Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"The Tidal Wave" - How the Wave Wagon and Original Greenville Cannon Came to Be...

John L's Note: The following was written by the late Tom Hanes (with some help as noted at the bottom of the piece) in September of 2007. After reading the recent story on DarkeJournal.com about a local group's efforts to create a new canon in the wake of the original being decommissioned, Tom's son Mark Hanes forwarded us his this account of how the original came to be. Grab a cup of coffee and get comfy. This piece is full of fantastic bits about a community working together all told with flair and a sense of humor. If you're my age, you'll love being able to catch a glimpse at how things were 40+ years ago. If you're older, this will surely trigger a large fit of nostaliga. Read, enjoy, and maybe think of ways we can help make the new cannon a reality...

In addition to my being a partner in the Law Firm of Spidel, Staley, Hole and Hanes, 210 Weaver Building; I was the Safety Director of the city of Greenville, Ohio during the four terms of Mayor Tillman Hathaway in the 1960’s. As such, I was responsible for the administration of the police department and the fire department as well as the public welfare in the City of Greenville.

I became familiar with the men and equipment in both safety departments. The fire department had a contract to provide fire protection to Greenville Township, and in return the township would periodically provide a fire truck to the fire department. It was a general purpose truck and was the first truck to go to a fire. In the late 50’s, the prior administration had purchased a Mack ladder truck which took the second stall in the old City Building. The Quad was sent to the South Park Station into semi-retirement. It had become a backup piece of equipment. In 1939, when new, the Quad was the latest in fire truck technology. It was made by American LaFrance, had a long bonnet or hood which contained a straight 12 cylinder gasoline engine. The Quad got its name by virtue of its four purposes. It was a ladder truck, carried a large quantity of hoses, carried the chemicals and had a huge pump. Thus it was a long piece of equipment. The Quad had always had problems with the engine overheating when pumping for long periods of time, but it was running in 1969.
My wife Jean and I attended all the football games except during heavy rain, then I would go with several of our friends. I swear there were nights when we guys, huddled in ponchos, were the only people in the stands. The ladies played bridge and waited for us to come home. To top it all off, “The Wave” was in a major slump. There was losses, losses, and more losses.

I think it was about 1969 when Bud Stegall, a contractor, plumber and trucker, Jim Thwaits (GHS 53) who owned Thwait’s Floor Fashion, and I got together in my law office one night and talked. First, the idea was trying to work with the boosters. The others had tried that, so we decided to start a new organization and see what we could do to shake things up and get the community involved. For the lack of a better name, we called it the TIDAL WAVE.

I had been an artillery officer in Korea, and thus was familiar with things that go bang, so I suggested a brass cannon to be fired when the Wave scored. I got my brother in law Tom Staley (GHS ’53), a skilled wood worker, to make a wooden model of a cannon barrel about eighteen inches long. I then took it to Red Wogoman who owned and operated the Arcanum Brass Foundry. He cast the cannon. It came home as a rough sand casting. Then I talked my friend Carl Fair, a local machinist and gun expert, to put it on the lathe and turn it down. Also he was to bore it for a 75 caliber slug complete with an ignition hole. Thus we could fuse it and fire black powder. Bud Stegall made a carriage for the cannon and we were in business. Our idea was to fire the cannon when the team came on to the field, at the raising of the flag with the Star Spangled Banner, and with each touchdown. The problem was that there were no or very few touchdowns and we usually ended up firing it at the end of the game to clear the tube.

In late 1970, I got a call from Bill McCullough, then our long time Congressional Representative in the old 4th District. He said “Tom, you have never asked for any thing for the work you did for me in Vietnam.” At Bill’s personal request, I had gone to Vietnam 1967 to defend John Wagner, a young Darke County Marine, charged with a murder and thirty two other counts of various military malfeasances. John Wagner was convicted only of unlawful discharge of his weapon. He was guilty of that offence. Bill continued by saying “I am getting out of office the first of the year and I will be, ‘a has been’. Can I do any thing for you?” My answer was “no”. We had a nice chat and I wished him well and said to enjoy his very much deserved retirement from congress.

