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Like a wagon wheel: Millville’s Riley Rice specialized in making wheels, but a recent project is a replica Civil War cannon made for a re-enactor

By David Knopf, Richmond News Editor

Riley Rice is proud of the Civil War replica cannon he exhibited at Outlaw Days, and for good reason.
“I built everything but the barrel,” said the Millville resident and exhibitor who attended the festival with his wife Sandy and their son Jesse.
“We were going to make a gatling gun, but Raymond (re-enactor Raymond McElwee of Kingston) called me and said he bought this cannon barrel in Tennessee.
Remarkably, Rice made everything else – from the steel-edge wheels to all the metal fittings to the ramrod and wooden barrel beneath the gun.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Everything.
“I built everything on it by hand except the barrel,” he said.
Rice is in the process of passing on his craft to Jesse, who joined his father in working on a spoked wheel during the festival.
“He’s my son and he’s taking on my trade,” Riley Rice said.
Since retiring from the Ford Claycomo plant in 1997, the elder Rice has had more time to develop his craft. Now an active member of the Lathrop Antique Association, he developed his skill as a wheel maker without the teacher his son enjoys.
“There was nobody out there to teach me,” he said. “I just had to learn on my own.
“I’ve worked wheels for years. I built wagon wheels, buggy wheels,” and now, wheels for McElwee’s cannon.
He’s since branched out, having made the cannon displayed Saturday and begun to plan a stagecoach he wants to make for the Lathrop group.
Rice said the cannon is the replica of a versatile weapon that could shoot a 4 1/2-inch cannon ball, a load of nine smaller grape shot balls or 150 smaller, round projectiles called caster shots.
The largest ball was fabricated as either a solid ball or one that could explode. With eight ounces of black powder, the large ball could travel 1,000 feet.
Rice and McEwee haven’t fired it yet, but the cannon is functional for use in re-enactments.
There’ll be a time and place to show how it works, Rice said, but the confined area around the courthouse square wasn’t it.
“If we shot a full load, we might break some windows around here,” he said.

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