#TBT: Searching for The Hinker Bell

September 28, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Menominee will host Escanaba on Friday in the 121st meeting between two of the Upper Peninsula’s largest high schools and proudest football programs – but with the trophy celebrating the game still missing after it first disappeared more than half a century ago.

The two teams from 1948-1962 played for the The Hinker Bell, a locomotive bell that hasn’t been seen since 1963.

A decade ago, Escanaba Daily Press sports editor (and now Second Half correspondent) Denny Grall wrote about a newfound search for The Hinker Bell. But the mystery continues, and Grall’s story below tells of many of the twists and turns that to that point that had come in trying to locate it.

ESCANABA — Another search is underway to find the Hinker Bell.

The former locomotive bell went to the winner of the Escanaba-Menominee football game for about 15 years but has been missing for more than 40 years. It came from a locomotive owned by the Bay de Noquet Company and used on the LS&I Railroad that operated in Delta and Menominee counties.

The locomotive was built in 1906 by Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia and the bell was believed to have been cast in the railroad foundry, according to a 1953 newspaper clipping.

In 1948, one of the locomotive owners presented the bell to his friend, John Hinker of Menominee, an ardent sports fan who donated materials for the press box at Menominee’s Walton Blesch Field.

Hinker gave the bell to then Menominee coach Mickey McCormick and indicated proper use for the bell would be as an award for the gridiron rivalry.

Now Hinker’s great great nephew is trying to find the bell, which has not been seen since Escanaba’s current high school opened in 1963.

Tim Waters of Land O’ Lakes, Wis., who has launched the search, became interested by researching his family tree. “It is a big trophy (between 80 and 150 pounds by various estimates) and it is odd that it is missing,” Waters said in a recent telephone chat.

“One theory is that it is in somebody’s hunting camp or a home and they are using it as their own trophy,” said Waters.

“We have a pretty good investigation going on and all help is appreciated. If somebody does have it, we’re not looking to prosecute them. We’re just looking to get the darn thing back. Nobody will be in trouble.”

Waters refuted the old idea the bell was melted down. He has contacted numerous bell collectors, and they said a junk yard would have known it was worth a lot more than melted metal.

“The bell was not destroyed. We’ve come to that conclusion,” he said. “It was not put in a scrap yard.”

Waters contacted Coplan Iron and Metal of Escanaba and learned that bells were not melted or crushed and said the firm never accepted a bell with engravings matching the Hinker Bell.

Waters learned those businesses would sell them for the weight value to people who wanted them for yard ornaments/dinner bells, or to collectors.

“It is a treasure and it needs to be found,” said Waters.

Waters said the last known photo of the bell was with then EHS football coach Al Sigman and Esky players John Fisher and Phil Davidson in 1960. Escanaba beat Menominee from 1959-63 but could not find the bell in 1964 when the Maroons won. No one he has talked to remembers seeing the bell present at the first three games during the tenure of coach Jerry Cvengros.

The current Escanaba High School opened in 1963 and Bay de Noc Community College then occupied the old facility, which has since been demolished.

“Records indicate there was no report (of a missing bell) filed by Escanaba school district to the police department,” Waters said.

“The Hinker Bell is part of U.P. Michigan’s history, as is football and the railroads,” Waters said. “The people of Escanaba and Menominee deserve to have this trophy returned to their high schools.”

Waters, who has never seen an Escanaba or Menominee football game but is planning to rectify that omission this season, is hoping students at the two schools will join in the treasure hunt and talk about it with their parents and grandparents.

He has already contacted EHS athletic director Rob Ryan, who plans to thoroughly search the school basement.

He would like to find a photo of the bell to help collectors in their search. “Each bell was for a special locomotive,” said Waters.

“If they have a good picture we can pass it around and say we are looking for this bell. If they can pinpoint what this bell was on, they can help get the word out.”

He has also extended the search to the website at upfootball.com, which has generated interest but no bell. “If the bell is in the area still today, I don’t think it will take long to surface,” he said.

“If we don’t find this bell, we are going to try to make up a replacement as close as possible if the two schools are interested in that,” he said.

Waters is hoping that real estate agents, postal workers, delivery personnel, construction workers, etc., may have seen the bell during their travels and can help retrieve it.

For Their Teams, For Each Other, St. Mary Seniors Team Up 2 More Times

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

March 17, 2023

Shawn Bramer and Dylan Barnowski, as middle schoolers, attended the MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals every year.

Northern Lower PeninsulaLast year, they nearly played in the Division 3 title game – falling in a Semifinal but almost making a dream come true for the then-juniors and their Lake Leelanau St. Mary coach, Matt Barnowski, also Dylan’s father.