In a flash, I thought, I wonder if Bill could get a cannon for me. I called him back and made that request. He said, “a what?” After I explained what I wanted it for he said he would see what he could do. Shortly, he called back and told me I would soon be getting a call from Major General Rasmussen, the Chief of Army Ordnance. It may sound strange in 2007, but that was how Bill McCullough operated as our Representative to Congress. Personal notes and phone calls were his stock in trade.

Bill was right, I got the call and again, “what and why” were asked. I explained what I wanted the cannon for and he told me point blank it would have to be de-militarized and made inoperable. That meant the gas and oil would be drained in the recoil mechanism and the breech block welded shut at our expense. I said, “OK, what does that cost?" The answer was $110.00 dollars. He had located several 75 mm pack howitzers at Letterkenny Arsenal in Pennsylvania and ask if I knew what they were. My answer was yes; I had about 30,000 rounds worth of experience with one. He could not believe that. I explained that I had served with the 537 FA Battalion in Camp Carson, CO which fired the 100,000 round test to establish the probable error of the new fire direction fan. He knew immediately what I was talking about, and we chatted about the system. I told him we had used the system very successfully in Korea with the Big 8’s (eight inch howitzers) of the 424 FA Battalion. The General said, “OK, you can have one,” but he needed a certified bank draft, and I would need to arrange and pay for the transportation. We agreed and he said one of his staff would get back to me. In addition there was a requirement that a de-militarized weapon could only be given to a local government or a local veteran’s organization. He required something certified by a city official or one of the veteran’s organizations. I told him that would not be a problem. It was not. I talked to Dick Hole II (GHS 55), my law partner and now Safety Director of Greenville. We went to Mayor Dan Hawley (GHS) and explained our problem. He said, “no problem”, he called the City Solicitor, Paul Younker, and told him to draft a formal letter for his signature. He wanted the city requesting and accepting a 75mm pack howitzer to serve as a war memorial. He wanted it right now! The letter was dated 16 December 1970.

The pack howitzer was ideal for us. It had been developed as light artillery between the World Wars for use by mounted troops and could be broken down into six pieces and carried by six mules. They were used mostly in WWII by airborne troops and were pulled by a jeep or a weapons’ carrier. It could be man handled if necessary and was by the Marines.

There was a basketball game that night, and I called Bud and Jim and told them we needed $110.00. We agreed to go to the game and collect $1.00 at a time from people and it took all of ten minutes. When we got $110.00, we quit. People were tired of losing. Many tried to give us more but we said “NO’…the idea was to get as many people involved as possible.

The cannon arrived in Greenville several weeks later in a reefer semi. When the driver, a friend of Stegall’s, hit the Ohio scales he was about 1000 pounds overweight. The cannon weighed 1340 pounds. The Ohio State Patrol pulled him over. He explained he had a cannon for friends in Greenville who were starting a new booster organization for high school athletics. He had just picked the cannon up at Letterkenny Arsenal. The trooper said “if he opened the back of the truck and looked down a cannon barrel, then the driver could go on his way.” When the doors opened that night, the trooper looked down the cannon barrel and laughed and said “get out of here.” The driver did! Bud towed it to the City Hall the next morning and I went to look at it. He kept the original Bill of Sale, a copy of which is enclosed.

Click to enlarge
We took the cannon down to Carl Fair’s machine shop and I made arrangements to meet with Carl and explain what was needed, where to cut and left the how to him.

About the same time we came to realize that we needed a vehicle. Dick Hole II (GHS 55) was my law partner, and also the new mayor’s Safety Director. Doc Hathaway had died, in my arms, giving a speech at a political meeting on the eve of the election a couple of years before; I think that was in 1968. Dick told me the Quad was about to go to heaven because the engine had blown again and the City Council had agreed to replace the truck. The Tidal Wave went to the council meeting and explained our need and what we were trying to accomplish. They agreed to sell it to us for one dollar, but we had to tow it away. That dollar was raised by taking a jug to the high school and putting it into the Principal’s office and asking for donations of one red cent, a penny. No dimes, no nickels... pennies.

We picked up the jug and it was full.

We took 100 pennies to Gene Gruber, the City Auditor for payment of the fire truck. The balance went to the Community Chest. That way every kid who put in a penny thought he/she had a share of the truck. It worked.

