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Clock tower is the work of W.Va. artist

March 14, 2002|BY DAVE McMILLION

Hedgesville, W.Va. - Touches of Victorian architecture grace the towering creation of Hedgesville's Lee Badger.

Strands of steel curve and bend, creating lattice-like structures, flowers and other designs.

"It's a big piece of jewelry, in a way," said Badger.

Except no one will be picking up this piece of jewelry.

The tower that was designed to hold a four-face clock reaches 20 feet into the air. With parts like a 400-pound bell in the center, it weighs in at 2 tons.

The story behind the structure started when Badger was contacted by a friend in Baltimore who restores large clocks.

Badger's friend, Durwood Center, had a buyer in the Midwest for a large clock he had taken out of a church in Buffalo, but he needed a structure to hold it.

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He knew he could count on Badger.

Badger works in steel, but he does not like to refer to himself as a blacksmith. He said when most people think of a blacksmith, they think of someone who makes horseshoes.

Badger likes to call himself an "art metalsmith."

His work in steel has ranged from sculptures to iron railings for homes and he has been commissioned to handle a number of projects over the years.

Badger decided to offer a bid for the clock tower project.

The detailed project came with eight pages of instructions from an architect in Florida. Badger had never seen such extensive directions for a work, and he hung the pages up in his Hedgesville shop to study them.

His bid was accepted."Then I was stuck," Badger, 51, said with a laugh.

Badger found measurement discrepancies in the instructions, and there was a flurry of phone calls between the architect and Badger. Finally, he was told to just make it look like the pictures.

In Badger's world of art, the paintbrush is a "plasma cutter." Where most cutting torches use gas, the plasma cutter basically blows electricity to cut steel, Badger said.

Badger used the tool to slice through steel more than an inch thick. A band saw was used to cut lighter pieces of steel, and Badger ordered some of the ornate designs for the tower.

Badger built the clock tower in two sections, but because his shop along W.Va. 9 across from the Hedgesville Volunteer Fire Co. was not tall enough, he had to find a place to assemble it.

Frank Carper, owner of the Homestead Farm on Thatcher Road, allowed Badger to move the tower into an equestrian center at the farm.

A forklift lifted the tower onto a tractor-trailer for the move. That's how the tower will be moved to its new home on Monday, Badger said.

Because of security concerns, Badger said he cannot name the man who is buying it. He is a wealthy collector who plans to put the clock in his own museum.

"It's been fun. I think he's really going to be happy with it," said Badger, who said the collector probably will have about $250,000 tied up in the project.

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