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Cannon collector's hobby can be a blast for the neighbors

By LINDA S. MATT

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Why would anyone want to collect cannons?

'Well,' says Dale Sandige, 'they don't rust and they don't eat anything and there's nothing to wear out.'

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Also, he said, they're too heavy to steal.

Callers step through Sandige's front door to find themselves staring into the muzzle of a 4-foot cannon.

Three cannons point off his back porch toward the neighbors.

The neighbors hear the 'BOOMS.' They feel their windows rattle. Clouds of black smoke bearing the smell of rotten eggs waft over their lawns and hedges.

Sandige said his neighbors indulge his liking for cannon blasts.

'They've never called the police. They say 'Oh, that's that crazy Sandige. He only does it once a year so let him do it.' I don't know if they're deaf or intimidated.'

What got him started collecting cannons?

'I didn't have a cannon to play with when I was a kid,' he said. 'I can't remember why my folks wouldn't buy me one.'

So, in 1977, he put an ad for cannons in a hobby magazine. It was the only one its kind.

Now he has 70 to 80 cannons. Some are like the 500-pounder from the War of 1812 standing guard inside his front door. Some look out from mounts on the tip of his baby finger.

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There is a model a of Gatling gun and a black real cannon he says once guarded the German passenger liner Prince Rupert in his living room, a toy cannon in front of his fireplace, the first he collected.

A shiny, brass, 200-pound poopdeck cannon once used by the French to repel pirates points toward the kitchen.

Under the television set: A sun dial cannon. 'You set it at a certain angle and it'll go off at noon.'

All that comes before entering the Cannon Room.

There, on shelves and on the floor, are his toy cannons, like the one which uses a firecracker to propel rubber balls.

There are signal cannons from the 1860s and 1880s, used to this day to start yacht races. Sanige, 51, a real estate agent, has both kinds, the muzzle loaders and the breech loaders which use cone-shaped projectiles.

On other shelves are decorated artillery shell cases, formed into dancing ladies or textured into designs by infantry men when they were bored in the trenches.

On the floor are projectiles and iron cannon balls. ---

Sandige has been named unit chief for Arizona in a tongue-in-cheek cannon club known as CHAOS, Cannon Hunters Association of Seattle. CHAOS 'canonizes' members who save cannons from destruction. In the past, many cannons have fallen prey to melt-downs in time of war when the metal was needed for artillery shells.

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Most of Sandige's cannons are just for viewing. But he has one for shooting.

'I shoot frozen fruit-juice cans full of concrete. I shoot it in the desert so I can see where the projectile lands.'

If he shot it from his home, the 'artillery' might land in a neighbor's silver tea set.

Sometimes, though, Sandige shoots off a cannon from his backyard without using projectiles.

'I've fired this one several times,' he said, pointing to a fat, short barreled cannon. 'It blows the leaves off the trees.'

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