Eighty-five years ago this Independence Day – on July 4, 1933 — it bowed on the broad and rail-less front porch of the paternal great-grandparent’s home known simply as “Warwood.”
That green cedar-shake house was tucked into the mountainside along what everybody of the day referred to as “up Glenns Run,” for the creek of the same name though seldom for the road on which the simple abode sided, Cherry Hill Road.
“It” was a cleverly constructed cannon – a wood base with the spent and modified shell of a smaller World War I ordnance, 13 inches long and 1 and a quarter inches in diameter. It rested on a pivot, the angle controlled by a crank “powering” sprockets connected by a homemade chain.
The base of the shell was threaded to accept a cap that served as a breech. Turned slightly to one side, it accepted a firecracker. Turned back, it held the firecracker in place while allowing the fuse to be lit and concentrating the blast out the proper end.
And in a feat of either engineering genius or serendipity, the diameter of that cannon barrel just happened to accommodate green apples of the perfect size from a scraggly old tree.
That toy of the McNickle boys’ late father as a 10-year-old is said to have seen a lot of action on America’s 157th birthday and on more than a few thereafter. But the boy of the 1930s grew up, went off to war, to college and then started a family.
The cannon didn’t come off the shelf next until a few years before America’s 1976 bicentennial. And, oh, how bemused the old man was to see two of his teenaged sons clean up that cannon, load the breech and load the apples from that same tree all those years later.
But what most assuredly really tickled him was that his sons had inherited his mischievousness:
To wit, angled just so and powered with inch-and-a-half firecrackers, those green apples could be shot across the road and land in Glenns Run. “Ker-plunk” was the sound of success.
Better still, angled a little less so — and timed just right — those green bombs could strike passing vehicles. “Ker-THUD!” was an even better sound of junior engineers hitting the mark, a dense green thicket ensuring that the artillery masters never would be spotted.
Forty-plus years later, “Warwood” is long gone. And the firing days of the cannon are long passed. But each Independence Day, that cannon rests on a place of honor — the fireplace mantel — and one can almost hear a few generations of McNickle boys shouting “Fire in the hole!”
• Colin McNickle, the retired editorial page editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, now is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy. He began his journalism career at local newspapers and radio stations. A 1976 graduate of Martins Ferry High School, he grew up in Colerain.