Just a few minutes ago, Kate, Randy, and I were walking down High street to get some lunch at Salad Stop. “Whoa”, said Randy, and we saw a big cannon set up in front of the Chester County Historical Society. In front of the cannon was a white-haired man in civil-war galluses, looking every inch the seasoned historical reenactor. “Say, wow, what kind of cannon is this?” we asked him. He smiled, turned, and pointed to a man in grease-stained blue jeans smoking a cigarette behind him.
Turns out, the guy in the blue jeans is Jeff Stafford — a local fellow who is also THE world’s go-to guy for taking your hundred-and-fifty-year-old locally-cast piece of ordnance, putting it on a new, correct, rolling mount, and restoring it to the point where you can repeatedly hit a four-inch target at two hundred yards.
The cannon Jeff was standing in front of was cast right here in Phoenixville, PA in 1862. Jeff showed us the markings on the barrel: Cannon number 379, cast by the Phoenix Iron Works in 1862. Weight: 816 pounds. Inspected by TTSL: Theodore Thaddeus Sablinsky Ladlie!
Jeff fabricated the wheels and carriage for this particular gun, including all the staves and coopering, from white oak, all to the original specifications. It’s not just his hobby, it’s his job! He told us that he restores (and fabricates) cannons for museums and private collectors all over the world. “I bet you have some stories!” I say, and he smiles and says “Yeah, there’s some pretty colorful characters.” Of course, I assume this means that he has furnished more that one evil genius’s volcano lair with lovingly-recreated operational field pieces.
The three-inch ordnance rifle, in front of the Historical Society for a special event, fires a nine-inch, eleven-pound projectile. The grooves in the projectile match grooves in the barrel, spinning it for accuracy. I had never seen a cannon with functional iron sights before — only pirate cannons and rusty curios in the park that look like they only shoot, you know… thataway.
If you happen to be reading this on Thursday, September 22nd, 2011, you can run down to downtown West Chester and meet Jeff until 6PM today, before he loads his two-thousand-pound cannon up on his trailer (by himself, with the help of a hand winch.) He’s in Embreeville, and invited us over for a tour. I can’t wait! More about Jeff on his website: staffordwheelandcarriage.com.