This article appeared in the winter issue of The Clapper publication of the North American Guild of Change Ringers.
Of Mushroom Clouds, Quasi Modo and the Efforts of Mere Mortals
By Brian Zook
Sunday October 18th was the last Sunday that Saint Marks bells were rung. Dean Houck, his daughter, Janice and Brian Zook were the last ones to pull the ropes. On Saturday October 25, a collection of volunteers from Saint Marks and Saint Martins Guild began the process of getting the bells ready for the restoration project.
The tower was a mess because stone masons had begun to dig pockets in the walls of the tower to receive the new steel grillage. Dirt, dust and rubble were everywhere. We divided the labor into two work teams. One team was for cleaning the floor where the bells were to be lowered. The other for removing the wheels and ropes from the bells. The cannons and staples were to be cut off on a floor laid a hundred years ago on top of the original oak frame. This team was headed by Audrey Evans. Jim Ziegelbein, Eileen Butler, Dean Houck and Audrey worked diligently getting decades of dirt and grime removed. Of course this was not without incident. The Churchs industrial shop vacuum was needed for the cleanup. Brian Zook and Jim thought it too bulky to take up the narrow winding stairway. After getting it to the original ringing room, they decided it would be easier to hall up through the trap doors, three levels to where it was needed. Jim secured the rope around a wheel. Bruce Butler and Brian began the process of hauling it up to the next level. The vacuum ascended gracefully, swaying gently as it rose. When it was almost to the next level, a distance of about twenty feet, there was a lurch and suddenly Bruce and Brian had only the wheel of the vacuum dangling on the end of the rope. The rest of the apparatus had begun its decent. It was like watching Alfred Hitchcocks Vertigo. We all saw it falling and were just waiting for the thud. Jim, who was still below, ran for cover as Eileen let out an appropriately Hitchcockian scream. The vacuum hit the floor of the ringing room with a tremendous concussion. The lid of the appliance went flying off and a mushroom cloud of dust rose from the floor of the ringing room and slowly drifted upward toward us on the higher floor. Luckily the folks attending a Mass downstairs in the sanctuary seemed unruffled. Jim managed to get the bits of the vacuum together and the apparatus working. Luckily, it seemed no worse for wear.
As Audrey and the rest of her crew began cleaning, Bruce Butler, David Mills and Brian Zook went up to the upper level of the tower and began the task of removing the bell wheels and ropes from the bells. The uppermost belfry of Saint Marks is a very dark and very, very dirty place. The bells were located in a oaken frame on two levels. Working on the bells necessitated crawling out on to the frame, which was not unlike some sort of gym equipment from a playground. The bells wheels were not very easy to remove. After 120 years there, they just seemed reluctant to go anywhere. Over the years some of the wheels had been shimmed in with small pieces of wood and small nails to make them more stable. The pins, which ran through the headstocks, needed in several cases, to be sawed off with a hacksaw because the bolts were frozen in place. David Mills is to be commended for coming to the rescue of Brian Zook who had managed to get the fabric of his pant legs caught on the headstock of the number 4. Brian, while trying to free himself, ended up hanging upside down for several minutes before asking for help. It took about five hours to get all the wheels off. When we were done, the work crew enjoyed some refrshment at the local pub.
On Halloween Day many Saint Marks folks were planted on Locust Street in front of the church as steelworkers began installing the new grillage. Huge beams of steel were skillfully manhandled through a window in the tower by a crew of steel workers who also seemed pretty good at masonry.
November 2, Bob Servantes of Eayre and Smith arrived from England. Bob joined in the ringing fellowship with the Saint Martins Ringers. He also attended The Mid-Atlantic Guild Meeting of the North American Guild of Change Ringers at New Castle on November 7.
Bob was cheerful and tireless in working through all the problems encountered in the tower(and there were quite a few). Luckily all the problems were solved and the bells lowered, cannons cut off, clappers and crown staples removed and epoxy pads put in place. The mortar finally was put in by the mason. The epoxy pads and masonry were left to cure over the winter months as suggested by Eayre and Smith.
The next stage will take place sometime in May. This involves erecting the new steel framework and lowering the bells and putting on all the wheels, bellropes and fittings. All of these things will be shipped here from England.
Some folks from Saint Marks are learning to ring at Saint Martins. Penni Beaumont, Tom Miller (who also brought his son Michael from Georgia Tech for a few pulls). Dean and Lorraine Houck, Barbara Alton and Alan Morrison. When the bells are ready, we will have a group of parishioners trained to ring rounds. The first big ringing event on the bells by members of the North American Guild of Change ringers will probably be Sunday June 13, though the formal dedication will be on Sunday, October 24, 1999, when most of the final work is completed.