design but was more interested in the two barrel concept. His mind started to work away at how he would make his own two barrel revolver. He conceived of a cartridge revolver over the early cap and ball Lemat and a rifled center barrel which fires, what he calls, the 50-28. With these basic concepts in mind, in the evenings Kenneth would set in front of the television and hand sketch on paper the general blueprint of the Hower Single Action 12 Shot Revolver.
I heard about the Hower Revolver from my Uncle Mike Thompson. My Aunt and Uncle are friends with the Howers. My Uncle suggested I go to the Hower’s home and see this beast of a gun. My Uncle told me it is a big revolver, but I was not prepared for just how big it is. I considered the idea and figured it would be worth the drive to Kansas to see this one of a kind pistol. I figured if the Hower Revolver is all it is touted to be, then there might be a story worth writing.
With my Uncle and Dad in tow we arrived at the Hower’s residence where we were taken by Kenneth Hower directly to the kitchen. There on the kitchen table was the Hower Single Action 12 Shot Revolver. With permission, I picked up this monster and quickly realized it is even bigger when held in your hands. I say hands, at 11.1 pounds this revolver is not a one handed gun. I took my time with the Hower Revolver looking for craftsmanship and functionality. I could see considerable thought was given to the design of this firearm. The 50 caliber lower barrel was rifled and set securely in the center of the 12 shot cylinder. The casehardening was professionally done and worked well with the overall look of this firearm.
I turned to Kenneth and took a long look at this man. I then inquired of him just what had possessed him to make this single action 12 shot .357 magnum with a single shot 50-28 lower barrel? Kenneth smiled and chuckled. He started telling his story which spanned over five years and 1,200 man hours. The story began at the Shot Show and the purchase of the nine shot Lemat cap and ball replica. Kenneth said he liked the two barrel concept and the multiple nine shot capability. With his desire to create his own design, Kenneth determined his creation would fire cartridges in lieu of the black powder cap and ball Lemat. His revolver would sport 12 shots with the central or lower barrel being a 50 caliber of some type.
Kenneth said he considered the attributes of various calibers and finely choose the .357 magnum. He felt the .357 mag. being a .36 caliber would replicate the Lemat models produced in .36 caliber. Based on the .357 mag. outer diameter of .379, he extrapolated this by twelve adding sufficient room for chamber pressures this round generates. With these numerical equations in mind Kenneth determined the cylinder of his revolver would be 2.87 inches wide. From these dimensions he literally build outward to create the Hower Single Action 12 Shot. He gave consideration to the steel to be used and settled on 4340 for the cylinder due to its strength. Kenneth chose A36 for the frame for its ability to be machined and to caseharden. He used 4140 for the hammer, trigger, latch and moving internal parts because after he finished the heat treating it would stand up to the high usage of these parts with little or no wear.
With his hand drawn blueprints and choices of calibers, metals and general idea on how he would proceed, Kenneth Hower with Carolea at his side embarked on the five year odyssey which led to the creation of the Hower Single Action 12 Shot Revolver. Hower started by milling out the cylinder and engineering an internal extraction ring which lifts the cartridges out of their chambers. He fluted the cylinder to shave off some weight and cut the locking notches and rounded ratchet holes. Once he completed the cylinder he went to work on the frame. Taking considerable time he perfected the frame which would marry up with all other parts of this firearm. Once the frame was completed, Hower took blanks of A36 steel and attempted to color case harden them. He wanted to perfect the system before he used it on his one of a kind revolver frame.
After several attempts Hower was not happy with the results. Hower then contacted Doug Turnbull of Turnbull Restoration and Manufacturing Company in Bloomfield, New York. After some discussion Hower agreed to send Turnbull the one of a kind frame for the color case hardening treatment. Hower would later find out this was much easier said than getting it done. He found out the shipping companies would not insure this unique gun part or guarantee its replacement if lost. The only option left was to hand carry the frame from Arkansas City, Kansas to Bloomfield, New York. The Howers decided on transportation by taking the Amtrak passenger train from Newton, Kansas to Bloomfield. This would avoid the possibility of the frame being lost with the checked baggage via air travel. To do this they had to drive from Arkansas City, KS to Newton to board the train. They then took the two day trip to Bloomfield then taxi to Turnbull Restoration and Manufacturing Company where they turned over the Hower frame to Doug. The Howers then returned to Newton via Amtrak and to their rural home near Arkansas City. Once the color case hardening was completed the Howers agreed to drive to the Wanenmacher’s Tulsa Arms Show to meet Doug Turnbull who would have the completed case hardened frame.
