The Hollywood Fast Draw Rig
From the Gun Digest Book of Holsters and other Gun Leather
By Roger Combs 1983
Andy Anderson developed his first fast draw rigs while still a saddlemaker in Arkansas, but it was Arvo Ojala, a Hollywood technical advisor and gun coach to the starts, who first marketed a commercial fast draw rig known as the Hollywood Fast Draw Holster.
The Ojala rig was the first commercial rig which used a steel liner, and Ojala received patent number 2832519 on it. This steel liner allowed the holster to be shaped so the revolver cylinder could spin freely while still in the holster. Thumb-cocking the single action revolver while it was still in the holster greatly increased drawing speed and Ojala was soon the fastest gun in Hollywood. Ojala was a businessman who promoted his new rig while relying upon skilled leather workers to produce it. Both Andy Anderson and Alfonso Pineda, who would later open their own holster shops, worked in the Ojala shop. Anderson’s artistic talent can be seen in the final shape of the Hollywood Fast Draw Holster.
In addition to marketing the Hollywood rig himself, Ojala produced his rig for both Colt Firearms Company and Daisy Manufacturing Company. One collector, Bob Arganbright, has a plain black double holster rig which is stamped with a trademark, Made in U.S.A. – Colt – Designed by Arvo Ojala – Pat. No. 2832519. He also has a brown roughout (unfinished side of the leather on the outside to resemble suede) single holster rig which is unmarked except for the Daisy trademark on the heads of the snaps which retain the removable belt buckle. The removable buckle was an extra cost option from both Ojala and Pineda.
A unique rig was the Ojala one-piece Walk-and-Draw rig, with an estimated total production of six or less. This rig is constructed with the cartridge belt and holster cut from one piece of leather. The holster pouch extends upward from the top edge of the belt while the skirt is an extension of the bottom edge. The pouch folds downward at the juncture with the belt and fastens to the skirt. While an excellent rig for Walk-and-Draw competition, it was far too expensive to produce when compared to the standard rig. Ojala’s rig was the most popular during the infancy of the fast draw sport. It was an excellent rig for the stationary fast draw, such as the self start event where the shooter started the timer by releasing the start button with the trigger finger and the sound of the blank cartridge stopped the electronic timer. It should be noted that the Ojala rig was designed for use with blanks, and its low, straight up and down carry is not safe with the cocked-in-the-holster draw when using live ammo.
With the movie and TV influence, the late Fifties saw the introduction of the Walk-and-Draw (W&D) event to fast draw contests. Two contestants faced off one hundred feet apart and upon command walked towards each other, the Hollywood version of the legendary “walk down.” Upon a visual signal, each shooter drew and fired a blank with the electronic timer indicating who fired first. Judges insured that the muzzle blast was level for a shot to be called good. In this new form of fast draw, the traditional tied-down holster swung with the shooter’s leg as he walked. This created problems as the shooter tried to find the elusive hammer spur with his thumb moving at top speed.
Andy Anderson soon emerged as the top fast draw rig designer and manufacturer. Working out of his Gunfighter shop in North Hollywood, Andy introduced his revolutionary W&D standard rig, soon followed by his W&D Western version. These new designs raised the gun slightly higher, pointed the muzzle slightly forward, and did away with the tie-down thong. The tie-down was replaced with a steel lined hip plate placed on the backside of the holster drop shank on the inside of the gunbelt. This clever design anchored the holster when the gunbelt pulled the hip plate snugly into the hollow of the hip. The W&D Western version included a full skirt on the backside of the holster. In addition to the more traditional Western appearance, the skirt was used to position a hardened steel deflector plate, a wise precaution for the live ammo fast draw shooter, many of whom preferred the Gunfighter line of rigs. Such top live ammo competitors as Thell Reed, Ray Chapman, and Walt Ivie were faithful customers of Andy Anderson. Walt Ivie was a consistent winner shooting a custom Colt SA .44 with a 9 5/8 inch barrel out of a custom Anderson rig. Ivie’s .44 was possibly the original Big Iron that prompted Marty Robbins hit of the same name.
Winner of the first Colt-Hotel Sahara National W&D Championship, Gary Freymueller, used a custom Anderson rig to win the title as well as posting the fastest time of .22 seconds, including reaction time.
In addition to the hip plate, Anderson introduced the Gunfighter decorative stitching, the full contour cut gunbelt for comfort, and the muzzle forward holster angle known as the muzzle rake. The muzzle rake greatly increased the safety of SA fast draw, as the occasional accidental shot before clearing leather was now pointed away from the shooter’s leg and foot. No more .44 or .45 caliber holes in expensive cowboy boots. The previously mentioned decorative stitching is offered today on many belts, gunbelts, holsters and rifle slings.
The first two National Championships, held in Las Vegas in 1959 and ’60, saw the Anderson rigs as the most popular with shooters. In addition, where the Ojala rig was the predominant holster seen on the early TV Western series, such as Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, and Maverick, by the late ‘50s one saw the Anderson rigs gaining popularity. They were seen in such weekly shows as Rawhide, The Virginian, and Wagon Train. The movies had found the Gunfighter shop also. Steve McQueen used an early W&D Standard rig in the classic movie The Magnificent Seven. Clint Eastwood choose the W&D Western rig for his role as the man with no name in A Fist Full of Dollars, and his subsequent Westerns.
While never produced by a major holster manufacturer a popular rig during the Early ‘60s was the Woolem rig marketed by Tandy Leather. Available either complete or in kit form, this rig was designed by four time National Fast Draw Champion Dee Woolem. Woolem’s rig rode considerably higher than most, bringing the gun butt up midway between wrist and elbow. Using this rig, Woolem set the national record for self-start blanks of 0.12 second. Woolem’s rig could be purchased as a hobby craft kit and offered a major savings for the budget-conscious fast gun. This rig was further popularized by Woolem when he toured as a professional Fast Draw Exhibition Shooter for Great Western Arms Co., Crosman Arms and Daisy.
