Grandfathers old clock – now what do I do with it? Part II


Photo sent to me by my cousin

I posted Part I of a four-part article on this curious schoolhouse clock recently. In this, Part II I discuss the what I like and what frustrates me about this project.

I have a vivid memory of this Waterbury octagon short drop schoolhouse clock that hung in my grandparent’s kitchen when I was a young boy. Now that I have it what do I do with it. I thought long and hard about what my next steps should be and considered advice from friends and family.

  1. Do absolutely nothing,
  2. Discard the case, buy a donor case and install the parts I have or,
  3. “Preserve” it, that is, not change it in a significant way but have a working clock.
I had hopes of restoring this clock to its former glory but after discovering a home-built case I have decided to proceed differently

The good stuff: The dial face is definitely showing its age. There is rust and pitting throughout but the Roman Numerals are fairly clear despite some fading. The Waterbury trademark is visible on the dial just above the centre arbour. The spade hands appear to be original, though rusted. The time and strike movement is intact sans suspension spring, pendulum rod and pendulum bob. There is a Waterbury trademark on the front plate of the movement with a patent date of September 22, 1874. Just how long Waterbury used this movement deserves some research but the clock works look to be from the 1890s. The coil gong is clearly marked Waterbury. The bottom line; there is strong evidence that the movement, dial, bezel, clock hands, and coil gong are all from the same clock.

When I picked up the clock I immediately discovered that it was twice as heavy as it should be
Plywood was not available as a general building material until 1928

The frustrating stuff: When I picked up the clock I immediately discovered just how heavy it was. Makers go to great lengths to make clocks as light as possible; this one is very hefty. The backboard and front face are constructed of ½ inch plywood. Plywood would not have been available in the 1890s or even some years afterwards. The centre frame appears to be 3/4 inch board. The movement sits high on a block of wood to bring the arbours closer to the dial but the result is that they protrude too far above the face. Robertson and Phillips screws (the former invented 1909, the latter in 1932) are used everywhere. The “newer” case is very sturdy and would likely last a long time but weighs twice as much as it should. It is an interesting homemade case.

Plywood construction, twice as heavy as a typical clock case should be

The handyman, be it my grandfather or someone who it was passed on to certainly had the best of intentions. The original pieces such as the dial, movement etc. were retained but the original case was discarded. My grandparents were poor and lived modestly. In those days if things wore out folks would go to great lengths to keep them running often resorting to home repairs with materials at hand. The goal was functionality not aesthetics.

The movement, coil gong, dial face, bezel and hands are all from the same clock

Four screw holes were drilled into the original brass dial bezel and at one point in its life it was painted red. The bezel would have been originally hinged to the front face of the clock. The dial glass is missing, perhaps discarded after it broke. Aside from the 4 screws holding the dial bezel, I counted 20 more screw holes once I lifted up the bezel.

Lastly, the short drop section is without an access door.

Next steps: I had hopes of restoring this clock to its former glory but after discovering a home-built case I have decided to take another course of action.

The dial, bezel, movement and coil gong are the important mechanical bits which are in good shape. Missing are the suspension spring, pendulum rod and pendulum bob, all easily available through any clock supplier. The movement wheels run free and the mainsprings are good; all the parts are there aside from those mentioned above and there is no reason why it should not run reliably after cleaning and servicing.

The clock is waiting for me on my cousins kitchen table

The case is what it is, it is part of my history, part of my family history. It will be sanded and stained dark walnut followed by a clear topcoat. I will affix a brass plaque in memory of my grandfather and proudly hang it on the wall.

But first: The first order of business is to clean up the clock including the brass dial face sections. Next, buy new glass for the dial and a hinge for the bezel plus the movement parts that are required. Finally, I will fashion a new drop door using old wood from a donor clock.

And that’s where it ends. It can be no more than what it is.

It may not be the prettiest clock in my home but it will be a great conversation piece and after 70 years it will finally tell the time. I can only imagine my grandfather standing under the clock, comparing the time with his pocket watch and deciding if he should make just one small adjustment.

The clock is now on my project bench and I will post two more blog articles in November detailing the steps towards preserving this interesting clock.

9 thoughts on “Grandfathers old clock – now what do I do with it? Part II

  1. Thank you for the story Ron. I do remember Grandfather’s clock. So nice for you to take this on.


    1. Thanks Denis. Some tough decisions had to be made but in the end, I preserved what I had. The memory if it is more important than its looks. The clock has been running reliably for over a year now and makes a lovely striking sound just like it used to make.


  2. Thanks for finally talking about >Grandfathers old clock – now what
    do I do with it? Part II – Antique and Vintage Clock Collecting & Repair <Loved it!


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