Steam Locomotive bells.

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Steam Locomotive bells.

  •   Why are locomotive bells painted red on the inside? I've noticed that most restored loco's have there bell inside painted a brite red. Never noticed this on locos in regular service, well in the pics I have seen in color. Not old enough to remember those days! My father however, is( he's 93). One of his first jobs on the B&O was in the boiler gang, he never heard of painting the inside of a bell. Don't mean to make a big deal, but it seems odd to me and I wondered why.

                                                                        Tim

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  • Two other areas painted red is the cab roof and the tender deck. Not every RR did this, put you will see this on models and rare color photos.

     

  • Possibly so if a crack forms in the bell it can be spotted easily?  The Germans painted the running gear of their steam locomotives red for precisely that reason.  I can't think of any other practical reason for doing so, unless it's a steel bell and the painting's done for rust-proofing purposes.

  •   I asked this question of the folks at the Fort Wayne RR Historical Society, the 765 people. The red color is provide a visual warning when the bell is swinging. That way if you are far enough not to hear the bell you can see it swing by the red inside flashing when the bell swings toward you. Clever, eh?

                                                                         Tim

  • That way if you are far enough not to hear the bell you can see it swing by the red inside flashing when the bell swings toward you. Clever, eh?

    You might be very surpised at how far away you can hear a bell ring. Much farther away than you could ever be able to see that little bit of red swinging in the breeze.

    .
  • Did anyone here give any real thought to this? Do any of you really think that you are going to actually pay any attention to or even see the red inside of a bell when a bright headlight is staring at you? Even a dim headlight would draw your eyes to it rather than the inside of a bell.

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  • There seems to be a lot of mis-information floating around on this subject. Back in the days when steam was a common motive power I saw locomotives of many different  railroads but never once did I see one with a bell painted red on the inside or any other color for that matter. I never heard of a bell made of steel; as far as I know they were all made of brass or bronze which of course doesn't rust. A cracked bell is easily identified by the distinctly different sound it makes as compared to that of one without a crack. Painting the bell wouldn't be a necessary or even practical aid in determining if it was cracked.

    If the bells on any of todays steam engines are painted it must be because someone thinks this increases their "eye" appeal since there is no practical reason for painting them.

    Mark

  • Bells were made of steel during the World War Two era as copper, brass, et al were strategic metals, much more so than  steel.  The Erie used steel bells on some of their steam engines, but painted them gold to simulate brass.  The bells on the diesel locomotives I've seen lately sure look like they're steel, but maybe they're just filthy.

    During WW2 the copper and brass shortage was so acute that the Gettysburg Battlefield Park offered the War Department the bronze plaques mounted on some of the monuments, but General Marshall said  "no thanks, things aren't THAT bad!"  

    Ever see any of those 1943 steel pennies? 

  • I have two bells from Dismal locomotives... pretty much identical shapes and sizes (1-ft tall and 1-ft diameter at the mouth).

    One is a pretty and polished (though the surface is somewhat scratched and marred) brass.

    The other has a rough surface and is painted "gold" (inside and out)... and a magnet sticks to it.

     

    Semper Vaporo

    Pkgs.

  • Most steamers that we see today were erected and in use prior to WW II, so steel bells would not have been common except during the war. 

    I don't believe the red paint would have been used on anything except for some 'varnish' or special excursions where the engine had to be dollied up.  I doubt it was used as a matter of course, say, on your average Mohawk or J Class or Berk.

    Crandell

  • I have been in situations where I could not hear a loco bell ring at 30 feet, think hearing protection and a gaggle of 3-53 Detroits running wide open. And my ears arn't what they used to be. A stiff breeze and some backround noise will kill that bell ringing till it can't be heard untill it is very close, still air and quiet they can be heard for miles some times. A little extra protection can't hurt.

  • selector

    Most steamers that we see today were erected and in use prior to WW II, so steel bells would not have been common except during the war. 

    I don't believe the red paint would have been used on anything except for some 'varnish' or special excursions where the engine had to be dollied up.  I doubt it was used as a matter of course, say, on your average Mohawk or J Class or Berk.

    Crandell

    I agree with Crandell. If the purpose was to prevent rusting of a steel bell the outside of the bell, which was constantly exposed to the elements, would have been painted as well as its inside. If the purpose was to see when the bell was ringing, the inside would probably have been painted white or silver which would be far more visible against the backdrop of a black locomotive than the color red. Painting would be of little if any use in determining if a bell was cracked. The difference in its sound was a dead give away to a cracked bell. That leads me to the conclusion that any locomotive bell that was painted on the inside was done to "dolly up" the appearance of the engine, similar to painting tires of the driving wheels.

    Mark

  • Painting the inside to give away cracks was just a SWAG on my part, aside from that I couldn't see any practical reason for doing so.

    For a good dissertation on locomotive bells take a look at www.railroadiana.org  A fun site with a lot of good information on all things railroadiana.

  •  My uncle was an engine foreman on the Santa Fe at San Angelo, Texas and I was on the railroad quite a bit during the last years of steam. I don"t recall any bell not painted vermillion on the inside to include the clapper. My dad took us to Fort Worth to visit his brother several times and on the T&P and Rock Island, I saw the same thing. I have seen  WW2 photos and some at the end of steam in mid 50's  which show black or at least no paint just "grime" which I thought were war time conditions and at the last "don't care". Hope this helps some.

  • I think it's highly unlikely the railroad would paint the insides of the bell red as an ornamentation. It would be a waste of time, since few if any people would ever see it. I seem to remember reading years ago one railroader's response to the question of why the inside of the bells were red was "because they come from the factory that way"...so maybe it wasn't the railroads at all, but was something the bell manufacturer did, perhaps during the making of the bell??

    Stix