Service to mark restoration work on chimes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 14, 2011

By Susan Shinn
For The Salisbury Post
SALISBURY — Chimes are not meant to be silent. A set of Deagan Tower Chimes, installed in 1931, will again ring out at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 200 W. Innes St.
The restored chimes are being rededicated this morning during the 11 a.m. service.
The chimes were given in memory of Lewis D. Peeler by his wife and family. Peeler was the founder of Cheerwine, and the $60,000 restoration project is being underwritten by the Cheerwine Co., which represents the Tatum, McQueen, Ritchie, Peeler, Keppel, Parson and Bauk families.
The scripture verse chosen for the new plaque is Psalm 66:8 — “Let the sound of his praise be heard!”
Oscho Rufty, the church’s facilities manager, has shepherded the project.
“It’s a shame to have such a jewel and not have it working,” he says.
The extruded brass chimes were made by the Deagan Co., which is no longer in business. They were restored by Bill Pugh of Top Rung Tower Chime & Organ Service Inc., which is based in Manhattan, Kan.
Pugh has inspected the system over the years, the first time being in 1990. He says it’s not unusual to be in contact with a church over a long period before an actual restoration takes place.
“Nobody knows how to make them,” Pugh says. “It’s a lost technology.”
Pugh saw his first tower chimes in the 1970s and was immediately smitten by them. He is a trained organist, but he is the only person in the country who restores tower chimes.
“Deagan was the world’s finest maker of tuned percussions,” Pugh explains. That included everything from sleigh bells to orchestral chimes to tower chimes.
The chimes in the St. John’s tower are a 16-note, chromatic system, from E to G. The chimes range from 6 to 11 feet in length, and are 5 inches in diameter and 3/4-inch thick.
The time when they were installed represents the golden era of tower chimes, Pugh says. Deagan put itself out of business with the advent of electronic chimes. But that wasn’t necessarily the way to go, Pugh says. In his restorations, he either makes his own parts or buys abandoned equipment.
“The sad thing is, there are a number of churches with these systems which would love to get them going, but it’s not economically feasible,” Pugh says.
St. John’s is fortunate, Rufty says. “Our forefathers thought it important to put in this system which could be maintained.”
The estate of Pauline Tatum, a daughter of Lewis Peeler, allowed for maintenance, which the current project augmented.
The restoration process came at the request of Anne Tatum McQueen, a granddaughter of Lewis D. Peeler, who lives in Red Springs.
“Anne initiated the conversation,” Rufty says. “She said she would find the money, so we contacted Bill Pugh.”
In October, Pugh came to remove the strikers at the top of the chimes. The chimes were taken down and stacked in the tower, awaiting his return. His goal, he says, was to return everything as closely as he could to original condition. The cast iron cradles that hold the chimes were rusty, so they were taken down, sandblasted and recoated. The chimes are free-swinging, allowing the entire body to vibrate when they are struck. The equipment was also rewired.
The chimes were fine. Which is a good thing.
“There’s not a man alive who knows how to tune them,” he says.
Pugh redid the “brains of the system,” a switching system which converts electrical current from the chimes keyboard to the mechanical power which activates the strikers.
The chimes actually had their debut at the annual Pops at the Post concert on June 4. Rosemary Kinard, associate parish musician, played two patriotic pieces on the chimes before the concert began.
“It was fitting, too, to play at Pops at the Post,” Rufty says. “The Cheerwine Company has always been a sponsor of the event in donating free Cheerwine.”
Members of the congregation have a chance to be involved with the project, by purchasing rolls of hymns that can be played on the chimes system. They’re most similar to the rolls you’d find on a player piano, Pugh explains.
The system came with three rolls: hymns to be played at Advent and Christmas, Lent and general hymns. Rufty purchased a roll of patriotic songs in honor of his mother, Barbara Rufty. Altogether, the system currently has seven rolls.
The chimes will also play Westminster tune at the quarter of every hour.
With proper maintenance, the chimes should play indefinitely.
“We are very fortunate at St. John’s to have had a family in the congregation who felt God’s call to install the finest chimes made,” says Bill Safrit, congregation council president. “We are blessed that the heirs of this family agreed to put forth the resources to put them in service again. May God bless them.”
“We should all enjoy them,” says Cliff Ritchie, Cheerwine’s current president and CEO.
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.