a/k/a “Do Not Cling to the Old Rugged Cross”
a/k/a “Lightning, 1 — Cross, 0”
a/k/a “The Fun of Not Getting a Mini-Grant”
By Dan Clifford
Sept. 12, 2018 — Early this spring The Church of the Advent, Cynthiana, found its bell tower cross, or some of it, lying in the church yard. The horizontal part had fallen, leaving basically a vertical stick where a cross had been. A neighbor, Martha, said lightning had struck it. Advent soon discovered there’s no clear path to replacing a bell tower cross, especially a wooden one about 70’ in the air. What had been an old forgotten cross was now in the forefront of everyone’s mind (insert your own analogies here).
With an insurance deductible of $5,000 to pay, and indecision about exactly what to do, the parishioners and vestry were confronted with quite a few questions: 1) Do we replace the old wooden cross with a fancy new metal one; 2) Do we stay original with wood; 3) Do we hire this done; 4) Who do we hire if we decide to hire; 5) How do we pay for it; 6) Could we get a diocesan mini-grant and shift the financial burden to the kind generosity of the folks in Lexington (i.e. be lazy); or 7) Do we just put in an order on Amazon Prime? The last one not being an option, Advent did try for a mini-grant but did not get it, which ultimately made this little saga possible.
The vestry voted to stay with wood, though we did have some beautiful bids from Campbellsville (Ky.) Industries for a copper cross at about $3,400 and an aluminum version at about $2,700. Few woods are well-suited to weather, though cypress is one, and locally, locust and cedar (the red heartwood, not the white part). I, the author, had some old seasoned cedar logs lying around, so cedar became the medium of choice, and it was free. Since most people do not have cedar logs lying around, this requires an explanation: When I graduated from law school in 2011 and was awaiting bar test results, I caught up on a lot of jobs around the house and farm that had been neglected for a few years. One task was cutting some big cedar trees that were shading a hay field, and I remember thinking to myself, “I’ll use these cedar logs someday.” Two of them got used. See photo, featuring my brother, Ben Clifford, lending his truck.
The next task was to find somebody to make a cross. We had the toppled cross pieces as a guide, and had a local Amish furniture maker who we thought might be interested in the job. I had met Ananias Yoder once at a funeral, and had bought some vegetables at his road-side stand, but had never approached an Amish person about a business deal. Turns out Amish people are just like everybody else (minus cars, plus beards). I was a little uneasy driving my car up to the door of an Amish family’s house, but apparently that is OK to do. Ananias could do the cross job for $250 and had me take the cedar logs to his neighbor Levi, who cut them into usable lumber.
Ananias Yoder’s other neighbor, Ananias Beiler, did the actual work. Just a little aside — Yoder and Beiler are in the top 10 most common Amish surnames, according to amishamerica.com. When I met the two Ananiases, the brother of “Ananias 1” was visiting from Glasgow, Ky. He had taken a Greyhound bus to Cynthiana. He said bus rides were OK for Amish for long trips. He also said there were two Ananiases because “neither one was worth a crap, so they had to combine two together.” Amish humor.
I designed a base for the cross, sort of a pyramidal cap for the bell tower, doing my best to guess the dimensions of the top of the bell tower. We could have rented a lift for about $1,500 to go up in the air and measure, but that would have been quite an expense. I had been inside the bell tower and knew how wide the boards of the old cross were, so I added a dab of width and ran with that. “Dab” is a very technical carpentry industry term. I knew about how deep the cap needed to be (14”), but did not know the outer hypotenuse length to give to “Ananias 2.” Fortunately my engineer-majoring daughter, Bryson, had trig fresh in her mind, and was able to instruct me in the forgotten ways of sine and tangent. (See photo, upper right corner). The hypotenuse needed to be 16.16”, or about 16 1/4”, which was critical for Ananias 2 to know. An iPhone app called “Angle Finder” told me that the roof pitch was a 30° angle (that’s steep). Worried about any loose ends in the construction, I made a Styrofoam prototype mockup for Ananias 2, which he appreciated. The mockup has since been stashed away in the bell tower, waiting to give help to a future cross carpenter.
After some modifications, pondering and a hasty vestry meeting, the cross and its base were built and finished with polyurethane. We decided to clad the base in aluminum so that someday when the cross rots away the cap should still be around. We bought aluminum flashing metal (and other hardware) at W.D. Bryant Hardware in Corbin. Bryant’s let me use their sheet metal “brake” to bend the metal, a tool I had not used since 1976 in my high school shop class as a freshman. I am happy to report that brakes, unlike telephones and tattoos, have not changed since 1976.
The last task was the final installation. The cost to rent a modern Genie S-80 boom lift was about $1,500, but we found a local person with a bucket truck who could reach the top of the bell tower. I met Thomas Kiskaden on the Friday night of August 31 for a dry run. While not as slick at the Genie S-80, Thomas’s 1970 International Loadstar 1700 truck with an Elliott boom lift reached the top of the bell tower handily. The cross's pyramidal cap was a bit too big, so furring strips were added inside of it late at night and readied for an early-morning installation on Sept. 1. Rat wire to thwart bats was also added. (See photo of Adam Clifford holding the cross, upside-down).
The morning of Sept. 1, 2018, was supposed to be rainy, but thankfully it was only cloudy. The cap and cross were put into place and filmed by Peggy Carbine, a parishioner. We hope to splice Peggy’s work all together and make a video someday. See two of the videos by clicking HERE and HERE. The cross settled well into its spot. Two chains, connected to a concrete block, weigh down the cross assembly from underneath, and a copper wire acts as a lightning ground. We are hopeful future roofers can just lift up the cross and base, add new shingles, and set it back down again.
The cross came in at $250, plus about that much in hardware, and a $500 bucket truck fee. Not counting the author’s time, that’s $1,000. If we had received a mini-grant we would have — most likely — turned it all over to third parties and spent much more. We also would not have had nearly as much fun.
The cross has survived its first two weeks of storms and 90°F heat. So far, so good. I have left the blueprints in the bell tower which, if not eaten by rodents, should assist my unknown successors in a few decades. I won’t be there, but would like to be. I hope they don’t get a mini-grant, or they’ll miss all the fun.
Dan Clifford is Senior Warden at the Church of the Advent, and a member of the Executive Council. When he is not re-learning trigonometry, he is an attorney.
The church building is covered in vines, and capped with what might have been the original cross. The back of the scanned photo refers to the girl in the picture as "Beton(?) lassie."
Are the clouds in the photo of the cross-less bell tower of Sept. 1, 2018, a harbinger of the cedar cross to come?
The cross in its final installation, keeping out the rain and letting in tradition.