A few months back I received this F-1 Illustrator from David Freeman, of PMI, Tippmann Pneumatics, Inc. and Direct Connect. This F-1 looks to be completely stock, and is a neat piece of paintball history since David’s company, Direct Connect was the sole distributor of the F-1 and the base of the body is engraved for David from the F-1’s inventor, Kenneth Farrell.
From storage in David’s personal collection for the past 2 and a half decades, this Illustrator has “For David From Kenneth Farrell” cut into the bottom. Kenneth Farrell was the inventor of the F-1 Illustrator and (I would imagine) the owner of Fastech.
The July 1992 issue of Paintball Magazine contains a great write up by Kenneth Farrell on his struggle to get the F-1 Illustrator on the market. The F-1 eventually ended up being released at “the end of 1990,” according to Farrell.
So looking at Farrell’s development timeline of the F1, the release can be dated to late in 1990. By this point, the other mass produced 1st generation semi automatics, which included the 68 Special and VM-68, were already on the market. Both were released at the July 1990 Bay City Open. The Automag was used in the 1990 Masters by Swarm (who placed first) but was likely released to the public slightly later? The Autococker wouldn’t be released until (mid?) 1991.
I asked Michael Karman, who worked at Direct Connect and played on Farside, Scream and Aftershock, about the F-1 Illustrator’s introduction. Karman remembers using the Illustrator at what he thinks was the 1990 Masters while playing on Scream. He writes:
“I have fond memories and nightmares of playing with them. Scream [played the] Masters with them.” Michael picked out one specific memory of his F-1 Illustrator, serial 009, which stuck with him 25 years later:
“I just remember crawling up behind Tommy Cole [who was] giving orders to 6 other [Bad Company] guys and I pinched a ball 10 ft from them.”
But a couple chops are inevitable and the F-1 proved a reliable marker with Direct Connect selling thousands before Fastech moved to producing F-2 Illustrator (c.1992?).
And Farrell’s article gives a very in depth look at process to the F-1’s invention.
Kenneth writes, “Shortly after starting to play paintball in late 1988, I knew I had to have a semi-automatic. …I decided the only way to get a good one to play with was to make it myself.”
Farrell’s timeline for development of this early stack tube blowback starts in late 1988.
Late 1988 Farrell plays paintball and decides he wants to build a semi automatic.
Over the next quarter, while working building “mechanisms for repairing composite plastic structures such as the wing panels of the B-2,” Farrell “roughed out three different designs,” eventually abandoning each.
His next prototype became the F-1 Illustrator. The F-1 started as two connected aluminum tubes which “demonstrated that the blow-back striker and gas porting worked…”
The next three prototypes were designed in stacked drilled blocks of aluminum with an external line to connect the gas from back bottle to valve. “By late 1989, these models were adequate for serious field testing.”
The first production piece was the aluminum extrusion. Farrell explains that, “A key design task here was replacing the external tubing which carried CO2 from the rear to the front of the previous models with a small passage-way in the lower right corner of the extrusion.”
Farrell joined with David Freeman and Direct Connect out of Illinois to handle distribution of the F-1 Illustrator.
Kenneth writes that “David Freeman’s Direct Connect, in South Holland, Illinois, was awarded the worldwide distribution contract for the paintgun because of Direct Connect’s excellent reputation.”
“Mike Oaks, owner of Evergreen Action Sports in Renton, Washington” joined Direct Connect along with his partner Phil Smith. Oaks suggested the name “Illustrator” after “watching a target being covered with paint” similarly to “a very fast paintbrush.”
Farrell writes that “The first production [paint]guns came off the line at the end of 1990.”
I’ll be asking David Freeman about other interesting details on this particular F-1 Illustrator and post another article eventually with his comments.
Thanks to David Freeman, Michael Karman, Glenn Pensinger and Renick Miller of Bad Boyz Toyz.