Since 1987, Rick Neff’s business in the rural town of Malta had been named Neff Repair and Machine. But after two decades of serving the local farmers and ranchers, Rick changed the name of his business to also include what had evolved from a hobby to a steady stream of income. His business is now called Neff Cannons & Machine. While he still repairs agriculture and automotive parts at his machine shop, Rick is finding more spare time to build replica Civil War cannons at 1/3 and 1/6 scale. They are true to the original models, down to the finest details. His work has been sold across the country and he is widely regarded as one of the best cannon builders.
For more information on Neff Cannons, call 208-645-2546, or visit Rick’s shop at www.neffcannons.com.
Q: Why did you decide to build cannons?
A: I guess I never outgrew cannons. I’ve just always liked cannons since I was young. The cannon building fills my time when the farmers and ranchers aren’t keeping me busy. In between jobs, I need something to do, so I build the cannons. Once I get a bunch built, I’ve got to sell them.
Q: How do you sell them?
A: I have a website and I go to gun shows all over. The gun shows are fun because I like seeing people’s reactions. It really brings the youth out in people. When I sell one, I ask the buyer for visitation rights; it’s like letting one of my kids go.
Q: Do they fire?
A: They are functional; they’re not just for show. Our maximum recommended load will shoot a golf ball at 1,380 feet per second. You’ll never find that ball because that baby is out of the country. You don’t need to go that fast; I tell people that once you reach the point where you can’t see the ball traveling, all speeds are relative. At that point, the velocity means nothing because you can’t see it anyway.
Q: Are they safe?
A: I build them for safety. When people come back from shooting these guns, I want them to come back with as many fingers and toes as they went out with. I also warn people that no matter how idiot-proof we make something, somebody will come up with a better idiot. So we have to use common sense, and the buyers sign a manufacturer’s waiver of liability.
Q: Where are some of your cannons today?
A: I’ve got cannons from South Carolina to California. Herman Rowland Sr., who is the Chairman and CEO of the Jelly Belly Candy Company, bought a Napoleon. He saw it and totally fell in love with it. He asked me, “Could this shoot candy?” And I said, “Sir, if you want it to shoot candy, I can make it shoot candy.” So I converted it over for him using compressed gas so that it’s safe with no flame, no explosion and no residue. Now it’s sitting in his office. When he first got it, he started shooting it off and soon he had his entire office full of candy. It can shoot 29 Jelly Belly packets 50 feet.
Q: What’s the best part about building cannons?
A: The best part is when I get one completed. I sit back and look at all the work and all the detail. It’s just like when I was farming and would get all the crops planted and could sit back and watch it grow – that was a good feeling. And now it’s a good feeling when I finish a cannon and I can sit back and look at what I did with my hands.
Q: What sets your cannons apart from others?
A: The quality. I try to be very accurate with my cannons. I have had people at more than one gun show come up to my table and name every gun that I’ve got. They can tell me every gun, from the model 1857 12-Pound Field Howitzer, to the 2.9-inch Confederate Parrott or the Widow Blakely. They can identify every one. That makes me feel good that I did it right. We try to be authentic in everything we do.
“Our maximum recommended load will shoot a golf ball at 1,380 feet per second. You’ll never find that ball because that baby is out of the country. “