UT tower bells restoration project complete

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by FOTI KALLERGIS / KVUE News and photojournalist J.P. HARRINGTON

kvue.com

Posted on April 10, 2013 at 6:37 PM

Updated Thursday, Apr 11 at 10:38 AM

AUSTIN -- A nearly quarter of a million dollar project to restore the carillon bells atop the University of Texas tower is complete.

"It's honestly the most magnificent thing that's happened in the last couple of months," said UT senior and carillonneur Austin Ferguson.

Ferguson spent Wednesday back on his usual bench, in a small room on the 32nd floor. He was still fine-tuning the newly refurbished bells.

"People usually call me crazy, but this instrument is my child," said Ferguson. "My friends kind of joked that every time something would go wrong during the renovation process, it always seemed that I would magically get sick."

In August, the university began restoring all 56 bells, something that hasn't happened in 75 years.

Crews faced a number of challenges due to the crowded multi-level belfry. Once the bells, some of which weigh nearly 7000 pounds, were lowered, crews detached the bell supports. According to university contractors, the supports were weathered and corroded.

"The larger bells were in danger of falling through the ceiling and coming down on top of us," said Ferguson.

Other restorations included changing out wires, rotating clappers, strikers and an overhaul of the entire electrical system.

Waiting patiently for the work to be complete, 90-year-old Tom Anderson couldn’t wait to get back infront of the UT carillon instruction.

"You can't take your instrument with you," said Anderson. "Well it was a time of figuring out something to fill in the gaps of time."

Anderson has been playing the carillon bells for the past 50 years.

KVUE News first spoke with Anderson in 2010. Back then, he was able to make the trek to the top floor. But now he’s grounded.

"They have a strange feeling that I'm going to fall. I said I've never fallen yet," he said.

Anderson now plays the carillon bells from a keyboard on the eighth floor.

"It's maddening. I was looking forward to finally playing the thing," he said.

Anderson said even though playing on a keyboard is just not the same, he’s glad a brand new era of bell ringing music has arrived.

 

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