Antique clock fixers keep things ticking

·3 min read

There are a select few in Chatham-Kent who know how to turn back time.

Magically, they know how move it forward as well.

Ted Arthur, Robert Russell, Bob Dickson and electronics wizard Ron Bolohan have taken on the task of keeping a few of the municipality’s antique ‘public square’ timepieces in working order.

The timepiece aficionados make sure that when the bell tolls — it's right on time.

Last week saw Arthur and Russell reset the Thamesville and Dresden tower clocks, while Dickson travelled to adjust the Tilbury clock to its “fall back” position.

It's a job that sees them scaling ladders and stairs every spring and fall, making the switch between Daylight Saving Time and Eastern Standard Time.

The clock experts — all members of the U.S. based National Association of Clock and Watch Collectors — have developed precision skills when it comes to the fixing and maintaining the timepieces of yesteryear.

In 2008, the group came together to fix the Thamesville tower clock, which hadn’t been in working order for about 6 years.

In 2012, the groups came to together to get the hands of Dresden's tower clock moving again.

“Neither one were functioning,” says Ted Arthur, a former Chatham machinist, who says fixing clocks is a well-loved hobby for the men who do it.

Both of the clocks were “completely pulled apart” by the group, says Robert Russell of Thamesville, but adds the timepieces “don’t really show their age.

“They don’t wear very much,” the former Navistar employee explains. “They’ll run for another 100 years.”

Although they do their best to keep the machinery “historically intact," says Arthur, some modern additions are made to help with labour-intensive practices such as winding the clocks — a chore that was done by hand in days of old.

The complexities of the machinery are evident in the twirl of gears, pulleys and weights that could only make sense to someone with a finicky and deep understanding of how clocks operate.

Before everyone had watches and clocks in their homes, tower clocks played a huge role in society. The bells signalled a call to worship or they served to let people know of important news or events.

All of the local clocksmiths are paid by the municipality of Chatham-Kent to keep the tower clocks going, it's not a big money maker for those involved.

Both the Thamesville and Dresden clocks were manufactured in Europe. Dresden’s tower timepiece was built by the Soho Clock Factory in Birmingham England.

In addition to maintaining the status quo, there comes the uncomfortable question of who will do the work when when the group no longer can. Arthur at 72, is the “baby” of the group and he wonders what the future holds for the tower clocks.

Anyone interested in learning more about antique clocks or watches, is invited to contact the London chapter of the National Association of Clock and Watch Collectors.

Antique clocks restored by the Chatham-Kent group in Zurich and Aylmer Ontario have won first place awards with the NACWC.

Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Herald