Kirby: Safety at the side of St. Barbara, patron saint of artillerymen

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Did you know it's possible to make a cannon out of a turkey baster? Yeah, neither did I until last week. It's cool, though.

All that's needed is the rubber bulb of the baster, part of a cigarette lighter, some lighter fluid and a ping-pong ball.

Note: The directions are intentionally not included here. A turkey baster cannon is, by definition, illegal. Also, if you can't figure it out on your own, you shouldn't be playing with this stuff in the first place.

Granted, it's not an impressive piece of artillery. No matter how fast it's made to travel, a ping-pong ball will not go through a garage door. I know because I tried.

I'm also pretty sure it won't go through a cow, a tree, a car, or even Deputy State Fire Marshal Bryan Thatcher. That would really be illegal.

An idiot might ask, so what good is a turkey baster/ping-pong ball cannon then? Well, it's an excellent artillery option when you just have to make something go Bam! and you're already on probation.

You could — and I'm not saying you should — shoot off a gun like this in the backyard and no one would get too upset. It's probably safe enough to shoot in church.

Turkey baster gun basics are the kind of valuable information you can pick up when hanging around the wrong but interesting sort of people. Guys like Vern Gorzite.

Vern, a veteran cannon shooter, told me how to make the cannon when he called last week and invited Sonny and me to attend the 28th annual Order of St. Barbara dinner honoring the patron saint of artillerymen.

At the dinner we will answer the order's questions about the potato gun we built and used to shell a Baptist church in New Mexico last year.

Come to think of it, we could have used a patron saint that time. Obviously I needed to find out more about this Barbara.

I consulted the source from which all knowledge flows: Wikipedia. Barbara was the daughter of a rich man who had her tortured and killed when she converted to Christianity. After her murder, God hit Barbara's father with lightning.

Barbara became the patron saint of anyone at risk of being killed by thunderstorms and other methods of sudden death. When cannons were invented, it was only natural that she would become the patron saint of the people who shoot them.

Early forms of large-bore gunfire were crude, risky affairs. The guns would sometimes explode, killing everyone in the vicinity. This made everyone nervous enough to seek divine protection.

I know how they felt. Whether it's a rocket, a bowling ball cannon or even just a large candy mortar that will shoot a bag of Starburst through the ceiling of a garage, there's no guarantee that what you build will perform according to plan.

Personally, I like the idea of a religious ritual preceding something that is not only illegal but also might hurt a lot.

Until now we've simply muttered individualized pre-Bam! supplications.

Me: "I don't know about this one."

Sonny: "Cover your good eye."

St. Barbara is not my first patron saint. She's not even the first woman to express a stern interest in my well-being. That would be the gal who got upset about the hole in the ceiling of the garage.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or