Noble Model 275 – An Unusual American Rimfire...By Justin Bulling
- 21st Oct, 2019 Oct 21, 2019, 12:00 AM
- 1 Comment
As a firearms enthusiast I’ve been reading gun magazines for 40 years. This, as well as frequenting gun shops, shows and shooting ranges, meant that I thought there wasn’t a gun manufacturer I hadn’t seen mentioned. I was surprised therefore when I saw an advertisement for a Noble lever-action .22 on a local gunshop’s website.
A Google search confirmed that Noble was an American firearm manufacturer, but the web provided only a sketchy history and little information on the company itself. The Noble Firearms Manufacturing Co operated from 1949 until 1971 and was based in Haydenville Massachusetts which is just outside of Williamsberg – the manufacturing heartland during the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Straddling the Mill River, Haydenville is now a historic heritage village with many restored buildings including a large Gothic Revival style building that formally housed The Haydenville Manufacturing Co which operated a water-powered brass works.
“Noble designed and manufactured simple bolt-action single shot .22 rifles. They also made pump, lever and semi-auto rifles based around a very unusual breechblock and tubular magazine design where the two parts are combined as one and move together.”
Email queries to the local historical society failed to unearth any information on the Noble company but it seems all of this industrial real estate was derelict up until its relatively recent restoration as a tourist attraction.
Noble firearms were in the budget category and were largely geared towards the mail order market. They were sometimes branded for the mail order companies such as Westernfield or American Eagle. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963 using a Model 38 Carcano he purchased from a catalogue there was a move to ban the mail order of firearms.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 restricted interstate movement of firearms to federal dealer licence holders and immediately stopped mail orders. I suspect this sounded the death knell for the Noble company which ceased production in 1971.
Noble designed and manufactured a range of semi-auto and pump-action shotguns in .410, 20, 16 and 12 gauge but also imported budget Spanish double guns sold under their name. Many of the repeating shotguns featured an adjustable choke. When the company closed Smith & Wesson bought the rights to their Model 60 pump-action and after some modifications manufactured it as the Model 916.
Noble designed and manufactured simple bolt-action single shot .22 rifles. They also made pump, lever and semi-auto rifles based around a very unusual breechblock and tubular magazine design where the two parts are combined as one and move together.
Their earliest pump-action rifle was the model 33 with a plastic “Tenite” stock and fore-end. It is often stated that Remington’s Nylon 66 was the first plastic stock rifle introduced in the late 1950s but Noble beat them to it by almost a decade. In the 1950s there were some modifications including a walnut stock and fore-end, now called the Model 33A. Later still the styling was changed but the general mechanical layout was the same. This was variously sold as the Noble Model 235, American Eagle Model 235 and also by Harrington & Richardson as their Model 422.
Uniquely, when Noble decided to introduce a lever-action rifle they just added a lever to the basic mechanical layout of the Model 235 slide mechanism to produce the Model 275. Most of the parts were common to both rifles. This was sold under the Noble as well as American Eagle brand. There were minor modifications during production with suffixes added to the model designation. Very late in their history Noble introduced the Model 285 semi-auto rifle but I think few of these were made as I have not even found a photo online.
My rifle is a Model 275 without any suffix indicating early production in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s. While it wouldn’t win any beauty contests it seemed to be in good condition and the price was right so I bought it as a curio rather than for any practical reason.
The rifle has a one piece walnut stock with nice grain and a bakelite butt plate. The barrel is 24” with quite a heavy profile and is clearly marked with the maker’s name and address, .22 Short, Long and Long Rifle as well as two patent numbers which I imagine protected the unique operating system which I will describe.
The muzzle is counterbored by about 1” and internally threaded for some type of suppressor but I suspect this is an aftermarket modification. Rear sight is a flat notch style with adjustable elevator typical of budget .22 rifles although it is obviously stamped. The front sight is unusual with a base in a dovetail with the sight screwed into that. I am not sure why they did not use a simple bead in a dovetail but suspect it was for cost reasons allowing all of the parts to be stamped. The colour case hardened steel lever is mounted on a protuberance of the action housing with a machine screw and nut giving a rather agricultural look.
A thin sheet metal cover surrounds the lever on the bottom of the stock and is retained by two screws. The receiver is a machined tube similar to most bolt action rifles with standard American 3/8” dovetail grooves for scope mounting and a safety lever on the right side.
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“This rifle was obviously going to need a full strip down, degrease and clean which was slightly daunting given that there was zero information on the process.”
The tubular magazine goes through a ring dovetailed into the barrel and is not attached as the magazine reciprocates back and forward within it. Magazine capacity is listed as 15 long rifle and 21 shorts.
When I first operated the action at the gun shop I was struck by the unusual way a cylindrical part popped up from the bottom of the ejection port as the lever was operated.
The action seemed to operate okay however with the bolt rising to lock into the rear face of the ejection port in the receiver as it was closed, similar to modern semi-automatic pistols. When I got it home I pulled the magazine inner tube out which took some doing as the whole innards of the rifle were caked with a black greasy substance that caused substantial drag as the magazine was removed. This rifle was obviously going to need a full strip down, degrease and clean which was slightly daunting given that there was zero information on
Even the Gun Parts Corporation online schematic, while listed as the Model 275, was clearly a pump – action. A scroll through the parts however showed that many were common to both models.
