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Ray Kostel, 79, of Wagner, talks about his homemade cannon Thursday afternoon. Kostel built the cannon by hand using parts from farm equipment. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

Homemade cannon is built to blast

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News Mitchell,South Dakota 57301
The Daily Republic
Homemade cannon is built to blast
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

WAGNER -- It was a dream come true for Ray Kostel.

He was compelled to build a cannon. And while there was no book or blueprint, Kostel says there was a divine guide.

"There was only one God who could have helped me build it," he said. "And He did."

After years of being stored away, Kostel's cannon is on the move, currently on display at the Good Samaritan Society Senior Care Center in Wagner. He has plans to show it at the Charles Mix County Courthouse in Lake Andes in the future, after it is shined and placed in a permanent case.

He built the cannon in 1963, starting when he was 28 years old. It was a slow process that took years.

He followed the pattern of an old wagon wheel the best he could, but the 12 spokes on each wheel are evenly spaced, with the brass, wood and metal neatly mixed. Sitting in his chair Thursday at the nursing home, with a cross necklace around his neck and wife Jane by his side, Kostel recalled that he prayed over the next steps to build the cannon.

"In my dream, I was led in what to do next," he said. "Each day, I would get a small piece done and then I would pray over what would be next."

A small turning lathe and parts from his father's old machinery shop helped piece the project together. The brass accents came from an old printing press that was used in Wagner, still with plenty of shine after almost 50 years. The shaft of the cannon was built from the family farm manure spreader. That's because Kostel and his brother knew that if the metal was good enough to hold manure, it would be strong enough to be his barrel.

"We shoveled enough of that stuff to know that the manure spreader would work fine," Kostel said. "There was a lot of grinding and polishing because we were using a lot of old stuff that my dad had on the farm."

Powder shot is the primary firing method. But the cannon has fired only one time. That was soon after it was built when Kostel was celebrating a birthday. His biggest concern while building was whether or not the hubs on his wheels would be strong enough to handle a blast. And when the cannon was finally shot, he said the cannon's wheels shot 8 or 10 inches into the air.

"It shot straight," he said. "It was quite something to see."

The cannon is a miniature compared to what was used during war; it is about 2 feet long

and 1 foot wide. And while World War II was closer to Kostel's generation, it was World War I that captured his fascination. He said the cannon was built as tribute to those who fought with similar artillery.

Kostel was always handy. He farmed and he drove bus for the school, frequently performing maintenance on the fleet. He quickly developed a knack for building trailers and log splitters, even a cab for his combine. People told him he should have some of his creations patented, but he never cared to try.

"I figured if someone could make something that was better, that's fine," he said.

Kostel, 79, and a stroke survivor, said he's always wanted to fire the cannon a few more times, but it's never quite worked out.

Now he hopes to put the 80-pound replica in a place where it would be appreciated.

"I wanted to put this in a place where it could be seen by the old timers," he said. "I think it's a great honor to the people who actually fought with something like that."