Friday, July 14, 2017

Grandfather Clock History

The house has been quieter than usual. The grandfather clock has only been running sporadically for the past few months. It has been ten years since it was last overhauled. Just oiling the pivots as I’ve done for the past year to keep it running is not a good idea as the accumulated dirt and oil form a gunk which can really wear away the steel pivots over time. It is time to bite the bullet and get it overhauled.
I promised my niece who loves this clock a detailed history. Like everything I own it has quite the story behind it.
The year was 1972. I was attending Watchmaking School in Lancaster, PA. John, Jerry and I shared an apartment just down the street from school on Chestnut St. Today I see the students around my moving in with U-Hauls full of furniture and every creature comfort and think back to how spartan we lived. What a compare and contrast.
I was supporting myself working for a supermarket. Mom and dad paid my tuition and tools while I paid for everything else. I did not have a vehicle then. I witnessed how much it cost my friends to drive and could not incur that kind of expense. Blue laws were still in effect leaving Sundays open and free. Once I discovered Renninger’s Flea Market and Schups Grove in Adamstown, PA I was there every Sunday. So much for attending Duke St Methodist Church. I would make the journey either on my 10 speed or by hitchhiking. It was about 20 miles of potholes on the old route 222.
This part of PA was an antiques capitol in the 1970’s: The stuff that would turn up. A good friend John from school was in the antiques trade through his mother and uncle. Being a dealer he told me he could get me into Merrit’s Antiques as well as Fred and Dotties. These concerns were huge antique importers selling only to the trade. There were container loads of clocks and English furniture imported into the US during this period of time. Thank you Google: Merrits is still in business. Fred and Dotties was liquidated in 2015.
One of the main style differences between English and American grandfather clocks is in the case proportions and woods used. Many of the English clocks were fabricated of oak with mahogany accents. In American clocks the center section is narrow. In English clocks this part of the case is usually much wider. In the 1970’s clock collecting was in full gear. These English clocks were not held in very high esteem by “A list” collectors.
I found my clock at Fred and Dotties and paid the dealer price of $300.00 for it through John. He needed the receipt for some reason so it worked out well.
This clock was typical in that it had been run to death. The plates needed to be bushed and the pivots needed attention. This initial restoration grew to be a group effort with my classmates. The back center wheel pivot was pretty much worn to half its original size. Richard capped it off and turned a new pivot. The hands needed new mounting holes which Richard also made.
I had learned enough to where I wanted to preserve the original finish on this clock. There had been a few nasty coats of varnish applied over the years. Rubbing it down using 0000 steel wool brought back the original finish.
Pictures were not a priority at this point of my life. There are only a couple photos documenting my life on Chestnut St. This is one:
In the spring of 1972 I moved to a shared house. There was not a lot of furniture and big stuff so my friends Dave, Jim and Bob helped me to move “on the fly” and just carry my meager belongings. I can still see Bob walking on Chestnut St with the clock case over his shoulder and people snapping pictures from the passing tour bus! From the old apartment on Chestnut St to my new digs on North Duke it was just a little over a mile.
In October 1972 mom and dad made the drive to Lancaster. They returned to Lockport with the back seat taken out of the 1965 Chevy and the tall case clock riding out the trip from the trunk all the way to the front seats. That Thanksgiving of 1972 I was able to get the clock set up and running on the landing which would be its home for some 22 years.
The passing of life that clock witnessed. This picture is from XMAS 1972. My sisters got dressed into their wedding dresses and my niece was the flower girl!
After cleaning out the homestead after mom’s death in 1994 the clock had a place of honor for two years in my “Lockport house” before being moved to Tuscaloosa, AL. It was in October 1996 I filled and moved a U-Haul with my antiques in preparation of the transfer south. It would take nearly two years before that transfer materialized.
Over the years the clock developed a bad lean forward. After retiring from Corvette Assembly in October 2005 I had the time to finally attend to my collection.
Digging into the clock case I discovered the problem. This was not a piece of furniture built in the league of Duncan Fyfe or Thomas Chippendale. The animal hide glue had let loose and the tiny nails holding the moldings to the case were snapped through. The case was reglued and nailed back to where things needed to be. Hopefully that repair will outlast my lifetime.
The clock has had this place of honor in my home since October of 1996. That is almost as long as it was at mom and dad’s house.
The clock dial was filthy when I first got the beast. It got a gentle/safe cleaning back in 1972. The Numbers were always faint and are even more so now. I’m putting out feelers on having the dial restored. The bulk of the painting is fine and I don’t want to have an amateurish job trying to touch it up myself. Looking close I can see where there were once outline rings around the numbers.
Researching out pictures for this entry had me going into forgotten picture files. I always get a smile when I find a long ago picture of my old “goober boy” Stumpy.
This picture was taken in March of 2006. I had just acquired my first digital camera. Stumpy was soaking up the late winter sunshine in the backyard. He was helping me to restore the Morris Chair which is another story…

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Tuscaloosa, Alabama, United States
Retired auto worker who can now spend too much time restoring his 1922 Bungalow Home. I'm involved in a number of varied activities from collecting bricks to rowing with a masters rowing group. This blog is to share different aspects of my life on my Facebook page. I've kept an on-line journal for eight years.