I was keen to see whether the pop up cylinder thing was normal or not. I studied it closely in situ then withdrew the magazine tube and noted that the follower was hanging out of the end. My first impression was that it was damaged. I loaded six plastic training rounds into the magazine, replaced the tube and cycled the action. To my surprise every round was slickly chambered then ejected. I then placed one in the chamber and tried the trigger which dropped the hammer. When ejected the rim showed a nice deep strike.
My next test was to load the magazine again and not replace the magazine tube but let gravity feed the rounds to see if leaving out the action of the magazine follower would have any effect. All the cartridges fed and ejected until the last round which fed into the chamber but on lowering the lever was left attached to the breech face without being ejected. It became obvious that each case would be ejected by the subsequent case being pushed up by the lifter but the magazine follower was required to perform the same function for the last round. The cases were held securely by the rim and lined up with the chamber so I hoped the rifle would feed shorts and long rifle cartridges equally well.
Now that I had ascertained that the rifle operated correctly I started the disassembly. The nut and bolt retaining the lever were removed which allowed the lever to slide out. The sheet metal cover was removed and the barrelled action now seemed loose at the front but retained at the back. Removing the screw through the steel beehive shaped plug at the rear of the receiver allowed the barrelled action to be removed. This consisted of a machined tubular receiver with a stamped sheet steel action housing retained by two countersunk head screws.
These screws were loose so the whole thing felt a little wonky. Removing these screws allowed the action housing to be removed and the magazine/bolt assembly as well as an action bar that articulates with the lever. The rear screw also retained the rear receiver plug which came off, followed by the coil mainspring and a heavy cylinder which obviously acts as a linear hammer.
This rifle has a very unique operating mechanism. The magazine/breechblock assembly with its attached lifter could now be closely examined. There is a wire spring which helps hold the cartridges in place before they can be raised by the lifter. The breechblock appears to be made from nickel plated copper alloy with the plating worn through in places.
There are two symmetrical cartridge guide/extractors that hold the rim of the cartridge and a thin spring at the top which limits the cartridge’s travel to line it up with the chamber and also helps flip cases out to the right during ejection which would be important if a scope was mounted. All of these small parts appear to be peened into place on the bolt assembly. The firing pin is retained inside the breechblock by a cross pin and is held to the rear by an internal spring.
The cylindrical hammer is forced backwards as the lever is moved forwards and has a reduced diameter near the front creating a vertical lip that is caught by the sear. When the trigger is pressed it is released and is propelled forward within the cylindrical receiver by the mainspring to strike the firing pin at the rear of the bolt.
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The action housing contains the trigger with its trigger block safety and also an out of battery safety bar held down by a wire spring which stops the trigger moving backwards until the lever is fully closed. All parts are made from pressed and bent steel. All the moving parts of the fire control and safety assembly were retained by cross pins but it was not necessary to disassemble the parts any further.
The barrel is pinned into the receiver and after cleaning the bore was revealed to be bright and shiny with no evidence of any defects. All parts were then sprayed with degreaser and with water and a toothbrush all the black oil and dirt were removed. The inside of the inner magazine tube took some work but finally the follower would move smoothly within it. After drying, everything was given a light coat of gun oil.
It soon became clear that the screws retaining the action housing had damaged threads and could not be tightened. They are available from Gun Parts Corporation in the USA but as they will no longer send internationally my only option was to make some replacements on my micro lathe. The screw size was #5-40 UNC so a trip to the local engineering supplier provided the correct thread die and it didn’t take long to turn the screws up and cut a thread on them. The action could now be assembled and snugly attached – the cleaning and lubrication meant the action was even more slick than before.
The trigger sear unit has a small coil spring that works against the bottom of the receiver to act as the trigger spring. This was a bit mangled from a previous owner’s incorrect assembly which explained the light trigger pull I’d noticed. Luckily again it was a common 1/8” diameter spring with 1/64” wire size so I was able to replace it with one from a Wolff gun spring selection and once cut to the correct length it made the trigger pull feel much better. The rifle was then re-assembled and ready to shoot.
The magazine was loaded with 15 rounds of Federal standard velocity and fired at a 25 metre target. The rounds fed smoothly and on the lowest notch on the sight elevator the rifle shot to point of aim. The positive feeding and very short lever throw meant that the magazine could be emptied in just a few seconds with no malfunctions. This rifle was turning out to be quite a surprise!
I then moved the target out to 50 metres and fired some 10 round groups from a benchrest. The sights are a bit average and there was quite a gusty wind but a 2 1/2” group was achieved. I was happy with this given the sights, conditions, one type of ammunition, and the type of rifle.
“The positive feeding and very short lever throw meant that the magazine could be emptied in just a few seconds with no malfunctions. This rifle was turning out to be quite a surprise!”
When I tried to load .22 shorts I ran into a snag. When the magazine outer tube was filled with cartridges and the inner tube inserted the cartridges tended to jam up and not slide into the tube. I initially thought that it was a design flaw but when the magazine stopped functioning completely soon after I dismantled the inner magazine tube and found the spring had disintegrated from rust and age. A new spring was sourced and fitted.
The rifle now loads Short, Long and Long Rifle cartridges equally well. The CCI high velocity short hollow-points fed perfectly and shot to the same point of impact at 25 metres as the Federal standard velocity cartridges which are my usual target load. I also tried some Winchester Z-Long cartridges which also fed perfectly and at only 850fps printed about 2cm lower at 25 metres.
The dealer I bought my rifle from said that while not common he had seen the odd Noble rifle over the years, both pump and lever-action, so they are around. If you come across one ensure that the mechanicals are in good condition as parts will not be available.
For the right price they make an interesting addition to any rimfire rifle collection.