The Schimel Gas Pistol (1946 to ca. 1956)

I’m quite partial to a Schimel and when one comes up for sale, I’ll often try to buy it. In fact, I’d have to say that the Schimel Gas Pistol is top of the list of my favourite vintage air guns. On this occasion though, Jimmie Dee Snr purchased a Schimel despite my warnings that the advert stated that it leaked and the box had been poorly repaired with unsightly tape! Normally I wouldn’t consider a leaking Schimel as they’re quite a risk as you will learn later.

According to David Schimel, the Schimel gas pistol was manufactured from 1946 to 1956 by the Schimel Arms Company. You may have heard the name Schimel before and you’d be correct in thinking that there is a link between Orville Shimel, the National Cart Corporation and the Schimel Arms Company. Orville, a tool and die-maker, was one of the partners of the National Cart Corporation that manufactured the Apache air pistol and air rifle. In fact, it was Orville who suggested that the National Cart Corporation should add airguns to its product line. It would seem that Orville kept the development of the CO2 Schimel to himself, or perhaps it was rejected, rather than adding it to the Apache product line of airguns. Either way, Orville and his brother Clifford who was also a machinist, built the first Schimel pistols in Clifford’s garage in Sun Land, California in 1945. In 1946 they established a production workshop in North Hollywood and later moved to new premises in San Fernando.

Orville Walther Shimel September 5th 1909 – June 16th 1963 (left) and Clifford Schimel (born Shimel) July 19th 1917 – February 24th 1978 (right)

Schimel or Shimel?

Notice that earlier I said Orville “Shimel” and not “Schimel”. According to Orville’s nephews, Orville and Clifford’s surname was originally spelt, Shimel. In fact, looking at official records, Orville and Clifford’s father was William Wallace Shimel. The 1920 census records also show their surname as Shimmell and by the 1930 census, Orville had married and left the family home. His surname was still “Shimel” at that time. However, the same census shows his father, mother and his brother’s surname spelt “Schimel”. From then onwards, census records show Orville and his children’s surnames as “Shimel” and David and his children’s surnames as “Schimel”. However, Orville’s death certificate and grave inscription show his name as “Schimel”. Unfortunately, no one knows the reason for the change of surname.

What does this have to do with the Schimel air pistol you say? Well, it begs the question of why was it called the Schimel and not the Shimel. It was developed long after Clifford’s surname was altered. Perhaps the pistol was actually Clifford’s brainchild more so than Orville’s. This could also explain why the pistol was kept away from the National Cart Corporation.

It is said that Orville and his brother were fascinated by the German Luger and wanted to design a Luger style air pistol. Other than the fragile zinc alloy, they did an extremely good job of it right down to the loading mechanism that replicates the cocking toggle of a real Luger. In fact, they did such a good job that the Los Angeles Police Department tried to get it banned! Consequently, shipping of the pistol was restricted and therefore transporting them became expensive which may have been a contributing factor to the companies demise.

the best of the best

The Schimel is said to be the first production air pistol to use CO2 capsules. They’re quite quirky to use and many have not survived the test of time due to corrosion of the cast zinc alloy body which often results in fractures or broken charging handles. If you find one, white powdery deposits are a tell-tale sign that it is a risky purchase. Despite this, good ones can still be found and seals can be purchased should they need to be repaired. However, parts are harder to source and you would need to source a donor gun for parts. But beware, not all Schimels are the same internally. There are a couple of variants that limit which parts are interchangeable.

The pistol uses an 8g CO2 capsule that is housed in the grip and has a rifled .22 calibre steel barrel. They are very close to 6ft/lbs of power and when fired, make a very loud crack and have quite a kick that makes everyone’s heads turn at the range. They’re not just for show either. They’re accurate and will have you whacking metal targets at 25 yards with ease and a great big smile. You won’t find any modern replica CO2 air pistol with that amount of power, range and accuracy in production today.

In my opinion, the Schimel is the best of all of the CO2 replica air pistols ever made, despite the problems of the zinc alloy castings.

jammed reset button

The top pistol in the group photo is the new addition to our school of Schimels. According to the advert, it was stated to be leaking. However, when I received it, the reset button seemed to be jammed. Unless the reset button is pushed forwards before loading the CO2 capsule, all of the CO2 will vent down the barrel when the capsule is pierced. Perhaps this was the leak that was referred to in the advertisement.

A school of Schimels?

