Ticking Away


by Terry Hogan


Our technology is growing at a tremendous rate. I've got so many remote controls, I have an insufficient number of hands. Just for one TV and items wired to it, I have four remotes- TV, VCR, DVD, and digital cable box. If I leave the family room, I find two more remotes for the stereo- one for the CD player and one for the receiver. It is stripping away my ability to cope with technology. Supposedly, some remotes are able to be reprogrammed to serve more than one electronic item, but I don't have an electronics freak around (or a 6-year old) to do it for me.  But our technology is also outstripping our language too.


Our language is in constant flux. Old terms are hanging on, but are no longer accurate for what they are used for. Other new terms come in, but will probably be doomed to an even faster obsolescence.  Just a couple of examples in case my writing isn't saying what I want it to say. When is the last time you really "dialed" a phone? When was the last time you really heard time "ticking away"? The latter is what I'm really writing about.


Recently, I talked my mother out of three old pendulum mantel clocks that she had in attic storage for over 40 years. Prior to that, they were stored in an attic of my Grandpa and Grandma Hogan's home on North Henderson Street (back when it was a residential area). It is not clear how they ended up with three mantel clocks, but now they are mine, attic dust, cobwebs, and all. They will be joining another mantel clock, a small cottage clock, and a large wall mounted pendulum clock that I don't know much about (a flea market purchase).  


The cottage clock was a cheap clock in its day. It has to be wound daily and has no chimes. It was manufactured by the Waterbury Clock Company of Waterbury, Connecticut. The clock works are very simple. But it still works. We found it, minus a pendulum, tossed into an attic overhang access door on the second floor of a farm house near Wataga. The house was to be burned down. It was 1967. This clock has the cheapest works of these clocks and perhaps this accounts for having the loudest "tick-tock".


The mantel clock was a wedding gift to my wife's grandparents by one of their parents. It sat on the mantel of the old farmstead family home near Tylerville for decades - unwound and unused. The house was heated with a faulty coal-fired furnace for years, and the clock (and the house) was covered with soot, when the old clock was given to us. A little cleaning turned a black case (soot) into a beautiful light orange, with gentle scroll work. It is a Seth Thomas clock called a "Adamantine Clock". It bears a patent date of September 7, 1880. To my amazement, with a little winding and oil, the clock began ticking and keeps good time. It chimes on the hour and half hour, with different sounding chimes for each. Perhaps my good fortune with this clock relates to a faint pencil inscription on the back. The inscription was, I'm guessing, the record of work performed on April 25, 1955 by E. O. Swanson (I think) on 607 East Losey Street. Whatever work he did, he must have done it well.


The three mantle clocks from my grandparents were deposited on my work shop table. I cleaned them up externally, and I made some minor repairs to a couple of decorative faux marble columns that had come loose on the front of one of them. I next inspected the clock works.


One was "dead on arrival". Ironically, it was the one with the columns that I had repaired. Both main springs (for the pendulum and for the striker) were broken. It was manufactured by the Gilbert Clock Company of Winsted, Connecticut. The metal clock work has the date of 1906.


The next clock has an all metal case. The clock works have the name of the manufacturer - Ansonia Clock Company, New York.  It is the smallest of the three but also the heaviest. It is very well made. I soaked the gears down with WD-40 and hoped for the best. The clock would run for a bit and then stop. I'd start it again, and it would stop again in a few minutes. I turned the clock around 180 degrees to gain access to the mechanism from the back and started the pendulum again.  It ran like, well, a clock. It ticked and it chimed on the half hour and on the hour. I was elated. I turned it back around on the work bench and restarted it. It stopped. I tried again with the same result. I figured my work bench probably wasn't quite level so I didn't worry about it. I wiped off the excess oil and took it into the house and placed it on the mantel. I started the clock. It stopped. I started it. It again stopped. This went on for hours. I began recalling the definition of being crazy - doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.  I turned the clock 180 degrees so that the clock face was facing the wall and opened up the access port on the back. I started the clock. It is still running 24 hours later. It ticks softly and has a soft, quiet strike like it might really have been designed for a bedroom. It is a classy clock.


The third clock received similar WD-40 treatment and was started. It ran perfectly from the start, although it gains about a 1/2 hour per day. Its mechanism is nice but not the quality of the smaller metal clock. It was manufactured by the E. Ingraham Clock Company of Bristol, Connecticut. It has a patent date of 1885. It is apparently a Regent model and the label shows it to be an 8-day clock with a half hour chime.


As I write this article, there are no less than four pendulum clocks ticking. Three of these clocks strike on the half hour and the hour. Although I must confess that while I have them running, I make no claim that the keep particularly accurate time and certainly do not strike in unison. These clocks are more of the free-spirits variety. They strike when they want to.


But the ticking of a clock, marking the passage of time, is a soothing, home-sort-of-noise. It harks to a quieter time and to a time when a clock didn't have to be accurate within a few seconds. Everybody understood that a 7 PM get-together meant 7 PM, more or less. And farmers still went to bed at dark and got up with sunrise. They didn't need an accurate clock for that lifestyle.


It was a time, long ago, when time ticked away.