It’s been a few years since Marshall’s historic fireman’s alarm bell returned to its rightful home at the Central Fire Station.
And now, after an extensive preservation process, the station is ready to publicly showcase the significant part of history, but needs the community’s help to bring the vision to fruition.
“The vision that I got for it is something that’s going to outlast all of us,” said Marshall Fire Chief Reggie Cooper. “We want the history (celebrated); we want it beautiful; we want it to honor those that have come and gone.”
Cooper said many have donated their time, money and expertise to help make the dream a reality. Marshall Lions Club, for instance, kicked off the nearly two-year project with a generous donation of $9,500.
The fire chief said the department now needs about $6,000 to construct the concrete pad where they plan to mount the bell, right outside of the station in between the two flagpoles.
“We could’ve just taken any concrete, just laid concrete out there and be done with it,” said Cooper, “but this is something that’s going to be treasured.
“It’s something that the citizens and the city can be real proud of,” he said, sharing he wants to do a big unveiling to surprise residents with the plans.
“Once they see the finished project, everyone is going to be pleased with this,” the fire chief said, sharing how they’ve already stirred some excitement on Facebook with just a glimpse of one of the bell frame panels.
Cooper thanked the Lion’s Club for their benevolence to get the project started.
“Without the Lion’s Club, this wouldn’t be,” said Cooper. “They’ve been outstanding — a super organization.”
‘BELLS ACROSS AMERICA’
The department has an aggressive goal to have the bell mounted in time to be a part of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s “Bells Across America for Fallen Firefighters” tribute, held in October. The national remembrance is part of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend.
“The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation does ‘Bells Across America’ and they have a website and it’s a Google interactive map and it shows everybody who has these big bells,” said MFD Lt. Scott Barmore, who has worked on the concept for the project. “There is no one this side of Fort Worth or way over to Mississippi with a bell like this.”
According to the website, firehero.org, all participating cities are encouraged to organize an appropriate tribute for the occasion. NFF will also recognize participating cities and their respective events on the organization’s website as well as NFF’s special “Bells Across America for Fallen Firefighters” map.
“When they do these bells, you get to make a weekend thing of it. And they bring in all firefighters that come from anywhere that like doing this … the honor guards, the fire departments, the bagpipers, drummers … stuff like that,” said Barmore. “We want to do that and not have to wait ‘til next year, so we’re running out of time. We’ve got to get this thing up by October.”
Barmore said they met with three contractors and only one, Brandy Foster with Steadfast Concrete, has returned a bid.
“He’s given us a significantly reduced price on it,” said Cooper.
Barmore said the estimate for the overall project is more than $12,000 because there’s a lot of concrete etching, scoring and coloring involved.
Retired fireman Bill Elliot, who has also been involved with the project, expressed how great it’ll be to see the bell stand tall, once again.
“We’ve got some great illustrations and plans and visions and thoughts,” said Elliot.
The 900-pound bell, boasting 28 inches in diameter, dates back to 1877, playing a pertinent role in the town’s history as the city’s earliest warning system, which alerted all fire officials and the town of a fire.
It was the second largest made by manufacturer R. Register and Sons of Baltimore, Maryland, and could be heard throughout any part of town.
“The bell was purchased by the Salamander Volunteer Fire Company,” said Elliot.
At the time, it was mounted on a wooden tower in front of the Salamander’s Fire Hall, which also housed City Hall, at 106 W. Houston, just southwest of the historic 1901 county courthouse.
“When the Northside Fire Station was built in 1907 at 1000 Twyman St., it was later moved there,” Elliot noted.
After the next Northside station or Station No. 3 opened in 1949 at 1003 N. Bolivar, the Twyman St. location was closed and used for storage, Elliot said. When the station was demolished, the bell tower came down, he said. The bell then sat in the fire department’s training tower that was located next to the old station.
The bell ultimately moved to the southeast porch of the historic courthouse.
“When the old courthouse was being restored, the fire department was asked to come and get the bell so it would not get damaged during the restoration,” Elliot recalled, sharing he was heavily involved in that process.
“Actually, it was an opportunity for us to get our bell back,” he said. “I knew how important it was and we needed to hang on to that.”
Thus, with the help of Ronnie’s Wrecker Service, they moved it to what was then the central fire station location at 303 W. Burleson.
“We, the members of the fire department, made plans to erect the bell on the corner of North Franklin and West Burleson,” said Elliot.
