Welcome to the ABA! Bell Talk Forums Large Bells Is it, or is it not a locomotive bell??

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    • #10849
      R.Uritis
      Participant

      All,

      I posted a photo of this bell when I acquired it and received sage advice, including that it could be an early locomotive bell. After considerable searching on-line, I have yet to find an image of a locomotive bell without a stem and single bold attachment that allows for the rotation of the bell for even wear. I am posting these images again with the hope that someone may have seen a bell of similar construction used on a locomotive. All input appreciated. Regards, Robert

      Update: I have found a similar bell (yoke accepting a large bronze flange on top of the bell) on, of all engines, perhaps the most famous from the Civil War, The General. From the museum website that features the General: ” E. Warren Clark, photographer and lecturer, located the “General” in 1892 on a siding at Vinings,GA. He had the idea of restoring “General” and exhibiting it at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This led to “General” being on display for over 100 years!”

      Will add another post with a photo of the bell of the General.

      R. Uritis

    • #13703
      Neil Goeppinger
      Participant

      When you consider that there were both firms which cast only the bells for locomotives, and there were locomotive works which cast their own bells, there were alot of companies casting bells, and thus numerous ways of mounting RR bells. I’m sure there were some firms which used the tang method of mounting their RR bells. There really isn’t going to be any way to definitively determine if this is a locomotive bell unless you’ve got some history of the individual bell. If it had the mounting cradle, that would likely tell you, especially if it had a round concave upward base to fit on a boiler. Without that, there is no way to know if it had “A” frame stands and was at a river pier, on a bridge, or elsewhere. Another fun bit of history for conjecture. — Neil

    • #13704
      lucky13
      Member

      Bronze is copper and tin. Brass is copper and zinc. Have a metallurgist test the bell. It’s a chemical test that’s harmless. If it’s bronze the bell was probably not used on a locomotive. Older locomotive bells were brass and later ones were steel.

    • #13705

      Lucky13 is certainly correct about the composition of bronze and brass. But I am extremely sceptical about the statements regarding the composition of locomotive bells, because I have never seen any evidence that would support them.

      At the National Museum of Transport, here in St.Louis County, Missouri, there are dozens of locomotives representing most of the periods of railroading history in America. Not one has a steel bell. (I cannot tell you authoritatively – yet – whether they are brass, bronze, or some of each.) And in all my travels over the last ** years, I have never seen a steel bell on a locomotive elsewhere.

      In the 1950s, when the railroads were converting from steam to diesel at a great rate, quite a number of locomotive bells were given away, from engines that were being taken out of service. It seems reasonable to deduce that most of those locomotives were “later” productions – the last of their line. In the St.Louis area, several such bells were donated to churches by the railroads headquartered here. Of all those bells which I have found and inspected, none are steel.

      While absence of proof is not proof of absence, it is at least highly indicative. I’d like to know what evidence anyone else may have seen regarding the possibility of steel bells on locomotives.

    • #13706
      Rita Walker
      Member

      You might like to know that there is a “Walker Transportation Museum” housed in the Beverly Historical Society building in Beverly, Massachusetts, (my hometown). In that Museum dozens of file cabinets containing hundreds and hundreds of photos of all types of transportation along with the text for each of them. There’s loads of material about railroad bells too which may be of interest. If you write them, I’m certain they will try their best to help you with any questions you might have.
      Their address is: Beverly Historical Society and Museum
      117 Cabot St. Beverly, MA 01915
      ph. (978) 922-1186

      In 2002 the Walker Museum created a special niche to house my “Boston & Maine” railroad bell that I gave to them in memory of my husband. That bell can be rung in three different ways….the third way (which makes it unique) is by a steam piston housed inside of it.

      p.s. I wish you good luck. If you write the Museum you may tell them that the donor of the bell, suggested you contact them.

