Saturday, October 23, 2010

12 Pounder Mountain Howitzer

Today has been a very fun day. Today I learned how to shoot a cannon. A good friend of ours heads some group at the Mormon Battalion and he asked if I was interested in becoming a certified cannon shooter. I guess they have the occasional cannon demonstrations and they don't have enough certified cannon shooters. Of course I was very interested. Just in case you're not familiar with the Mormon Battalion they have the distinct honor of having made the longest military march in American history. When the Mormons were ran out of the United States and on their way to Utah they were really hard up for supplies.
There are five men required to fire a cannon. You can actually do it with three but five is preferable. The five positions are 1) Loader 2) Rammer 3) Pricker 4) Gunner and 5) The Powder Monkey.They sent messengers to the US government offering to build cabins along the trail heading west to provide shelter for all of the people heading west. In turn the government would pay them. The government wasn't interested in cabins but they had a war going on with Mexico and they did offer good money if the Mormons could come up with 500 men to form a battalion. Those 500 men marched from somewhere on the Iowa plains to San Diego.
That was a long march. We have a very cool visitors center here in San Diego that you really should go and see if you're ever in the area. Maybe I'll be manning the cannon. I am certified after all.

The loader puts the cartridge (that includes the cannonball along with the powder) in the barrel of the cannon. Here is a video of me loading the cannon. Please excuse the shakiness of the video. I think my photographer was a little distracted.

The rammer shoves the cartridge down the barrel of the cannon and gives it a couple of good thumps to ensure that it is well seated in the chamber so that the fuse can get to it. After the gun is fired the rammer also dips a wool swab into some water and washes out the barrel of the cannon. This does two things, it keep the barrel from fouling but it also puts out any burning embers that might cause the next charge to fire prematurely. Here is a video of me ramming (and swabbing) the cannon.

All the pricker does for the most part is keep his thumb over the vent hole. This sounds like a real dumb job at first but it turns out that when you ram the cartridge into the barrel you can blow ashes and sparks and sludge up the vent hole. By putting your thumb over the vent hole none of this happens. The other thing they worry about is if there is a live ember left in the barrel the rushing air going out the vent could fan it into a hotter ember that might ignite the charge being shoved into the barrel. The pricker is also the guy who shoves a spike (pricking) into the powder cartridge to expose powder to the primer. The powder was held in a cotton bag but because cotton is more likely to leave burning embers we use aluminum foil. Check out the video of my holding my thumb on the vent. You may also notice me pricking the charge.
The gunner is the man in charge. He first calls out "prepare to load" at which point the powder monkey runs a cartridge up to the loader. He then calls out "load the charge" at which point the loader puts the cartridge in the muzzel of the cannon and the rammer rams it home. Note this is done with gloves on your hands and with only one hand. The thumb is also pointed away from the muzzle of the cannon. If that charge goes off while you're ramming it perhaps you might not lose your hand. If you do at least you'll only lose one hand. After the cartridge is rammed into place the gunner calls out "prick and prime". This is when the pricker shoves a spike into the vent hole and tears a hole into the powder bag (or foil) and then the gunner puts a primer into the vent hole. The primer was originally a goose quill filled with gun powder.
A friction sensitive primer is located on the top of the primer much like a match head and when a wire is pulled through this primer it ignites the gun powder that in turn flashes down the goose quill and into the powder in the barrel of the gun. Sounds like fun doesn't it. Here you can watch me calling out all the orders and then yanking on the cord that sets off the igniter.

The final job is the powder monkey. As I mentioned all he has to do is carry the cartridge up to the loader. I didn't think you would find a video of me carrying a cartridge too exciting so I skipped that video. So there you have it. I'm now a certified cannoneer. It was a good day.

This weekend is homecoming for Westview. Our poor little football team got slaughtered last night by Poway. There were pretty dejected. It is a rebuilding year for them and they only have twelve seniors on the team. We're also in a pretty tough league. Tonight is the homecoming dance and Sarah is off with a group of 13 people. Yes, I realize thirteen is an odd number but one brave girl decided that she wanted to join the group even if she didn't have a date. I think that is great. The scary part is that all seven girls came to our house to get ready and word has it that they're all sleeping here too.
The boys are all leaving at midnight so I can go to bed.


Peter and Mandy said...

Wow a real cannoneer-looks like fun. So how often will you be doing that? Will you be out on the lawn on the Mormon Battalion day

Fred ... said...

I doubt I will get to do this very often but if they ask I'll be there.

Mark Hansen said...


I don't know if I ever told you my great great grandfather Nathaniel Jones was in the Mormon Battalion.

The 12 pounder looks fascinating. I would assume in the city you are not using a real 12-pound ball. That would be politically incorrect in a place like CA.

I am surprised you stand at right angles to the muzzle. I would think the muzzle blast would less severe behind the cannon.

Lynn said...

That is SO cool Fred! I can only imagine what your resume reads under your list of "Hobbies". So diversified. I bet anyone reading the resume would have fun reading them. ; D

Fred ... said...

This canon has never fired an actual ball. It is a reproduction of the original one. It's owned by the state so we will only ever fire blanks. Personally I want to make my own version and fire real balls. The mountain Howitzer was actually designed to shoot exploding shells and cartridges that are like a giant shotgun shell (0.69 caliber balls) and not solid balls.

The muzzle blast is actually just strong enough to be exciting. They make us cover our ears and turn sideways but I don't think that was an original requirement. I cheated and didn't actually cover my ears. I love the concussion.

I didn't know about your ancestor Nathanial Jones. I will check out his name the next time we go. I'm glad to have a name we can look for since non of our ancestors were there.

Alycia (Crowley Party) said...

Dad that is SO cool! I want to do that with you sometime when I am down. I know Trevor would love it as well! &Sarah looks gorgeous... like always of course!

Dad said...

Anything that makes a big noise!!!
Get yourself some GOOD ear plugs.

Dad said...

Anything that makes a big noise!!
Get yourself some GOOD ear plugs.