The Mark Genovese Collection – Longtime Contributing Editor for Small Arms Review
Belt-Feds in the 50th State
By Mark Genovese
Mark is known to many in the class 3 community, not only for his frequent calls from the island, (apparently due to Rock Fever and a combination of too many Macadamia nuts and somewhat over-ripe mangos), but because he has been carrying the torch for military-type firearm shooters in Hawaii for quite a few years. We thought this essay on his journey in search of fulfillment might kindle a spark in the minds of those who live in similarly restrictive states, and perhaps give a glimpse into what living under onerous firearms laws is like. – Dan
Living in the Peoples Republic of Hawaii kept me from my dream of belt/fed full automatic ownership for many years. I’ve always had an eye for the exotic, and have been shooting semi-automatic military style small arms on Maui since the 1970’s. AK’s, Uzi’s, AR-15’s, Mac’s, Valmets, M14, AR18, Galils, FAL’s, the list goes on. But they just weren’t belt fed, and I felt a void in my life.
In 1982 I was travelling to the great free state of Arizona, and J. Curtis Earl came immediately to mind. He was one of the first Class 3 Dealers. I had seen his machine gun and cannon ads in everything from Boy’s Life to Popular Science back when I was a kid, and still clearly remembered the thrill of looking at his ads over and over again. Better than the Sears Lingerie section! I called Mr. Earl when I got to Phoenix, and asked if I could stop by and take some photographs of his collection. To make a long story short, I got bitten by the belt fed bug. This was an amazing experience, one that I could never forget. Unfortunately, while I had seen an extremely interesting collection, I still couldn’t own belt-feds on Maui.
There then appeared a light at the end of the tunnel. Rock Island Armory under the watchful hand of Dave Reese, was marketing a semi-auto belt fed M-60. After several phone conversations and a timely refinance of my home mortgage, I placed my order- to include all the extras I thought I would need; starting with five thousand links, of course. There was a pause on the other end of the phone, then came a disturbing question. “Uh, Sir, Do you plan to shoot this a lot?”
Right then and there I knew I was in deep kim chee.
After months of trying to address the design shortcomings, the 60 was regulated to the spot in my vault called “This here’s the Only Game In Town”.
By this time, I had belt fed fever real bad, and my next project just had to be water-cooled. I rapidly came to the conclusion there are not many companies out there building water cooled guns, let alone semi-auto ones. I put my money down on a 1917A1 Browning, manufactured by DLO in Arcadia, Florida. Eleven months later I got to shoot a lot of rounds through it- these custom semi-autos took as long as their full auto cousins.
I bought everything I could find for it, my special 1917, but there was still something missing; it was too slow.
I was reborn when I received my first issue of the now defunct Machine Gun News and was brought into the light through one of the ads I found. Valkyrie Arms, LTD in Olympia, Washington, made a 1919A6 with some special trigger work. After much conversation with Valerie Johnson (the gun’s designer) I gave the coveted Visa number for a 1919A6 Browning and settled down to wait the customary six months to a year for delivery. What attracted me to this design is the use of AR15 parts incorporated into the 1919 trigger lock group. This made for real smooth, real fast semi-automatic shooting, with only one minor problem in the twelve thousand rounds I have personally fired through this gun. The fact is, I was so impressed with the trigger I had one installed on my 1917A1 gun. It now has about seven thousand rounds through it.
There was still something missing. I needed a really “light” belt-fed gun. All these other ones got really heavy and with my back and all, I knew that getting a lighter gun was a medical necessity. I am sure that many of the physicians out there have filled out prescriptions for lighter belt-feds, in the course of caring for their patients who happen to be “Firearms enthusiasts”.
So, I fired up the old fax machine to everyone who counted for H&K 21’s. One year later Volmer Mfg. of Bloomington, Illinois shipped one to me. This was about to become my second experience with German engineering. The first was my 1965 356 Porsche super coupe (where is the number one cylinder when one is facing the rear of the car? And more importantly, why does a German starter cost eight hundred and fifty bucks, when a Ford starter is sixty-six and change?)
Allow me to pass on this knowledge from painful experience; H&K 21’s do not readily digest MG/34/42 belts, they like M/60 belts upside down. Do not break the belt feeding insertion unit, you will have to give up your first born child, then increase your limit on all your credit cards and apply for new ones. Watch for the skin that used to be on your elbow looking like a Harley road rash, and that huge yellowish greenish purplish bruise on your shoulder- you will get used to it. One other major side effect is that your left biceps will benefit from the cocking spring.
Where does a guy go from here?
He sets his sights on the Mecca and endures the pilgrimage and the pain to be among the holiest gathering of the tribes that this planet has ever seen or heard. Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot, in Bullet County, Kentucky where the gurus of the class three world come to interpret the tea leaves, read the ashes and above all commune profusely with their like minded brethren.
After having watched “Creek” video tapes from 1988 to the present, I thought I was well prepared for my first trip to the Creek. NOT! I was totally overwhelmed by the second day. The blue fog of cordite, the heart stopping short barreled 50’s and 30’s, the constant roar of the dynamite wanting to suck the very air from your lungs, the good company. (Then there was the splitting headache, the mud, the rain, the cold, this was definitely not Maui). I loved every second of it. Knob Creek was a magical experience- after being there, you feel renewed with faith in America and the people who live here.
Today, here I am, back on Maui, the island paradise… I have my Knob Creek videos, my belt feds, and the Small Arms Review. All is right with the universe and I just wanted to pass that on…
This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V2N1 (October 1998)
and was posted online on December 23, 2016