Steven's Fog Bell Apparatus Seeing The Light

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In the earliest days of fog bell use, bells were simply struck by hand, and various attempts at automation were attempted over the years.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, The Daboll, Stevens and Gamewell Companies all invented successful clockwork mechanisms which were advertised as having a "10,000-blow" capability, meaning that once wound, they would cause the bell to be struck at least 10,000 times before rewinding was necessary. Thus, even with a fast characteristic bell signature of one blow every ten seconds, a whole day could pass between windings.

Of course, as with any other such mechanism, constant maintenance and adjustment was required in order to keep the equipment operating properly. To ensure that such maintenance was performed correctly, from time to time the Lighthouse Board published operational procedures and equipment maintenance instructions for the use of keepers throughout the system.

The following instructions on the maintenance of the Steven's apparatus appeared in the 1902 edition of the "Instructions to Light-Keepers and Masters of Light-House Vessels."

Operating Instructions

287. Keep the machine clean and free from dirt and rust in all its parts. This can only be done by constant care and attention, in wiping with waste or cloths which are slightly saturated with oil; care must be taken not to use so much oil that passing particles of dirt will adhere to the surface.

Care must always be taken to keep the machine as dry as possible, by stopping closely the opening in the side of the room or ceiling through which the connection between the hammer and the machine passes, so as to prevent rain or spray from passing in and wetting the machinery.

288. Before starting the engine, be sure that the machinery and the hammer are well oiled in all bearings and points of contact where friction exists by one surface moving upon another with some pure lubricating oil.

Upon the clockwork, which regulates the intervals between strokes, a fine oil, such as is used upon clocks would be preferable. Avoid putting on too much oil, for by that means the machinery and surroundings will become filthy, and catch and retain all flying articles which come in contact with it; yet be sure that enough oil is always on, so part may not run dry and cut. Never leave this machine alone while running. Some competent person must be in constant attendance upon it, to rectify any irregularity and prevent accidents which might occur.

289 . Always remove the winding crank as soon as the machine is wound up, and see that no obstruction is in the way of the weight, whereby it might be prevented from acting equally at all times upon the machine.

290 . Be sure that the hammer and rod connecting it with the machine does not come in contact with any of its surroundings during the operation of striking.

291. If any part of the machine is to be removed for cleaning or repairs, be sure always to run down or support the driving weight of the machine. Never disconnect any part of the machine until this weight is secured, so that it will not operate it.

292. Never let the wore rope which supports the weight which actuates the ,machine trub or chafe against any surrounding parts.

In case the clockwork has not enough power to throw off the falling lever or cam which liberates the striking weight, move the brass weight which actuates the clockwork further from the center and toward the end of the lever. This will increase the power, and moving the weight toward the center will diminish the power.

If the falling lever operated by the pins falls, but does not have the power to liberate the striking levers, the power may be increased by moving the brass weight toward the outer end of the lever, and if the weight is too great move the weight toward the center of the fulcrum of the lever.

Before making any alterations in the machine it would be well to examine it thoroughly, and see if the difficulty does not arise from some cause independent of the machinery.

Do not use ant more weight to drive the machine than will give a good sharp blow or give the best result in tone and loudest sound from the bell struck.

The sections of the weight furnished weigh 100 pounds each, except the section which has the hook attached, which is heavier. Three hundred pounds will strike a sharp blow, and 400 ponds a very hard blow; proportion the weight and blow to the size of the bell to be struck.


Instructions to Light-Keepers & Masters of Light-Vessels, US Lighthouse Board, 1902
Light Station Components, NPS Maritime Heritage Project website.

This page last modified 12/07/2003

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