Moving History in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Tue October 28, 2014 - Southeast Edition
CEG

Mike Miller, general maintenance crew chief, city of Oak Ridge.
Mike Miller, general maintenance crew chief, city of Oak Ridge.
Mike Miller, general maintenance crew chief, city of Oak Ridge. Stowers set the public works department up with a Cat TL1255C telehandler that could handle lifting the bronze bell from the bottom. Once the bell was free of the structure, lifting cables were placed through its eye and attached to a Cat 320C excavator that removed it from the site.


Eighteen years ago, when the city of Oak Ridge, Tenn., and its Japan sister city, Naka-Machi, hung an 8,250-pound symbolic bell in the American town’s center, it wasn’t likely that organizers were thinking about how to take it down.

The sometimes controversial International Friendship Bell was first installed in 1996 as a commemoration of the 50 years of growing peace and friendship between the United States and Japan. Oak Ridge has a unique tie to Japan because it developed materials for the Manhattan Project, which ultimately resulted in the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan. Today, Oak Ridge continues to be on the forefront of nuclear and scientific technology.

With its location in a park near the city’s Civic Center, this 6-ft.-7-in. tall peace bell is often included on tours of what some call the “Atomic City” or “Secret City.”

After being on public display for these many years, the specially designed wood structure housing the International Friendship Bell began to rot. A structural study in early 2014 revealed the extent of damage posed a threat to visitors should the post-and-beam building falter and the heavy bell fall.

It didn’t take long after the study results came out that the city manager decided it was time to take action. Though the bell’s structure had been chained off for some time to prevent the public from approaching it, a more permanent solution was needed.

City of Oak Ridge General Maintenance Crew Chief Mike Miller and his Public Works team were asked to remove the bell and demolish the structure in-house — a unique project that drew a lot of attention from the residents of Oak Ridge. Miller then turned to Stowers Rents to figure out what was needed to get the bell down without damaging it. While a crane might seem like the typical choice for lifting up a four-ton object, this project posed special challenges.

“Because of the way the bell was hanging from the structure, it had to be lifted from the bottom,” Miller said. “It was hanging free so it could ring and there was no way to get above it and lift it with a crane.”

Miller’s contacts at Stowers, Andrew Sturgill and Tony Parkerson, set the Public Works department up with a Cat TL1255C telehandler that could handle lifting the bronze bell from the bottom. Once the bell was free of the structure, lifting cables were placed through its eye and attached to a Cat 320C excavator that removed it from the site. Once the wood structure was demolished — with the help of the 320C — and the site cleaned up, the excavator returned the bell to sit on the cement slab where the structure stood. It will stay there, viewable again to the public but not able to ring, until another bell house is built for it.

“When we were first approached with doing this project in-house, I consulted with Stowers and told them about what we had and they matched the machines to what we were doing,” Miller said. “We have a really good relationship with Stowers and we use them for just about all our rental needs when we need them, from skid steers to 20-ton excavators and everything in-between.”

While the removal of the Friendship Bell was a one-time project that isn’t likely to be repeated any time soon — especially with plans for the next structure to be constructed of steel with a wood façade — Miller said that he can depend on Stowers for any project he does.

“Andrew and Tony get us what we need when we need it and we are able to get the job done,” he said.

This story was reprinted with permission from Governmental Solutions Magazine, Fall 2014 Issue.