Thursday, October 16, 2003

Bell magicians do it again


Verdin's traveling foundry produces 86th perfect Bicentennial ringer

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Third-graders Drew Sanders (left), Carmen Brown and Amber England pass ingots as they help with the bell casting.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
Today, the 400 pounds of molten bronze that cooked in a 2,200-degree furnace Wednesday and cooled on the grounds of the Tall Stacks 2003 festival overnight will become Hamilton County's 250-pound Ohio Bicentennial Bell.

It'll ring out for the first time at 6 p.m.

For Dave Verdin and his three-man crew from Cincinnati's Verdin Co., it is something of a miracle. The 86th miracle, in fact.

"Everyone in the business told us it couldn't be done," said Verdin. "You can't make bells in a mobile foundry. But here it is."

Hamilton County's bell is the 86th of 88 bells the Verdin foundry-on-wheels will pour this year on a marathon, 40,000-mile criss-cross of Ohio. When the Verdin voyage ends later this month, each of Ohio's 88 counties will have its own Ohio Bicentennial Bell, made by a Cincinnati company that is one of the world's leading bell makers.

Dave Verdin has made the trip around Ohio with three Verdin employees - Phil Dravage, Ralph Jung and Dave Verdin's son, Tim Verdin. Tim represents the sixth generation of Verdins who have made bells, big and small, on the banks of the Ohio River in Columbia-Tusculum.

TALL STACKS GUIDE
Planning your visit

General information:
 • Getting there
 • Rules
 • Tickets
 • Weather forecast

Schedules:
 • Daily events
 • Concerts & theater
 • Sawyertown (Kids)
 • On the Kentucky side

Cincinnati.Com's
Tall Stacks section

Earlier this year, the Ohio Bicentennial Commission approached the Verdin Co. about the bell project, and the bell maker "signed on enthusiastically," said Dave Verdin, a vice president of the company.

The problem was figuring out how to do it.

"There has been no such thing as itinerant, traveling bell making since the Middle Ages," Verdin said.

In those days, bell-makers couldn't haul 2,000-pound bells to cathedrals around Europe, so they had to haul pieces of bronze instead. Large pits would be dug outside cathedrals to be used as makeshift foundries so that the large church bells could be made on the spot.

Dave and Jim Verdin, the president of the company, talked to many foundry owners around the world about the mobile bell-making project and all of them said it was impossible.

"One of our Dutch foundrymen said, 'You can't do it; you've got an industry with a high mortality rate and you want to cast bells out in public for everybody to see,' "Dave Verdin said. "After we showed him that we could do it, he said, 'Only Americans would try something like this.' "

Verdin said it took the company about 90 days to figure out how to re-invent the art of traveling bell making.

What they came up with was a tractor-trailer rig fitted with a furnace, casting molds and a cooling vessel - and plenty of cushioning and safety equipment to make sure nothing would be damaged in transit.

But even with all the precautions, the lining of the furnace cracked twice during parade through Ohio.

"Sometimes, we'd hit some really bad roads,'' Verdin said.

Before the tour began, the Verdin family told the Ohio Bicentennial Commission that there was a likelihood that three or four of the bells would turn out bad. But after 85 counties and 85 bells, "every one has come out perfect,'' Verdin said.

Dave Verdin was with the three-man crew on every one of the previous 85 stops except one - a trip to Ashtabula County this summer.

"My daughter was getting married that weekend," Verdin said, as the crew Wednesday poured the sand and resin that makes up the bell's mold. "I tried to convince her to get married in Ashtabula County, but it didn't work.''

E-mail hwilkinson@enquirer.com




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