Hower decided to purchase the .357 barrel blank from Douglas Barrels. As for the lower or central barrel, he decided to manufacture his own out of 4130 steel. He chose this steel for two reasons. One it was a traditional steel in times past used for barrels, and two he had the 4130 steel stock on hand. On Hower’s first attempt in applying the rifling to the blank barrel, the bit he was using bound up in the last half inch of the blank. A new blank and a second attempt produced the 50-28 lower barrel Hower was striving for.
To support the two barrels at the end Kenneth custom made a barrel band. He told me the barrel band was the only process he had to do over several times. He said he didn’t know why but every project has its problems and this was the one for the Hower Revolver.
Once the barrels were completed and the frame returned with the color case hardening, Hower constructed the trigger and corresponding parts. He then manufactured the hammer with a sliding block attached to its face. When the sliding block is in the up position it facilitates the firing of the .357 mag. rounds. When this sliding block is moved to the lower position it facilitates the firing of the 50-28 round in the lower barrel.
In the making of the Hower 12 Shot, the only premade parts Kenneth purchased and used without customizing or threating them was three screws and one coil spring. The only exception to the screws and springs was when Carolea carved and fashioned the walnut grips. Carolea being a very gifted and master carver, took the wood from a walnut tree root which lived and died on their ancestral farm. She then hand carved the final grips and fitted them with the escutcheons and screw to hold them in place.
This was not the only contribution Carolea made to the Hower Revolver project. Prior to the color case hardening and final bluing Carolea went to work. Carolea engraved the Hower Revolver and inlayed the 24 karat gold on the cylinder, rear sight and two barrels. Being the perfectionist she is Carolea did not take lightly her part in this unique project. She has been a masterful wood carver and published author “Making Wooden Puzzle Playsets” which are sold in book stores and on line. However, engraving steel was not one of her normal projects. She had taken engraving classes at the Trinidad Gunsmithing School in Colorado. To prepare for the engraving of the Hower Revolver Carolea returned to the Trinidad school to brush up on her skills.
After the refresher course at Trinidad, over a two year period Carolea worked on no less than sixteen A36 steel blanks. She told me she wanted to be confident when it came time to engrave the frame. For those two years she practiced on the steel blanks one hour a day every day. Based on what I was holding in my hands, I can say she did a masterful job all the way around.
Carolea showed me the tools she used for the engraving and inlay work. The hammer and chisels used for the engraving were custom made by Kenneth. They were designed by her specifications to fit her hands. Another example of Kenneth’s skills and Carolea’s desire for perfection.
I know there is an elephant in the room concerning the 50-28 caliber barrel. So just what is the Hower 50-28 caliber? Kenneth explained he liked the idea of the Lemay’s lower or central barrel being a shotgun round. The Lemay normally sported a 20 gauge or 28 gauge shot barrel. To avoid all of the legal requirements of making the lower barrel a shotgun, Kenneth made the barrel with rifling. The same concept is used in the Taurus Judge and the S&W Governor which shoot .45 LC and .410 shotgun shells. He explained he could take a 28 gauge shell and replace the shot with a .44 caliber bullet. Because of the shot cup the .44 bullet became in effect a sabot round. He said a 28 gauge slug round could also be used. This is why Hower called the caliber of the lower barrel a 50-28.
The obvious question to ask after, “Why did you build this monster?” is now that the Hower Single Action 12 Shot Revolver is finished what are you going to do with an 11.1 pound 18 inch pistol? Kenneth said he has test fired the Hower Revolver but does not plan any further shooting. He would like to loan it to a museum so other shooting and gun enthusiasts view his work and possibly inspire them to create their own one of a kind firearm. Kenneth Hower placed the Hower 12 Shot .357/50 in the Frank Brownell Museum of the Southwest, NRA Whittington Center, Raton, New Mexico.
Hower’s 12 Shot Revolver Specs
Designer and Maker: Kenneth Hower, Arkansas City, KS.
Calibers: .357 Mag. & 50-28 Hower
Action Type: Center Fire Single Action Revolver
Frame: A36 Color Case Hardened Steel
Rifling: .357 Mag. 1-10”, 50-28 Hower 1-64”
Sights: Fixed with 24K Gold Inlay
Trigger: Single Action
Weight: 11.1 lbs