That dream began for some when the boys were coached by Matt as third graders, and they made serious strides last season. Before last winter, the last time the Eagles had won a Regional championship was 1950 – and no St. Mary boys basketball team had reached the Semifinals. Bramer and Dylan Barnowski – along with current seniors Jack Glynn, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar – had high hopes of making more history this winter.

The dream ended Wednesday night with a Regional Final loss to Frankfort, which St. Mary had defeated 54-41 during the regular season. This time, the Eagles were faced with a large number of K-12 students succumbing to illness – with all five of its starters at least somewhat sick – as nearly a third of the school’s tiny enrollment was out of school the day after the loss to the Panthers.

But you won’t hear any of the players or coaches making excuses. They give all the credit to Frankfort, and they’re ready to move on. And many in the LSM family know reaching the Regional Finals this season and Breslin Center in 2022 had absolutely no probability had Bramer and Barnowski not made an iron-clad agreement last summer. 

Eagles coach Matt Barnowski coaches up his team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick.The two friends vowed to help each other despite their personal, opposing challenges.

Barnowski and Bramer, through LSM’s cooperative agreement with Suttons Bay, went 3-for-3 playing in 8-Player Division 1 Football Finals during their first three years of high school. But through last summer Barnowski, who quarterbacked the Norseman, had no interest in football.  

Bramer, meanwhile, had been nursing a quad tendon injury since his sophomore football season and battling two bad knees but was thinking he could suffer though football and sit out the basketball season to recover. The all-state running back experienced training difficulties and even had his strength training severely hampered.

Football was king for Bramer, and he also loved basketball too. Basketball is number one to Barnowski. The longtime friends decided cut a deal to help each other — and their teammates — out.

“I was kind of on the edge,” said Bramer, who plays with braces on both knees. “After talking to each other, we both ended up just playing. 

“I really shouldn’t be playing sports, but I couldn’t miss out playing with my friends,” he continued. “We just figured it was our last season so we might as well just do it.”

Dylan Barnowski and Brammer also teamed up during successful football careers. Barnowski had been considering ending his football days immediately after the Norse fell short in their third-straight trip to the Finals, at Superior Dome in Marquette in Fall 2021. That loss was at the hands of Adrian Lenawee Christian 31-20.

The Norseman graduated most of their offensive and defense lines last spring and expected to be small in numbers. Until this fall, they had lost only one regular-season game on their way to three straight title game appearances. This year they finished 3-5.

The big linemen losses — Barnowski’s protection — was forcing him to weigh his injury risk against having a senior basketball season.

“We did it for each other,” Barnowski said. “I talked with Shawn, and we knew we had a big community behind us and it would be hard for them if we just quit. 

“I knew we weren’t going to have the same powerhouse team we had,” he continued. “We weren’t very good this year, but we still had a blast.”

This week’s loss put an end to the possible Breslin championship finish, but it left the friends happy with the decision to play both sports. The Eagles finished 20-4.

Barnowski led St. Mary in scoring. He averaged better than 20 points a game with more than seven rebounds and five assists. Bramer averaged just under 15 points per game, and almost 10 rebounds.

The two big men each scored 11 in the season-ending loss. Thompson scored 14. This year’s senior-dominated team likely will be remembered for its basketball success for some time. Barnowski, Bramer and Glynn experienced only one loss in District play over their four seasons.

“It’s a really special groups of kids,” Coach Barnowski said. “These kids kind of transformed St. Mary’s basketball.  

St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Brammer, Jack Gwynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. “They’ve really built the program,” he continued. “It’s been a roller coaster ride.”

Bramer and Dylan Barnowski also played baseball in the past for the Eagles, but that likely won’t happen this spring. Barnowski plans to golf, and Bramer expects to sit the spring season out and heal.

“We’ll never forget these last four years of varsity we played,” Barnowski said. “I‘ve decided to go a more relaxing route, and I’m going for some golf.”

With their Breslin dream over, the friends are ready to enjoy the St. Mary’s community support and move on. They’re bummed so many were sick in the end but won’t use it as an excuse.

“Hats off to Frankfort,” Barnowski said. “They did an incredible job of shutting us down.”

Bramer agreed.

“They just played their game better than we did,” he said. “They took the lead at the end of the third quarter, and it was a battle from there.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at tomspencer@chartermi.net with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) St. Mary’s seniors Dylan Barnowski, left, and Shawn Bramer hold up the team’s District championship trophy last week. (2) Eagles coach Matt Barnowski, center, and assistant Sander Scott coach up their team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick. (3) Dylan Barnowski and Bramer also teamed up during successful football careers. (4) St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Bramer, Jack Glynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. (Sideline photo by Tom Spencer; player photos by Emmerson Lamb Photography.)