Steam Locomotive bells.

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Steam Locomotive bells.
Posted by Rikers Yard on Saturday, January 19, 2013 6:22 PM

  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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Posted by seppburgh2 on Saturday, January 19, 2013 9:44 PM

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.

 

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Posted by Firelock76 on Saturday, January 19, 2013 9:54 PM

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.

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Posted by Rikers Yard on Tuesday, January 22, 2013 5:31 PM

  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

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Posted by BigJim on Tuesday, January 22, 2013 8:15 PM

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.

.
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Posted by BigJim on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 8:55 AM

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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Posted by KCSfan on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 12:23 PM

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

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Posted by Firelock76 on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 7:52 PM

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? 

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Posted by Semper Vaporo on Thursday, January 24, 2013 12:24 PM

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.

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Posted by selector on Friday, January 25, 2013 12:03 PM

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

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Posted by Rikers Yard on Friday, January 25, 2013 8:34 PM

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.

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Posted by KCSfan on Saturday, January 26, 2013 11:45 AM

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

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Posted by Firelock76 on Saturday, January 26, 2013 12:27 PM

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.

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Steam Engine Bells
Posted by rrengr on Sunday, January 27, 2013 10:28 PM

 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.

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Posted by wjstix on Tuesday, January 29, 2013 9:57 AM

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
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Posted by B&O1952 on Wednesday, February 06, 2013 10:01 AM

Tim, here is a bell off a B&O locomotive that your dad probably worked on in the Rikers roundhouse:

This is off of B&O loco 5185 (ex BR&P 609) currently on exhibit at the Salamanca Rail Museum. This bell shows no signs of red paint anywhere. I've seen some bells with red interiors, but no B&O bells. Some of the ex BR&P loco bells were stamped with the new B&O number as was the case for this bell.

-Stan

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Posted by Rikers Yard on Sunday, February 10, 2013 1:06 PM

Thanks, If not Dad, for sure my Grampa, he was a machinist for the BR&P at Rikers, and my other Grampa probably ran it as he was an engineer. Along with many uncles, cousins, and so on. The railroad thing kinda ran in the family.

                                                        Tim

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Posted by Firelock76 on Sunday, February 10, 2013 7:00 PM

Rikers Yard

Thanks, If not Dad, for sure my Grampa, he was a machinist for the BR&P at Rikers, and my other Grampa probably ran it as he was an engineer. Along with many uncles, cousins, and so on. The railroad thing kinda ran in the family.

                                                        Tim

Not surprising.  There was a time in this country when it was unusual for an extended family NOT to have someone in it who worked for a railroad.

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Posted by Rikers Yard on Sunday, February 10, 2013 8:18 PM

 At one time railroads prefered to hire people with railroading backround in the family. They felt they had a kind of head start as new hires and had more of a better attiude. And having family contacts already working for the rr made it easier to get a job there.

                                                            Tim

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Posted by cefinkjr on Wednesday, July 03, 2013 4:22 PM

wjstix

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??

I think you're ignoring the boredom factor, Stix.  My father worked on river boats for over 35 years and I don't recall ever seeing a boat's bell ... steam or Diesel ... that wasn't painted red on the inside.  As for the boredom angle, I also remember that wooden stools in the engine room (Dad was an engineer) always had intricate designs painted on the flat seat with fancy trim on the four legs as well.

My point is that lots of things were done on the river and, I'm certain, on railroads simply because there was time to do it and not a whole lot else to do before quittin' time.  Even today and in any industry, have you never seen highly personalized cubicles?

Chuck
Allen, TX

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