Police Gun Perfection: The Peace Officer Equipment Remington Autoloading Rifles
By Cameron WoodallLong before the concept of modern assault rifles, a company in St. Joseph, Missouri was modifying Remington Model 8’s to help law enforcement officers obtain significant firepower over criminals. With the widely publicized use of Thompson submachine guns by gangsters in the 1930’s, many departments were forced to step up their gun arsenal to maintain fire superiority in the event of a shootout. The Peace Officer Equipment Company brought out a product that turned a hunting and sporting rifle to the forefront of law enforcement use. Although the Model 8 wasn’t designed for martial service nor ideally suited for extended firefights, the modified Police versions fit a niche that few others could fill. Without the need to carry spare stripper clips or loose cartridges, the man behind the Peace Officer rifle could go a long way without reloading with “fifteen rapid, smashing aimed shots – plus extra range, penetration, and shock” as advertised. These modified Remington Autoloaders, carried three times the standard capacity, affording themselves the perfect role in a motorized pursuit. The officer could carry ample ammunition in a single magazine and have considerable firepower without the public liability of a machine gun. The advantage these Model 8’s carried over their counterparts, besides magazine capacity, was their chambering: the .35 Remington. This medium bore cartridge propelled a 200gr bullet at 2000fps, more than enough to punch through steel car bodies or primitive body armor. For the department who desired less recoil and less chance of overpenetration, the Peace Officer rifle could be ordered in .30Rem as well. Whether in 35Rem or 30Rem, the gun’s appearance let it be known it meant business!
Peace Officers’ Equipment Co. Remington Model 8The Police Model 8 and 81 may never have been if not for the insight of Newton S. Hillyard. Mr. Hillyard was the founder and president of Hillyard Chemical Company in St. Joseph, Missouri and to his credit created nearly 50 patented products before his passing. His company, founded in 1907, served the maintenance industry and actually continues today as a family operated business. Newton was into more than the maintenance industry however and being an entrepreneur founded the Peace Officer Equipment Company in the 1920’s. This company’s mainstay product was the “Flash Commander”, an automobile signal light that identified peace officers and aided them in apprehending suspects long before standardized emergency lights. They also sold an assortment of law enforcement products such as black jacks, handcuffs, tear gas grenades, etc. As early as 1929, Peace Officer Equipment Co. (or POE for short) began converting Remington Model 8’s from the factory non-detachable magazines, to single stack higher capacity detachable magazines. In addition, POE also did away with the factory schnabel forearm in favor of a custom made beavertail forearm that was longer and wider. The Peace Officer Equipment Co. modified Model 8 weighed in at approx. 9.5lbs empty and an overall length of 41 inches. It quickly became popular with large and small municipalities in and around Missouri.
image courtesy of The Hillyard CompaniesMagazine Construction The heart of these rifles is the magazine. Whether in 30Rem or 35Rem calibers, the magazines were made of steel (this includes the side walls, arcuate walls, and end plate), held together by a series of cross pins, and designed to hold cartridges single stack. The slightly curved magazine has dual guide ribs, one on each side, to keep the cartridges in a central position while feeding up towards the chamber. Perhaps one of the more remarkable aspects of this magazine is that each one had its own magazine release latch built onto the magazine. Other detachable magazine conversions, like the Krieger for example, had their magazine releases machined into the trigger plate. Eventually Newton Hillyard filed for a patent on this magazine on October 8th, 1934. By May 25th, 1937 he was granted U.S. Patent number 2,081, 235. Marketing In the early days of POE marketing, Newton S. Hillyard and his principal salesman, Clarence Gillis “Buckshot” Wilson, worked together to promote the rifle. Giving demonstrations, both men were known as excellent solicitors, and Buckshot even then was a professional exhibition shooter. In an interview with Buckshot Wilson from the St. Joseph News-Press July 17, 1977, an example of the team’s selling prowess is told,
