19th century, Alternate History, Arrant Nonsense, hiking, statue

Learning All About History by Looking at Statues ~ ~ Chapter IX ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Captain J. S. Bevel-Gearing ~ Friend of Lost Hikers.

Statue IX:  J. S. Bevel-Gearing, a man with a lot of time on his hands

Most of us can all recall a time or two, when we’ve been, if not lost, at least a bit disoriented during a hike in the woods.

Sometimes, I think that’s A-OK.

Like so many situations, you can fret about it, and let it upset you, or just consider it “unstructured playtime” and no worries.  I follow the same strategy in writing these meandering posts.


North Point Tower, a Milwaukee landmark since the 1870’s.


My workdays are organized to a nicety, and scheduled to a fare-thee-well, so every so often, it feels nice to be wayfaring without much of a plan.

Go roaming, off the clock, off the grid.  If your mind is already wandering, let your feet join in, too.


Bevel-Gearing’s granddad, who started the clock business, made stuff like this. They were mostly given as wedding and anniversary presents, or as door prizes for good deportment, but the astronomical timepieces didn’t sell as well in the 19th century, and in Milwaukee, most people didn’t have enough room in their dens, so the company changed gears and made alarm clocks.


When that mood strikes, I’ve got no use for  guidebooks, pedometers, compasses, watches, maps, GPS, etc.

More fun to just strike out and follow a deer path or old logging road, or go bushwhacking cross-country.

In the Finger Lakes region, not to worry, you can’t get too lost.  If you just keep on keeping on, you’re sure to hit a lake, they’re really hard to miss.  Just ask one of the guys fishing, which lake it is, and bingo, you’re no longer lost.


This was made for the U.S. Capitol, where it now graces the Crypt. Some of the congressmen complained that the figures leaning on it didn’t look too industrious, and just seemed to be slouching around. So, Bevel-Gearing took it back to the shop, added weapons for both figures, stuck an angry bird on top, and everybody went home happy.


If you somehow manage to miss the lakes, and are still lost, you’re sure to stumble across a winery or microbrewery.  The kids they hire to pour out Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Imperial IPA’s usually don’t really know jack about wine or beer, or who won the last presidential election, or which way is North.  And mostly cannot give you coherent directions to the parking lot, much less to town, but they’re always friendly, and if you just mention you like their Phish tee-shirt, they’ll lend you a cellphone so you can call somebody for a lift.

Just keep your chin up and keep walking, there’s always locational clues.  Worst case, if you really keep wandering, eventually someone will say politely “Eh, pardon me, are you lost, do you require assistance, eh?” Or “Yo, let’s g’down ta tha WaWa and getta pork roll”  And then you’ll know where you are – southern Canada or northeast Pennsylvania, respectively.  So again, you’re no longer lost.

Anyway, it’s probably time to launch a new series, “Confused Wanderings Around Milwaukee & Wisconsin.  And Possibly eastern Minnesota?”


Bevel-Gearing’s “Wayfarer’s Lighthouse”  I went back to that forest with a camera, to take better pictures, but never found it again.


So, traipsing through the Wisconsin woods  one day, perhaps slightly unsure of my location, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter the guiding beacon in the photo, a kind of land-locked lighthouse, and find it was a Victorian innovation for lost foot walkers.  I read up a bit about the inventor and philanthropist who built it, although I’m unable to pin down exactly where this tower is located.  Somewhere north of Milwaukee, but shy of Green Bay, most likely.


The North Point Tower is great for navigating my way through town toward the lake.


Finally home that night after my hike, I looked up this lighthouse off in the woods, a hundred miles from Lake Michigan, and learned a bit about a local hero, “Captain” John Stryker Bevel-Gearing II.  (Called “The Second” by his clock-obsessed family.)  That’s his statue in my first photo, and he’s become kind of a patron saint for lost hikers.

(Travelers, sailors and mountaineers usually look to Saint Christopher, but there’s a technicality – he’s assigned to help people trying to reach a specific destination, not just gallivanting aimlessly.)  (Although I don’t know how the Vatican delegates this stuff, but I’ve always thought Chris seems like the kind of guy who’d help out anyway, even if you’re a wandering heathen.)

Bevel-Gearing was an innovative clockmaker, entrepreneur, and philanthropist – a product of an earlier, more optimistic time.  A 19th century immigrant, originally a liveryman of London’s Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, he’d traveled six time zones west to pursue his passion for bird call clocks and time-regulated poultry feeders.


Sometime during 1870 – 1900, when Milwaukee’s population was quadrupling, the Captain opened a small manufactory of clocks and mechanical regulators, in an isolated clearing, deep in a forest, close by the Wisconsin Dells.

This Dells region is nothing like the pleasant dells and dales of England, and really, as I understand it, should’ve been called a dingle – – a forested gorge along the Wisconsin River.  It’s already a confusing area, topographically, and this sort of definitional sloppiness doesn’t help matters.

