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The Call Box: “I Outdrew Marshall Matt Dillon”

By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD

lapd callboxIn the mid 1950’s, L.A.P.D. patrol officers carried .38 caliber, 6” barreled revolvers. The choices were either a Colt Officer’s model, or a Smith and Wesson (S&W) K-38. You also had three types of holsters to choose from: a Cross Draw, a Flap, or a Clamshell. A Cross Draw, as name implies, is a butt-forward, high and tight model. Not for me. A Flap, known sarcastically as “the suitcase,” looked like something from either WWI or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or maybe the Light Brigade. The Clamshell, however, was an innovative marvel, came metal-lined with leather to custom fit a Colt or a S&W, and it completely encasing the gun that was released as you drew it by the touch of a finger, which then sprung the holster open (hence “Clamshell”). 

clamshellIncidentally, I knew of one officer handcuffed to a post whose life was saved because the gunman could not figure out how to get his gun from the Clamshell.

Over the years, the Clamshell was unjustly blamed for any number of accidental discharges where the only casualty was the locker door or parking lot. After too many of these incidents, the Department finally said “enough” and did away with the Clamshell. Bids and specs were given and the contract was awarded to a leather shop on Lankershim in Hollywood near the Universal “Black Tower.”

When I entered the shop, the man behind the counter introduced himself as Arvo Ojala, owner, designer and manufacturer of the new holster. It was sleek, well-made, and custom fitted to either the Colt or S&W.  It also featured a spring-loaded safety strap over the hammer.  If I had to give up the Clamshell, this would do nicely. Within a few minutes of my arrival, the conversation turned from the holster to Arvo, himself. 


Marshall Dillon

James Arness as Marshall Matt Dillon

Now, during this time period (probably the early 60’s) TV was dominated by the westerns, which held 8 of the top 10 T.V. spots. The number one spot was owned by “Gunsmoke” wherein Marshall Matt Dillon dispensed 6-gun justice every week. It ran for 20 years, 1955 – 1975. Even now, 42 years after cancellation, it is still on TV as a rerun. Mr. Ojala proclaimed himself to be stuntman, bit player, as well as a leather holster designer and “quick draw artist.” He advised me how he had taught many Western TV stars how to draw and shoot.



In the opening sequence of Gunsmoke, the camera is low and to the right of Marshall Dillon (played by James Arness). The camera shows the gunman that Marshall Dillon is about to confront, and that gunman is Arvo Ojala. We see Dillon draw, hear two almost overlapping shots, however we do not see the outcome. Ojala told me that every time they filmed, and re-filmed that scene, he outdrew Dillon. 

handgunsmag paladin holsterOne of his holsters can be seen in the opening sequence of the episode “Have Gun Will Travel.” It has a chess knight embossed on it.

Many years later, my fellow scribe Hal Collier had an even more interesting encounter with Mr. O.

Note: the gunfight sequence plus a lot more can be found on Arvo’s website



 Read Thonie Hevron’s books: By Force or Fear, Intent to Hold, and With Malice Aforethought are all available through Amazon. previewNJ31LJJV



3 comments on “The Call Box: “I Outdrew Marshall Matt Dillon”

  1. John Schick
    August 13, 2017

    I bought all my gear from Tex Shoemaker. I lived about a mile from his shop. I always got a discount & good service.


  2. lapd16336
    August 13, 2017

    I met Arvo Ojala at the Silverado Movie Premier. I didn’t get his name then but he was dressed in cowboy clothes as most of the guests were. He had 2 very young and attractive ladies on his arm. He asked me if I ever watched Gunsmoke, which I grew up watching as well as all the westerns of that time. He told me that he was the other cowboy in the opening scene. He was a quick draw artist and taught some of the actors in this movie how to draw. I asked who was the best and he said James Arness. I asked if he could teach me? He looked down at my breakfront holster and laughed. Ed related the above story to me many years later

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on August 13, 2017 by in The Call Box and tagged , , , , , , .

Cop Talk

For all things about cop culture-the work, the family, the days off.

The purpose of this page is to educate writers of all genres to be accurate in their portrayal of law enforcement professionals. This includes meter maids (I was a "lovely Rita" many years ago), dispatcher, patrol officers, detectives, and administrators.

I have many resources in my 35 year career in California law enforcement. I index and explain common errors that found in all media. Guests will also post about police professionalism today and tomorrow as well as historical articles about the way things used to be, "back in the day".

Examples of police media myths: missing persons cannot be reported by anyone but the family; missing persons reports can't be taken until the subject has been missing 24 hours; all cops eat donuts.

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Just the Facts, Ma'am posts Sundays and Fridays. Sundays scheduled writers Hal Collier, Ed Meckle, Mikey, and John Schick take us through the days and nights of those who protect and serve.
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Extra postings will include California 'Officer Down' notices or something special. I will update progress of my current literary project as they develop.
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