“In the drought year of 1934, the company gave a demonstration in a pasture at Kirksville for the chief of police, sheriff, city fire chief, and a banker whose bank had been robbed at gun point. The narrator of my demonstration, Buckshot says, was the best in the business – N.S. Hillyard, owner and director of the company. He called each shot with precision timing. “Look gentlemen, he said, how easy it is to hit the target with our super police rifle. Look at its devastating effect on the motor block of that car (towed in from a junk yard for the demonstration), a definite advantage when pursuing a bandit car, or a desperate criminal who might be fortified in a steel vest”. “Watch this, our police rifle is going to hit a target the size of a half dollar in mid-air”. “N.S. had run out of washer targets and he asked for a half-dollar, but not one of the men would comply with his request. He took one of his own and I tossed it into the air and I drilled a hole through the outer edge. It landed near the excited group who made a mad rush for it. The banker, true to his profession, grabbed it and politely put it in his pocket. We sold the police department and the sheriff’s office, and the local hardware store sold N.S. a good supply of half-dollar sized washers just in case of another shortage in silver halves.Wilson sold police rifles in Rochester, Minn, when he proved to the police chief that they would fire at 30 degrees below zero. In his demonstration he shot at cans of tomato juice, which exploded into clouds of frozen red dust”.
image courtesy Bob Creamer
The Peace Officer Equipment Co. Model 81Prior to Remington’s announcement of their “Special Police” Model 81 in early 1940, four years had passed since one of the last known POE Model 8’s, #697XX (May, 1936). Evidence suggests that POE began modifying Model 81’s once production of Model 8’s ceased. When Remington and POE began conversing about a production Police rifle in early 1938, the Technical Director at Remington, E.C. Hadley, stated that the company currently sold rifles less magazines (presumably Model 81’s) to POE, who in turn converted them to 15 shot capacity and sold them for their own profit. One such example of a Model 81 with features unique to POE, rifle #2983 (mfg. May 1937) has a matching 15 round magazine, extended POE forearm, and no sling swivels. A few characteristics indicate this rifle was probably converted by Peace Officers’ Equipment Co. The first and most apparent is that the barrel lock assembly has been modified in a way consistent with POE Model 8’s. This entails recessing the barrel lock, drilling out the barrel lock screw, and installing a stainless rivet, with a ¼” head through the length of the assembly. The rivet is then peened over the barrel lock screw from the outside. This modification hasn’t been witnessed on any rifle other than those built by POE. Furthermore, the 15 round magazine is of the earlier Model 8 pattern still stamped "Pat. Pend". Also the rifle’s matching serial number is in the location consistent with POE’s placement (just below the top indicator hole). Remington's 1940 Peace Officer catalog illustrates the Model 81 “Special Police” with the earlier style Model 8 magazine. The few other known examples of POE built Model 81's feature transitional magazines with varying characteristics. It should be pointed out that in accordance with contractual agreements between POE and Remington, the only POE built Model 81's would be very early rifles. The latest seen during this study was #56XX (mfg. Feb. 1938).
