The Clock Workshop
Serving all your clock repair needs since 1989.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Last modified at 4:43 p.m. on Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Time is ticking away -- if your clock works

By Mary Maraghy
Clay County Line staff writer

Maybe it's the round face, the lull of the swinging pendulum, the soothing chimes or the predictable "tick tock, tick tock."

For whatever reason, people cherish clocks.
Wylie Hartwell repairs and restores clocks in his workshop in the garage of his Orange Park home. For 14 years, Hartwell has repaired and restored clocks from grandfathers to cuckoos, from antique to modern to European.
-- Mary Maraghy/Staff

To the delight of many, Wylie Hartwell of Orange Park has, for 14 years, repaired and restored clocks from grandfathers to cuckoos, from antique to modern to European.

"There's not many of us left," he said.

Nationwide, there is a shortage of clock repairers, according to Jim Bland, director of marketing and public relations for the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors in Columbia, Pa., which has 183 chapters including one in North Florida that meets in Orange Park.

"There's not as many as there should be. A lot of people have broken clocks and people cherish their clocks," Bland said. "They bring back fond memories. I remember my grandparents' apartment. There were three small clocks and the neighbor had a big grandfather. I remember the sound -- a soothing ticking."

Often clocks are graduation or retirement gifts and they become family heirlooms. When they stop working, the owners don't know what to do with them.

Hartwell said he discovered this when he was installing dome lights in people's kitchens for a living. He said many families had a dead clock in the house.

Often, he ended up taking them home to fix.

As a kid, Hartwell took apart transistor radios. He has long loved clocks with their many gears, bearings, shafts, springs and levers -- the ultimate tinker toy.

"Even an automobile doesn't have as many parts," he said.

When Hartwell was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force stationed in Germany, a friend in his squadron taught him some clock repair skills. The main thing is to not uncoil the inner spring, which can be eight feet of metal coiled to the size of a quarter. That can be dangerous and messy, he said.

Hartwell purchased old broken clocks cheap at a German flea market to fix. He would draw a diagram of the clock's inner workings before taking them apart so he'd know how to put it back together. Often the workings were just gunked up with grime and only needed cleaning, he said.

Later, he got some how-to books and took some courses in clock repair.

Today, he owns and operates The Clock Workshop in a 6- by-8-foot closet in his garage where at least six clocks chirp, chime and cuckoo. With four kids, working at the kitchen table was no longer an option, he said.

He makes house calls to his clients. That's fairly common when repairing a grandfather clock that can't be easily trucked to a shop. Plus, he works out of his home and can't have cars coming in and out.

Unlike what the average tool box may contain, Hartwell's tools are much smaller. He carries seven sizes of tweezers with him and uses a small round extendable mirror -- like dentists use -- to look inside clocks.

His fingers are marked with puncture wounds created with the various pointy metal scribes he uses to mark metal clock parts. Many times, parts are the same size and shape and he needs to mark them to tell them apart.

Hartwell said many of his clients have been elderly folks, often in nursing homes, who treat clocks like pets or family members.

One of Hartwell's customers is Sybil Taylor, 80, of Jacksonville's Southside who has a grandfather clock and a mantel clock.

"They mean everything to me. I had this mantel clock since 1947; it is unusually old. Plus my grandfather clock from Europe, I bought in Texas 30 years ago," Taylor said. "It's just beautiful. Everybody who comes in here says the clock catches their attention. It's all of it, not only the beauty of them, the way they look, the way they strike."

Taylor said Hartwell does top-notch work.

"He's so pleasant, unobtrusive, so mannerly," she said. "He's very obliging and his prices are extremely reasonable."

Often Hartwell said he ends up sitting and listening to people reminisce.

He charges from about $35 up to $450 depending on the clock and the problem. But he doesn't make much.

"This is not something you get rich at," he said. "And I work at midnight a lot."

Because his hours are flexible, Hartwell said he enjoys more time with his children and grandchildren.

"That is far more valuable," he said.

Staff writer Mary Maraghy can be reached at (904) 278-9487, extension 19, or

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