My Grandfather’s Clock

I hear the ticking of the clock. I'm lying here; the room's pitch dark. ~ “Alone” 1987, Tom Kelly / William E Steinberg

My Grandfather’s Clock
1909 Seth Thomas Sonora Chime amid a Panoply of Waterford (Photo Credit: Private Archives 2023 TMcGraner)

I slept through the night last night; there is a reason. Several months ago, I relocated one of my clocks. I did not think much of it until I tried to restart it. It would tick for about a minute and then stop. I made sure that it was level and tried again; same result. I noticed that the beat was uneven, so I changed the level of the clock to where it was beating quasi-evenly; that did not help. I put it back in its original location, and the beat was worse. I thought, OK, this clock is 114 years old, perhaps its time has come (pun intended).

It is a 1909 Seth Thomas Sonora Chime. It is housed in a rosewood Greek Temple style case. Three things that set this particular clock apart from other clocks of the time: 1. The columns on the front of the clock are inlaid with ivory (I have never seen another with the inlay); 2. The clock has two movements: one for the time and one for the chiming mechanism; 3. The chimes are four nested brass bells rather than chiming rods. The sound is magical.

This particular clock has sentimental meaning for me. It belonged to my father’s parents. When I was a kid, I was enchanted by the sound of the bells. One day, I was playing with the clock, obviously unsupervised, and I broke the chiming mechanism. That was the first, of only a few times, that I saw my grandmother angered. My grandfather was a man of few words—he did not say anything. He did not trust anyone to fix the clock, so he took it from the mantel and placed on the hearth, in the corner where no one could see it (the fireplace stonework stretched the entire width of the wall). There it sat, forgotten, until my grandfather died.

My grandmother always said that when the two of them were gone, it was first come, first served. If I wanted anything from the house, I should just take it. My aunt made good on that promise, she told me to take anything I wanted, so I took the clock. (There were two other mantel clocks that I wanted, but I was not that greedy. I wanted ‘my clock.’) I removed years of dust from it. I had it repaired—after almost 40 years of silence, it was alive and ticking (now I have a Weird Al Jankovic-type song in my head—a parody on Simple Minds, Alive and Kicking).

Months have passed. The clock sits on a chest of drawers that is clearly visible from my desk. I could no longer stand the agony. I broke down and took it to my clock-maker, the one who resurrected it 17 years ago, dreading the prognosis. He put it on his bench and started it. It stopped shortly thereafter. He gave me three options: 1. He could adjust the beat right there and I could take it home to see what happens; 2. He could do a standard maintenance: cleaning and oiling; 3. He could rebuild it: take it apart, clean everything, put it back together, and regulate it. Each option rose in price, obviously, and in time.

The rebuild had a huge caveat: a two-year waiting list and the process would take four-to-six months because there are two movements in the clock (one for the time, one for the chime); it was also quite expensive. He assured me that the expense was not more than the clock is worth and it would add to the value—still all original parts. (He was also humble as he kept telling me that he was not trying to push me into anything I did not want, or could not afford.)

Seth Thomas Movements (Photo Credit: Private Archives 2023 TMcGraner)
Seth Thomas Movements (Photo Credit: Private Archives 2023 TMcGraner)

I opted for the beat regulation with a quote for the rebuild (I can get on the list without needing to leave the clock there in his shop for two+ years). He regulated the beat in about 90 seconds and charged me all of $10. (I was expecting several hundred for any type of maintenance or repair. The quote for the rebuild was a staggering $695 for the clock mechanism and $495 for the chime mechanism.)

The one thing that my clock-maker reminded me of was the rule that I had not heeded. Never move a pendulum clock with the pendulum, or pendulum bob, attached. This will guarantee a dysregulation (spelling intended, meaning implied). In essence, I had broken the clock, due to negligence, a second time. He fixed the beat. I brought it home, attached the pendulum bob, and started it. It is still running perfectly. The sound of that clock is something that I remember quite vividly from my childhood. I used to listen to it tick and chime for long periods of time. It calms me; it allows me to sleep, and sleep I did.

There are three chiming clocks in my bedroom, however, I am so tuned to that clock, I awoke when the clock struck six, seconds before my alarm went off.

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