The Remington Model 81 "Special Police"
image courtesy of Bob CreamerRecognizing the extraordinary firepower of the POE built Model 8, Remington wanted in on the action with a police rifle of their own. In 1938 the company was gearing up to bring out a new line of modified firearms dubbed "Special Police" aimed specifically for sale to the law enforcement community. The Model 11 & 31 shotguns were included in this lineup and after work with POE, the Model 81 as well. The Model 81 Police rifle was a powerhouse fit for close range work just like its Model 8 predecessor. With a 15 round magazine, the officer didn’t have to worry about immediate reloading nor lacking fire superiority! The “Special Police” rifle, introduced in early 1940, was essentially a continuation of the Peace Officers’ Equipment Co. Model 8 but with larger marketing hopes. As stated, the primary market for the “Special Police” was to law enforcement agencies but during the onset of WWII, Remington Asst. Director of Mfg., E.C. Hadley, had other ideas in mind,
“National Guard companies could be supplied with these semiautomatics. They would prove to be of great value in guarding key points such as railroad stations, utility nerve centers, and bridgeheads. Rifles like these in the hands of trained marksmen would certainly prove their worth in dealing with parachute troops, for example. They could be picked off with the semiautomatic in the short time of their descent while the soldier with the bolt action rifle would lose precious seconds in reloading after each shot” (Chicago Daily Tribune, May 6th, 1940)Mr. Hadley went on to further explain the “Special Police” was not a military firearm; it was built on a sporting / hunting platform and was not practical for frontline troop use. Remington’s Model 81 police version was certainly unique in the production firearms market; it had more magazine capacity and more punch than most of its contemporaries. But despite its impressive attributes, the police version of the Model 81 was only produced in limited quantities. Production Remington was in the works with Peace Officer’s as early as March 1938 on the acquisition of rights in order to produce their own version of the 15 round magazine. After estimating costs of producing the magazines themselves or paying royalties, Remington ended up purchasing the magazines from POE, then fitting and bluing them at the factory. An interoffice memo dated Dec. 29, 1939 spills out the need for master trigger plates and receivers to test POE magazine interchangeability. The magazines were to be fitted to these master assemblies prior to fitting to the actual production host rifle. Special Police Model 81’s do not have unique serial numbers; this is because there were not enough of them manufactured to constitute Remington having specially machined trigger plates and receivers on hand. Instead Remington simply used standard 81's in stock to make up Police guns. There is a trend however of Special Police rifles falling into certain serial number blocks. The most common blocks during this study were 99XX – 10XXX, 136XX, 155XX-157XX, and 187XX – 202XX.
POE Magazine Capacities
The predominant POE magazine is the 15 round version. These are found on the majority of both the POE 8’s and Special Police 81’s. In an overwhelming majority of POE 8 & 81’s studied (this includes solitary magazines), 82 out of 91 were 15 round versions. This capacity is also depicted in the 1937 U.S. Patent filed by Newton S. Hillyard. There are some slight differences between Police 8 & 81 magazines. Model 8 magazines can be identified by the markings “Pat. Pend.” underneath the company name, and the number “15” between the bottom two indicator holes. The Model 8 magazines will have 3 indicator holes, one on top, two on bottom. Model 81 magazines will only have 2 round indicator holes, one on bottom, one on top. On Model 81 magazines, the number “15” was omitted and “Pat. Pend.” was replaced with “Patent No. 2, 081, 235”. Per Remington’s instruction, most model 81 magazines will be hand marked by caliber. Due to the nature of their manufacture, POE magazines will vary slightly in certain areas with evidence of hand filing. A number of different followers have been noticed. Occasionally the inside of the magazine release lever (called the depending lever) will have the last two digits of the serial number stamped or the magazine number if more than one were made for a rifle. This evidently is there because these magazines were handmade and individual parts were matched to the corresponding magazine box. In the photograph note the different indicator holes, serial number location, and Patent markings.10 Rounds Peace Officer Equip. Co. also produced a 10 round magazine. Their prevalence is substantially less than that of the 15 round versions; in fact only 3 examples out of the 74 rifles studied was found. These magazines are not aftermarket jobs but were produced by POE in limited numbers and have only been found on Model 8’s. They only have 1 indicator hole located at the top of the magazine. Pictured below is rifle # 697XX (May, 1936) marked, “Sheriff’s Office Fulton MO.”, and equipped with a 10 round magazine. photograph courtesy of Doug Baier An advertisement below, from the 1934 Peace Officers’ Equipment catalog, shows a two specialty law enforcement firearms. Although the Model 8 is advertised as a “15 Shot High Power Autoloading Rifle”, the magazine in the photograph is of considerable shorter length than the more common 15 round version. Its length is consistent with rifle # 697XX. image courtesy of The Hillyard Companies Further evidence for the factory manufacture of the 10 round magazine, is a letter from Robert S. Hillyard (Newton’s son) to C.G. “Buckshot” Wilson stating,
“Dear Buckshot, we are pleased to offer you the exclusive rights on the Model 8 Remington gun 30 and 35 calibre, equipped with 10 shot magazine at a price of $56.00” (July 7th, 1936).