Council passed Resolution N0. 70-96 on the 17th of November 1970. The title was transferred to me as Trustee for the Tidal Wave, a non profit organization. As far as I know, I still am the title holder.

I got Jay Schieding of Jay’s Towing to tow it to McClain Inc’s fenced in yard on Front Street. I had talked to my friend Herb McClain and interested him in pulling the pump and the bed out of the truck. This he did. Then I found out from Chief Ken Lehman of the GFD that Covington, KY had an American LaFrance of the same vintage that had a good running engine with a bad pump. I bought the unit for about a $100, but we had to tow it home. Again, my friend Jay came to my rescue and went to Covington and pulled it home to McClain’s yard.

Then again, both fire trucks were towed by Jay, to Greenville Manufacturing, a wholly owned subsidiary of the American Aggregates Corporation, a large, local gravel and concrete company. Max Shoemaker was the Chief engineer and had sons in the athletic programs. He said he would see that the engine was replaced. This involved a special made (28 foot by my memory) drive shaft because the old drive shaft had to run to the pump and then a second shaft ran on to the rear axle. He ordered it and American Materials paid for it. Ed Hole was the Chairman of the board at the time and he watched all details, however small. He caught this weird expense and called Max and asked what vehicle this drive shaft was going to be put into. Max explained to Ed what he was doing and what the Tidal Wave was up to and who was involved. Ed laughed and said go ahead.

The concept of community involvement thus had begun. People wanted to help and came forward to volunteer. We added some new primary members also. Don Cain, an industrial engineer at Lewisburg Container, Jim McCombs, who at that time was a painter, and later a realtor, Dick Marker, who worked at Corning, Jim Coverstone, who worked with Jim Thwaits, Jay Niswonger who farmed and worked in town and Bud Oiler who happened to own a WW II jeep. There were others who pitched in when we needed extra help but those men were the basic crew. The weekly meetings were moved to the library of my law office in order to hold everyone now involved.

I think it was Bud Stegall who came up with the idea of feeding the football team before the away games at different restaurants. We had no problem in people coming forward to pay for those meals. Business men and individuals came and ask what they could do.

The same held true for the gasoline for the “Wave Wagon” as it came to be called and believe me it was a guzzler of fuel with those 12 big cylinders banging away.

Insurance was going to be a problem, for us and the rolling equipment. I had been insured with Littman Thomas since I came home from law school to the practice. I talked to Dick Thomas, my insurance man and he told me no problem, the Greenville Association of Independent Insurance Agents had already discussed the issue and they would see that a proper policy was issued to us. Again, we were getting community involvement. People were involved.

The work was going well on both the cannon and the fire truck. I showed Carl where to cut, and he did, and we got the sliding breech block working perfectly. The way it was made and the welding of the mechanism by the Ordnance people made it a tedious job. Carl was a machine shop genius and had the equipment. He was able to detach the firing lock mechanism and we found out the cylinder was empty of the necessary parts to make the lock work. That problem was solved by a call to John Caron (GHS ‘50), an army Lt Colonel who was then going to Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. I shipped the empty lock to John and it soon came back with the proper parts. I knew they had them (pack ‘75s) because when we visited John and his wife Barbara (GHS’ 50) Feltman Caron there, I had gone to the Fort’s formal retreat, and the 75mm howitzer was the Retreat gun they used. We made no attempt to open the recoil mechanism or other parts that had been de-militarized. We would gain nothing. We left them alone.

Carl made two steel slugs the size of a 75mm shell casing then hollowed out part of the center and chambered the slugs so an empty 12 gauge shot gun shell could be inserted in the base to provide ignition for the black powder, which we had determined, was the best medium to fire the cannon.

It all came together and it was time to try out the cannon. Carl’s machine shop was down on Hiddeson Avenue close to Front Street. We got some empty shot gun shells with new primers provided by Howard Fansler, a local contractor, who was a member of the Greenville Trap shooters. Carl had the black powder. We tried everything with dry fire first. It worked. Next, the trial with just the shotgun shell. The lock worked, the primer fired. Then, after inserting a blank shotgun shell with a new primer into one of the slugs; we put in some black powder, tamped it down well with a paper towel and pulled the lanyard and did it work. We woke up half of Greenville from their afternoon naps. The police were soon there to investigate and after we explained they laughed and told us to practice out of town and quit waking up the citizens from their afternoon naps. It did make quite a boom.

