John Linebaugh, inventor of the .500 and .475 Linebaugh cartridges and custom pistolsmith, died March 19 at his home in Clark, Wyo. The road that led him to a permanent place in gunmaking history was far from a typical one.
He grew up in Pickering, Mo., in a gun-free house. At 21, he was behind the wheel and heading west. By the time he reached Cody, Wyo., he was strapped for cash, out of gas and looking for work. Although he considered the town a little too touristy for his taste, he took a job pouring concrete for a local firm, hoping to refill his tank and escape after a few paychecks. He never did, although he did move 30 miles away to Clark, a comfortable distance from the “urban” landscape.
It was there, in Wyoming, where his passion and study of firearms really took root. Despite no formal training in machining or gunsmithing, he managed to massage a .45 Colt revolver into delivering a 250-grain bullet at what was considered then a scalding 1,700 f.p.s.
It caught the attention of many enthusiasts, but most of the industry thought it was dangerous. As a result, financial backing never appeared after the success. That didn’t deter his enthusiasm or stall his growing knowledge of ballistics and revolver design, though.
In 1986, his .500 Linebaugh cartridge and revolver to digest it was officially released. Orders poured in when it made magazine covers, and by 1988, its slightly thinner sibling, the .475 Linebaugh, was unveiled.
“John was a pioneer in the use of big-bore, heavy bullets in handguns,” said Greg Buchel, president of Big Horn Armory. “He predates Smith & Wesson’s .500 S&W by almost 20 years. They probably would not have created the X-Frame guns without his inspiration.”
Buchel struck up a friendship with Linebaugh after they crafted a limited-edition, premium-boxed revolver and lever action set for a fundraiser. “His handguns were near perfection,” Buckel said. “The first time I fired one of his guns many years ago was at a range event he and I both attended. He handed me his gun out of his holster. The first thing I noticed was how perfect the fit and function were. It wasn’t necessarily the prettiest gun I ever saw, but even after years of use and who knows how many rounds it fired, the gun was mechanical jewelry.”
There has been no official announcement on the future of his company, John Linebaugh Custom Sixguns.