The reset button pushes the breech forward which in turn moves a cup-seal over the barrel transfer port to seal it closed. If a Schimel is charged (cocked) without moving this seal forward, all the CO2 will be rapidly discharged through the barrel. At the same time, this action resets the trigger. Once charged by pulling the charging handle back and then forwards, CO2 liquid expands to fill the chamber as it tries to turn into a gas. The expansion generates pressure which is applied to the rear cup-seal. The trigger sear is all that holds the rear cup-seal in place preventing the CO2 from reaching the barrel. Once the trigger is pulled, the lever holding the rear cup-seal in place is released. The CO2 expands further and forces the rear cup-seal backwards which opens the transfer port. The CO2 rapidly expands into a gas that flows into the barrel and propels the pellet or lead ball to its target.

strip and repair

I began the strip down. With the Schimel, you should always begin a strip down by removing the barrel. Often, the barrel corrodes in place. If that happens, nothing can be done to remove it as the barrel and frame have “welded” themselves together. A Schimel in this state is only suitable for salvageable parts.

Luckily for me, the barrel came out effortlessly and there was no sign of corrosion to be found. The cup-seals that seal the compression chamber were also in great shape. Perhaps they had been replaced not long ago. However, they were dry. I reassembled the cup seals and the barrel lubricating them with silicone grease (not oil). This solved the reset button problem.

I loaded the pistol with an 8g CO2 capsule, pushed the reset button forwards, pulled the charging handle rearwards and then forwards. This pierces the CO2 capsule but does not yet fill the chamber with CO2. The charging handle must be opened once more to open a valve in the CO2 capsule housing. This allows CO2 liquid to expand and flow up into the chamber. I closed the handle and listened for leaks. I couldn’t hear any. I fired the pistol and still no leaks to be heard. However, when I cocked the pistol again I could hear a leak coming from the CO2 capsule housing within the grip. I could also feel resistance when opening and closing the charging lever. I suspected that the transfer tube o-ring had expanded which can happen when some types of o-ring material are exposed to liquid CO2.

CO2 capsule housing removed exposing the o-ring on the tube that transfers CO2 from the holder to the chamber of the pistol.

I discharged the remaining CO2 by pulling back the charging grip without sliding the reset button forwards and then stripped the lower half of the pistol. Once I had removed the CO2 capsule housing, it was clear where the problem was. The transfer tube o-ring had indeed expanded. Not only had it expanded but it had also melted. This was likely caused by a combination of an o-ring material that is incompatible with liquid CO2 and regular oil. The transfer tube to frame seal appeared good so I cleaned up the parts, fitted a new transfer tube o-ring and reassembled the pistol.

I once again loaded a CO2 capsule and tested the pistol. The pistol worked flawlessly! I left it overnight and checked it in the morning. It was still holding CO2 and was still operating normally.

a poorly repaired box

Satisfied that the pistol worked well, I turned my attention to the box. An attempt had been made long ago to repair it with red tape. It’s very disheartening to see vintage boxes repaired in this way. Whilst tape holds it together, it ruins the box. I much prefer to use “copydex” glue applied with a small flat artist’s brush or cocktail stick. Copydex glue is solvent and acid-free so it won’t damage the paper and card over time unlike sellotape or the like. Just a small amount of copydex along the torn seams and corners will hold a vintage box together quite well. I try not to reinforce the corners with tape on the inside if I can help it. But if necessary, you could use some paper that is a similar colour to that of the box or picture frame tape. Usually, glue alone is sufficient.

I carefully removed the tape as best I could. There was always going to be some damage where it would be impossible to remove the tape without removing some of the paper under it. However, it’s turned out reasonably well and it’s far better than it was before. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of the box before I removed the tape to show you.

The box lid with the tape removed. Some collateral damage was to be expected.

Now that the tape is gone, there is only one intact corner. The others I will glue together. But before I do that, I am mulling over splitting the last corner so that I can lay the box flat and create an image of it using a scanner. I can then clean up the image and use it to create a new box to house the third Schimel in our collection.

If I decide to make a reproduction box for the Schimel, I’ll be sure to write about it in due course.

One thing I have noticed is that some Schimel box lids have instructions printed on the inside and others do not. Those that do not have integrated instructions were shipped with an instruction leaflet. Other than that, the two box lids are identical. If the serial number of the pistols are anything to go by, it would indicate that lids with integrated instructions were produced later than those with instruction leaflets. Other box lids show the address as simply “NORTH HOLLYWOOD CALIF” whereas the two in this collection show “FACTORY ADDRESS 6872 FARMDALE AVENUE NORTH HOLLYWOOD CALIF”.

Schimel AP-22 advertisement

Other than internal design differences, there are some differences concerning the pistol’s markings. Some are marked MODEL P22 and others are marked MODEL GP22. Both have raised letters that are part of the cast except that the GP-22 variant has a stamped with a “G” which suggests that the G was added later.