photograph courtesy of Bob and Jeff Pajtas
Authenticating Peace Officer Model 8 & 81'sAside from the detachable magazines, a few other characteristics make Police 8 & 81’s stand out. External and internal modifications were done on both models to ensure reliable function. These aren’t guns one can easily reproduce; the magazines would cost a smooth fortune to duplicate. Once in a while solitary magazines turn up in auctions, sometimes selling as high as $1100 each. Fitting a standard 8/81 with an original POE magazine isn’t just a matter of dropping the trigger plate and swapping boxes. The following information is to help the collector determine the authenticity of a Police 8 or 81 should one be in question. The Peace Officers’ Equipment Co. Model 8 The distinctive characteristics of the Police 8’s are their extended magazines, and beefier, longer forearms. In regards to the magazines themselves, the rifles’ matching serial number should be engraved on the left side just below the first indicator hole. If serial numbers do not match the rifle may be suspect, although it was not uncommon for a department that owned several rifles to mismatch magazines. The author has even witnessed mismatched barrel assemblies but from the same batch of department rifles. Some rifles are found inscribed with a department name; this was most likely done by the individual department and not the Peace Officer Equipment Co. There are two variations of POE Model 8 forearms. Both are of the same overall length, 10 ¼, but differ in the angle of the wood where it meets the receiver. The two versions are compared below; the forearm at top is less common and seldom encountered. Internally there are a few changes that show the expertise of POE in engineering the Police conversion. The first is the removal of the entire magazine indicator assembly. This means after emptying the magazine, the bolt will not lock back on the last round as on standard Model 8 & 81’s. Another modification is to the barrel lock and barrel lock screw. This assembly, without a fixed magazine, can potentially fall out with the magazine removed. POE’s method to prevent this was to inlet the barrel lock for space to install a metal rivet-like pin through the body of the barrel lock screw. This small stainless pin kept the barrel lock pressed against the inside of the receiver with no concern of falling out when the magazine was removed. The barrel lock screw was drilled out, and the pin ran through the length of the screw. This is a great way of telling an original POE modification from others just by looking at the barrel lock screw head from the outside and at the barrel lock from the inside (pictured below). Looking inside the action of a POE Model 8, the head of this rivet is about ¼” in diameter and flush with the barrel lock. Common to both POE 8’s and Special Police 81’s are tool marks on the inside edges of the trigger plate. These marks are from hand files where the assembler had to remove material from the trigger plate to individually fit the magazine to the gun. At first glance the work may look crude but this is customary for Police 8 & 81’s. Guns with matching serial numbers will typically have a magazine with a tight fit and lockup. Another common feature of POE built Model 8's is the bottom tang metal buttplate. Although not a requirement for authenticity, the bottom tang metal buttplate was found, in this study, on over 90% of the specimens. In their heyday, POE purchased rifles from Remington, converted them, and then sold them. The most common buttplate of that era (1930-1936) was the bottom tang metal buttplate. POE, on occasion, also offered their services on rifles that were already in law enforcement use. Because of this there are a few rifles that may have characteristics outside the norm (though they should still have a matching serial number on the magazine!). The Special Police Model 81 In similar fashion to the Model 8, the Special Police Model 81’s most distinguishing characteristics is the extended magazine and special forearm. The forearm on the Model 81 is even longer than the POE Model 8, measuring 11 ¼” in length (see below). In addition to the extended forearm, Remington also manufactured extended forearm screws for the Special Police 81. These screws are about 1/8" longer than the standard Model 81 forearm screw. A standard Model 81 forearm