Moyie rallies to buy back storied train bell

Significant artifact from community’s history goes walkabout, saved in the nick of time

  • Fri Nov 18th, 2016 7:00am
  • News

The Moyie Bell is back

Barry Coulter

The community of Moyie recently rallied on behalf of one of its treasured symbols — a locomotive bell that went walkabout.

The bell, complete with yoke, cradle, clapper and pull arm, is the remnant of a steam train that went off the rails in 1925 and into Moyie Lake.

Such bells were standard equipment on steam locomotives in North America from around 1840 onward. Their purpose was to make noise, alerting people and animals of an oncoming train.

When a steam locomotive was scrapped, the locomotive bell was often one of the few items saved from the torch.

Amie Lubbers of Moyie said there are a couple of conflicting stories around the provenance of the bell, and how it originally came to be on public display in Moyie, until recently.

What is for certain, Lubbers said, is that in 1925, a steam train went off the rails in Moyie and went into the lake.

“They did get the steam train out of the lake, but it was rumoured that the bell remained in the lake, Lubbers said. “Thirty-five years later, apparently the bell was retrieved by divers and donated to the town of Moyie, to remain on display in the bar.

“Another rumour says that when the train was pulled out of the lake, the bell was intact. The steam train came to a junk yard in Cranbrook, and a gentleman, a collector, Rex Colmer, had a little heritage facility set up there, where the bell kept place. When Colmer was in his 80s, he donated the bell to the community of Moyie, to be kept on display in the bar.”

Both stories maintain that the bell was donated to the community. “Not the bar itself,” Lubbers stresses. “It was just felt the bar was the best place to display it.”

Last year, the bar was sold. New owners took over, closed the doors, and are currently renovating, Lubbers said.

And apparently, this past summer, not being aware of the significance of the bell, they sold it to an antique dealer in Cranbrook.

“The antique dealer actually ended up calling my house,” Lubbers said, “looking for information on the bell and to talk to the old pub owner.”

The dealer had the bell on sale for $3,000, and he had interested buyers.

“I said right away that we need to get this bell back. It belongs to Moyie, it belongs in a museum, nobody else should buy this bell — if someone does it’s going to be gone and we’re never going to see it again.”

After “stewing about it all weekend,”Lubbers went into Cranbrookthat Monday and talked to the antique dealer. She told him the story about the bell having been donated to the community. The dealer had bought the bell fair and square, Lubbers said.

“It was totally legit. I said we wanted to buy the bell back for the community. He told us he’d sell it back to us for $2,700.  I asked for two weeks to rally the community to gather the funds — he gave us until Friday. I gave him a deposit to secure the contract. I came back to work and posted something on Facebook about helping to save the bell. Within 24 hours we raised $2,700 to get the bell back.

“So our little community raised enough money to get our bell back. And that Friday I came back to Cranbrook and gave the  dealer the money for the bell, and it’s now back in our community.”

The owner of the bar also kicked in to help out, Lubbers said.

“I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly everybody in the community came together. I got home Monday night, started making calls for donations. By Tuesday morning I only needed $390. And by noon on Tuesday it was done. That little community so came together. And I’m so proud of them.

The bell is now in the museum in Moyie, a significant artifact of the community’s history.