Shell ready.

Atomic Cannon

Field review by the editors.

Junction City, Kansas

The atomic cannon was a huge piece of ordnance built by the United States in the mid-1950s to hurl nuclear shells far enough that they wouldn't kill the people who fired them. While far more sensible WWIII technology than, say, the atomic hand grenade, the atomic cannon did have its detractors and tactical limitations.

The first atomic cannon went into service in 1952, and was deactivated in 1963. A single 280mm shell was fired seven miles at the Nevada Test site on May 25, 1953 as part of the Grable Shot series. The shell detonated 500 feet in the air and yielded a 15 kiloton explosion (there's an amazing government film of the cannon firing and the mushroom cloud).

Atomic Cannon.

Twenty Atomic Cannon were manufactured; at least 8 appear to have survived the Cold War and are on public display today. The largest atomic cannon sits in a public park in Junction City, Kansas, on loan (permanent) from the Smithsonian. You can find the others at:

  • Yuma Proving Ground, Yuma, Arizona
  • Rock Island Arsenal, Memorial Field, Rock Island, Illinois
  • Atomic Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Fort Sill Museum, Oklahoma
  • Virginia War Memorial Museum, Newport News, Virginia
  • Watervliet Arsenal, Watervliet, NY -- where they were all manufactured.

Junction City's is most grandly displayed, high atop a bluff in "Freedom Park," advertised with red-white-& blue billboards along the interstate. A switchback trail leads up to the summit, past rusting howitzers and small pieces of artillery.

The Atomic Cannon, an M65-280mm, is 42 feet long and weighs 42,500 lbs. It can throw a shell 20 miles, which would place ground zero southwest and just shy of Abilene (home of the Eisenhower Museum and the Hall of Generals).

The climb is invigorating, and the A-cannon, while impressive, could be any other plugged-up piece of old military hardware. No special markings, flash protection screens, radiation symbols. Guess if something went wrong, there's really no point. A display shell sits in the breach, ready to loft towards Ike's hometown.

After paying your respects to the Atomic Cannon, visit nearby tributes to weapons actually used in combat. Across the interstate, about two miles, is Fort Riley: home to the US Cavalry Museum, Big Red One Museum, a monument to sick and dying army horses, and a long-forgotten Geographical Center of USA monument.

RoadsideAmerica.com Team Field Report

Atomic Cannon

Freedom Park

Address:
Henry Drive, Junction City, KS
Directions:
Freedom Park. Northeast of town, at I-70 exit 301, on the right.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
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RoadsideAmerica.com Team Field Report

Atomic Cannon

Yuma Proving Ground

Address:
US Hwy 95, Yuma, AZ
Directions:
I-8 exit 12. North on Fortuna Rd for two miles, then north on US 95 for 10.5 miles. The cannon is on the southbound side, at the entrance to Yuma Proving Ground.
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Atomic Cannon

Rock Island Arsenal

Address:
Rodman Ave., Rock Island, IL
Directions:
On an island between Rock Island, IL, and Davenport, IA. I-74 exit 2. Drive west on 7th Ave. to 14th St. Turn right and go straight down the street, up the ramp, across the 16th St. bridge to the island (You'll need a picture ID to enter the Island). You'll be on Rodman Ave. The cannon will be about a mile on your left, in Memorial Park.
Admission:
Free. Show photo ID.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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Atomic Cannon (Gone)

Hours:
Moving to Ft. Lee, VA.

Atomic Cannon

National Museum of Nuclear Science and History

Address:
601 Eubank Blvd SE, Albuquerque, NM
Directions:
Southeast edge of the city. I-40 exit 165, then south about a mile on Eubank Blvd. On the right. Cannon is displayed out back of the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History.
Hours:
Daily 9 am - 5 pm. (Call to verify)
Phone:
505-245-2137
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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RoadsideAmerica.com Team Field Report

Museum of the Big Guns (Closed)

Watervliet Arsenal Museum

Directions:
Watervliet Arsenal Museum. I-787 north past Albany. Exit at 23rd St (Watervliet). Left at stop light, then left at next stop light (Broadway). South on Broadway, paralleling I-787. In about one mile you will pass the Main Gate for the arsenal, which is closed. Make the next right (3rd Ave.) and then right at the South Gate. Register with guards.
Hours:
Closed by govt budget-slashing terrorists in 2013.
Admission:
Free

Atomic Cannon

U.S. Army Field Artillery and Fort Sill Museum

Address:
437 Quanah Rd, Fort Sill, OK
Directions:
U.S. Army Field Artillery and Fort Sill Museum. Displayed outdoors. I-44 exit 41 (Key Gate). West on Sheridan Road, then immediate right on Randolph Rd. Drive one-half mile. The cannon is on the left, just past the museum, at the corner of Randolph and Geronimo Rds.
Phone:
580-442-5123
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Virginia War Museum - Atomic Cannon

Virginia War Museum

Address:
9285 Warwick Blvd, Newport News, VA
Directions:
Virginia War Museum. I-64 exit 263A. South on Mercury Blvd/US 258 for 2.5 miles. At the last traffic light before the bridge, turn right into Huntington Park and follow signs for the Museum.
Hours:
M-Sa 9 am - 4:30 pm, Su 1-4:30 pm. (Call to verify)
Phone:
757-247-8523
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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October 21, 2014

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