Keeping Time Running

by Jeffrey B. Roth

DST, 2017, begins at 2 a.m., Sunday, March 12; DST, 2017, ends at 2 a.m., Sunday, November 5. Spring forward (one hour); Fall back, (one hour).

This simple mnemonic device originated in the early 20th Century when Daylight Savings Time began to be employed in North America, the United Kingdom and in Europe. Spring and Fall indicate the seasons, while forward and back refer to advancing clocks one hour or reversing clocks one hour. In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted year-round use of DST in the United States.

Many people obsess over the passage of time. Bill Timmins, clocksmith and owner of Timeless Clockworks, on the other hand, focuses his energy and passion on the art and craft of making, repairing and maintaining timekeepers.

Located in a two-and-a-half story 1830, red brick building, the 600-plus square-foot shop is filled with clocks, some ticking, some silent; some polished and gleaming, some waiting for some TLC. Grandfather clocks, wall clocks, mantel clocks, alarm clocks, novelty clocks – clocks here, there and everywhere. Timmins said the historic building, located in the small village of Centennial, served as a hotel and stage coach stop, was part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War; and, in the 1950s and early 1960s, it became a tavern, operating under various names, including Mount Rock Inn and Centennial Inn. It was purchased by Timmins’ family members in 1991-1992.

“Born and raised in Gettysburg,” Timmins, 65, a 1970 graduate of Gettysburg High School said: “I always had an interest in clocks and I bought my first clock in my 20s, as a hobbyist. I’m a retired manufacturing engineer; I worked for several companies over the years, and the last few years, I was independent. My specialty was design and manufacturing of gearing and shafting for the heavy trucking industry.”

When Timmins turned 57 or 58, he began an apprenticeship with Allen Egger, an Abbottstown master clocksmith, who died about two years ago. Timmins worked with Egger for five years, learning the intricacies of the trade. In 2009, Timmins, with Egger’s help, began his own full-time business, and in early 2010, while still working with Egger, Timmins opened his own shop.

“He (Egger) really shortened my learning curve,” Timmins said. “I was able to draw on all of his experiences; and with my engineering and machinist background – it was a perfect fit. I built and designed the big clock on the outside wall. It’s eight-foot tall with a 44-inch dial. I’ve designed and built some logo clocks for businesses.”

Mechanical, electric, battery, quartz, digital, chronometer – new, old, Timmins repairs all types of clocks. The oldest clock Timmins has repaired was made in 1780-1790 and was more than 200 years old. In addition to repairing the internal clockworks, Timmins provides complete restoration services – cabinetry, glass and brass work; utilizing, when necessary, subcontractors.

“With my machinist background, if I can’t buy a part, a lot of times I can make it,” Timmins said. “Most of my business is on clocks from the mid-1800s up till now. The repairs, pretty much, involve disassembling, and I do ultrasonic cleaning, then evaluation and I contact the customer with estimates. I make house calls too. I do estimates and appraisals. Most of the repairs are centered around areas of wear, which may involve installing a new part, installing new bushings or bearings.”

About 80 percent of the clocks he repairs were made in the U.S. Many of the clocks are family heirlooms, inherited from grandparents and parents. About half of his business involves grandfather clocks, which he both repairs and sells. Timmins is an authorized dealer for Howard Miller, Ridgeway Clock Companies and Black Forest Cuckoo Clocks, which are listed on his www.timelessclockworks.com website.

“With the grandfather clocks, depending on the repairs, I don’t move the whole clock case,” said Timmins, who is the great-great-grandson of Gettysburg Civil War-era photographer, W.H. Tipton. “I take everything out of the case and bring it here. A lot of people don’t get their grandfather clocks fixed because they don’t know how to get it to me. Probably the most challenging clocks are tubular, chime grandfather clocks. If someone wants to move to Florida, I provide relocation services, getting it ready for the movers.”

Timmins restored a tubular, chime clock in the student union building of Gettysburg College. The smallest clocks Timmins has repaired were battery-powered travel alarm clocks; the largest clocks were 8-foot high tubular chime grandfather clocks, weighing 400-500 pounds. He also works on water clocks on occasion. In addition to common clocks, Timmins has repaired barometers, music boxes, time punch clocks and other timekeeping devices.

“Sometimes people bring clocks in and ask me what I can tell them about it,” Timmins said. “There were a lot of (American) clockmakers in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Most of the old clockmakers of the tall case grandfather versions, signed and numbered their dials. One of the most popular clocks in this area is the (Jacob) Hostetter clocks, from the Hanover, York County area. I have a personal collection of 60 clocks, some from the late 1700s; some only five years old. I have one that I call a witness clock, because it has a Gettysburg jeweler’s tag in it and is dated 1863. The jeweler was A.R. Seistel.”

During an average year, Timmins repairs and restores between 150-200 clocks. Timmins maintains a small workshop in the building.

“I guess I’m fascinated by clocks because they’re intricate,” Timmins said. “There’s satisfaction from taking something 100 years old that hasn’t run in 30 years and making it operational. I like the artistry. I look at these clocks that are 100-150 years old and try to imagine what they have seen.”

On rare occasions, Timmins discovers something that had been left forgotten inside the clock cabinet. It’s not uncommon to find manuals or sales receipts. In one clock, he found something unusual, a Christmas card dated from the 1920s. Apparently, employees of a business had chipped in to buy the clock for their boss.

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Author: HM

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