screw will not secure the Special Police forearm against the barrel jacket. Serial numbers are not in the same location on Police 81 magazines as they are on 8’s. When present, serial numbers are stamped on the front shoulder of the magazine. Occasionally beside the serial number will be another number, either a “1”, “2”, or “3”. Some departments (such as Nashville, TN Police Dept.) ordered each of their Special Police rifles with 3 matching magazines. This number signifies that magazine. It should be known that not all Special Police magazines have a serial number. A Remington memo dated January 30, 1940 lists the exact specifications of the Special Police. Special Police rifles came with factory installed sling swivel eyelets. The front eyelet is mounted in the barrel jacket swivel hole, the rear is mounted approx. 3 inches from the toe. Remington's "Special Police" lineup (including the Model 11 & 31 shotguns) was roll marked with a Police Gun inscription. Pictured below is a representative "Special Police" receiver marking on a Model 81. Notice the department markings are not of the same quality as the Police gun markings; this is customary as the department name was hand engraved and often times the witness lines are visible. At the time, the cost of adding a hand engraved department name on the receiver cost $1.50 for any inscription up to 20 letters and 5 cents each additional letter beyond 20. Perhaps for this reason, a few Special Police rifles have been found without a department name, one such rifle is in the NRA museum # 188XX. Keeping with Peace Officer Equipment’s innovation, Remington also modified their Special Police rifles internally. The magazine indicator assembly was removed and the barrel lock modified. Remington’s method of securing the barrel lock differed from POE’s. Whereas POE used a rivet-like pin through the body of the barrel lock screw, Remington used a small, blued flathead retainer screw. Remington part #165, 166, & 167 as listed in the 1950 Component Parts List shown below are unique to Special Police 81’s. Using this method meant the barrel lock screw was drilled, tapped, and the retainer screw installed keeping the barrel lock firmly against the inside of the receiver wall. The barrel lock itself was recessed to allow seating of the barrel lock retainer screw without rubbing against the magazine. This method was probably not engineered until just before production as an August, 1939 Remington parts list titled “Model 81 – 30 & 35 Rem. Ca. Autoloading Police Rifle” does not include the retainer screw and barrel lock modifications. It does however omit the magazine indicator assembly. By using the retainer screw instead of the pin, Special Police 81’s will resemble a standard 81 externally (apart from the missing magazine indicator assembly). A notice to any collector or shooter of authentic Police 8 or 81’s, there is no safety stop screw as there are in standard 8/81’s. This means should one disengage the safety with too much force the safety can overtravel down beyond the “fire” position and mar the side of the receiver. Be cautious!
- * As a special note about police rifles, a department could order a Police Model 81 with all the upgrades (receiver markings, sling swivels eyelets, special length forearm) but with a standard non-detachable 5 round magazine. Rifle # 99XX has a Special Police 11 ¼” forearm, sling swivel eyelets, and receiver markings (notice without the detachable magazine it retains a magazine indicator assembly). It is marked property of “Tennessee State Penitentiary Nashville, Tennessee”. Another similar rifle is marked “Arkansas State Penitentiary”.
Police Rifle Prototypes
Two known Model 8's suggest that Remington experimented with making their own Police rifle apart from the Peace Officers Equipment Company. Instead of POE's method of having the magazine release lever built onto the magazine itself, these rifles have a special block fixed to the trigger plate that houses a release lever. The magazines themselves differ significantly. They are single stack, like POE magazines, but are straight box with a series of cartridge indicator holes. Magazine capacity is not known on the longer version which currently resides in the Remington factory Archive Room. The Model 8 with shorter magazine is privately owned, chambered in 35rem, and reportedly holds 6 cartridges.