Bevel-Gearing had selected this unlikely spot for his business, because he valued his privacy, and sought seclusion to perfect his timepieces and mechanized poultry-feeders, far from competitor’s eyes.

Unbeknownst to him, the beautiful Dells region was becoming increasingly popular with Victorian-era artists, naturalists, and excursionists.  Their volumes of Wordsworth or Whitman in hand, the visitors anticipated uplifting walks in beauty, communing with Nature.

But the forests and glacier-carved hills, ravines, and gullies proved disorienting for many, and their outings turned into a devil of a time.


At his clockworks, day after day, hungry and distressed walkers emerged from the woods to ask for directions, drawn to his little factory by the smoke from his chimney, and the bells, chimes, and mechanical rooster- and crow-calls being tested for his clocks.   (He loathed cuckoos, as a silly-sounding, frivolous breed with deplorable parenting skills.)

Oftentimes the clothing of these hillwalkers was a disgrace – disheveled, filthy, stockings and bloomers torn by thorns – and they’d beg a meal, having emptied their haversacks of bully beef, prunes, and hard tack.

The visitors would have to be rested, fed, watered, brushed off and made as presentable as might be.  Those who had lost their shoes in the fens and bogs, had to be loaned a pair of clogs or carpet slippers.  The whole heedless mob was then set on the right path toward civilization, or at least, Milwaukee.

Only to have some of them return in a couple days, having gotten lost again.



The Captain was a patient and not unkindly man, but very conscious of his time, and eventually he tired of the constant interruptions.  As well as the loss of every single pair of his carpet slippers.  Even the goatskin Moroccan ones, with a matching fez.

The confusion and randomness of the visits were disturbing the precise, even-tempered organization of his days, and this also bothered him.  A mainspring was far more to him than springtime.  He spent his life designing regulators, and all this hullabaloo was highly irregular, and time-consuming.

One day, visiting various toolmakers in Milwaukee, he was taking his mid-day constitutional along the shore of Lake Michigan, timing the waves as they lapped the shore like a metronome.

He came upon a wreck –  an iron-hulled ship, driven onto the rocks by a storm.


Like the beam from a lighthouse, piercing the fog, an inspired thought lighted the innermost recesses of his brain.  Hitherto unused gears began turning like clockwork.


The vessel’s owner was at hand, surveying the damage and cursing the unlucky vessel in exaggerated terms of opprobrium.

Bevel-Gearing had never commanded a ship (the “Captain” was merely an honorific bestowed by the Independent Protective Order of Agricultural Mechanics & Breeders), but he immediately struck a bargain, and purchased the salvage rights on the spot.  The ship’s iron hull and frame were disassembled, and hauled off to his clock factory.  There, the iron was cut, bent, and then reassembled on a nearby hillock, into the metal signal tower you see in the photos.


Any lost tourists, watercolorists, butterfly-collectors, and rock-climbers in the area soon learned to head for the tower, which was stocked with soap, towels, ship’s biscuit and mineral water.  A teetotaler himself, he’d initially installed a cabinet with a case of medicinal brandy, but this was exhausted the first weekend of operation, when a photographer happened by, and the Captain never repeated that mistake.

A well-blazed trail led from the tower to a stagecoach landing.

With this forest beacon in place, Bevel-Gearing was able to happily return to his experiments in blessed solitude.  His crow-call clocks were never commercially successful, although a functioning example is worth a good deal to today’s collectors.  But his clockwork poultry feeder was a huge success, enabling him to retire and set out on a ’round the world peregrination.


B-G’s poultry-feeders, with an elaborate system of chimes to call the chickens to dinner, pre-dated Pavlov’s experiments by several years. But he was not interested in conditioning, or salivation, and just wanted fatter, less frenetic chickens, leading a more orderly life.


Sadly, during the first stop of his Grand Tour, he came to an untimely demise.  While inspecting, and perhaps attempting to adjust, the double three-legged gravity escapement, on the clock associated with  “Big Ben” at Westminster, his cravat became loosened and then entangled, pulling the Captain to a grisly fate amongst the clock’s gearwork.

But perhaps some particle of the Captain still travels through the clock’s mechanism, greasing the grooves, high in the landmark tower.  Which he might regard as a not unpleasing fate.


Well, Bevel-Gearing is just imaginary, of course, but I love lighthouses, and wouldn’t it be great to have them in the forests?


30 thoughts on “Learning All About History by Looking at Statues ~ ~ Chapter IX ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Captain J. S. Bevel-Gearing ~ Friend of Lost Hikers.

  1. Bevels and gears certainly would be part of the clocks your fellow constructed, but it didn’t take me as long as usual to figure out that we’d wandered, compass-less and in need of drink, into the wilderness of history. I’m not sure what it says that ‘Wawa’ was one of the factual bits in this piece, but there we are.

    What’s doubly amusing about this piece is that there’s a wholly true parallel from the American midwest. No lighthouses were involved, but a gearless chunk of rock was. Now that I think about it, there might have been a bevel, but I’m not sure. I have photos and receipts — I need to do something with them.

