If you've been to any parade in Garden City since the late 1980s, have a history of attending college football games at Memorial Stadium, or participated last month in our 90th anniversary celebration on the GCCC campus, then you've probably heard the not-so-subtle sounds of the Broncbuster Victory Bell.
However, besides knowing that the trailer-mounted, gold-painted antique bell is loud and somewhat unusual, you may not know the full story behind one of GCCC's most familiar symbols.
The bell actually has a history going back to the turn of the 20th century, since it originally was installed in the bell tower at Garfield Elementary School in 1901, and served as the primary school bell there for more than three decades.
The bell was removed and stored when the 1901 Garfield building was torn down, after construction of a newer Garfield Elementary in 1936. The "new" building served until it was destroyed by fire in 1975. The present Garfield structure, erected after the fire, is being converted to an early childhood education center. All three buildings, and a previous one dating to the 1880s, stood on the same piece of property.
In the mid 1960s, the bell was taken out of storage by GCCC faculty members Fred Hamann, who taught biology and math, and Norman Staats, who taught agriculture and founded the college rodeo team. After removing it from a brick shed behind Sabine and Calkins Halls, then the site of the college campus, members of the rodeo team and GCCC Agriculture Club mounted the bell on a trailer for use at Broncbuster football games.
Dubbed the "victory bell," it was rung each time Garden City scored a touchdown. At one time, the trailer also included a chemical-fired victory "cannon," but it was removed after rattling too many windows in the vicinity of the stadium.
Old bell still comes home
Over the past two decades, GCCC has used the bell in all of Garden City's community parades, and it has been towed up Main Street, ringing most of the way, approximately 80 times. Since Garden City's parades usually end at Walnut or Hackberry streets, the bell still "comes home" to Garfield School each time.
The bell was cast by the Stuckstede and Brothers Foundry of St. Louis, Mo., in 1901. The foundry, established in 1890, operated continuously until 1940, and periodically thereafter until 1961. It was one of a series of St. Louis area foundries that were owned in succession by descendants of Johann Gerhard Stuckstede, who set up his family's original bell casting operation in 1855.
Bells of various notes and sizes cast by the successive Stuckstede foundries in the St. Louis area were installed in churches, schools, firehouses and city halls throughout much of the central U.S., and the family's businesses are believed to have constituted one of the largest American bell making operations west of Cincinnati. Today, at least 340 Stuckstede bells remain in the St. Louis area, according to a collector's organization known as the American Bell Association, though there is apparently no tally of the company's total output still intact across the nation.
Stuckstede bells, created from a specific alloy designed for pitch and durability, were priced near the upper level of the market. The text from a Stuckstede bell foundry advertisement of the early 1900s reads as follows:
"The bells made in this well-known establishment are renowned on account of the copiousness of their tone, extent of their sound, and on account of their durability."
GCCC's victory bell is one of many models cast by the Stuckstede foundries. There were 41 models at the turn of the 20th Century, made in the following ranges:
* Weight, 135 pounds to 7,000 pounds.
* Diameter, 18 inches to 72 inches.
Depending on size, each bell was tuned to a specific musical note, with these options available A, B, B-Flat, C, C-Sharp, D, D-Sharp, E, F, F-Sharp, G and G-Sharp.
Still ringing true
During our 90th anniversary celebration on Sept. 13, we parked the bell on campus, and asked people to ring it — it rang a lot all afternoon — and then guess the weight and note. No one got both answers right, but several people managed to name either the note or weight correctly, and four received $10 gift certificates donated by Taco Bell as prizes in the drawing.
The winners included Dean Hahn, Daven Reyes and Craig Schoenberger, all of Garden City, as well as Joe Mendoza of Holcomb. For the record, the 108-year-old, 24-inch diameter GCCC bell:
* Rings D-sharp.
* Weighs 300 pounds.
You can see and hear the bell in the upcoming Veteran's Day parade Nov. 7, and it also will head up Main Street, adorned by Christmas lights, during the city's annual holiday season parade. It will be on hand for parades to mark Cinco de Mayo, Beef Empire Days, Independence Day and the Community Mexican Fiesta, as well, and when GCCC's 100th anniversary arrives in 2019, well, chances are, you can count on hearing the bell then, too.
GCCC Director of Information Services Steve Quakenbush can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.