Production Figures and Final ThoughtsThere are no definitive figures as to how many Police 8 or 81’s were built. Recently found though is an interesting article from the May 26th, 1974 edition of the St. Joseph Mo, News Press. In this article a detective from the St. Joseph Police Dept. is investigating the origins of a Remington Model 8 with 15 round magazine owned by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This is an excerpt from the article,
“Detective Miller learned that Chester L. Vernard, 3128 Summit avenue, a retired watchmaker, designed and made magazines for the Police Officers Equipment Co. Mr. Vernard stated that he made approximately 500 of these clips. About 200 of these were sold to Remington Arms Co.”Chester Vernard is not listed in any known POE paperwork or on the 1937 U.S. Patent, but the interesting aspect of Mr. Vernard’s statement is that to some extent it correlates with a Remington memo dated April 8th, 1938. In this memo, by Remington employee C.L. Jones, the company is considering how to handle the fitting of the Police magazines before Special Police production. The memo reads,
“Therefore, it would appear that if the Sales Dept. closes this order for 200 Model 81 rifles to be fitted with these magazines that we should arrange to purchase the magazines from the Peace Officer’s Equipment Company”.The order referred to was probably for L.A. County Sheriff's Dept.. Existing documentation tells that they purchased 199 standard and Special Police Model 81's between 1941-1942. In spite of this evidence, the actual number of Special Police 81’s manufactured is not known. In early 1938 Remington predicted 250 rifles a year with 100 spare magazines, but by December 1939 a Police gun announcement had lowered that forecast to 50 rifles a year. John Henwood stated in his book that he doubted many Special Police 81’s were manufactured after WWII, his highest recorded serial number was # 20873 (March, 1942). The highest numbered rifles in this case study were #477XX & 479XX, both 1949 rifles. The Model 81 Special Police was short lived, apparently the rifles just did not sell as anticipated and Remington subsequently used up all the remaining Peace Officer Equipment Co. magazine stock. No one knows how many Police 8 or 81’s were made up, but they are indeed rare. Regardless of poor overall sales, a number of departments adopted the Special Police 81. The majority of these only purchased a handful of rifles, but L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. is the most frequently encountered municipality. Peace Officer’s modified Remington 8’s & 81’s were used from Oneida County, NY to El Paso, TX, to Los Angeles, CA. Although produced in very limited numbers, the Remington Police rifles had their small place in history and certainly any law enforcement officer looking down the barrel of one was a force to be reckoned with!
Case Study PointsInformation for this article came from many sources including period documentation, original rifles, and solitary magazines examined over the course of several years. The following are some interesting statistics taken from the study.
- - 91 serial numbers studied, comprising 74 rifles and 17 solitary magazines.
- - Nearly twice as many 81’s were encountered (20 Model 8’s, 54 Model 81’s).
- - Of the 54 Special Police 81’s, over 40% were L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. rifles.
- - Of the 91 rifles and solitary magazines, only 13 were in .30Rem. (4 Model 8’s and 9 Model 81’s).
- - 16 out of the 20 Model 8’s studied had bottom tang metal buttplates.
- - Only 3 rifles had factory 10 round magazines.
- - Only 4 rifles had factory 5 round magazines (all 81’s associated with the Connecticut State Police).
- - 7 of the 54 Special Police rifles had no department name.
RAINING BRASS!: Test firing the Police 8 & 81(Author with a custom built Model 81 with 15 round POE magazine by Pete Verschneider.) The author, along with Remington collector Jack Ahlberg, spent a day test firing an assortment of vintage and custom Police rifles. Six rifles were used, two of which were original Special Police 81’s (in .30Rem and .35Rem) and four were custom built by Pete Verschneider. Pete has years of experience with these Remington autoloaders and has built several custom rifles. The two custom rifles were built using original POE magazines. VIDEO SHOOTOUT!- (The author & Jack Ahlberg shoot an assortment of Police Rifles!) (Jack Ahlberg raining brass! Rifle is a custom conversion by Pete Verschneider built from a standard Model 81) Many thanks to Bob Creamer, The Hillyard Companies, Jack Ahlberg, Doug Baier, Joe Homberger, Michael Cucci Sr., Jeff & Bob Pajtas, and Pete Verschneider for their contributions to the article. God bless! If you have any questions or comments please email Cam Woodall @ firstname.lastname@example.org