A few weeks back I noticed two auctions for what looked like an Autococker and Automag both modified by Carter Machine. In the auction description the seller explained he did the milling himself, writing “I machined this Autococker body in the mid 1990’s, so I can tell you there is not another one that looks the same. The internal air chamber was enlarged also. It is bare metal with a slight polish.”
The cuts were done nicely, and the cocker featured a vent hole in the breech which made me more curious about the seller’s background.
I emailed the seller and he explained that the cuts were done while he was employed by Earon Carter at Carter Machine in Fullerton, California. I eventually won the auctions and arranged to meet with the seller, John Coleman.
Meeting with John Coleman
I visited John “Little John” Coleman on Thursday, May 27th, 2017. Coleman has an interesting history in paintball with long ties to the Bushwackers and later working at Carter Machine and Dye before Earon and Dave relocated production to San Diego.
Coleman started playing with the Bushwackers around 1986/87 when his friend and eventual teammate, Paul “Fridge” Mackay, invited him out to play at Field Games. Field Games was located close to Sat Cong Village (SC Village) and was the Bushwackers home field, run by team captain Ron Kilbourne (who was possibly a part owner along with Gale Gough of Aerostar).
With an Adventure Games Supply (AGS) store located a few minutes from his home, John purchased an AGS Devastator.
“I just remember when I bought [the AGS Devastator] I had to take my mom down there and buy it cause I wasn’t allowed to buy anything [at that age].”
At the time, the AGS Devastator was likely the cheapest direct feed Nelson available, with bodies made by Sigma Precision for AGS, Line SI and others.
John continues, “I went down there like a couple days before with Fridge, and he was like “just get this one.” So I came back a couple days later with my mom. It was like a mile [from my house], cause I grew up in Cerritos.”
John told me, “Fridge was my neighbor, that’s how I knew him. I saw his paintguns in the driveway and he took me down to [AGS] in either Artesia or Cerritos. They had a little store front there, it was before they moved to the big warehouse [and became Taso]. So I went there and bought a Devastator, [which used a] single arm [breech drop bolt with a] fat delrin pump. It was all black. I had that cheap sight on it, that raised peep sight, the Sharpshooter. I don’t think the barrel on that gun came off. I sold that gun to buy an Assassinator II [when Ron sold them to the team from Aerostar].”
John also remembers that after scoping out and purchasing the Devastator, “Fridge was gonna take me to Field Games to play with the ‘Wackers, ’cause that was their home field, and I [didn’t want to just] show up and be just the total noobie so I got my dad to drive me to Warzone to play this night game the week before I went with Fridge, and of course I got lit up and it was miserable.”
John began working at Field Games on Saturdays in exchange for playing on Sundays. He couldn’t remember Ron’s actual affiliation with Fields Games but knew he was “At least running the field. I reffed for Ron there on Saturdays to pay for my play on Sundays [before the next owners, a husband and and wife, changed the name to ‘The Jungle’] and I continued reffing for them for a while, and it was still the Bushwacker’s home field.”
Remembering one of the large events at Field Games, John recalls, “We had spent the night because all the Bushwackers were reffing that game and we all got eaten alive by mosquitos, cause the stupid river there. There was probably six or 700 people there [for the game]. It was a huge game [and] it had to have been 1986, maybe 1987ish, right in there. It was an awesome day because with that many people they used all the fields [as] one big field. I remember when they met in the middle there was just a shower of paint because there was just so much paint flying in the air that they were colliding and you could just see a rainbow. It was probably the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen, at a paintball game anyways.” Dave “Youngblood” DeHaan also attended this game. John remembers this was his first time seeing his eventual employer, “He had that double bottle Carterized super long barrel, wearing his silver suit.”
The Assassinator II and Aerostar West
John later sold his Devastator to buy an Assassinator II and then moved to a series of Line SI pumps after that.
He told me “I sold that devastator though, to one of Fridge’s fireman friends and I remember using that money to buy [the Aerostar Assassinator II].”
John continued, “The Assassinator [II] was a way better gun than that Devastator was. And it still works too! I dropped a 12 gram in it and it [cycled!]”
Gale Gough, of Aerostar, was a partner in Field Games, possibly with Ron Kilbourne, so it would make sense that Kilbourne would be able to get discounts on Aerostar’s paintguns and equipment. John “Mike” Hyatt, who was employed by Gough at Aerostar’s shop in Brea, California, from 1988-89, wrote me that, “Gale owned [Field Games], but I’m not sure if Ron was co-owner(?). [The] Bushwackers practiced at the Field Game often.”
