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Family restores Oregon Trail `Freedom Bell'.

Byline: Jeff Wright The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - It's not the Liberty Bell, or even an exact replica, but it often has the same effect on people.

The two-ton brass bell, found by Shane Gonzales' grandparents in 1941 along a stretch of Oregon Trail between Baker City and the Snake River, has been featured in parades and patriotic gatherings in nine states.

People's reaction, says Gonzales of Springfield, is often intense.

"We've had 20 or 30 war veterans stand up and salute it," he says. "We've had 40 or 50 kids running behind it doing the Pledge of Allegiance. We've had people at parades throw candy back at us!"

The bell is roughly the same size and weight as the real Liberty Bell - which weighs 2,080 pounds and is 3 feet high from lip to crown - but doesn't have any cracks in its side.

Today, the bell - dubbed the Freedom Bell by Gonzales' father, Allen Berg of The Dalles - will be at Springfield's Island Park for free viewing and picture-taking. The occasion is a family reunion, and Gonzales' father has decided to bring the family bell.

According to family lore, Gonzales' Norwegian-born grandparents, Bjarne and Ruby Berg, were looking for Oregon Trail artifacts when they stumbled upon a portion of the bell sticking out of the ground. They spent four hours digging it out and hoisting it onto the flatbed of their Model A truck, and then drove it home to Hood River.

Gonzales' grandfather wanted to recondition the bell, but his grandmother decided she wanted to flip it upside down and use it as a birdbath. "Grandma got her way," Gonzales says. "She'd go out there almost daily with a garden hose and fill it with water."

After his grandparents died, Gonzales' father and uncle decided to recondition the bell, adding a Civil War-era cannon ball to serve as its clapper. Gonzales' father, an officer with the American Mountainman Association, typically accompanies the bell at public showings dressed in the beaded buckskin outfit of an 1840s mountain man.

No one knows the reasons for the bell's fate, but the prevailing assumption is that Oregon Trail pioneers either abandoned it as too heavy or lost it in a sandstorm or winter snows, Gonzales says. The presumed destination was somewhere in the Willamette Valley, he says.

His father has attempted to research the bell's origin and believes it came through Fort Bridger, Wyo., along the Oregon Trail, but doesn't know who cast it, or where.

The family decided to name it the Freedom Bell "because people originally came here for freedom," says Gonzales. "We already had a Liberty Bell, but not a Freedom Bell. It's a way to let people hear freedom ring."

FREEDOM BELL

Public viewing of bell found along Oregon Trail

When/where: Beginning at 10 a.m. today, south shelter, Island Park, Springfield. Donations accepted.

More information: 741-0809 or (541) 296-1852
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Title Annotation:Its only ring used to be from a birdbath, but it's now reconditioned and on display today; General News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 19, 2003
Words:482
Previous Article:Letters Log.
Next Article:Councilor seeks vote on Patriot Act.


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