Visiting man takes preservation of historical cannon at Willis Park into his own hands

Published 7:39 pm Friday, February 13, 2015


R.A. “Bullet” Rykard poses next to his handiwork, the detailed refurbishment of the Civil War-era cannon at Willis Park. — Powell Cobb

Folks in Bainbridge may have noticed one of the cannons at Willis Park missing over the past couple of weeks. 

A piece of Bainbridge history and a monument kids are known to play on during downtown events, the cannon is one of the many fitting pieces that makes Willis Park unique.

To R.A. “Bullet” Rykard, it was nothing but an accident waiting to happen.

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When Rykard was passing through Bainbridge on an appointment for Georgia Power, he saw the rotting wood and unreliable stand the cannon was mounted on and decided to help. A month later, the cannon is back in Willis Park, refurbished to its original look from the Civil War era, wheels and all.

Knowing that kids often played on or near it made Ryker nervous. With the barrel alone weighing in at 888 pounds and the deteriorating stand, an accident would have been costly.

“I came here getting lunch for the crew and saw the cannon and thought somebody was going to get killed,” Ryker said. “First thing I saw was a rotted out hole I could take my hands and stick through it. That thing weighing as much as it weighed, if it had fallen on a young’n or an adult, it was going to break them up or kill them.”

And the best part—Ryker did the job free of charge. All he asked for was a letter acknowledging his donation for tax purposes.

Bainbridge City Manager Chris Hobby said he had already been looking at having the cannon, an 1850 product of the Ames Company, mounted on a new carriage. The job would have cost around $9,000.

“We’re looking at about $9,000 worth of craftsmanship, just because he was riding through town and decided to check our park out,” Hobby said. “I think anybody who looks at it will say it looks better than what it used to. To get the wheels back and the full carriage is pretty cool.”

Ryker, whose passion is cannons and Civil War history, was pleased to restore the weapon.

“I’ve been building these things since I was this high,” he said, motioning his hand about three feet off the ground. “It’s been a hobby.”

The cannon is on display at Willis Park as of Friday morning.