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9/10/2012

By RANDY GONZALES

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

The cannon fired off at Fort Hays State University football games really isn't a cannon.

But since the early 1960s, Hays residents from all parts of town have heard it go boom at Lewis Field Stadium.

"People across town will say, 'We know when the game's started,' and 'We know when they score,' " said Craig Karlin, whose has fired the cannon in recent years. "People say, "I couldn't get to the game, but I know what's going on.' "

Karlin, with help of the local National Guard unit filling in when he couldn't make it, has fired the cannon at Tiger games in place of Sigma Phi Epsilon, which had fraternity members fire it when it started approximately 50 years ago.

Loren Pepperd, a Sig Ep who graduated from FHSU in the 1960s, was instrumental in having a cannon at the games.

"He and a friend from the fraternity got together and got the idea to make this cannon," Karlin said.

Although, it's not really a cannon.

"The actual cannon is a World War II fire extinguisher," Karlin said. "It's just a faux cannon; it really isn't a cannon."

What makes it go boom is a combination of acetylene and oxygen, which is ignited. Karlin fills three balloons, one-third with acetylene and two-thirds with oxygen, then loads them into the cannon's opening. When the Tigers kick off or score, Karlin ignites the cannon -- then boom!

Karlin fired the cannon at the Tigers' home opener Saturday night. But the plan is for the Sig Eps, who re-organized their local chapter in the spring, to take over starting with the next home game, Sept. 22. The cannon will have a different look then.

The cannon will be modified to be a breech loader, which will be safer.

It still will be just as loud. Karlin, who fired the cannon in the 1980s while going to school at FHSU, was wearing ear plugs Saturday night. That wasn't always the case.

"No," he said with a laugh. "I only started doing that when I got responsible.

"When I was an undergraduate, no way. My wife kind of liked me to wear the ear plugs."

Karlin, who now is the director of financial aid at FHSU, still gets a kick out of making the cannon go boom.

"I love it, it's a thrill," Karlin said. "Maybe I'm just a thrill-junkie or something.

"I don't get to do stuff like this at my job," he added. "How many of us do?"

The trick to firing the cannon is to know when to fire it off -- no premature celebration.

"I've shot it off when I shouldn't of," Karlin said. "There was one last year, there was a score right here in the end zone. I was watching it, ref comes up (with his arms) for a touchdown, signals a touchdown -- boom. But the other ref threw a flag for a push off (for offensive pass interference)."

FHSU sophomore Bryant Davis was on hand Saturday night to watch Karlin at work. He will be one of the Sig Eps firing the cannon at future home games.

"I was just really excited to learn how to do it," he said. "Something really cool that I can do for Fort Hays State."