Foes Have Him Over A Barrel Despite Cannon

November 08, 1990|By Robert Lee | Robert Lee,Staff writer

You would think that a 27mm cannon might help a man protect his property from a siege, but modern-day suburban invaders apparently aren't the least bit daunted by heavy artillery.

Since Benfield Road resident Jack Colleran placed a World War II vintage Japanese cannon in his side yard in 1970, he and housemate Caroline Cox have stood by in despair besieged by a half a dozen different enemies.

In the last 20 years:

* Their home has been broken into four times.

* The county condemned a wide strip of their land to expand Benfield Road.

* Woodpeckers have destroyed seven of their nine sycamore trees.

* They had to remove their in-ground swimming pool because children from the new Severndale development behind their house were treating it like a community pool.

* Air traffic and noise has increased to the point that they can now count a plane passing overhead every two minutes.

* And traffic on Benfield has increased to where 17,000 cars now pass their home each day. They can no longer take a left turn out of their driveway without stopping broadside in the center turn lane.

Cox, who has lived in the house for 43 of her 63 years, says she no longer feels she's living in Severna Park.

"Forty years ago I knew just about everyone who passed, and I can even remember before that when Benfield Road was paved with oyster shells and gravel," she recalls.

Though they grouse, Colleran and Cox, who don't belong to a community association because they don't fall within the boundaries of any of Severna Park's established communities, have accepted most of the changes as inevitable.

The one time they did put up a fight was when the county grabbed the front of their property to expand Benfield's shoulder.

Colleran and his neighbor across the street -- both own the property extending to the middle of Benfield Road because of a surveying quirk --threatened to set up a toll booth across the road. They backed down when the county assured them that the expansion was only necessary to provide on-street parking.

When on-street parking never occurred and Benfield was instead expanded to four lanes, Colleran filed suit and won a small settlement against the county for taking the land under false pretenses. Benfield Road has since been restored to two lanes with a left turn lane running both ways in the middle.

"The gun (which is visible from the road) hasn't scared anyone," Colleran says with a shrug. A retired Marine reservist, he says he saved it from the scrap heap because he "thought it would be a neat thing to have."

As if to punctuate its impotence, a family of tiny black cat chickadees now nests in the long barrel of the old relic that Colleran believes was probably captured on one of the many South Pacific islands taken by American forces during World War II.

The only sign that anybody has ever been the least bit intimidated by the cannon was when a passer-by stopped to ask him to point it away from the road. Colleran now has the barrel aimed straight up in a line with BWI's incoming flight patterns, which he says is a coincidence.

Colleran is still leery about discussing how he got the gun. He's not sure whether everything was handled by the books, and he'd hate to cast a shadow over his 32-year career in the military reserves.

His son Kelly, now 30, says he spent his childhood stuffing every incendiary device he could get his hands on down the barrel trying unsuccessfully to get a bang out of it. He is sure the gun poses no danger.

The bottom end of the relic is sealed shut and sunken six inches into the ground.

"I tried everything, it won't fire," Kelly Colleran said.

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