    • #13707
      lucky13
      Member

      Diesel switch engines were built with a steel bell about 10 inches in diameter mounted on the front that was stationary and rung with a piston-activated clapper. Had a terrible sound as any steel bell that small does. As a kid in the 1940’s and 50’s I was fascinated by trains and saw plenty of these bells. They turn up occasionally on eBay or sometimes only the clapper/piston assembly with the seller wondering what the thing is.

    • #13708
      Rita Walker
      Member

      If “Lucky 13” was responding to my last post about the railroad bell then I don’t believe he quite understood what I was referring to. My bell was appraised for $4,000.00 at the time I gave it to the “Walker Transportation Museum”. It was not steel, and it was not mounted on the front. It was mounted atop the engine. It might be worthwhile to note that the Boston & Maine railroad went out of business in the mid 1900’s.

    • #13709
      lucky13
      Member

      My response was to Mr Zimmerman’s post at 12:25 PM. He questioned whether steel bells were used by the railway industry.

    • #13710

      “Lucky13”, are the steel bells which you described for diesel engines made in the same shape as the bells in the illustrations which started this thread? Or are they approximately hemispherical, i.e., gong bells? If the latter, then they are really a different product from steam locomotive bells, and the material from which they are made would be irrelevant in such a comparison.

      Actually, I’ve seen at least one diesel switch engine which was equipped with the same type of brass/bronze bell as steam locomotives. But most diesel engines that I’ve seen don’t have a visible bell of any kind. If they do have a bell at all, it’s probably “under the covers”, so to speak. I think I’ll have to revisit the National Museum of Transport soon, to see what more I can learn there.

    • #13711
      lucky13
      Member

      Mr Zimmerman: They are bell-shaped just like tower bells only small. Probably 10 inches wide and 10″ high and the clapper is the traditional shape only attached to an air piston. Lousy sound but, like farm bells, they were made for noise, not listening pleasure, ha! If I can find a photo on the internet I’ll post it.

    • #13712
      lucky13
      Member

      Found this at a website called Rich Clark’s Railroad Photo Page. Being steel, most of these bells were probably scrapped instead of being saved like brass bells. Probably the reason they don’t show up on eBay as often as the brass ones.

    • #13713
      Rita Walker
      Member

      Thanks Lucky 13…..got your clarification okay!

    • #13714
      stevezak
      Member

      Hello, I have personally seen this bell in Allentown,Pa. prior to you winning the auction. Nice Bell. I have been collecting Loco bells for a few years now and I now enjoy 6 different bells. My opinion on your bell after examining it prior to the end of that auction ( I was considering a bid on this bell myself),I do not believe this is a bell that was used on a locomotive. I would say this is more along the lines of a mission bell. The bell sounds like brass ( I have heard it ring and there are definate differences between bronze and brass bell sounds). This bell is ornately cast which is unusual for a loco bell even back in the mid/late 1800’s when the very ornate POST method of hanging a bell was used. This method of attaching the bell to the yoke was very common with mission bells from the southwest area and very uncommon with loco bells. The ID of the bell does not show much wear especially if used on a loco and being unable to rotate for wear factors. The pin area is also in good shape where the yoke and cradle would meet this area is normally worn enough to be elongated in the cradle and almost flat at the pivot pin. It would be a tell tale if the cradle was with the bell. Mission bells did not have a cast cradle. Most were placed in a small tower with a loop hanger. I know the bell was advertised as a Loco bell… ultimately there is no real way to tell that this particular bell is or is not unless it is documented with pictures. There is a seller in Mich. that shows a wide range of bells for sale. Look at the used mission bells he is selling and look at the loco bells and make a judgment call. Either way… You do have a nice bell, mount it…ring it and enjoy.

    • #13715

      On reviewing the set of 4 photos again, I concur with most of the argument made by stevezak. I’m not so certain that it was a mission bell. But what really convinces me that it was never a locomotive bell is the fact that the blacksmith-made rope lever is set at an angle, exactly as it would be for a bell intended to be rung by a person pulling on a dangling rope. For a locomotive bell, the lever would be vertical for attachment of a horizontal rope to the engineer’s cab.

