Cabinetmaking Students, Faculty Craft 'Yoke' for Liberty-Bell Replica

Published 11.09.2001


Faculty and students at Pennsylvania College of Technology have been afforded the honor of working on a project that one professor likened to "making a 200-pound piece of jewelry" constructing the wooden "yoke" from which an exact Liberty Bell replica will hang as it is displayed around the nation.

As a bonus, the two faculty members and six Cabinetmaking & Millwork students in the School of Construction and Design Technologies got to work with wood taken from the last remaining "Liberty Tree," an approximately 600-year-old Tulip Poplar that was among 13 historic specimens under which patriots in each of the original colonies met in the years leading up to the American Revolution.

The Liberty Bell replica project is being sponsored by the Providence Forum, a Bryn Mawr-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of religious liberty.

Initially, the group asked Eugene Landon, a world-renowned cabinetmaker from the Montoursville area, to construct the piece, but Landon was recovering from a recent heart attack and was unable to tackle the project. A leading authority on 18th century hand joinery, Landon previously had crafted a Bible box from Liberty Tree wood that was presented to President Bush last July 4 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Landon offers demonstrations and teaches noncredit cabinetmaking courses for Penn College, so he asked faculty members William F. Geyer, assistant professor of building construction technology, and William T. Goddard, instructor of construction technology, if they would build the piece in his stead. They eagerly accepted the challenge, knowing they had less than a week to complete the task.

"Gene is one of the most amazing woodworkers that I have ever encountered," Geyer said. "For him to think that we're capable of taking this on is a real compliment."

The inner core of the yoke is constructed of eight layers of 4-foot-long red oak - donated by Lewis Lumber Products Inc. of Picture Rocks - that are glued together. To this core, a ?-inch facing of Liberty Tree wood was applied.

The Liberty Tree wood was taken from the Maryland Liberty Tree, a 96-foot specimen in Annapolis, Md., that was cut down on Oct. 25, 1999, after being damaged by Hurricane Floyd. The scraps that remain after the yoke is constructed must be returned to Landon, who will use them for future projects, including Bible boxes for Vice President Dick Cheney and former President Carter.

Geyer said the wood planks sawn from the tree look nothing like the poplar he has worked with before, exhibiting almost sparkling hues of black, purple, red and pink in some portions.

"It has a color of wood you've never seen anything like it. ...I've never seen poplar like it in my life," he said.

Geyer, Goddard and the students had to make intricate cuts in the yoke to accommodate the two-dozen pieces of hand-forged metal "gudgeons," "canons" and other mounting hardware that will hold the 2,100-pound bell in place and allow it to be rung.

"It has to fit perfectly, and we don't have the advantage of having the bell," Geyer noted, adding that they are working from template tracings instead.

The bell was made by the same British firm that crafted the original Liberty Bell: Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd. of London. On the 17 pages of plans that Geyer and Goddard were given, a note mentions the original bell was completed in 1752 by Thomas Lester. The same painstaking process was duplicated in casting the replica bell, though the original bell's signature crack was etched in this time by an artisan.

The yoke the Penn College faculty and staff have constructed is being transported to Landon's shop, where he will apply a uniform finish to the Liberty Tree wood facing. From there, it will be shipped to an artisan in Norristown who will assemble all of the components in time for the replica bell's display at a dedication ceremony Tuesday in Philadelphia during The Spirit of Liberty Symposium.

The bell will return to Penn College on Nov. 18, where it will remain for two weeks while the metal framework is covered with wood facing. After that, there are plans to exhibit the bell at the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia on Dec. 1 and to ring it at the ground-zero site of the Sept. 11 World Trade Center tragedy in New York City.

The significance of the project was not lost on Geyer, who said it is an honor to "be a small part of something that a lot of people worked on to bring together."

"It's got to be one of the most unusual projects I've ever worked on," he said. "It's exciting. You know that you'll see your work travel all over the world, or all over the country, anyway."

The Cabinetmaking & Millwork students who worked on the project are: James E. Carr III, Davidsville; Scott M. Fortenbaugh, New Cumberland; Joshua M. Gordon, Etters; Ryan J. Huber, Havertown; Vincent P. Rossi, South Williamsport; and Ryan P. Yura, Washington Crossing.

The two-year Cabinetmaking & Millwork certificate program at Penn College prepares students for work in all phases of finish carpentry and custom cabinet and millwork fabrication and installation.

For more information, call the School of Construction and Design Technologies at (570) 327-4518, send e-mail or visit on the Web.