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Challenge molds new hobby for local man

Jeff Dickerson stands by one of his replica cannons he built that now sits outside his shop, Dickerson Tire Service on Halls Ferry Road. The steel replica of a 3-inch Parrott Rifle took Dickerson about two weeks to complete.(Jon Giffin The Vicksburg Post)

[3/15/04}Jeff Dickerson’s current hobby all began with someone telling him he couldn’t spell the word cannon, let alone build one.

“I think I’ve proved him wrong,” said Dickerson, who’s sold six of the cannon replicas he builds, including five to the City of Vicksburg and one to a customer in Iowa.

Now, with a new Web site called Vicksburg Cannon, calls from as far as Canada and England are coming in for information and prices.

But, it’s just a hobby.

“Some men get older and buy a Corvette,” he said. “I just build cannons.”

Dickerson, 53, began four years ago toying with the metal to make a cannon, and his first one was no hit.

“It was a disaster,” he said. Unable to explain exactly what was wrong with the gun, he said, laughing, “It’s horrible. It could be a yard ornament, or it might make a good mailbox.”

But times have changed.

The City of Vicksburg bought five of the cannons at a cost of about $1,200 each to place at state welcome centers, Mayor Laurence Leyens said.

Dickerson spends his spare time and evenings tinkering with the metal work at the business he’s owned since 1993, Dickerson Tire, 2607 Halls Ferry Road.

“I just do this on the side, when I don’t have anything else to do or when I’m bored,” he said.

Dickerson said his works are his way of giving something back to the community.

He cooks at benefits for An Angel’s Wish Foundation and last year made an air cannon that shoots tennis balls.

“We thought that would be something fun for the kids,” he said.

In addition to the man who said he couldn’t build a cannon, Dickerson blames his wife for igniting the passion he has for working with metal.

“We were in Canton, and she saw a metal arbor that she wanted for $400,” he said. “I said, I can build you that,’ and she said, No, you can’t.’

“I built her one and it cost me $60… Yes, I can.”

Now Lynn Dickerson has faith in her husband’s talent.

“He can look at anything that’s made of metal and build it,” she said. “He just has a gift for it.”

After building several arbors for friends and family, including a heart-shaped one for his wife, Dickerson tired of building arbors. His interest in Civil War weapons prompted his wife to buy him books relating to Civil War artillery.

The cannons are not capable of shooting. But that doesn’t stop him from kidding about his weapons.

A KFC outlet sits directly across from his business, and one of his cannons is aimed at the franchise.

“He tells the girls over there that if the chicken’s bad, he’ll shoot them,” Lynn Dickerson said and laughed.

Dickerson uses specs and dimensions from books, and he has invested in a plasma cutter and welding equipment, but he still says he doesn’t take the hobby too seriously.

“I have a lot of fun with it,” he said.