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Civil War replica cannons showcased

Cannon builder David Heinze makes sure his replicated cannon is sturdy and clean May 12 while he stands in his woodshop at his home in Elrosa. (Tribune photo by TJ Jerke)

While a youngster on his family farm three miles south of Elrosa, David Heinze enjoyed what every young boy liked -- making a bang.

What Heinze did for fun then transcended into a lifelong hobby years later.

Heinze, a 70-year-old retired farmer from Elrosa, has built and continues to create Civil War-replica Napoleon cannons out of steel by using handmade tools.

"I liked to play with explosives," Heinze said. "I always thought it was fun to get a bang out of something so I thought -- why not build a cannon and get a bang out of that."

Heinze debuted his first cannon in 1992 and has built four different styles of cannons and an undetermined number since, including nine cannons for his children. Over the years he has tweaked his cannons to create his own unique style as well.

Heinze said he learned basic forging and welding skills in high school but developed them on his own when he had to weld various implement parts on the farm.

His passion for creating the small replicas really came to fruition when he retired from farming in 2000 and moved into Elrosa with his wife, Carol.

Heinze said farmers need a hobby or something to fall back on; otherwise they will never stop working.

"Some people retire and don't know what to do with their time," he said. "Farmers have had a hard time finding an outlet for their time and if they don't, it's not healthy."

Made out of scrap metal and an array of pieces collected over the years, the cannons are made to shoot paper blanks. Heinze has also built small bronze cannons; however, he said he prefers steel because it is easier and safer to fire.

From beginning to end, Heinze estimates it takes him between 60 to 70 hours to replicate one cannon.

He bends, drills and creates his work with homemade tools created from old tractor and miscellaneous implement parts.

To help bend the steel needed to create the wheels, Heinze made his own crankshaft that makes a perfect circle. A drill bit was also procured through Heinze's talents to help drill exact holes in the brass wheels and other areas of the cannon.

Heinze emphasizes to everyone -- especially children -- that they should know exactly what they are doing before taking on building cannons.

"It's a job not everyone should try," Heinze said. "You either do it right or don't do it at all."

To help illustrate his knowledge and give many Paynesville area residents the opportunity to see his cannons, Heinze will be presenting an hour-long demonstration on cannon building Saturday afternoon at the Paynesville Area Historical Museum. He will be showcasing his homemade tools and various brass wheels he has built, as well as discussing how to build cannons. He will also shoot some of his cannons off.

The presentation follows the ribbon-cutting of the new small-town replica village that has taken more than two years to complete.

Jackie Svejkovsky, curator of the Paynesville Area Historical Museum, said Heinze's program will add an element to the opening celebration that will educate everyone who attends.

"His program gives a reason for people to come," Svejkovsky said. "I thought it would be nice to get people to see that, in conjunction with our village opening."

Heinze said his favorite part about cannon building is seeing the end result -- when after hours of hard work with his hands, he feels a strong sense of accomplishment.

"Not many people want to do it or can do it, it's a lot of talent not very many can do," Heinze said. "I just go ahead and figure it out and if I can't get it done in a day or two, give me a week and I can figure it out."