Over the course of nearly a decade years, from 1986/87 until about 1994/1995, Coleman played on and off with the Bushwackers. John remembers, [At 13, when I] first started playing I was on the B [team] obviously.” But as he got better he moved to the A squad.
“We always had a hodgepodge of stuff. [Ron Kibourne] was always good at getting sponsors [so] we always had sponsors for all kinds of stuff but we were never locked into one particular gun, we got deals on almost everything. Ron always used a Line SI, other guys used [Aerostar Assassinator 2s], a couple guys used WGP Sniper 1s. So we always had a mix on the team.”
JT USA Line SI Bushmaster c.1990?
Around 1990 Kilbourne secured a small run of JT USA engraved Bushmasters for the Bushwackers. John remembers that these “Originally came with both valve bodies”, the CA valve and the 12 gram lever changer.
Ron received around 10 or so of these Red, Blue and Black JT USA engraved Bushmasters from JT. John doesn’t remember if Ron “[received] a batch, or if the guys had an opportunity to purchase them [from JT].” But he does remember that “the ‘Wackers ended up with a lot of them. I remember I wanted one. That was kinda about the time that I stopped playing for about a year [to race RC cars]. But I was with [The Bushwackers] all the time since I was refereeing on the weekends. I just didn’t have enough money to get one. It wasn’t until later when it came up that I was able to acquire one.”
John was able to trade a Line SI Pointman for ‘Wacker teammate, John Van Amberg’s, JT USA Bushmaster. Van Amberg was leaving paintball. Van Amberg’s name is engraved on one side of the top rail (as pictured).
John wrote me explaining the exact circumstances on how was able to trade for the JT USA Bushmaster:
“About a year [after the team received them] John Van Amberg quit paintball for bass fishing so Ron offered me up his JT USA gun. I traded Ron a [Line SI] Point Man Bushmaster for it. You will see in the pic his name is engraved on it. I have had it ever since.”
Coleman recalls that he “changed out the springs” and that was about it. The bolt and hammer set up in this JT USA Line SI Bushmaster was a stainless anti kink set from Lapco so it’s possible the powertube is stamped LA, for Lapco, and not SI. These internals were in it when it was purchased from Van Amberg.
John also wrote me:
“You have an old add of Ron Kilborne with [his JT USA Bushmaster] on your site. That is the configuration we all had, just like that one. Not all of us had the sight rail engraved though. All [featured the] same colors and parts. All of us got the SI lever 12 gram changer and a black ca adaptor for the bottle. I know that one of [Gilbert Martinez’s] was pieced back together but looks like a lot of not original parts on it.”
The Bushwackers and Semi Automatics
Around the early 1990s, as semis were beginning to make their way onto the scene, John purchased an early plain black Autococker with the full back block and began using that instead of the JT USA Bushmaster.
From this paintgun John moved to a Minicocker and then an Automag he purchased from Kilbourne. Both were used during his time on the Bushwackers.
John remembers being the “Only one ever on the ‘Wackers that was using an Automag during those years.” John bought the Automag from Ron and told me, “If I remember right, he said he got it from Tom Kaye. [Kilbourne] just didn’t like the Automags. I had a cocker already but it was the early version with the full big block and I wasn’t good at turning the cockers. You know those things, their finicky, so I grabbed this Automag and this thing just railed paint!”
“People that know my guns from the Bushwacker days remember it as a plain Automag.”
John’s original Automag setup
A little ashamed of his original Automag setup John explains, “You’d laugh, but when I was on the ‘Wackers, I was running a 3.5oz bottle with the bottom drilled and tapped and using it as an expansion chamber, and then I had a coiled hose [from the tank to the valve]. When i first started playing with that Automag, the NPPL didn’t really care about that 3.5 oz bottle.”
But as John played more NPPL events with the Bushwackers he ended up having to change to an actual expansion chamber. “After a couple tournaments went by I went to [a Taso expansion chamber] because the [NPPL refs] were frowning on the [drilled] 3.5 oz tank.”
John also remembers cutting down his stock barrel, “I cut down the barrel first at home. This was my favorite barrel, I had cut the stupid triangular pattern, the [crown point], [off]. [And then] I damaged it one day, I fell on the field and I bent it. So I cut it off with a hacksaw in my garage [to the short length it is now]. I stared playing with it short. I don’t know [why], I just got such a reaction at the field, people were pissed when they heard it, sounds like a canon going off, even though it’s only going 280, but it shot [great].”
Another mod to the cut down stock barrel that John did was he “countersunk the front of it, which, as he recalls, “Seemed to give a little upward spin to the ball so the ball floated farther.”
