A very special Waterbury wall clock – my grandfather’s kitchen clock (a personal journey)

The Waterbury clock hanging in my office brings back memories of my grandfather, a man I wish I had known better. Call it one of life’s regrets.

Now, I didn’t know my grandfather all that well and I’m not sure that many people did. He was shy and a man of few words. I don’t think many people really knew him. In fact, I don’t recall having a meaningful conversation with him.

Rank listed as driver although he was a private in the First World War

He passed in 1962 at age 82 when I was only 12.

My grandfather and his brother came to Canada in 1906. There were many British immigrants at the time as Canada offered new and exciting opportunities for young men. Grandfather came from Shoreham, England where most of his family originated, and was employed with the Postal Service but evidently, postal work was not for him and an adventure to the colonies was a better option.

When he arrived in Canada, he chose Ottawa as a place to live. At the time his future wife lived with her parents. Her mother operated a boarding house where grandfather stayed when he first arrived in Ottawa. You might say that my great-grandmother was a matchmaker of sorts, as she encouraged my grandfather and grandmother to spend time together. She must have thought that since he came from the old country he was quite a catch.

My grandfather spoke only English, and his bride spoke only French. So, how they communicated throughout their engagement and the first few married years is a mystery to this day. Perhaps words are not important after all!

When the First World War broke out in 1914 my grandfather did not sign up immediately but waited until 1916 at which time both grandfather and his brother made the decision to join the war effort. Grandfather was not particularly patriotic, and the purpose of joining was to take advantage of an all-expenses paid trip to Europe and more specifically England where he could reconnect with his family in the Shoreham area. At that point, he had been away from his home country for 10 years.

Imagine my disappointment when I saw this

Neither he nor his brother had any idea that the war would go on for two more years. In fact, they thought, and a lot of people shared the same feeling, that the war would end by Christmas, and they would be home in two or three months. Little did they realize how much longer the war would last and the impact the war would have on two young men.

Waterbury grandfather's clock
The movement had been neglected for many years

My grandfather was a military driver during the First World War and was in Europe between 1916 and 1918. He witnessed horrific things and retained many of those memories. Today people would use the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but, in those days they called it “shell shock”. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder would stay with him throughout his entire life.

My grandparent’s home was very quiet but for the sound of the Waterbury time and strike wall clock. Grandfather suffered from anxiety/depression and it didn’t take much to bother him, most likely due to his experiences in the First World War.

The brass bezel was in poor shape and screwed to the case?

After the war grandfather worked for the Ottawa Transportation Commission for a number of years. He was a conductor on a streetcar and when the OTC switched from streetcars to buses, they eliminated the conductor position. Grandfather was told that he had to drive a bus and since he was unable to drive for anxiety reasons that stemmed from his experiences in the Great War, he left work at the age of 50 and never worked again. But he and my grandmother managed with the help of family.

Touch-ups were required and dirt was removed from the brass

My grandfather painted that old Waterbury clock case the color yellow to match the walls in the kitchen. I guess he thought it would blend in with the surroundings and the ticking of the clock would somehow subside into the walls. When they sold their home in Ottawa the clock was passed on to one of my cousins.

Waterbury grandfather's clock
The clock case had no drop door so, a new one had to be made

The clock was tucked in an old barn for many years and when my cousin downsized and moved into a smaller home he wondered if I would have it. In 2018 he contacted me by email and suggested I retrieve the clock. At the time I imagined it was a complete clock with movement, case, and all the important bits but when I picked it up I was disappointed that it had suffered so much through the years.

Waterbury grandfather's clock
Cleaned and ready for the next 100 years

I wish I knew what the clock looked like in its day because what I have left is not the clock I envisioned on my grandfather’s kitchen wall many years ago. I have the movement, dial face, and brass bezel. The case and a few other important parts are long gone. The case my cousin made some 40 or 50 years ago is a heavy homemade plywood concoction. He did the best he could but it was clear that he had little understanding of clock case construction and he got a few things wrong.

However, I was determined to do something with it. It now has new dial glass, a pendulum rod and bob, a verge and crutch, a winding key, and a new drop door. I cleaned up the dial as best I could, refreshed the case, and addressed wear issues on the movement.

Grandfather’s clock, plywood case and all

That old kitchen clock is in my office right beside my desk and ticking away and striking as it should. Although I remember it ticking loudly as a child in the back kitchen the truth of the matter is that it is not a loud ticker at all; it is very soothing.

I contemplated ditching the crudely constructed case and finding a period correct one but the clock with all its warts is what it is. The plywood case, as ugly as it is, is part of the history of the clock. So it will stay as it is and it will always be a reminder of a man I wish I had known.


2 thoughts on “A very special Waterbury wall clock – my grandfather’s kitchen clock (a personal journey)

  1. Ron, Great account. Couple things I want to toss in. First, the jingoistic overblown fervor compelling naïve young men to enlist in WWI. What was supposed to be a adventure and be back home for Christmas 1914. Only to find out they entered the meat grinder from Hell. For nothing. Well, besides making the fat cats home here millionaires as armament suppliers. He, your grandfather not “patriotic”? Astute? Prescient?
    Since I’m discussing your family, you a bit harsh on your cousins cabinetry skills. Compound mitering looks crisp. Crappy choice of cheap wood, but likely he had to make do.


    1. It is part of the clock and will remain as it is. But it looks better than it did and most importantly it runs very well after 100+ years.


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