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Thursday, August 11, 2005Past Issues - S | M | T | W | T | F | S
South Jersey

Ship's 600-pound bell is getting a facelift

Al Myers, a specialist in metal restoration at Connor Machine Concepts Co. in Waterford removes the nickel-copper plating from the bell that was on the USS New Jersey.

Courier-Post Staff

A ship's bell carried around the world by the USS New Jersey now is perched atop a forklift skid in a machine shop here.

That humble setting represents a sort of drydock for the 600-pound bell, its once-silver surface now mottled by rust and pocked by corrosion.

"We're going to make it look better," said Al Myers, a specialist in metal restoration at Connor Machine Concepts Co. "We're going to get it stripped down and polished up."

The restored bell will be displayed aboard the battleship, which is to operate as a floating museum off Camden's Waterfront.

The bell typically was used for ceremonial functions and to mark time on the battleship, said Scott Kodger, curator of the Home Port Alliance, which will run the museum. Historically, a ship's bell could also sound a warning to other vessels during foggy weather, he added.

Myers is planning to sandblast the bell inside and out, then use grinding tools and other equipment to undo the ravages of time.

It sounds relatively simple, but that's like saying you need only a brush and some paint to make a masterpiece, says Jack Clark, a machinist at the Auburn Avenue business.

"Al's work is where the art comes in," said Clark. "It's got to look like a mirror."

Myers, 47, of South Harrison, said he's still figuring out just how to tackle the project.

"This is a challenge," said Myers, who has previously restored bells for area churches and fire stations. But those bells were smaller and were made of brass, a relatively soft metal. The New Jersey's bell, about 3" feet high, is made of less malleable steel covered with nickel-copper plating.

"To make this come out nice and to protect it, we're going to have to do a little bit more," said Myers.

Also, the ship's bell is too big to be chrome-plated by any process known to Myers. Until officials can find someone who can handle that job, the restored bell will be encased in a clear sealant, said Myers.

The type of coating has yet to be determined, he said.

The machine shop also is making several five-pointed stars that will be part of the captain's launch, a smaller vessel aboard the New Jersey.

Myers typically restores classic-car parts and antiques like cash registers, jukeboxes and bubble gum machines. A rusted grill for an antique firetruck leans against the forklift that holds the ship's bell. Not far away, restored car parts gleam like original equipment.

In contrast, Myers can be quite grimy. A blackened respiratory mask dangles beneath his chin and metal particles coat his voluminous apron.

"It's a dirty job," said Myers. "Most of the stuff I do is by hand."

The bell, initially mounted on the New Jersey's bow, was removed by the Navy when the battleship was decommissioned in 1991. The Navy's curator held the bell, along with the ship's wheel, for the past decade, Kodger said.

Engraved in the bell is the battleship's name and the year it was launched from the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, 1942. The bell, which was removed from the ship some time ago, was kept by the Navy in the Washington, D.C., area.

Once it's returned to the battleship, the bell will be used again for ceremonial events and its distinctive peal will be heard again, said Kodger.

Myers, the father of three, plans to take his children to the battleship at its Camden berth and show them the restored bell.

"Any job, when it's done right, definitely makes you feel good," he said. "But this job, it's really rewarding."

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