Grandfathers old clock – Preserve a memory or restore it – Part III

This is Part III of a 4-part series. 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 have devoted two previous articles to this curious and somewhat homely Waterbury time and strike schoolhouse clock. It is a clock that had been passed down within the family and it has had a hard life. Along the way it has undergone some changes, not all of them pretty. I thought about the next steps for this clock and considered advice from friends and family. It came down to three options:

1) Do absolutely nothing, preserve it as-is and store it in a closet,

2) Discard the case out, buy a donor case and install the parts I have in the new case or,

3) Preserve it, that is, not change it in a significant way but make some cosmetic changes and have it run reliably.

Option three it is.

At one time the original case was painted yellow with red trim. which is probably why it was discarded

Restoration or preservation? The restoration process consists of performing clock repair procedures on the movement as well as cosmetically restoring the dial, the case and its wooden and metal components using period procedures. Proper restorations do not change the clock’s functionality, appearance or value. Restoration of a valued clock is a serious business as many owners are emotionally attached to a clock for various reasons.

In this situation the movement can be restored and the other hardware cleaned up, however, the case is not original and was likely made 40, or 50 years ago which is why this project is part restoration and part preservation. Servicing the movement, putting the clock in running condition and making some cosmetic changes is my objective for this project.

This is what the clock looked like when I first received it.

First photo of the clock sent by my cousin

It has a homemade plywood case though it has all the essential mechanical parts. There is no dial glass. The brass bezel would have been hinged and perhaps the hinge broke and was discarded. The bezel was then screwed into the plywood.

The first step is the movement. The parts arrived from Perrin and I went to work on the movement. The movement is a Waterbury time and strike with a patent date of Sept 22, 1874. It was dirty as expected and there was some rust but it cleaned up nicely.

And after servicing

The movement required 5 bushings at T2F, T2R, S2F, S2R, and S3F. As always it takes me more than one try to get the strike side functioning correctly. During testing I noticed that the strike side was sluggish. A tight bushing, bent pivot, insufficient end shake? I will know when I take it apart and take a second look.

Walnut stain and clear coat, hiding the plywood and nail heads, for the most part

I gave the case a thorough cleaning, then a sanding and applied one coat of dark walnut stain followed by three coats of shellac. A dark Walnut stain is the optimal way to hide the plywood and the nail heads. It does not hide the plywood completely but the intent for this project is to refresh the case rather than conceal imperfections.

At one time the original case was painted yellow with red trim, my grandfather’s idea of matching the clock to the paint and trim in his kitchen. The original case was likely in such poor condition that it was thrown away.

Next, the brass. It was painted red at one time so it took a little Brasso muscle to remove a combination of red paint and tarnish.

The brass was quite black

The result looks good

The dial was a challenge. Cleaning up the pit marks and faded numbers was my key objective. The nicks are chicken pecks while stored in a barn. Again, I was not interested in replacing it but touching up the nicks and rust spots while preserving the character of the dial. I have a supply of acrylic metal paint and it is a matter of mixing the right colours to determine the closet match.

The numbers were painted with flat black acrylic metal paint. The dial touch-ups would fool most people at a distance. I removed the rust from the hands and gave them two coats of flat black paint. The coil gong base was cleaned and also painted black.

Colour matching to hide paint loss

I ordered 10 1/4inch convex glass for the bezel plus a door hinge. The hinge was soldered into place as were brass tabs to hold the glass. Although the hinge is not affixed in this photo, this is what the door complete with dial glass looks like. There is not much I can do about the screw holes on the bezel; it remains part of its provenance. I may cut the heads of some brass slotted screws and solder them to the holes or simply leave the holes as-is.

Glass installed in bezel. Hinge installed but not fit to case in this shot

The clock requires an access door on the short drop, the opening is unsightly. As you can see in the photo above the cut-out is rough and a door will effectively hide it. I plan to make a solid door much like the one on this New Haven schoolhouse clock.

Drop door on a New Haven schoolhouse clock

It may not not be the prettiest clock in my home but it will be a great conversation piece and after 60 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.

Next is new drop access door and final assembly which I will detail in the next and last post for this project, Part IV in 4 days.

What to do with this old clock was a difficult decision. What would you have done?

4 thoughts on “Grandfathers old clock – Preserve a memory or restore it – Part III

    1. Thanks Robert. As much as I would like to restore this clock to its original state, I must recognize that it went through a significant change (newer case) and I will respect that when I put he clock in running order and make cosmetic changes to the case.



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