Fleet Time company of Montreal – case refinishing and 2 surprises

While refreshing the case of this relatively nondescript mantel clock assembled by a short-lived Canadain clock company I ran into two interesting surprises.

Here is a garden-variety vintage Westminster chime mantel clock from the Fleet Time Company of Montreal (Canada). Many of these clocks were sold at department stores across Canada during the pre-war (WWII) era. However, this little known Canadian clock company had a brief life. Between 1936 and 1940 the company produced a range of two and three-train mantel clocks with movements sourced from Germany but were forced to end their operations.

The Second World War took a heavy toll on this company as the source of movements dried up and so did the company’s fortunes.

Wood cases were made in Canada for some models while other cabinets were imported from Germany.

This particular clock has a Gufa Westminster chime movement and I assume most of their 3-train clocks had a similar if not the very same movement. Gufa is the Guetenbacher Uhrenfabrik, located in Gütenbach, Germany. They manufactured 400-day clocks, cuckoo-clocks and later they became the “Jahresuhrenfabrik” (August Schatz & Sons in Triberg, Germany).

Rather than advertise the maker, many Fleet Time clocks simply had the word “Foreign” stamped on the movements.

This is a clock that could easily have been thrown in the garbage and I am fairly sure that is where it was headed. While I was in the city of Halifax (Nova Scotia, Canada) to pick up an Arthur Pequegnat Canuk kitchen clock the seller took me into his garage, pointed to a clock sitting on a shelf, and said. “for $10 more you can have this one”. “Why not”, I said!

Refinishing the case

I thought I would tackle the case first. While the front of the clock looks okay, the finish on the side sections were down to the bare wood plus scratches on top really detracted from the general appearance of the clock. It was a real mess. On top of that, the left side shoulder section was completely detached and had to be re-glued. Hot hide glue was used for this repair.

The finish was badly worn on both sides

Surprise #1

Rather than reproduce the dark lacquer finish I chose to sand the case down to the bare wood to see what lay beneath. To my surprise, I discovered a nicely grained, and beautifully textured grain. Enhancing the veneer with a light walnut stain is the way I chose to go because I did not want to go as dark as the original finish. Special Walnut, which has a light tone is perfect for the case and if I did not like it I could apply a darker walnut stain over it later.

Choosing the right stain; part of the case is still drying off from a wipe down with a damp cloth

The special walnut is very pleasing to the eye.

Special walnut stain

And the top of the clock.

Top of clock

After two coats of stain (above), here is the result.

After two coats of stain and two coats of shellac

The Special Walnut stain produced a very pleasing result. I applied one more coat of shellac, let it dry, and topped it off with Minwax Polishing Wax to produce a satin finish. Not the finish that came from the factory but it wlooks good.

Surprise #2

After cleaning the chapter ring, polishing the chrome bezel I was ready to return the movement to its case but what I should have done was test the movement beforehand.

When I received the clock I confirmed that the strike and chime functioned as they should and I assumed the time side was fine.

Broken mainspring which is not reparable

I inserted the winding key into the centre arbour and found no resistance. Hmm!

On these movements the barrels can be pulled out without disassembling the movement which certainly simplifies repairs. I pulled out the barrel, popped the back cap off, and discovered a broken mainspring. Using needle-nose pliers and heavy gloves, I pulled the mainspring out with for closer examination. No part of this mainspring is reusable and a new one must be ordered.

Occasionally when a mainspring breaks it takes a few other components with it like broken teeth, broken leaf pinions or bent arbours referred to as collateral damage. I inspected the gear teeth, pinions and arbours on the time train, gave the wheels a few spins and found everything moved smoothly, so, no damage this time. The broken mainspring is the only issue keeping this vintage mantel clock from striking and chiming again.

Mainsprings care easily sourced from a clock supplier. I waited until I built up a list of supplies for other projects then submitted the order online. German and American mainsprings are best and avoid those made anywhere else particularly India.

The movement was placed in a plastic bag along with nuts, hands, screws etc. and stored safely away until the mainspring arrived.

Two weeks later

Two weeks later, out come all the parts from storage.

Using my Olie Baker spring winder and mainspring retention collar I installed the mainspring into its barrel.

Fitting the barrel back into the movement involves moving the strike rods out of the way which is a bit of a pain, then, the barrel slides into a channel on the plate. The movement was returned to its case and the hands attached.

Fleet Time Westminster chime

The strike hammers were re-positioned for the best possible sound and my guess is that the clock is running and chiming for the first time in many years. As of this writing, it has completed a number of 8-day cycles. And to top it off, it looks great!

Let’s see, $10 for the clock $19.50 for the mainspring and less than a few dollars for stain, glue, etc. A satisfying project combined with a piece of Canadian clock history.

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