It is known that a pneumatic version of the Schimel was considered and marketing material was produced for in it 1949. This model was to be known as the AP-22 and it is thought that the “A” implied air whilst the “G” implied gas for CO2. Thus it is reasonable to conclude that the P22 is the first variant of the Schimel. The AP-22 was seen in a Stoeger advertisement and Schimel Arms also shipped an instruction label with some GP-22 pistols that provided instructions for both the AP-22 and the GP-22. Whether Schimel Arms actually produced and sold any AP-22 Schimels is unknown or perhaps they were produced in such low numbers that none have survived.

A Schimel sales letter that mentions both the air and gas pistols.

All GP-22 pistols that I have seen have serial numbers prefixed with “G” and a four or five-digit number. The lowest GP-22 serial number that I have seen is G1049 and the highest is G21286. That may imply that at least 20,000 GP-22 air pistols were manufactured. That’s a fair amount of air pistols!

The P22 variants have been seen with three, four and five-digit serial numbers. All bar the five-digit serial numbers that I have seen are followed by an X. It is not known why the X is used. Perhaps it indicated the end of the serial number although I am at a loss as to why anyone would need to apply a terminating letter. The lowest P22 serial number I have seen is 653X and the highest is 31177. This also suggests that over 30,000 P22 air pistols were produced before Schimel Arms started to designate them with the “G” prefix.

If you know of any serial numbers that do not conform to this format or any that are higher or lower than those mentioned, please let me know in the comments below or email me via the contact page.

American Luger parts and price list dated 31st May 1955

By 1955, bankruptcy loomed for the Schimel Arms Company and its assets were purchased by the American Weapons Corporation. The American Weapons Corporation didn’t continue the manufacture of the Schimel themselves. Instead, they handed the production tooling to A. C. Swanson Company, Sun Valley, California who designed out the Schimel’s flaws and added a few enhancements along the way. The result was the American Luger which was available from 1955 according to a parts list that was supplied with the pistol. The Schimel may well have still been available for a short period whilst the remaining stock was sold or assembled from leftover parts.

If you’re still with me, here comes a discovery that no one has previously written about. Orville Schimel died in 1963. We already know that. However, what we don’t know is what Orville did between the demise of the Schimel Arms Company and his death less than 10 years later.

Orville was only 53 years old when he died. When the National Cart Corporation went bankrupt at about the same time that the Schimel Arms Company also became bankrupt, Orville was reported, by his National Cart Corporation partner, Daniel Fogel, to be liable for half of the National Cart Corporation’s debts. At $200,000 this was a significant amount. He was far too young to retire so he must have continued working to make ends meet. A thorough investigation of Orville in the US Birth and Death records revealed that his employer was recorded on his death certificate. It was no other than A. C. Swanson!

Orville Shimel’s death certificate courtesy FamilySearch.org

Thus it’s clear that not only did the Schimel tooling end up in the hands of A. C. Swanson but along with it went Orville. I suspect that Orville, and perhaps his brother, were already a long way along the development process of the American Luger when the Schimel Arms Company had to cease trading. Therefore Orville was mostly likely the inventor of the American Luger. If not, he probably had a very large part to play in its development.

Some suggest that the Schimel Arms Company went bankrupt due to the flaws of the Schimel pistol such as its ability to dump all of the capsule’s CO2 if the reset button was not pushed before retracting the charging lever. Yet if the serial numbers are anything to go by, they produced around 50,000 pistols. That’s not a trivial amount. Surely if there was a significant problem with the pistol affecting sales, it would have been noticed earlier. As usual, we’ll probably never know the full story of the demise of the Schimel Arms Company.

Three Schimels and an American Luger (Carbo-Jet)

Before I sign off, some of you may have noticed the yellow gripped pistol in the photograph. It looks remarkably like a Schimel but it is in fact an American Luger. Well, actually, it’s a “Carbo-Jet” and that’s a tale for another day!

Until next time, happy shooting!

Jimmie Dee

3 thoughts on “The Schimel Gas Pistol (1946 to ca. 1956)

Add yours

  1. Very enjoyable article, Jimmy. Their surnames may have suffered at the hands of immigration. I used to deal with a guy in Liverpool who’s grandfather and his 4 brothers arrived from Russia, believing they were in America but decided to make the best of it. When they left Immigration all 5 had different surnames.

  2. just got new parts for my p22 s/n 4329x and had to make a new seal works great and a neat one in my collection

  3. Jimmie,

    As you know I have resealed many of these pistols, and have observed at least 6 different versions of sealing the compression chamber, and can be quite tricky to do, also I believe the company had to change the name American Luger to Carbojet because of copyright laws.

    Cheers, Lawrie Amatruda.

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