Ring it, now!
One hundred years ago, Mustang Island residents could hear a train engine's bell clang as the locomotive chugged along the island's northern shore, delivering the thousands of granite rocks that would become the south jetty.
Today, Port Aransans can hear the same bell clang again.
The bell that rode atop the south jetty train engine went on display at the museum on Thursday, March 12. It is on loan by the Melvin and DeLana Littleton family.
Museum director Rick Pratt said he was ecstatic to get the bronze bell, which weighs more than 200 pounds and required three men to lug into the museum.
"Construction of the jetty made us what we are, and this (bell) is a part of the construction of the jetty," Pratt said. "This was part of the beginning of Port Aransas.
"This is a really significant artifact in the history of this town. And besides, it's just cool as all get-out," Pratt said, lightly banging his fist against the bell, sending a soft gonging sound through the museum. "I love bells."
Pratt said he isn't sure yet exactly how old the bell is, but he knows it dates back at least to 1908, because the museum has a photo of the train as it stood on the south jetty that year. The bell is visible on the train engine.
In those days, the train moved constantly up and down the south jetty, hauling thousands of tons of granite rocks, while the jetty was first built. The construction lasted from1908 to 1910.
The train engine ended up on the bottom of the ship channel, probably in 1910, but exactly how it got there isn't clear, Pratt said. One story has it that a storm drove it into the drink, he said. According to another story, the engine fell into the water while being hoisted by a crane, he said.
It's unknown whether the bell was retrieved before or after the engine went to its watery grave. Lifelong Port Aransas resident Melvin Littleton, 65, said he has had the bell since he was 15 or 20 years old, when his father gave it to him. He said he doesn't know where his father got it.
The bell will figure prominently in an exhibit on the channels and jetties of Port Aransas, Pratt said. He estimated that the exhibit will open in about three months. But the bell is on display now. Visitors are invited to come ring it.