As I recall, Greg Prostko created the thing — and he made it as an assignment in a shop class. That must have been once he started attending UT instead of high school, though, because I recall his story of trying it out for the first time in the back yard of rent house in a South Austin neighborhood.
That first shot was hear round the town, as Greg had confused black powder (recommended) with the significantly more powerful smokeless powder (not recommended) and “filled it with the Premium,” so to speak. When he pulled the firing lever, the “BOOM” practically deafened him and the kickback sent the little cannon flying backwards, smashing through the wooden fence. Recovering quickly, he retrieved the cannon through the hole in the fence and skedaddled inside to hide. Sure enough, within minutes, a police car came slowly rolling past the house there at the end of the cul-de-sac as Greg stole furtive glances from an upstairs window to make sure they had not detected the source of the explosion.
That was the first, but certainly not be the last time, the cannon “summoned” the law.
After that, Greg brought the cannon out to live with us at Creedmoor, which is where I first encountered it. Out in the boonies was the perfect place to shoot that thing off occasionally. Though primarily built for smoke & noise & effect rather than launching projectiles, we did try shooting a dart out of the barrel. It easily blasted through the trunk of an abandoned car sitting there on the property, so we fired a couple more rounds of our “armor-piercing” darts. But we quickly grew tired of that as well. And we ran out of darts.
Enter Pat O’Connor. I don’t remember when or how Pat bought the cannon from Greg or how much he paid, but he really gave it new life. For starters, he fixed a flaw in the original design. Greg’s firing lever anchored on one side of the barrel, which tended to move the cannon when the firing cord was pulled, turning slightly or knocking it over entirely — neither one good when firing the cannon. That was probably why Greg didn’t fire it too often and was happy to sell it. Pat fixed it by re-configuring the firing lever into a double-sided one that swung down evenly, equalizing the pull and stabilizing the cannon.
Thereafter, any party that Pat threw or attended eventually involved the firing of the cannon. Once he moved to Del Valle to a place on the banks above the Colorado River, it became quite the party fixture. Everybody who wanted to could take a fire firing the cannon. Even my sweet wife, Sara, fired it off once. Having previously lamented the noise, she discovered she reveled in the power she felt firing it off, and let out a loud whoop of excited delight. Pat even let off a blast once in the middle of South 5th Street in South Austin to celebrate midnight on New Year’s Eve. A car nearly knocked it over first and, of course, he had to clear it away quickly before the cops arrived. They rolled past the party spilling out into the yard and left.
Faithful followers of this back porch blog may remember Pat and his cannon from a couple of my birthday posts when I recalled my 40th birthday celebration out at Buescher State Park. Permit me to plagiarize myself by repeating one of those accounts here:
Originally posted September 24, 2015
My friend, Pat, showed up late Saturday afternoon, grinning broadly as he got out of his car. He brandished a small, harmless-looking metal cylinder about the size of a standard flashlight I recognized immediately — as his cannon, small but LOUD.
“I brought the cannon,” he said simply.
“No.” I said.
“Aw, c’mon…” he pleaded.
“I got a deposit down on this place — I want to get it back.”
“Just one time?”
“Once.” I paused. “When you’re leaving. One shot then you go.”
Late that night, after all the kids and all the other adults had drifted off to sleep in their various camps, Pat fired the cannon once and left post-haste, scattering gravel as he raced away from the rec hall. A few minutes later, a park ranger drove through our area quietly, but by then, his car was the only sound other than the noises of the night.”
The last word I heard about Pat’s cannon though, it finally did get him in trouble with the law. On his wedding day, no less. How the confirmed bachelor came to be married is a separate story (culminating in the fully-clothed couple jumping off a nearby waterfall together), but of course he had to fire off the cannon to celebrate that evening. Several times.
Enough times that a sheriff’s department employee living down the street thought the neighborhood was under attack and called it in as ongoing gunfire and explosions. I wasn’t there, so all I know is what I heard, but as I understand it, Pat got arrested that night. I don’t think Candy did, but then again, she was nowhere near as crazy as O’Connor. Her only real crazy act was marrying a crazy Irishman — who owned a cannon.