Kevin Cody

Beach People – Billy’s Bells

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Billy Meistrell with a retired scuba tank he made into a bell. Photo by Kevin Cody

by Kevin Cody

As the early ‘50s era Dive N’ Surf shop remodel was being completed in 2014, Billy Meistrell hit upon the idea of converting one of his dad Bill’s and uncle Bob’s discarded scuba tanks into a memorial bell. The twins’ dive shop was among the first in the nation and remains the nation’s oldest.

Billy sawed off the bottom of the old gray tank and inside, for a clapper, suspended a chrome ball from a trailer hitch. Then he replaced the regulator valve at the top of the tank with a sailboat shackle and hung the bell in front of the one remaining cinder block wall from the original store.

The sound from the nearly quarter-inch thick, steel tank has the low, long traveling ring of an offshore weather buoy.

“During tours of the store, I tell people to ring the bell twice to say hi to Bill and Bob ‘up top’,” Meistrell said.

Shortly after the store reopened, resident Al Walsh brought in a scuba tank with a mermaid on it that had belonged his wife’s dad Dudley. He asked Meistrell to make it into a bell, like he had with his dad’s and uncle’s. Requests for dozens of other memorial dive tank bells followed.

“Instead of scraping the tanks, now they will last for generations,” Meistrell said.

“Divers’ families and friends want the tanks left dinged up so everyone knows the person being remembered was a real diver. But now non divers are asking for ornamental bells. One lady asked for a bell to hang from a tree in her yard, where she had buried her dog. She gave me  the dog’s leash for a pull rope,” Meistrell said.

“”This is much nicer than a tombstone,’ she told me when she picked it up.”

“Bells are rich in symbolism and each one has a unique ring. I made a pink bell for a breast cancer fundraiser and a purple bell for a pancreatic cancer fundraiser.  Hawaiian artist Brad “Tiki Shark” Parker applied his tiki artwork to one of the dive tanks and sold it through a Hawaiian gallery for $1,500,” he said.

New scuba tanks costs $200 to $400 and their diving lifespan is limited by law. To prevent the costly, solidly made and aesthetically appealing tanks from going to a landfill, Meistrell is constantly inventing new uses for them.

Some of the uses include wine chillers, table legs, planters, serving dishes and phone charger stations. For the holidays he painted three bells red, white and green and hung them side by side in front of the Dive N’ Surf store. When the wind blows they ring like church bells.

Scuba tank bells are available at Dive N’ Surf, 504 N. Broadway. Meistrell can be reached at bgbstrell@aol.com. B

 

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