(my) Family gatherings are always sweet, but at a recent 4th of July cookout, we had an especially good time. Sister and brother-in-law served up the traditional burgers, sausages, potato salad and my most favorite, a Virginia-style grilled hot dog with lots of yellow mustard, chopped onions and hot chili! Yum – Happy Birthday America!
The setting for the holiday spread and after-dinner game of corn-hole was absolutely picturesque – a lawn to be proud of indeed! It is obvious that the hosts give above average attention to their lush backyard with its deep, thick green grass- edged to perfection! There are also colorful flower beds fully mulched, an herb garden for the consummate cook and cozy vignette seating which work in harmony to create a venue worthy of a magazine feature.
However, there is one treasured, hand-me-down object that is the centerpiece of the lovely garden. And of course, it most definitely appeals to The Railroader’s Daughter. It is a steam locomotive bell!
Carried south, all the way from Mundy town in southwest Virginia, the bell offers more than a rich sound, it is full of history. Placed near the farm house of one of our favorite aunts & uncles, the No. 2 bell was made by C.S. Bell Company, Hillsboro, Ohio, and was once used on a railroad steam engine! I’m not sure where they got hold of the bell, but our beloved Aunt Russ and Uncle Preacher used it on the farm for a dinner bell. They referred to it as the “railroad bell” and originally it traveled many miles above the boiler of a steam locomotive through the Appalachian Mountains we call home.
Note the marking across the cast iron bell yoke. (right)
According to steamlocomotive.com Bells were standard equipment on steam locomotives in North America from around 1840 onward. Their purpose was to make noise, alerting people and animals of an oncoming train. Steam locomotive bells were usually made of cast bronze or brass. They were typically between 11 and 17 inches in diameter (measured at the widest part). They could weigh hundreds of pounds. When a steam locomotive was scrapped, the locomotive bell was often one of the few items saved from the torch.
The bell assembly included several parts:
- The Bell: The bell itself is one solid piece.
- The Cradle: The cradle is the framework portion that attaches to the locomotive.
- The Yoke: The yoke holds the bell and allows it to swing in the cradle.
- The Clapper: The clapper is the metal piece hanging inside the bell. When the bell swings the clapper hits the bell causing it to ring.
- The Pull-Arm: The pull-arm is attached to the yoke. A rope is attached to the pull-arm so that the engineer or fireman can cause the bell to swing.
On early locomotives and others that did not have clearance issues, bells were mounted on top of the boiler. On larger locomotives where height clearances became an issue, bells were mounted on the front of the smokebox. There were also cases where steam locomotive bells were mounted in odd places like under the smokebox or under the running board….
I did find evidence that the beloved gardeners had just finished their green thumb magic just moments before the guests arrived. The rake and rustic bench look like the perfect respite after a long day of keeping the garden.
Thank you so much for your warm hospitality. It’s always a pleasure to visit and enjoy family – the “other” railroader’s daughter~