Last remaining Deagan chime specialist rehabs pipes at Winter Haven church

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The chimes mark the passing of hours. Their hymns, carried by the breeze, become the soundtrack to special occasions.

After more than half a century, the Deagan chimes will echo once again throughout a Winter Haven community. It's a project one year in the making and, this week, the repair specialist is making the final touches at First Presbyterian Church of Winter Haven.

Since 1926, the 20 chimes have sat high atop the church tower.

"There are folks in the church who remember playing the little keyboard and ringing the chimes," said Pastor Steve Negley.

Sadly, in the early 1960s, the chimes stopped working. For the following three decades, an 8-track player and speakers broadcast chimes in four directions.

But, a few years ago, church leaders decided it was time to chime once more, investing $75,000 in the first phase of restoration.

"All of the dampers are down," Negley explained as he demonstrated the chimes. "But, when it's functional, a bell will ring, then the damper would go up and silence it."

They called William Pugh for help. Pugh, the president of Top Rung Tower Chime & Organ Service, based in Tennessee, travels the country bringing these tubular chimes back to life.

He said that only about 120 of these Deagan chimes remain in the United States with their original equipment. When asked how many people do what he does, he raised up his hand to signal "zero."

"There are a few people who take care of the system at their church but I am the only person who is really into this nationwide," Pugh said. "It's the finest stuff ever built as long you keep the water off them and the critters off of them and they don't get tinkered with, they'll keep going."

Over the last year, Pugh completely disassembled the 20 strikers that hit the tops of the chimes, he rewound coils and repaired all the broken parts.

"The cast iron parts, bead blasted, repainted, the plated parts are re-plated," Pugh said. "They went clear to Berkely, California to be cadmium plated, which is the original plating material."

Tuesday night, a team of church volunteers used a pulley system to hoist each 50-pound striker to the top, passing through several flights of steps and ladders.

"We're going to carry them up here, attach them, pull them up through, disconnect, carry them over, take them up through, disconnect, carry them over, take them up through," Negley explained.

Over the next few days, parts will be placed, wires will re-connect, and what's old will still be old -- but it'll work like it did when it was new in 1926. For Pugh, that's the whole point.

"There's just so much history, so many wonderful memories," Pugh said. "I'm not rich but I love my work."

The goal is to have this tower chiming loud and clear on Easter Sunday.

"We just think it's going to have the ability to minister to people in lots of different ways," Negley said. "The chimes have such a mellow tone to them and the hymns they play are incredible and we are looking forward to sharing that with our neighbors."