Earl Bedwell was a local man who worked for the Standard Oil pipeline company that ran through Darke County. He approached me one day and asked, “would you like to have a WWII gunners lanyard?” He had one and would give it to me. Earl had been an artilleryman in WWII, a member to the 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagles.” It still is firing the cannon. It had been in his pocket when he landed on D Day in a glider with his 75mm Pack Howitzer, behind the German lines of defense, to the rear of Omaha beach.

The Wave Cannon was stored in one of the garages under the high school football bleachers. To my knowledge it still is.

I had a sign made for the cannon with a statement, from memory: "This cannon is a rolling memorial to the men and women who served in the Armed Forces of the USA." That may not be exact, but it is close.

Max Shoemaker called and said the fire truck was done and road tested. When did I want to pick it up? I said “soon." It was running beautifully, all equipped with new batteries and a new exhaust system. That big old engine just purred. The exhaust rumbled and grumbled very pleasantly. The Tidal Wave crew spent an evening under the direction of Bud installing the running lights to meet state code. Someone had donated the lights and wire.

We had been keeping the Wave Wagon in Herb McClain’s fenced yard, but I was looking for a roof, and I found one at the old Children’s Home which had burned some years before. There was a huge garage with overhead doors that would take the Wave Wagon. The County Engineer, Jim Surber, told me about the garage and suggested I follow up on it. I was the Prosecuting Attorney of Darke County at the time and went to the Commissioners and asked if we could use it. They said yes, but asked about liability. I assured them we were covered by insurance and got them a copy of the policy.

Below is the only picture I have of the Wave Wagon.

John and Barb ( Feltman) Caron, both GHS graduates, are in the cab. Their children, Julie and Mike and Chris, who are standing in the bed belong to them, my daughter Cathy (GHS’74) is sitting on the rail with two of the Clippinger girls, Patty and Sarah, who are behind Chris Caron. The picture was taken at our house on the corner of Parkview and Russ road.

The “Greenie” is located over the former pump outlet. The bed is part of the remodeling process by Herb McClain and was originally where the hose, ladders and chemicals were stored. We left the dials and pump controls simply because there was no reason not to. The rest is “original” as we got the truck. The bubble gum machine revolving light was a fire department add on, the siren was original as were the spot lights.

Dick Marker was responsible for the “Wave Wagon” being painted bright green by the people who worked at Corning. The Treaty arrowhead was saved in that painting.

This truck bed would hold the entire football team and the cheer leaders and it has many times.

Now we had another problem to solve. We had to figure out a way to hitch the cannon to the fire truck. The cannon had a ring for towing. We needed a GI hook up to fasten to the Wave Wagon and one was scrounged up somewhere and put on the truck. We were ready for the coming football season with our rolling stock.

First, I want to relate a side light. There is a street that runs from Harmon Avenue past the tennis courts and to the high school. I can not remember the name or even if it had one. The Tidal Wave decided that the street needed a new name. I went to Mayor Hawley and ask if that would be a problem. He said he would check and get back with me. He did, and the answer was “no problem”. So we held a naming contest won by the Wave cheerleaders; Mary Ann Boli, Cathy Powell, Peggy Crawford, Cindy Hienricks and Connie Cox. The name they came up with was the “Green Wave Way”. The City Council approved the ordinance we submitted and the street had a new sign put up with a ceremony. We had a number of suggestions but that was the best one.

Another side light to our activities: We had no problem getting a vehicle title for the Wave Wagon, a historical tag no less. The cannon however was another problem. I called Lt. Kinney, then the Commander of the Preble/Darke Post of the Ohio State Patrol. I ask him how to get a license for the cannon. There was a hesitation and finally he said, “Tom, you can not license a cannon, there is no provision for it, it is not a trailer.” After some conversation and my telling him what and why I needed a license, he laughed. He said he would work out something. He did. On away games I would call him and tell him where we were going and what route we would be taking. He would then alert that Post of the OSP that the idiots from Greenville would be towing a non-operable cannon on their highways that night behind a big old fire truck. He got a big kick out of the whole thing.