At the 1960 National W&D championships, a new fangled fanner set the sport on its ear by shooting his way into the winners circle. Fred Stieler won the title using a homemade holster and most of the contestants he “shot down” made the big switch from thumb-cocking to fanning. Curt Blakemore, one of the more sudden fanners, developed a new draw where he fan-cocked the SA revolver while it was still in the holster. This required the same trigger technique as the thumber, where the trigger finger lies along the side of the trigger guard until the revolver clears leather. Later, Blakemore developed the twist fan, in which the trigger is squeezed with first hand contact with the gun, which is twisted from the holster and fanned just as the muzzle clears the holster lip.
Unless one had arms like Clint Eastwood’s friend Clyde, these new fanning styles required a holster that sat higher and further from the body than the available rigs. Anderson’s personal philosophy was that live ammo fast draw was a man’s game and he wasn’t interested in catering to the blank shooting sport. A former Ojala employee, Alfonso Pineda, opened a shop offering rigs specially designed for the fanner. These came in three versions, known at the number one, number two, and number three Alfonso. The number two became the standard in the sport for about ten years and is still a competitive fanning rig today. There were shooters who preferred the Alfonso number one or number three, such as three time World Fast Draw Champion Bob Graham, who used a number three for many years. All the Alfonso rigs were distinctive for their double rows of stitching around all edges. Clayton Moore of Lone Ranger fame, in a personal appearance, was using a beautiful hand carved double Alfonso rig. Of the makers mentioned so far, Alfonso Pineda is the only one still producing fast draw rigs, though Ojala briefly advertised a commemorative rig duplicating the one used by Richard Boone as Paladin.
A rig seldom seen except in Western movies is the Redwing version. Designed and originally hand made by famous Hollywood gun coach, technical advisor and actor Rodd Redwing in 1937, it was offered to the public through the Jesse James gun Shop in Hollywood in 1960. Later Andy Anderson produced them to Redwing’s specifications. Redwing’s rig differed from all others by the use of two corset stays in the cylinder portion of the holster, rather than the usual steel liner. According to Redwing, an original Wanted poster dated December 21, 1880 offered a reward for a Curly Bill Graham for stage robberies and corset stealing. Redwing believed that Graham used corset stays to form a “fast draw pocket” in his holster. Available only in roughout, in order to resemble buckskin, they all include two cartridge loops placed on the belt just above and in front of the holster. Rodd Redwing taught his students to fire a fast second shot by raking the hammer spur against these cartridges, while holding the trigger back to slip hammer the SA. While not as fast a rig as some of the others, Redwing managed self-start times as fast as 0.17 second. Glenn Ford used a Redwing rig in many of his Westerns and performed the two-shot trick in The Fastest Gun Alive.
Bianchi Gunleather and Safariland Ltd., both offered versions of the traditional Hollywood style rig. They are beautifully made. The Bianchi is one of the few holsters made specifically for a 4 ¾-inch barrel, as many fast draw rigs use a holster that takes either a 4 ¾ or 5 ½ inch SA. The Safariland version is similar to Bianchi’s, but lined with their orthopedic elk, which is green in color. While this makes an excellent belt lining, as it tends to cling to the trousers and prevent any slippage, many prefer a heavy cowhide lining in the holster. A few years ago Safariland made a few custom rigs for fast draw exhibition shooter Bob Munden. Called the Recordbreaker, this custom rig was a duplicate of one originally made for Munden by Andy Anderson. It is similar to the W&D Western, differing mainly in the width and shape of the holster drop shank. Munden used one of these rigs in his fast draw act.
Gordon Davis offers copies of the Anderson W&D rig and Cobra Gunskin has purchased manufacturing rights to the complete Anderson Gunfighter line. Their beautiful full color catalog shows an original Anderson fast draw rig. In a recent conversation, Andy Anderson said he was impressed with the work of Gordon Davis; high praise indeed, coming from the master.
Ted Blocker’s Custom Holsters offers three different SA fast draw rigs. Blocker was a fast draw competitor for many years and knows what makes a top rig.
During the ‘60s, when fast draw was popular throughout the Midwest, many shooters from Kanas, Oklahoma and Texas used rigs made by Chenei of Tulsa, Oklahoma. These rigs were available in all the popular styles and were well made. Bob Arganbright is proud of his Woolem fender rig, designed by Woolem and made by Chenei. The holster sits well out from the body and attaches to a steel lined fender with screw post binders. Made of leather with an imitation ostrich hide pattern, this is a striking rig. Woolem used a similar rig in some of his later tours.
Most fast draw competition shooters today are using rigs made by Ernie Hill Speed Leather. Hill has been shooting fast draw since the age of 3, and is a full-time maker of speed leather. In addition to producing rigs, Ernie Hill is one of the fastest guns in the world. He has set numerous world speed records in the World Fast Draw Association using the twist fan draw. Hill believes that fast draw, as he knows it, is a sport of the 1980s and he designs his rigs to reflect this. However, he is a custom maker and will make a rig any way the customer wishes. Some would prefer a more traditional rig, but no one can argue with the speed that Hill demonstrates using one of his rigs. He can consistently break a four inch balloon at eight feet, using a black powder blank, with times less than one-quarter second, including reaction time.
It is interesting to note that the most popular IPSC combat rigs used today include some, or all, of the features first introduced in the SA fast draw rig. These include the full contour belt, steel lining, the hip plate and the muzzle rake. No gun toter, before or since, has had better handgun leather than the Twentieth Century fast draw shooter.