    I enjoyed the introductory sections, mostly because that’s the way I live most of my life. I still use paper maps — they’re especially good as conversation starters with old guys on benches in front of convenience stores — and most of the time, when driving, my sense of direction is enough — if I know roughly where I’m going. Offshore, it’s a little trickier, but the oil rigs function just like lighthouses. Each one is numbered, and there are rig charts available. If you happen to get off course, all you need to do is sail up to a rig, get the number, consult the chart, and trim the sails. Condo ho!

    • That lighthouse is here in Milwaukee, I walk down there from my apartment sometimes.
      And I’d never seen one surrounded by trees, that’s what made me think of this.
      I wondered, how many oil rigs are in the Gulf, to navigate with, and just pulled up a BBC map – holy cow, I figured there’d be a lot, but the map is just solid with dots. But even with those for guides, if it was me at the helm, I’d probably end up getting directions from somebody in Havana or Cancun.
      Is it Pawnee Rock? I’ve never been to that part of the country.

      • You got the state, but not the rock. I’m not going to tell you the name, because you could look it up and get the story. Well, part of it, anyway. Not the part that has to do with Paris, and the so-called ‘love-locks.’

        As for those rigs, the downside is sailing among them. Especially off Louisiana, it’s tricky as can be. The farther offshore you go, the safer you are. It’s counter-intuitive, but true — as long as you stay out of the shipping lanes.

  2. What a fascinating character. Sad to think of his end though. Like Isadora Duncan who perished when her scarf got caught in the wheel spokes of her Bugati. Or is that just a myth?

  3. Your Bevel-Gearing character prompted me to do a little searching and now I know what a bevel gear is. As for your shift of geographic focus, you no doubt remember the proverb that you can take the boy out of the Finger Lakes but you can’t take the Finger Lakes out of the boy.

  4. I know that feeling whenever I get lost in a big city like Vancouver. But in the woods contrary to the lost people in your story I feel safe. I do not need to go far and I come upon a stream. They all flow down to the greatest landmark in our area, my beloved Arrow Lake. You see, Robert, there is no need for a land-locked lighthouse for me. By the way, the following sentence in your creative story describes me, the frequent aimless hiker very well, when others if you can find them in our wilderness get lost. “More fun to just strike out and follow a deer path or old logging road, or go bushwhacking cross-country.”

    • Thank you, Peter. I walk downstream, too, sometimes, when I’m not sure where I am. I’m currently living across the street from the Milwaukee River. It meanders, like most rivers, but what strikes me as odd, is that it runs toward Lake Michigan, but then proceeds roughly parallel to the shore, for almost 30 miles! If you were an explorer coming from the west, following the river to the lake, you’d have an extra-long walk!

  5. Darts and Letters says:

    The figure on the right side of crypt clock looks like he’s checking messages on his cell phone. I’ve never been to the Dells but the handful of times I’ve driven between Madison and LaCrosse I didn’t miss the 500 signs for them, most of which have pictures of water slides and mini golf on them, maybe some occasional picture of puny-looking rocks.

    btw a couple of days ago good old Seneca Falls came up in the history of Wonder Woman I’m reading, with regard to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the first women’s rights convention.

    Have a good week!

    • I thought the same thing, both figures seem kind of bored. I’m glad you stopped by – strange doings with your posts, I don’t get notifications on WP, and yesterday I got email notices of your last 6 posts, all at the same time. I can read them, but not comment, it rejects as an invalid email address. Anyways the post about your son falling into nettles made me twitch, those things are horrible.

      • Darts and Letters says:

        sorry about the invalid email address, I don’t know anything about that! you’re welcome any time, I don’t know anymore about these goofy glitches

    • Thanks, Dave. Don’t know where the heck I was when I saw that lighthouse, I was completely at sea. Those two towers, the lighthouse and the gothic-looking water tower, are less that a mile apart, in North Point, maybe 2-3 miles from my apartment. As the crow flies, but not as I go, if I follow the river, I’m gonna meander, whether I like it or not!

  6. George says:

    Haha. Fantastic story. And I believed every word. Now I’m not sure whether I’m disappointed that it wasn’t true or delighted further by such an inspired peregrination of the imagination. No, it’s definitely the latter. You have conjured him into being with such rich and deftly imagined description.

    • Thank you, George, I appreciate the nice compliment. That lighthouse is not far from my apartment, and I’ve never seen one before surrounded by trees. No longer in use, it’s now a nice little mariner’s museum.

  7. Enjoyed your entertaining story, Robert. Imagining him falling in the clockworks evoked Chaplin minus the grisly demise. I also smiled at your characterization of the kids pouring at a tasting room. 🙂

  8. J.D. says:

    Patron saint of lost hikers. Brilliant! I love just getting lost on a hike, too, as long as I sort of know the area. Like you know the Finger Lakes.

  9. Love the bit about the kids pouring. And Saint Chris, yes it’s good to think he’d help the rest of us, too. That’s quite a world you conjured….I’m glad you found your way back. You did, right? 😉

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