03/28/10 — Wayne County, Fort Macon connected again

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Wayne County, Fort Macon connected again

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 28, 2010 1:50 AM

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Kirk Keller, of Wayne Community College, and Fort Macon Park Ranger Paul Branch look over the structure of a cannon mount that the students made at the college. The cannon will be placed on the upper level of Fort Macon later this summer.

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Wayne Community College professor Kirk Keller and Fort Macon Park Ranger Paul Branch look at an old picture of the cannons that were originally mounted at the coastal fort. Students from the college have all but completed an aluminum replica barbette carriage that will eventually hold a cannon at the state's No. 1 visited park.

Nearly 150 years after members of the Goldsboro Rifles and, later, Andrew's Battery, defended Fort Macon, Wayne County and the five-sided coastal construct are again connected.

Only this time, local residents are helping to preserve its history, not write it -- protecting it now and in the future from mother nature instead of enemy ships.

Through a partnership between Wayne Community College and the state Parks and Recreation Department, students have all but completed construction of a replica barbette carriage for a 32-pounder cannon -- a project Park Ranger Paul Branch said saved the state tens of thousands of dollars.

But WCC Mechanical Engineering instructor Kirk Keller said helping to ease budget woes was only part of the draw.

The ability to use the project as a learning tool and the "honor" of being a part of something historic were what really enticed him.

"They were basically getting free labor from here, but in return, our students were able to use and apply managerial skills and fabrication skills that we have learned," he said. "How we looked at it, it was better to be building cannons than widgets. Isn't that cool.

"And just to be asked as a community college, it really is an honor. I mean, we're talking about the No. 1 visited state park."

So since the 2009 summer session began, WCC students from several departments -- mechanical engineering, machining technology and welding and fabrication -- have been hard at work, creating the full-scale replica.

But unlike the gun carriages that originally graced Fort Macon during the Civil War, the one that will soon be sent from the college to the coast was created using aluminum.

"We have tried two different times to build wood gun carriages for Fort Macon, but they just do not last," Branch said. "Even making them out of hardwood, which they originally were, they don't last through the weather. In three or four years, they are crumbling.

"So we're doing what the national parks have gone to ... which is to build replica gun carriages out of aluminum or steel or something. Since we operate in a coastal environment, we opted for the aluminum."

So not only will the new carriage be able to endure the harsh wind and moisture associated with the coast, a new page of the fort's history, too, has been written.

A plaque to be placed during the dedication of the replica later this year will credit WCC with its construction.

And when, inevitably, some park visitor asks why an aluminum carriage that would have been far before its time holds one of the fort's cannons, Branch vowed to tell them about the latest gift sent from Wayne to the site it so long ago also sacrificed for.

"This right here is really something to be proud of. This county has got to be proud of this," Keller said, running his hand along the metal. "Yeah. It's been quite an experience."