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Saddle Bells, Shaft Bells, and Foot Gongs
Some types of horse bells are riveted or screwed to a metal bracket or arch that is designed to be attached to the horse's harness, to the shafts or pole (tongue) of a vehicle, or to the vehicle body itself. The bells mounted to the bracket may be crotals (sleigh bells) or open-mouth bells. Most often, however, the bells are chimes.
A chime, in the horse bell world, is a type of open-mouth bell that has two or more clappers. The clappers may hang inside or outside the bell. The bell itself may be tulip shaped like a classic "liberty bell" or may be shaped more like a bowl.
If the bracket attaches to the back pad or saddle of the harness, the bells are called saddle bells or saddle chimes. If the bracket attaches to the shafts, the neck pole, or the vehicle body of a buggy, wagon, or sleigh, the bells are called shaft or pole bells or sometimes "ice cream" bells. A special type of bell, the foot gong, is a single large bell mounted on a plate that is bolted underneath the vehicle.
Each end of the bracket is usually held onto the harness saddle by the rein terrets that screw onto the sides of the harness saddle. Terrets are large loops of metal through which the lines (reins) pass. They ensure the lines travel freely from the horse's mouth and the driver's hands.
Another style of saddle bell has a single threaded end at the bottom of the bell housing. This type of saddle bell bolts in place of the rein hook that is usually found in the center of the harness saddle.
Pole & "Ice Cream" Bells
These bells are usually mounted on a supporting bracket made of brass, iron or steel. Some bells are attached instead to a leather strap that is buckled or tied around the pole or shaft.
The bells are called shaft bells (or shaft chimes) if they are attached to one or both shafts of a single-horse vehicle. They are pole bells (or pole chimes) if they are mounted onto the pole (tongue) of a vehicle pulled by a team of two or more horses.
If the bells are attached to the body of the vehicle itself, they are often called "ice cream" bells, because this type of bell was often used on vehicles used to sell frozen treats in city neighborhoods. The motion of the vehicle or the driver's hand is used to sound these bells.
It is similar in basic design to the spherical chime shown above. Two large hemispherical brass shells resonate when struck to produce a loud, distinctive sound.
A foot gong sounds only when a pedal was pressed, however, rather than ringing continuously from the motion of the vehicle, like the chime. This allows a foot gong to be used as a safety device, much like the horn of today's automobiles.
A foot gong was mounted underneath the floorboards of a carriage or early automobile. The shaft of the gong protruded through a small hole in the floor of the vehicle and ends in a small pedal. The driver pressed the pedal with his foot to sound the gong.
Foot gongs can occasionally be found on the antiques market. Manufacturers of these older gongs include Bevin Bros. Mfg. Co. and Starr Bros. Bell Co., both of East Hampton, Connecticut, and Sutone Corporation of Los Angeles, California. Bevin does not make these gongs anymore. Sutone and Starr Bros. are out of business. I have found only one US company -- Lone Wolf Whistle -- that sells new foot gongs.
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