The plans were delayed when the new fire station was built at its current location, 601 S. Grove St., in 2010.
It’s been at the new station since the department’s 140th anniversary, celebrated in 2016. Cooper said they’ve been preserving it at the location since in hopes of sharing the legacy of the bell that was purchased by Salamander’s and passed on through the lineage of volunteer fire departments that ultimately merged together in 1876 to form what is now the city-paid Marshall Fire Department.
“All of the departments bonded together to become the city of Marshall Fire Department, but they still maintained their own rosters and who was their chief and all that,” Elliot said.
“If they fought, the one thing that was a common bond was to make sure that we protected this and didn’t allow it to get melted down,” Cooper said, noting how important the bell was.
Chief Cooper said hopefully the existing fire station will be the bell’s final resting place. Elliot said their desire is to now get it mounted outdoors in memory of all who have served in fire service in Marshall.
“We would like to ask the community for donations to get this historical bell up,” said Elliot, who is also a former county constable. “I was told for a number of years when I was at the fire department and also while I was constable by businesses and companies that if I knew of a worthwhile project, they would like to help. I never asked, so now I am.
Elliot said this project is definitely worth it. Chief Cooper echoed his sentiments.
“A lot of bells and stuff like this end up melted down, but some kind of way we’ve been able to miraculously retain it,” the fire chief said.
“I can’t wait to hear that thing ring,” Assistant Fire Chief Joe Hudson said.
Elliot recalled ringing the bell only one time during his career at MFD. It was a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“In October, we had a memorial on the square. (Chief) Buzz (Snyder) had us put together an honor guard. We carried in flags and the lieutenant, at the time, that was his job — on cue — was to toll the bell. We enjoyed hearing it,” said Elliot.
Lt. Barmore, who has done a bulk of the concept work, noted how a lot of labor has gone into the framing and support of the bell project.
“When I started drawing up the plans for this, we had to engineer every step of this thing,” said Barmore.
“TSTC had a hand in doing the machine work on the structure and Second 2 None Fabrication in Waskom did the very large plasma cutting,” he noted.
Barmore devoted a week himself welding other pieces together before sending the pieces off to DK Powder Coating.
“They did all the powder coating for us; so that thing is ready to be assembled and bolted together,” said Barmore.
Barmore said he designed the innovative supporting pieces to assemble or disconnect like Legos.
“Every little piece was made to come off and get detailed or repainted and then come back together as one, big solid piece,” he said.
In addition to the supporting pieces, MFD also invested time in repolishing the bell.
“It took about six hours to machine polish it and then once we get it hung back up, we will machine polish it again,” said Barmore.
Barmore also hand sanded the bell to restore its smoothness.
“The bell at some point, through all these decades, someone painted that bell red — the whole thing,” said Barmore. “At some point, someone took a heavy wire wheel on a grinder to take the paint off and did it to the whole bell. So I spent a lot of time, getting a majority of those grinder marks out.”
“He did a lot of work into this bell,” Cooper praised.
Cooper said MFD was happy to be able to utilize a local college, TSTC, who did the machining and structural welding of the pieces that secure the bell in place.
“They did all of that for free,” said Cooper. “The teachers did it. They’ve got impressive equipment at our local TSTC and these are some of the things our students are learning out there to be able to do this technical, precise machinery work. This is kind of the stuff that they do and I like to showcase their stuff as well.”
Barmore said the stainless steel bolt is mind-blowing in and of itself.
“It’s the most expensive bolt I’ve ever seen,” he said.
HOW TO DONATE
Donations to benefit MFD’s bell project can be brought to Marshall Fire Department.
“Through the city, we have a bell project account that we have placed money into. We have taken checks, money or whatever here at the station and we take it to the city and put it into that account and we pay for whatever we need out of that account,” said Cooper.
Donations can be made in the form of a check, money order or cash. “Bell project” should be listed in the memo. Checks and money orders should be made to Marshall Fire Department.
“We’re reaching out to clubs and organizations and individuals that want to help and support the finishing of this project,” Chief Cooper said.
Elliot said this would be a good way for the public to pay tribute to any fire official that has impacted their lives.
“If anybody has had a Marshall fireman over the years, that’s touched their lives, that helped their family, helped them out, if they want to do a little something to remember — because this is going to be done for all who have served — this is one way,” said Elliot. “If they want to do something in someone’s memory as a way of thanks, this is how it can be done by the public.”