It all began with a toy. It was a rare cast-iron cannon, shaped identically to those that helped the North topple the South during the Civil War, and it was buried deep inside a trash heap. It was 1942, the world was at war, and toys were hard to come by for Carthage resident George Terry, at the time just 7 and desperately in search of something that would serve as an outlet for his imagination.
It all began with a toy.
It was a rare cast-iron cannon, shaped identically to those that helped the North topple the South during the Civil War, and it was buried deep inside a trash heap. It was 1942, the world was at war, and toys were hard to come by for Carthage resident George Terry, at the time just 7 and desperately in search of something that would serve as an outlet for his imagination.
“That’s when my love for cannons really came about,” Terry said. “During World War II, of course, there were no toys. Most were made of metal and at that time all the metal was being sent to the military” to help aid the war effort. “When you went to (a dime store), there wasn’t much on the shelves.”
So he and his friends improvised, often searching through trash heaps — remember, there was no trash pick-up service back then like there is today — for anything that could serve as a toy.
And that’s when he stumbled across the cannon.
“It became my favorite toy, especially during Fourth of July, where I’d place the Chinese fire crackers inside the barrel and pretend it was going off.”
The toy didn’t stand the test of time, sadly. After the war, when American-made fireworks were available, he placed a firecracker the size of a human finger inside that same cast-iron barrel and lit the fuse.
“The barrel disappeared,” Terry said with a chuckle. “So that ended my favorite toy.”
Fast-forward to 1976, during the county’s bicentennial celebration, and Terry crafted together a 2 1/2-foot cannon, complete with wheels, and set it out in his front lawn. It drew rave reviews and back slaps from neighbors and friends. Better yet, it still exists intact today, safe and sound up in an alcove above the living room.
More importantly, Terry greatly enjoyed the experience. He had always dabbled in wood crafting, and joining his love of shaping wood into that childhood image of that beloved cast-iron Civil War cannon seemed the perfect marriage.
Today, Terry has pieced together more than 120 wooden cannons. They aren’t carved from a single block of wood, however. Rather, each cannon piece is gingerly crafted and then pieced together to form a whole, all with moving parts.
He first carves out the cannon’s wheels, followed by the barrel, before each is joined together. The pieces are painted, sprayed with acrylic, waxed and buffed — a process that lasts roughly a week. And it’s all done in the adjacent garage, a place he’s lovingly dubbed “The Cannon Shop.”
Best of all, Terry, former division vice president for Leggett & Platt, gives the cannons away as gifts to friends, family, civic and church groups or to charities. In fact, he’s never sold a single cannon for a profit.
Page 2 of 2 - The sole reason why he doesn’t take a year off to spit out 80 to 100 cannons to display at area arts and craft festivals, he said, “is because it would then become a job.” Giving them away, he continued, “gives me deep satisfaction. I come out here to the Cannon Shop to get happy – to relax.”
Cannons have played integral roles in America’s growth as a nation. Probably the most famed American story involving cannons occurred during the Revolutionary War, between 1775 and 1776, when Henry Knox and his team of engineers used sledges to retrieve 60 tons of heavy artillery from the captured Fort Ticonderoga. Crossing forests and the frozen Hudson and Connecticut Rivers, the cannons were placed at Dorchester Heights, overlooking British-occupied Boston, which eventually led to a hasty redcoat retreat.
A good majority of Terry’s cannons either resemble the 12-pounder Napoleon cannon from the American Civil War or their smaller cousins commonly strapped down atop the hulls of American warships of that era.
They were beautiful weapons, Terry said of the fuse-lit cannon.
“We’re so cold-blooded,” he said, speaking of today’s lethal array of military weapons. “Even though cannons are awesome things, even though they took lives, they were truly works of art.”