Working at Carter Machine
Around late 1995 to early 1996, as John was 22, he was offered an opportunity by friend and Bushwacker teammate, Aaron Christopher.
John remembers back two decades, “Aaron “little Aaron” Christopher was [Earon’s] main employee at that time in the [Fullerton shop]. He was on the Bushwackers and he used to work at Sat Cong and I coned him into trying out for the Bushwackers. We had been playing together for years. Christopher gave me a call [around 95/96] and said, “Hey, Earon needs help,” so I went down there and talked to Earon one day. Earon said, “Hey I need somebody to help me one or two days a week.” Of course, work at Carter Machine! If that was around 1996 I would have been 22.”
John pieces the timeline together saying, “I want to say I started working there around the end of 1995 or the beginning of 1996, somewhere in that neighborhood.”
The position at Carter Machine quickly required more of John’s schedule. “And then I remember when I went in the next day, [one of the previous employees] was gone. So within like a day it was like I went from coming in one or two days a week to full time.
Working for Dave “Youngblood” DeHaan at DYE
Shortly after John started, Dave Youngblood’s production kicked off and took priority over the projects John was building for Earon. John told me, “And within probably another day [of getting hired] is when [Dave began getting massive orders for barrels.] Now Dave needed someone to make his barrels, so within a day or two Earon said okay, I need you to work full time and now your gonna work for Dave. He needs somebody to make barrels.”
It was during this time that Coleman machined the cuts in the Automag he had been using on the Bushwackers and purchased an Autococker from WGP to cut up. John said, “I never played with these [Carterized] customized guns on the ‘Wackers, because I had already stopped playing when I worked for Earon. I had been out of paintball for a year or two, I would play walk on stuff but I wasn’t going to tournaments anymore.”
As time went on John’s schedule seemed to follow the pattern of machining barrels for Dave / Dye during the day and working for Earon at in the evening. He details his work during that time explaining, “For Earon, It would be when he needed help. So I would [do] a full days work for Dave and then a lot of times [I might stay until 8 or 8:30 at night.] and Earon would tell me, “Hey, drill some barrels for me,” or “Hey machine some pump handles for me.”
John remembers that at that time Dave was living in San Diego and not in the Fullerton / Orange County area, “Dave was in San Diego, he never lived up here [during that period].”
Are these Carter Machine Guns?
On John’s ebay auctions for his Autococker and Automag he didn’t indicate these paintguns were machined by Carter Machine.
I asked John why and he told me, “I’m not about to advertise it, because it’s not a Carter gun,” meaning the machining was done by John and not by Earon. John also wrote me, “I have way too much respect for Earon to use his name trying to market my personal gun as something [they are] not.”
Carter Machine from 1995-98
I asked John if he remembers the other types of guns that he worked on during his years at Carter Machine. John replied, “[We were really building a] hodgepodge of stuff. Whatever [Earon] needed at the time. Some of the things I could do myself, like the barrels, some of the cuts on the cockers, I could set up for that and [machine]. Other stuff, like cutting that relief hole [in the Autococker bodies], I didn’t know how to set that one up, so he’d set the machine up for me and then I’d cut like ten bodies for him. Some of the stuff I learned to do myself, but a lot of it [Earon] had to set it up and then I’d run ten parts and then set it up and do something else. Like my [Autococker] body, I did all the set up on that, except for that relief cut.”
A closer look at John’s Autococker body and parts Automag
John’s Autococker body has some of the typical Carter Machine cuts, such as the diagonal slants and the vent hole, but also has unique cuts on the lower tube and a neat rounded front of the body, slimmed down asa and notched Front Block. I asked John about the unique cuts and he replied, “So basically with this body I just wanted to do something different, you know for [myself], because I hadn’t played with an Autococker in years and I wanted to put one together since I worked at Carter Machine so I wanted a nice looking Autococker. So that’s why I just tried to pick something a little different. That’s why I [cut] the horizontal lines. I thought that was a little different. I wanted to round the front, since not a lot of [Earon’s] bodies had that. Some did, but it’s hard as hell to do that, and when you look it’s perfect. It might not be totally perfect, but it’s close.”
John’s Unique Cuts
Coleman took the same approach when modifying his Automag. Cuts on the sight are stylistically similar to the Automags that Carter Machine was cutting at the time but unique (and possibly wider?), and the unique rail cuts match the rail cuts on Coleman’s Buzzard. John told me that he could “only remember a couple [Automags] coming into the shop,” during his time there.
He goes on, “I know I cut my [sight rail]. There [was] a bunch of stuff laying around the shop. Previous [Automags sight rails] that Earon had cut, and they were similar but then again I was trying to make mine different.”
