Tick tock goes the clock
HUGHESVILLE – A fine art it is, that of measuring time and keeping clocks and watches working for mankind to enjoy forever. Time is a dimension of itself, and Hughesville is home to a very skilled horologist. Charlie Hughes knows the science of keeping time and making precious time pieces. The development of time, clocks and calendars has a fascinating history and it is dramatically changing all the time according to the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, Inc.
To keep the art of timekeeping alive in 2009 Hughes started a local chapter, The Susquehanna Chapter 193 of Watch and Clock Collectors which is one of six located in Pennsylvania. “We have about 25 to 30 active members and they come from all over northeast Pennsylvania,” said Hughes. They meet every two months at the Trinity Episcopal Church in the Williamsport Historic District. “We meet there because we maintain the clock,” said Hughes who noted that the church owns the oldest chiming clock in the United States. “It chimes every quarter,” and has to be timed just right. “It is a long climb to get there,” he said as it is the tallest steeple in Lycoming County. The members share the maintenance and their knowledge with students from classes in Machine Tool Technology from the Pennsylvania School of Technology.
Hughes is also the timekeeper for the town clock in Hughesville. He started his own business from home where he buys, sells and repairs just about any type of clock. Known as the “Clock Shack” Hughes decided to start fixing clocks shortly after his retirement as a certified electrician in 2002. “I’ve always had clocks of my own,” he said, and even built one for himself. It took him all winter when he built it in 2010. Every Sunday morning he winds fourteen clocks in his living room and family room. One of them, a Birgeon & Sullivan is 165 years old.
Hughes is self taught and operates from a shop in his basement. He said he used a lot of books, and did a lot of research on the tools. He knows how to draw and create. His knowledge and patient skill working with his hands as an electrician added to his craftsmanship. Hughes reflected on the loss of Bartlow’s Jewelry Store and Rodman’s shop in Muncy and decided he could repair the clocks on his own. “I’ve always been a tinkerer,” he added. The Association has many useful references to antiques and collecting, watch and clock repair, although Hughes only works on clocks. Jim Zerfing who is president of the local chapter has been a mentor to Hughes, and still helps him today. Hughes is vice-president.
Hughes said he repairs close to 200 clocks a year, mostly from local residents. He has mastered all types. Some are run by weights and some have springs that need wound up. Modern clocks run by battery. “The history of mechanical clocks probably go back to the Renaissance,” acknowledged Hughes. Britain had the patents, therefore metal couldn’t be exported. So all of the clocks made in the United States since colonial times are made of wood. “It is now a limited market,” Hughes added.
“I almost have to educate on how to wind a clock. We didn’t have batteries to put in our toys. We wound them up,” Hughes said of his 78 years. Clocks need to be wound, some every 30 hours and others can last up to 8 days. “There is also a 31 day clock. Mechanical clocks take a lot of maintenance if you want them to run,” he said. A favorite for many customers is the famous cuckoo clock. But it needs a routine. “Some people don’t like to wind them.”
This is a good retirement job,” said Hughes who raised his family in Wolf Township and now resides at 168 North Third Street in Hughesville. “It’s been a challenge too. There’s always different ones that I’ve never seen before.” He said one of the most interesting clocks he has come across, was one that was brought in by Bob and Judy Simmons. Her mother had bought an old toll clock, a Grandfather clock made in Germany, at a sale in Pennsdale. It was quite unique according to Hughes. He also said that the ‘Regulators’, clocks with intricate mechanisms, keep the best time. “No clocks are made in the U.S. anymore,” he said. Before the Civil War a salesman would come around as they traveled across the country representing the 6 or 7 major clock makers and sell them for about two to three dollars. “My grandparents had the mechanical clocks,” he said. “We had a cuckoo clock from Switzerland, and we would sit as kids and wait for that cuckoo bird to come out,” he added.
The Gingerbread clocks were special too. “They kept standard time, known as ‘God’s Time,” replied Hughes.
Another clock in his prized collection is a 1904 clock from the Armor Leather Company which is in their dining room. Calendar clocks show the day of the week and month and are surrounded by beautiful wooden frames. Hughes said they were made in New Haven.
The Tambour clocks, also very popular, were made in the early 20’s before some turned electric. Hughes likes to go to sales, mainly visiting an antique shop in Douglasville, PA. Finding these clocks is not difficult. Many of them were purchased during World War II when soldiers brought them back from Germany.
The website www.nawcc.org for the association is an extremely helpful resource. Hughes said he can get appraisal courses, converse with other timekeepers, get hands on learning tips and use the extensive library for research.
To reach Charlie Hughes call The Clock Shack at 570-584-2244.