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Watch & Clock Bulletin
The First One for December 2009
Bertram T. Harrison (MD)
Shown here is a picture of my first clock, made by Ingraham.
The country was still in the Depression in 1937. A neighbor could not afford to keep his house. When he moved he gave me this clock. After World War II I went to watch repair school under the GI?Bill. That is when I?restored the clock to good running condition.
My first watch was given to me in 1940 by a friend of my grandmother. It is a 7-jewel Trenton hunting movement in a open-face case.
I think the first watch or clock in anyone’s collection has a special meaning. For me it was the beginning of a great hobby.
Wayne Fugett (OH)
My first clock was a small Seth Thomas beveled case 30-hr with alarm. The clock was known in the family as the clock that granny shot (but more about that later). I never remembered seeing the clock growing up. I found out later that my grandfather worked on this Seth Thomas, possibly before I was born, but was unable to get it repaired. It was relegated to a cardboard box in pieces for many years, which was the way I first saw the clock.
My grandfather tinkered with clocks, and he always believed he could fix anything. He was a talented musician who made violins and other musical instruments from scratch. For many years he also owned and operated a photography studio and movie theater going back to silent film days. He and members of my family provided music for the silent films.
After my grandfather passed away in 1966, one of my aunts inherited the Seth Thomas clock. She was not happy with it and felt she had gotten something useless because all she got was a box of parts. The movement was apart and the case was missing over 50 percent of its veneer and what was left was coming off. The glue joints were loose and the case was shaky.
Around 1970 she gave me the clock to get repaired because I knew a man who could do clock repair. I had a friend from high school whose father was a watchmaker and also did clockwork.
When I took the clock to him, he had just gone through eye surgery and was unable to do any work. I wasn’t sure what to do, so my next step was to take it to a local jeweler’s store. The man at the counter looked at the box of parts and said it wasn’t worth repairing and said if it was his, he would just throw it away. This angered me because it was a family piece. But being young and thinking I had some of my grandfather’s talent, I decided to try to repair it myself. I wasn’t aware at the time what a blessing in disguise this was and how it would change the course of my life. After much trial and error I got the spring movement back together and discovered one of the pieces I had was a broken verge. I went back to my friend’s father for advice and he helped me set up an account with the E. J. Swigert Co. located in downtown Cincinnati at the time. He also sold me an old desk and chair suitable for use as a repair bench that I set up in my basement.
I purchased a “verge kit” - a flat strip of steel and a thin brass rod. Luckily, I had both broken pieces of the verge and was able to duplicate the shape of the original. I made a little test stand and with much tinkering got the movement ticking.
The old family story was that when my great-grandmother (born in 1865) was a teenager, she and her sister were horseplaying inside the house, and my great- grandmother picked up a revolver that was lying out somewhere in the house and said, “Mary I’m going to shoot you.” The story was that when she grabbed up the revolver, it accidentally went off in her hand and the bullet hit the clock on the mantel. That was all of the story anyone in the family could remember and that’s all it was—a story. The clock did have damage to the upper left side of the door frame and behind that in the case there was a hole going up at an angle. The placement of the shot surely broke the upper glass. Luckily the bottom glass is original and intact.
My next step was to work on the case, which was in poor condition. Because I didn’t know any better, I thought the only option was to strip off the remaining veneer and refinish the wood underneath. The case joints were loose so I dismantled the entire case. In the back of the case I found a bullet embedded in the wood that was close to coming out of the back; it appears to be a .32 caliber. To me this was confirmation that the old family story was true! The case was put back together, stained, and varnished, leaving the damage from the bullet intact. The movement was installed along with a new paper dial over the original dial pan because the original painted dial had almost nothing left. Now after more than 35 years the new dial has aged gracefully and looks good in the old clock.
After the clock was finished, I gave it back to my aunt. She was so amazed that the clock was brought back to life and happy with my efforts, she told me it was mine to keep. I now had my first antique clock and was bitten by the bug we all know well.
I still have the old clock, with its history and bullet kept inside the case in a small box. It will be handed down to my son and then my grandson, along with another family clock. My 8-year-old grandson frequently works along side me at the bench. I give him some tools and a box of clock parts and he happily works away. Hopefully, the future generations will appreciate the history and family connections of the old clocks.
As the years passed I repaired many clocks mainly through word of mouth and read many books on clock repair. Then during an extended illness I was off work from my real-world job for a year and decided to put that time to the best use possible. I believed that after 30 years of working on clocks I had the knowledge and skills necessary to pass the “Certified Clockmakers Exam” through the American Watchmakers Clockmakers Institute in Harrison, OH. I requested and studied the recommended material for the test from the AWCI, took the test, passed, and became a Certified Clockmaker in 2001.
Clock repair was my part-time hobby job for years. Now some 38 years later I have retired from the work world and own a small repair/retail shop in southern Ohio. It is amazing how many old clocks there are and the repair work is steady. This is a great retirement job that I truly enjoy because of the people I meet and the many different types of clocks that cross my bench.