Saturday, March 01, 2008

XL650 Goes To The Doctor

The night before the Dundee match last weekend, I went out to the loading bench (in my garage) with the intention of loading up a few hundred rounds of .38 Super ammunition. We had enough loaded up for one shooter, but SWMBO and I both intended to shoot the match.

Because I had been experiencing some problems with the Dillon XL650 lately, I decided to load up 300 of the 400 rounds of new Winchester brass. I had enough primer fill tubes charged with small rifle primers to handle the job, so I figured it would take me about a half-hour from start to end.

After a half hour, I had completed less than 30 rounds ... and some of them didn't have primers in them.

What's the problem?

First, the shell plate wouldn't index correctly. I have had that as an 'intermittent' problem for a while but I had never experienced the situation when it NEVER indexed correctly.

Second, the return lever on the primer mechanism never returned far enough to pick up the next hole in the primer plate. This was also not a new problem, and as an expedient I had got into the habit of manually placing the return lever in the primer plate hole with my thumb. Annoying, but not enough to upset me.

This time I experienced a new problem: the mechanism (Case Insert Slide & Slide Cam) which advances the cartridge case to the shell plate wouldn't move the case to the shell plate, even when the shell plate was correctly indexed.

I tried every trick I could think of, including cleaning and lubrication and partial disassembly of each assembly to check for breakage. When I realized that I had already spent much more time trying to trouble-shoot the problems (without success) than I had expected to spend for the entire task, I turned off the lights and went inside. I figured I could use my 10mm Edge for the match, and I already had enough 10mm ammunition for a couple of matches.

(As it happened, events conspired to prevent that solution from working, either.)

After brooding for a week, I decided that there were just too many things wrong for my poor mechanical skills to fix. In fact, I had replaced every one of the three assemblies, in part or in total, during the 15 years I've owned it. I have put several thousand rounds through this loading press almost every year, and about 20,000 rounds per year since SWMBO decided to take up the sport. That adds up to over 100,000 rounds on a machine which remained about 50% of the original parts, aside from the piston and the frame.

So this morning (Saturday, March 1, 2008) I called Dillon and explained my problem. Then I asked if I could send the machine to them for reconditioning. The man at Dillon replied immediately "Sure!". I asked him what I should include. He told me to take off the turret head including the powder feed mechanism (assuming I wasn't having problems with that, which I wasn't ... I had replaced that under warranty some time ago!). Also, take off the charging handle and be sure to include the primer feed assembly. "And here's your Return Authorization Number .... it will take about two weeks".

It took me about as much time to strip down the machine as it had the previous week to realize I couldn't get it to work. I found the original packing box and realized that it was much bigger than it needed to be: the stripped down press was only about 20" long. So I found a box which had originally contained a disassembled office chair (the box was double-layer cardboard, so I figured it would be strong enough for the 20# plus Thirty-Five Pounds! hunk of iron) and used the cardboard cutout which was part of the original packing material to position the press.

Then I took it to The UPS Store and told them to finish packing it so it wouldn't rattle around like a big pea in a tin cup. I marked the Return Authorization number on the shipping bill and on the outside of the box in two places, and also put my business card with the RA# in a plastic envelope in the box. Including the $4.50 packaging charge, it cost me $31.01 to ship it to Dillon's business address in Scottsdale, AZ. The nice lady at the counter told me it would be delivered by Thursday via UPS Ground.

So I won't be shooting a lot of USPSA matches for the next month, but after that it should be a lot easier for me to load up for the weekend on the night before the big match.

There's a happy ending to this story. While I was searching my garage for a suitable shipping box, I found a box in which I had previously received an order from Dillon. I had been dumping spare gun parts (springs, old holsters, etc.) in it for over a year, but at the bottom of it I found 600 rounds of new-in-packing Winchester .38 super brass. Since that product has increased in price by 50% in the past year, this serendipitous find will save me more money than the shipping charges incurred.

Now, if I can only find some Small Rifle primers for less than $30 a brick ...

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