Museum Talk -- The dinner bell
Years ago, when dinner was ready, you rang the dinner bell. In the Buffalo Island area, that usually included your family and anyone working for you or just someone that happened to stop by at noon. Some of the old-timers remember planning their day to be sure to be at a particularly good cook's house to hear that dinner bell ringing.
Buffalo Island Museum has a large John Deere cast iron dinner bell donated by the Roger Steele family. I am sure there was an excellent cook in that family who rang this dinner bell often. These bells were also used to summon help in case of an accident, fire or other emergency.
Yes, the company that is famous for its plows and tractors once sold farm, school and church bells. The company never actually made the bells, but sold them through their catalogs and branch houses, one of which was located in St. Louis. Company records show that the first bells can be found in 1886 catalogs. There were school and church bells in five sizes and farm bells in four sizes. A 2,100 pound church bell sold for $250.
On the holding bracket of the bell at the museum is "John Deere, Plow Co", and on the back "St. Louis, Mo; Dallas Tx". This bell is of cast iron, extremely heavy and this bell was sold from the 1880s to the early 1900s.
Farm bells have been around since the fourth or fifth century in Europe. They were made of a special bronze with about one-fourth tin. Thus is known as bell metal and gives the best tones. Most farm bells were 10 to 20 inches wide. Making farm bells available to the farmers was a natural thing for John Deere to do as he had devoted his life to help make farm life better, staying close to his customers, and even extending lines of credit to needy farmers and forgiving many of their debts.
John Deere was born in 1804 in Rutland, Vermont. He grew up in the country and was always fascinated with the land and nature. He became a blacksmith and had his own blacksmith shop in Grand Detour, Ill., in his early thirties.
The land there was of hard clay soil and the old iron plows couldn't penetrate this soil. Finally, through trial and error, he made a curved plow using wrought iron and steel from an old circular saw blade. The blade was curved to one side, making it unnecessary to stop and push the dirt aside by hand. It could also be pulled by horses instead of the slow oxen.
John Deere didn't stop there, by 1890 the company was selling plows, cultivators, harrows, drills, planters, wagons, buggies, and bells.
This farm dinner bell is just another part of the history of Buffalo Island. Visit the Buffalo Island Museum in Monette. Hours are Friday and Saturday 1-4 p.m. Admission is free.