I have been communicating with a local client who took me up on my suggestion to check out watchmaking as a new career path. He researched watchmaking schools in the U.S. and wound up attending my old school Gem City College in Quincy, Illinois. The last time he was in town we chatted and he filled me in on how his studies were proceeding and stories about some of his instructors. It turns out that he has one of my old instructors that taught me advanced watchmaking back in 1978! Don is the instructor’s name and I told him a story about Don and how he recruited me and a few other students to help him with a local project back in ’78. There was a small town called Palmyra, MO across the Mississippi river and about 30 minutes from our school. The town had an old tower clock that had not worked for many years in the town hall and they had called the school for ideas on how to get it fixed. Don volunteered and we were his assistants..The tower was four stories high and you had to climb up a horrible, rickety wooden staircase that was only 18 inches wide, no railing and curved up the corners of the tower. All our tools and equipment had to be tied, or taped to our bodies as the whole clock movement (mechanical parts) was suspended on two huge 12 x 12 wooden beams over an antique stained-glass cupola! If you dropped anything it would crash through the glass ceiling. The clock had stopped working over 20 years prior due to the passing of the janitor for the courthouse and he was the one who would wind the weight cable to run the huge clock. When he passed away, no one could find the cable handle to wind up the weights. When we crawled to the top the clock movement was covered in birdnests, feathers, birdpoop, hay and bat droppings. You could barely discern what it was or what it was supposed to do. Don instructed us (those of us who were brave enough to stand up there tied to the beams) how to clean off all the refuse and how to re-lubricate all the parts. Once we cleaned-off all the junk, the beautiful detail and mechanical workings of the movement became apparent. We lowered all the filth bags by rope, wound the weight stack cable to provide power for the clock and Don flipped a lever that allowed him to check where the striking mechanism had stopped. All of the sudden, this huge hammer above us began striking this even bigger bell suspended over our heads! Dust, feathers, dirt and I’m not sure what else, rained on our heads as the bell chimed out the last hour that the clock had run many years ago. Don reset the strike wheel, we sprayed everything with a last coat of oil and descended the crazy stairs five hours after starting. When we came outside many of the townspeople had heard the bell (some for the 1st time) and gave us a hearty cheer and applause. I remembered a newspaper somebody taking our picture and back across the river we went with our filthy hair and clothes.
Well my friend told Don this story and Don came back to school the next day with these Polaroids to prove the story was true! Yep, that’s me with the red afro…circa 1978.