      The stepped straight lip and the tripartite bead at the turning point below the waist (and probably also above the shoulder) strongly suggest that the bell was made by a conventional bell foundry in America. The tang-and-cross-pin mounting suggest mid-19th century or earlier. I would expect a photo of the inside to show a cast-in crown staple from which the clapper hangs, and most likely the clapper is also blacksmith-made.

      A mission bell is a possibility; but if that were the case then I’d expect it to have carried religious decoration. It could also have been used a plantation bell, or at a major trading post, or for a variety of other purposes. Regardless, it’s a very nice old artifact.

    • #13716
      hjlong
      Member

      If this bell is from Eastern Pennsylvania, it could have been cast by the John Wilbank Foundry of Germantown, Philadelphia. Its design is very reminiscent of a Wilbank Bell. Wilbank cast bells for ships, churches and schools, but I am not aware that they cast railroad bells. Wilbank became famous for purchasing the Liberty Bell from the City of Philadelphia but renigged on the contract when they decided that it would cost more to remove it from the Statehouse Bellfree than the $400 puchase price. I don’t know whether this is a Wilbank bell, but it does have similarities.
      Harry Long, MD

    • #13717
      R.Uritis
      Participant

      Thanks, everyone, for your continued dialogue regarding my bell!

      Would anyone know if Wilbank cast brass or bronze bells? Since acquiring the bell, I have placed it on a stand and tried a few acoustical tests to try to compare it with a bell I have of similar size that I know to be brass. Since a bell’s wall profile and thickness relative to diameter must make a difference in tonal quality, it makes sense to me that something more objective, perhaps response time and duration of ring, would be better indicators of alloy composition than just “sound” that seems too general and subjective.

      Since bronze is harder than brass, it would seem that a bell of bronze would reach it’s resonant frequency faster than brass, resulting in a more pure tone with less “clang.” What’s more, my simple non-scientific test resulted in this bell resonating with much less force than the known brass bell; a simple, fast tap with the eraser end of a pencil produced a tone; the brass bell produced a simple “bong” that fell silent after a few seconds. The voice of the bell in question was audible for almost 15 seconds, and when it fell silent, you could still feel a slight vibration on touching it. Do you think the difference is because of the alloy, or could shape play a greater role than I am assuming? Finally, when struck well, it has a clear tone with no discernible “wow” or wobble in tone… very loud, and is audible for over a minute.

      The clanger is suspended from a wrought iron staple cast into the bell and the suspending end of the clanger is a bent-over and pinched-closed wrought iron eye.

      Finally, the bell was found in a barn in Eastern PA.

    • #13718
      hjlong
      Member

      To my knowledge Wilbank cast Bronze, but they could have done some in Brass.
      Harry Long, MD

    • #13719
      R.Uritis
      Participant

      Does anyone have any images of Wilbank bells that they could post? It would be interesting to compare this bell to known examples.

      thanks, Robert

    • #13720
      stevezak
      Member

      Robert, I posted two pics you may find interesting in ” similiar locomotive bell found “. These are some of my bells and other RR things I collect.
      [attachment=1:fw1hy8be]my bells.jpg[/attachment:fw1hy8be][attachment=0:fw1hy8be]Steve’s NY Vahala 14.jpg[/attachment:fw1hy8be]

    • #13721
      nightflier51
      Participant

      I have 2 steel diesel bells like the one on the train pic above. one has a clapper with rope ring on the bottom of clapper one was for air pistons to ring it. i have just the bells only

    • #13722
      Rita Walker
      Member

      If your two bells are made of steel and were used on diesel locomotives, then they would not have the same mount that the bell shown in the picture has. The bell shown in the picture was mounted on a coal-burning locomotive of a former day.

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