A Proper Ringing
of the Bells
By Chris Watson
The art of engineering is to recognize and
understand a problem, to conceive and design a
solution, and to implement it in an appropriate
way. I had the opportunity to practice this when
church bells in the tower at St Mark’s Episcopal
Church (located in Upland, CA) chimed at 3:00
am in the morning, and continued chiming every
hour on the hour thereafter. The following day, the
neighbors were complaining. This was a problem,
however, the short term solution was clear. The
computer was unplugged from its power and the
bells were silenced.
There are four bells at St. Mark’s Church which are cast in bronze and are named after the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They are
mounted one above the other in a
free standing tower and when
required, are struck by an electrically
driven clapper. The clapper is excited
by the closure of a relay that applies
24 volts to the clapper coil at the
appropriate time and in the correct
sequence. A controller with its
computer and clock are programmed
to chime as desired.
Simple, you say? Well, in the
early 1980s when the bell system
was installed, personal computers
were in their infancy, and the friendly
user interface had yet to arrive. We
followed the programming
instructions and inserted ones and
zeros in some of the 76 locations
which contained the program as part
of our valiant attempt to make the
chimes occur correctly on cue.
Unfortunately, we failed. The
controller needed a make-over.
August 2012 41
St. Mark's Bell Tower.