My old country school bell
April 3, 2013 at 7:02 pm #12228
Last fall I learned of the location of the original cast iron bell that hung in the one-room school house building that I attended in the late forties. It’s a cast iron bell, 30″ in diameter, and has all the original metal parts — even the square (not hex) nuts. The leathers on the clapper dampener(?) have rotted away, but I expect that they’ll be easy to replace. The bell was made by C S Bell company. It rings strong and sweet.
I knew that the owner was anxious for a quick sale, so I went to see him and I ended up buying it that day and hauling it home. I have made a portable stand on rubber casters so that I can roll it out of the way in my garage.
My intention had been to donate it to the local county historical society, but when I talked with them they indicated a desire for it but they had no place to display it. So I am stuck with it (a not too unpleasant circumstance, actually).
Now that I own the thing and no donees are appearing, I have decided to restore it and display it in my front yard. It was at one time painted a metallic silver color, and there is also a considerable rust coating. Some parts (not many) of the cast iron bell itself exhibit noticeable pitting.
I guess that I am asking for pointers to two separate matters: 1) a comprehensive guide to restoring and refinishing a cast iron bell for active outdoor use and 2) designs for ‘bell towers’ approximately 8 to 12 feet high that will display the bell and make it usable for occasional ringing. If anyone can help with either of these projects, I would appreciate it.
I have seen some restoration advice that calls for immersing the bell in a bath of phosphoric acid solution to remove the rust, then coating the newly exposed cast iron with WD-40 or a similar petroleum product periodically to inhibit further rust. Are other courses of action available? I do have a winch/hoist that is easily capable of handling the bell’s 450 or so pounds, and I could probably construct a tub or buy a large plastic garbage can at least 30″ in diameter to allow complete immersion in a weak acid solution. I don’t want to try to re-invent any wheels, though
Any advice, pointers to advice, comments, etc are welcome. Thanks for reading this far!
April 6, 2013 at 11:05 pm #17396halanbParticipant
You can use the search box in the upper right corner of this page to find posts on various topics.
I would suggest you begin with sand blasting and hillsboro (C.S. Bells were made in Hillsboro OH).
You may see some references to Prindle Station, which has parts for, and information on, C.S. Bells.
For a mount, you might check for windmill stand plans.
May 14, 2013 at 8:02 pm #17397
Thank you for the good advice, halanb, and I’m sorry that I hadn’t responded sooner.
I have pretty much wrung out the internet (not to mention this forum!) searching for the answers. I am mostly concerned with the apparently conflicting advice that I see with respect to cast iron. Some say to sandblast (perhaps using plastic beads or walnut shells). Others advise dipping in a weak acid, like H3PO4. Since I’ll only have one shot at getting it right the first time, I’m not sure which way to go. I do know that all methods have their pros and cons. This bell weighs, apparently, around 450 pounds, so any movement of the thing requires advance planning. I’m willing to do whatever is the right thing that the community advises, but I’m not at all sure where to begin.
I also see some conflicting advice about conditioning the bell for returning it to fulltime outdoor use. Such a conundrum. Is there anyone in the community who’s had any of these experiences? If so, I’d be very grateful if you’d share them.
Best to all
July 20, 2013 at 3:53 am #17398Neil GoeppingerParticipant
Hello Mr. Meyer, I’ve restored a number of cast iron and cast steel bells. Sand blasting doesn’t hurt them a bit, but you do need to disassemble the parts first so you can get the rust off all surfaces. Next, as soon as possible after sand blasting put a good oil based primer on the bell and parts. It can be either arisol cans of paint or brushed. If you need to, go to the sandblaster’s business and do it there in case you can’t move the bell that day. Very soon after the metal is completely exposed it will start to rust from the moisture in the air. Next give it two coats of a high quality outdoor oil based paint, then reassemble the bell. It’s really pretty simple, but dirty heavy work. Good luck.
I’ve never heard of the acid approach. How would you get rid of the acid when finished? That’s a lot of acid solution if you’re not reusing it often for the same type of thing. — Neil Goeppinger
August 23, 2013 at 2:18 pm #17399
Thanks for the advice, Mr Goeppinger. I will seek out sandblasters.
I thought that you and the rest of the bell-loving community might appreciate a bit more insight into what I’m trying to accomplish. Even though I do not consider myself a bell collector, I do have fond memories of this one bell. It hung in the peak (or ‘attic’) of our old country school (after being ‘demoted’ from the building’s belfry, which occurred (probably in the late 1920’s or 1930’s…we have no evidence pointing to any more specific date).
My contemporaries and I have collected quite a lot of information about the rural school district and its people, the school building, and the bell itself. I have tried to organize that information by putting it up on a website of my own devising. The website has substantial coverage of the bell itself. You can view the whole story at http://www.districtthirty.org.
My hope is to get the bell fully restored and fit for permanent outdoor public display. I have asked the current owner of the land on which the rural school sat (the owner is also an ‘alumnus’ of this country school!) for permission to erect a standard, approximately 10′ to 15′ feet high, and place the bell atop that standard, for maximum visibility from the adjacent highway. I was thinking of locating a surplus city street light standard. If/when we can get that erected, with (450 pound!) bell on top, I would arrange to have a simple anodized aluminum plaque placed at its base with a title “District 30”, the above URL, and the QR code that would drive their smartphones to the website itself. (I would have included the QR code at this point, but can’t figure out how to embed it inline.)
So you can see the condition of the bell by visiting the website, and you can understand the context there as well.
September 23, 2013 at 12:46 am #17400jackbellParticipant
Doug: Metal theft is at an all-time high. It’s a heavy bell but there are expert thieves who can steal it even 15 feet in the air, especially in a rural area at night. Just something I thought you might want to think over. Your bell is cast steel.
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