Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fog Bell Has Landed

As part of a grant from the Legacy Fund of Heritage Canada, celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Swallowtail Lighthouse, we have been renovating the trails and preparing a tribute to the lightkeepers.  Part of this includes returning the bronze fog bell that was used for many years to alert mariners in times of restricted visibility.  With the propensity of fog in the Bay of Fundy, many months of the year, fog alarms were as important as the light.

Bell house prior to 1922 at the extreme easten end of the peninsula. 
The photo was posted to the Facebook group - Old Grand Manan Photos
Reference to the fog bell begins in 1915 when a building was built at the extreme end of the Swallow Tail peninsula, although the date on the bell is 1904.  In 1922, the bell was moved to sit beside the lighthouse to make it easier for the light keepers to keep the winding mechanism operating which in turn rang the bell.  Originally, fog bells, horns, guns were only sounded in response to a fog horn or bell from a passing vessel but with the development of an automated system, similar to what is used with spring wound clocks, the fog bell could be sounded throughout inclement weather that restricted visibility.

Close-up of bell house on northern side of lighthouse.  Elmer Wilcox photo, 1958.

Bell house and fog bell on northern side of Swallowtail light house.  Elmer Wilcox photo, 1958
Both the bell and the bell house were moved to the northern side of the lighthouse where the bell sat until 1980.  A fog horn had replaced the fog bell at an earlier time. The bell had developed a small crack where it was continuously rung and the tone of the bell had changed. The lightkeeper at the time, Grimmer Ingersoll, organized the removal of the bell from the point to the Grand Manan Museum where it sat in front of the Deep Cove School House.  Moving the bronze bell was not an easy feat.  At 900 kg (2000 lbs), it took brute force and lots of ingenuity to accomplish the task.  Unfortunately, the bell did suffer some damage when it was moved in 1980 and two chips can be found on the edge of the bell where chains were wrapped around it.
Light keeper, Grimmer Ingersoll, and friends moving bell in 1980,
eventually getting it to the Grand Manan Museum
When the Swallowtail Keepers Society was formed in 2008, the Museum agreed to donate the bell back to Swallowtail.  A large deck was built by Terry Davidson, George Best and Ken Ingersoll, over the concrete base of the old flag pole and a stand was attached to hold the bell.  Repairs had to be made to the top of the bell and modified to include an eye and shackle for lifting. Michael Brown of Waterfront Fabricating drilled through 6.5 inches of steel at the top of the bell to install two new plates and an eye.  The bell originally had two bolts that held the bell on an I-beam but these were not appropriate if the bell was to be lifted and then lowered onto the stand. The bell could have been strung in a cargo net but that complicated the moving process and recovering the cargo net afterwards, given the weight of the bell.
Terry Davidson and George Best beginning the bell deck

Finished bell deck awaiting the bell
Once the bell was ready to be moved, Randy Brownlee and the M.G. Fisheries boom truck picked up the bell and drove it to the top of the hill at Swallowtail, leaving only 300 m (1000') to move the bell but with 54 steps, a wooden foot bridge, a gravel path over undulating terrain, and a flight of stairs up to the deck, that was not an easy feat.
M.G. Fisheries boom truck that moved the bell from the Grand Manan Museum
 to the top of the stairs leading to Swallowtail.  Randy Brownlee photo.
Inquiries went out to the Canadian Coast Guard and a military base to see if they might be able to use one of their helicopters to move the bell.  No promises were made but it was suggested that if everything was in place, if a helicopter was available, it might happen.  In the middle of November, the Canadian Coast Guard needed their heavy lift helicopter to move building material to Partridge Island in Saint John, NB to construct a new helicopter pad.  Since that is only 25 minutes by helicopter, we were asked to be ready on short notice.  A call at 8:30 on November 21 set the final process in motion.  The helicopter would arrive at 1:30 to move the bell.  This in part was to take advantage of the decreasing wind in the afternoon and to allow myself to be present since I was booked to make a right whale aerial survey the next day with the Fisheries and Oceans Canada as part of the Lobster Mitigation program for Lobster Districts 36, 37 and 38.  locations of right whales are provided to lobster fishermen to help them avoid conflicts with right whales and their fishing gear.

Calls were made to a few people to pass the word about this special event.  Over a dozen people watched as the helicopter arrived to survey the pick up location and the bell deck.  Because of the weight of the bell, only the pilot and one crew member was aboard to do the lifting.  One person was at the bell to hook up the cable and two were at the bell deck to position the moving bell onto the stand.
Jamie McCavour grabbing hook from Canadian Coast Guard helicopter

Jamie McCavour, Canadian Coast Guard,  hooking up cable to bell before lifting
With great anticipation and a bit of trepidation hoping that nothing would happen and the bell wouldn't be lost into the ocean, the helicopter moved into position.  The bell slowly rose off the wooden pallet where it had been sitting.  The pilot then took a long wide circle to approach the bell stand from the south, just as the Grand Manan Adventure ferry rounded Swallowtail.  After a few false approaches, the bell finally was positioned accordingly and was quickly unhooked from the helicopter.  A cheer went up from the onlookers.
The Grand Manan ferry, Grand Manan Advenutre going around Swallowtail as bell
was being brought in a wide arc to the bell deck.  Note the bell house is attached to the lighthouse.

Bronze fog bell lifting into air.  Martha Eaton photo.

Canadian Coast Guard helicopter taking bronze fog bell to the bell deck in a wide arc.

Steve Lloyd and Bob Hebert (Canadian Coast Guard) coordinating the landing of the fog bell on the stand

Bob Hebert (Canadian Coast Guard) unhooking the cable on the fog bell once it was positioned on the stand.

Here are two videos taken of the move
(pick up of the bell from the top of the hill by the Coast Guard helicopter).

I walked down to the see the bell in position and had a great sense of accomplishment as I came over the rise and saw the bell.  While the bell is slightly off centre, that can be fixed.  I took great pleasure in ringing the bell for the first time since it had been removed from Swallowtail.  The tone echoed nicely and while I don't have perfect pitch, the tone is supposed to be an F, according to the manufacturer, Meneely Bell Company of West Troy, NY.

Canadian Coast Guard crew - Bob Hebert, Jamie McCavour, Paul Mosher (pilot) and Steve Lloyd