Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 24, 2018

A day in the tower

By Xiomara Levsen
Xiomara Levsen

If you haven’t heard by now, the bell at the Washington County Courthouse is ringing again every hour on the hour.
I can honestly say last Friday was a first for me, experience wise, here at The Journal. I climbed up to the bell tower at the Washington County Courthouse and saw the new striker installed.
Last Friday, a reader called to let The Journal know that James Androuais, from the Americlock company in St. Louis, Ill., was working up in the bell tower. My co-worker asked me if I was up to climbing up to the bell tower to take pictures of Androuais working on the bell. I told her “sure.”
I walked over to the auditor’s office and asked if I could go upstairs. Chuck Doughty, the maintenance person for the Washington County Courthouse, was already in the bell tower. He came down the stairs and met me at the locked door on the fourth floor.
He said hello, then told me to follow him. He said the steps up to the clockworks and bell tower were very old and told me to be careful. He offered to assist me with my camera, and I handed it to him. Then, I grabbed the banister and proceeded to climb up to where the clockworks are.
Over in the northwest corner is the second set of stairs up to the bell tower. It is a steep climb up and is a stepladder with wide rungs. Doughty climbed up first and told me to follow him. I took a deep breath and raised my foot up.
Once Doughty was up in the bell tower he peered down at me and told me to grab the banister and then step onto the floor where he was. The whole time I was thinking “What if I fall?” I was also a little bit shaky but made it up there OK.
Once I was in the tower the first thing I noticed was the bell itself. The color of it is gray, and on the bell the year 1874 was stamped on it. It had a lot of dust on it, probably from all of the decades it has been sitting up in the tower.
The next thing I noticed was a big wrench hanging on the beam directly south of the bell. I thought the wrench was part of the striker, but Androuais corrected me. He said the wrench was used to tighten the nut that holds the bell in place. It was also used to tighten up the striker. He demonstrated how to tighten the bolt and pointed out two older strikers that are in the bell tower on the right-hand side.
I learned a couple of different things about the bell from Androuais, too. It is 90 percent bronze and can play up to 20 different notes if tuned right and if the striker is placed right. The correct positioning of the striker is just below the first set of four rings on the bell. He pointed to a spot above the four rings on the bell and told me this is where the old striker stuck and it was in the wrong place. If it continued to strike there, it could eventually warp the bell, which could cause it to stop ringing eventually.
After chatting with Androuais for 10 to 20 minutes, I let him get back to work. Doughty the whole time was working on the windows in the bell tower. He told me the view was incredible and asked if I would like to look out the east window. I obliged. He was right—the view was amazing. The first thing I noticed was the water tower and the rooftops of the buildings downtown.
Afterward, Doughty closed the east window and opened the south window of the tower for me to look out of. He said I could probably see Brighton from there and he was right again. I could see Brighton’s water tower. I also saw a couple of grain bins and a few farmers plowing in their fields.
Finally, I told him it was time for me to head back to work. He went back over to the stairs and showed me how to get down. It took me a couple of tries to get down. I was very nervous and kept thinking I didn’t want to fall. The whole time he was standing at the bottom of the stairs telling me to be careful.
I finally climbed down from the bell tower to the clockworks area. I climbed down the second set of stairs to the room where old records are kept. I took a deep sigh of relief, smiled, and thanked Doughty for the experience. Then I headed back to work.
I realized two things that morning. One, I do have a fear of heights. Two, I will never forget what I did that morning and it was a great experience.