The Wave football was part of the Miami Valley League. My wife Jean Staley (GHS ‘48) Hanes was on the school board and on the committee to find and hire a new coach. They did, a man from Sidney by the name of Tom Hollman.

Hollman came with a purpose; revitalize the football program and the high school. And he did from day one. He had the boys working with a will to win that carried them into a winning season, game by game. They won every game. As I recall, we always played Celina for the first game. We took the cannon, towed by the Wave Wagon to the game. It was a beautiful fall evening. Sam Spidel (GHS’ 72), son of my senior partner Wilbur D Spidel, was the quarterback. The team did well and the cannon fired and fired. Greenville won.

During the game, we discussed what to do if they won. The answer was a parade, that night. I had already alerted the Greenville Police Department, the Darke County Sheriff’s office and the Ohio State Patrol that if Greenville won, we would assemble a parade out on the US127 bypass and tour the town. The team won. We got the Wave Wagon on the road and headed to Greenville to start lining the cars up off the highway. The different law enforcement agencies were on hand to assist. Every thing went well, the school buses with the team and band showed up and took a place behind the Wave Wagon. We took the time to load the team in the Wave Wagon and we paraded up and down the streets of Greenville with a lot sirens wailing away. Jim Irvin, the Sheriff could recognize the Wave Wagon because of the old style siren that wound down up and down as opposed to the more modern electronic sirens on the rest of the equipment.
That was the first of many parades with the Wave Wagon and a Green Wave sports team. This is a tradition that continues to this day.

Driving the Wave Wagon soon proved to be a real pain for any long distance. There was no power steering thus it was hard to steer. Plus, as the beautiful fall became cold, the open cab was freezing. Then the old transmission had to be double clutched and there was no heater. Bud Oiler’s Jeep was just as cold. To the rescue came Jim McCombs, who had just bought a new pickup truck. He had a hole cut in the bumper for a receiver. He towed the cannon to the away games in comfort. We would have the Wave Wagon available on short notice to lead the parade after each win. The parades got longer and longer with each win. It got to the point that the tail was still out by the Children’s Home road when the Wave Wagon got to the High School after winding around half of Greenville. We had fun!

Greenville High School football team won Miami Valley League Championship in 1971. UNDEFEATED!

Can the Tidal Wave take credit... the answer is NO! Did we contribute to the community and getting its people recommitting themselves to supporting the high school sports teams... thus the high school and kids... I believe the answer is... YES!

It was just as much fun for us big kids as it was the kids. I feel the Tidal Wave provided the spark that set everything off...

I remember several things about the cannon crew. We took turns on the cannon crew, and it always amazed us when Greenville would score at the other end of the field. How the faces of the crowd would reflect light as every one looked at the same time to watch the cannon fire. The cannon would fire smoke rings with regularity.

The high school was negotiating to enter a new league. The rules were written to exclude the cannon from all games played away from home; the opposition felt it gave Greenville too much of an edge. We, of the Tidal Wave would agree...

It has been thirty six years since those events. The Tidal Wave made its peace with the booster organization and was disbanded, the cannon still fires with a new crew and Wave Wagon still parades with the boys and girls of various teams having been refurbished several times. But those are other stories that others need to tell.

In reflection, it has always amazed me how the fickle finger of fate, writing in the shifting sands of time, could bring together the people, the kids, and the equipment that produced a will and desire to win football games. That in turn caused a “special twist of fate” to happen to a bunch of kids on a high school football team, and the students and people of Greenville. As it did in 1971!

In its short life, “The Tidal Wave”, gave this, as our legacy, to our city, our school and our kids……..


From the memory of Tom Hanes, Supplemented by the memories of Jean L Hanes (GHS '48), Bud Stegall, Mike Stegal (GHS’72), Jim McCombs and Amy Bedwell (GHS '77) Erisman

Thomas C. Hanes JD
From the land of the Giant Saguaros
Tucson, AZ
Saturday, September 22, 2007

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