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Yuma cannon restored on TV show
It was quiet and sunny as Richard Craig wheeled the century-old 24-inch signal cannon out onto his green front lawn and loaded it with a 26.5-millimeter black powder charge.
After closing the breech and attaching the firing lanyard, he gave the line a gentle tug, causing a raucous bang that set off the alarm of his neighbor's SUV one recent afternoon.
“It does have a little bit of a kick to it,” he said with a mischievous smile.
So far, his neighbors haven't complained about the noise the little signal cannon creates, he added.
The cannon, which belonged to his grandfather Edward Milton Craig, was recently restored by Rick's Restorations in Las Vegas, Nev. The business is the focus of the History Channel show “American Restoration,” which follows owner Rick Dale, his staff and teenage son as they restore vintage items to their original condition.
The cannon was the focus of the episode “Big Bang,” which aired June 20.
But before Craig and his cannon made it onto television, he had to track it down. The cannon had been used by his grandfather to signal the beginning of the annual Maid of the Mist Parade in Niagara Falls, N.Y., during the middle of the 20th century. The parade no longer exists.
When Edward Craig died in the mid-1970s, the signal cannon was taken by a family member to Texas, disassembled and stored in a barn. It would remain there for the next 30 years.
Richard began asking around about the cannon about six years ago, and his aunt knew where it was but told him the barn had collapsed and it was buried in the rubble.
“Me and my son went and dug it up out of the barn,” he said. “Luckily she knew right exactly where it was, so we just cut a hole in the roof and went down straight to it and pulled it out.”
The cannon's wheels and bolts were unscrewed from the carriage, but Craig was able to locate them. However, he was unable to locate the breech of the cannon.
The piece was in poor condition and had rusted after decades of neglect. Craig, who enjoys restoring antique items, wanted to fix up the cannon into working order but knew he needed professional help for this project.
“It was in terrible condition. It was just a mess. It wasn't going to fire and I couldn't get it done on my own. I've restored a lot of things, but it was just something I was worried about because you are talking gun powder.”
Aware of “American Restoration,” Craig began sending emails about the gun to the show's producers.
“One day they called me and asked if I wanted to be on the show,” he said. The caveat was that he had to be in Las Vegas with the cannon within two days. He agreed and dropped it off on May 7.
The cannon was finished by June 13, and Craig was asked to come to a small lake in the mountains outside of Las Vegas to see the restored version for the first time. Once he got there, Rick and his crew removed the tarp covering the signal cannon.
“It was a surprise because you don't know what to expect,” Craig said.
Rick's crew had sanded down the barrel and repainted it a glossy black. The wheels had been reblacked during a special process involving glass beads, and a firearms company in the area had crafted a new breech to make the cannon usable. They also put a photo of Edward Craig on the gun carriage.
“Everything you see on there is original except for a couple of bolts they had to replace, and of course the breech that wasn't there,” Craig said. “The only difference I would have done — the breech I would have done in gold. But everything else looks good and I really like the way it came out.”
The cannon will now be used every year at the annual Mi Vida Car Club Benefit Car Show, of which Craig is a member, to signal the start of judging and to let the participants know when the trophies will be handed out.
Craig enjoys the fact that he is following in his grandfather's footsteps by using it at a community event.
The car show, held the first Saturday of November, benefits a member of law enforcement or a firefighter in the Yuma area who is battling cancer or is given to their family if they are deceased. The show, held at Cocopah Casino, showcases over 38 categories of vehicles and is free to the public.
This year the car show will benefit the families of Yuma Police Department Master Police Officer Hilbert Celaya and Department of Homeland Security Special Agent Victor Martinez. Both men died of cancer recently.
The car club is trying to raise between $5,000 and $10,000 to donate to each family by November. Event organizers are also looking for at least 50 business sponsors to pay for trophies.
To donate call 941-4151 or send an email to email@example.com.