Bells ring out the good news on Easter
The bells of St. Laurence Episcopal Church in Osceola Mills, which have not sounded together in some time, rang out the good news of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, thanks to the work of master bell restorationist Brian Michaels of Good Vibrations Audio & Video, Morrisdale.
Delivery of a newly fabricated part for one of the bells just a few weeks before, meant that all three bells were ready for their debut by Easter.
The three bronze bells of St. Laurence Church were cast by the McShane Foundry in Baltimore in 1898, only six years after the church was built in 1892. They were first housed in a small temporary bell tower, until the present tower was built in 1904 by the Osceola Lumber Co. The present restoration was undertaken as part of a general sprucing-up for the 125th anniversary of the church.
It had been more than 20 years since the three bells rang in unison, and church members looked for someone to bring the bells back to working condition when church organist Luther Gette read an article about Michaels.
“He took a look, pronounced our bell tower good and solid, and prescribed a little TLC for two of our three bells, only one of which was in working order,” Gette said.
Michaels said Bell 1, the largest of the three, was the only one that was in usable condition. Bell 2, the middle bell, was damaged, and Bell 3, the smallest, was sitting idle not being used.
“We inspected all three bells for structural integrity and cracks,” Michaels said. “We found that Bell 2 had a loose center bolt.”
Michaels said the center bolt goes through the top of the bell and through the yoke, and has two large nuts on the top. This is what holds the bell in position. The existing bolt was rusted and it had stretched enough to make the headstock — the assembly inside the bell with the clapper — loose.
“When this happens, there is a major hazard of the bell falling out of the yoke. If the bell falls out of the yoke, the only true way to repair it is to remove the bell from the tower and totally redo the yoke,” he said.
Michaels’ team fixed Bell 2 by turning the bell upside down and cutting off the existing center bolt. Then they fabricated a new center bolt with a clapper spring assembly.
“We also added padding to each of the bells clapper springs. The clapper springs are located inside of the bell on either side of the clapper. They are meant to push the clapper back off of the bell so it doesn’t resonate on the bell too long. This gives a more precise and accurate tone when struck. We also installed new pull ropes with gold hook ends on them,” he said.
In addition, the crew also installed a new rope for the tolling hammer on Bell 1. The tolling hammer is used for the single rings during funerals, Michaels explained.
New Vibrations also lifted all three bells, cleaning the axle bearing points on the A-Stands that they rest on. Once cleaned, a new layer of severe weather, heavy duty grease was applied, which will allow for a much easier pull for the swing, Michaels said.
Now that the bells are in working order, the church hopes to use them more regularly.
“We’re hoping the bells can ring once again for many occasions in the community, such as the Fourth of July parade and Osceola Spirit Days,” said The Rev. William Walker, pastor of St. Laurence. The bells were blessed on Easter Sunday, a few moments before the morning worship service.
“To think we looked high and low for someone to bring back our bells, only to find an expert right in our own backyard,” said church board member Sheila Heath of Chester Hill.
Michaels said Good Vibrations works not only on restoring rope-pulled bells, but also installs, repairs and electrifies bells.
“We can swing them with motors or giant magnet drives,” he said. And, “if you cannot swing the bell for any reason, we install stationary strikers that simulate the swinging by striking the bell fast. We also install electronic carillon systems, which are hard drive-based recordings of actual bells. Lastly, we also install and repair tower clocks.”
The company completes work throughout the United States, and has restored the Old Main Tower clock and chimes at Penn State. In addition, it has worked at the Woodlawn Plantation in Washington, D.C., Faneuil Hall in Boston, Dover State Museum in Dover, Delaware and People’s Baptist Church in Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston church was quite unique, Michaels said, in that it is the oldest organized black congregation in the U.S. dating back to 1809. The church has a bell that was cast by Paul Revere in 1789.
Good Vibrations Audio & Video also worked on the St. Rose of Lima Church in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. This was the bell to honor the Sandy Hook school shooting, Michaels said.