I've had a "burning" desire to build a cannon for years and I figured if I was going to build a cannon, it should be a ridiculously big cannon - big enough to shoot bowling balls. The dream started when I was hosting a special for the History Channel about the explosive power of the Yellowstone Supervolcano that lies under Yellowstone National Park. The producers of the show found a guy with a cannon that could launch bowling balls two miles and it seemed like a perfect fit to show how energy can build up and release in a powerful explosion - similar to what could happen when the Yellowstone Volcano erupts (watch the video here).
After years of waking up from dreaming about building a cannon, I convinced a fellow science teacher who restores cars in his spare time to help me make my dream become a reality. Shaun Jones (visit his Instagram) and I toured the scrap yard and found heavy gauge steel pipe that was big enough in diameter to hold a bowling ball (all bowling balls are 8.5 inches but vary in weight).
The pipe weighted nearly 800 pounds so we began searching the scrap heap for an axel to mount the pipe onto so that we would be able to move it easily. Off in a far corner we found a 1979 AMC Postal Delivery Jeep that was stripped of everything but the engine block, transmission and wheels - the body wasn't even attached to the rusted frame. It was a perfect platform to hold the cannon! So, I paid $350 for the steel pipe and the old, rusted, scrapped out Jeep and we never looked back.
1979 AMC Postal Delivery Jeep that I found at the scrap yard that was sold as scrap. I bought it and turned it into a Jeep Cannon!
Shaun and I spent three months rebuilding the Jeep and bringing it back to life. We mounted the massive cannon in the back of the Jeep and built a 400 pound mount to carry the mass of the cannon and to withstand the shock of the blast.
The Postal Delivery Jeep slowly transforms as steel is added to the back to build a mount for the bowling ball cannon.
We didn't know if the cannon or the Jeep would survive the first cannonball launch but we set out to a large ranch in Montana, filled the cannon with 1/2 pound of black powder, rolled a 10 pound bowling ball into the barrel, ran a long fuze out the end. We then lit the fuse, ran for our lives and waited...counting down...10...9...8...until finally...BOOM! The cannon shook, smoke billowed and we watch the 10 pound bowling ball sail through the pale blue sky! And, just like the original, my bowling ball cannon shot bowling balls more than two miles!
The Beals Science Jeep Bowling Ball Cannon launches a bowling ball more than two miles! (photo by Houston Harmon - Instagram)
Everybody asks, "Why did you build a bowling ball cannon?" The answer is easy. I firmly believe that some of most important things anybody can do in life is to chase their dreams and explore their curiosity - and I got to do them both with my Jeep Cannon!
Keep on Learning!
The Beals Science Jeep Cannon perched on a hilltop waiting to launch bowling balls two miles into the mist. (photo by Houston Harmon - Instagram)