Asking how John tried to differentiate his mag he explains, “I don’t remember the differences but I think that’s why I put an extra cut in the back [of the automag sight rail], and maybe elongated the top holes. I just tried to make it different. I’m sure I didn’t cut [Automags] there besides my own. The only [modification] think I remember Earon doing when I was there was drilling out the valve, on the older ones.” John remembers doing the diagonal cuts becaue he, “wanted it to match the buzzard, and just have a unique look to it.”
“I was already not playing semi by the time I was working at Earons [and to] people that know my guns from the Bushwacker days it was a plain Automag, it didn’t look anything like this,” he explains.
Coleman also remembers that, “Earon told me, “Cut [the on / off down], it’s [going to] help [airflow].”
Along with the On / Off Top John also drilled out the back reg for the 8 hole mod (only 4 holes drilled to help transfer air) and polished the 90 degree brass fittings. Unfortunately he could never get the back reg to seal after modifying it so he replaced the back of the valve with the ANS Phase 2 Reg. He told me, “I drilled out the back valve, but obviously i messed it up a little. I’m not even sure how, because on the appearance it looked [identical] to one that’s cut right, but it leaked every time i tried it. I switched everything in it, even tried new guts and i could not get it to seal up.”
Polishing the fittings was mostly aesthetic but also prevented snags while playing. John remembers, “I used to hit them on the buffing wheel. A lot of us on the ‘Wackers did it.”
According to John, the on / off cut and ANS Phase two valve did help performance, “This gun shot good to begin with and when I did these couple enhancements this gun could throw some paint. I loved this [Automag].”
This Automag also features a aluminum hex powerfeed plug. I asked if this was made by Carter Machine and John replied that it was not. “I bought that and had it anodized to match. It was black [originally].”
Playing Stock and John’s Buzzard
Between 1996 and 1997 Earon demanded that if John worked for Carter Machine he started playing stock class. “I had pretty much stopped playing tournament paintball so I wasn’t playing [as often]. [And] Earon’s very funny, one of the things he told me [was] “Hey you need to go play stock.” And I said, “I don’t want to go play stock,” and Earon said, “Maybe you didn’t understand me, you need to go play stock. And you can’t work for this shop and show up with a piece of crap, so you’re gonna make yourself a gun,” and that’s how [my buzzard] came about, but i had to make it. [Earon] wasn’t gonna give me one. But part of the deal was, when I made that gun, I made 4 or 5 other pieces of every [component] on there so I basically put together a batch of 5 or 6 guns. Of course my cuts were different than [the rest of the batch], but that was the deal. [Earon] was gonna give me the stuff to make it but I had to machine it,” said John.
John’s Buzzard featured diagonal cuts on the rail, similar to his Automag rail and the top tube cuts in his cocker body. The barrel is spiral rifled stainless with Autococker threads and no inserts. He remembers playing with this Buzzard for a “year before [Earon] moved [to San Diego].”
Early Carter Machine Comp and Buzzard internals rust and are supposedly “hard rolled” steel, so I asked John about the Nelson internals while he worked at Carter Machine, “I never knew [Earon] had anything different [than stainless internals for Comps and Buzzards],” he told me.
John remembers reffing the 1996 SC Village Carter Invitational and then competing at the 1997 Julian Carter Machine Invitational.
Late 1997 to 1998 at Carter Machine and Dye and the move to San Diego
Towards the end of 1997 or early 1998 Dave purchased a CNC Machine which allowed John to catch up on barrel orders. Shortly after, in 1998, Earon moved production of Carter Machine and Dye to San Diego.
I asked John if he or other employees moved with Earon during this relocation? John replied that “Dave was a little upset with me because I think he just figured I was gonna move,” and he continues, “I was still young at the time, but I didn’t want to move, all my friends, my family, everybody was up here,… I didn’t want to go down there. It was really the same for Aaron Christopher too. It [was disappointing] because I really wanted to go, I loved what I was doing, Dave was a great guy, Earon’s a great guy. It was a perfect scenario for me to work in that shop, I loved it, I just didn’t want to move away. I already knew what I wanted to do for a living. I knew that [becoming a sheriff] is what I wanted to do.”
And John continued, “At the time when they moved it was only Aaron [Christopher] and I working at the shop,… so they pretty much lost both employees. It sucked though cause I really do miss Earon.”
John offered more insight on Bushwacker patches and Dye barrel production that I will detail in future articles. Giant thanks to John for spending several hours with me talking about his paintball history.
Find more Autocockers on John Coleman at: https://paintballhistory.com/tag/john-coleman
Find more articles on Carter Machine at: https://paintballhistory.com/tag/carter-machine