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Old clock's ticker may be overhauled

If funds are approved, county officials will bring in a clockmaker to clean, adjust or replace the mechanical parts.

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


DADE CITY -- Pasco County hopes to put a new face on the historic old courthouse in downtown Dade City.

The final part of the restoration of the old building involves not only a new face, but also new hands and mechanical guts for the large, antique clock that looks across the town square from atop the turn-of-the-century building.

If county commissioners approve the estimated $62,000 expenditure, county officials plan to hire one of the few qualified tower clock repair experts in the country to come to town and refurbish the clock.

As part of the project, county construction project manager Dennis Lemmons said the mechanical interior -- complete with big, spinning gears and intricate mechanical parts -- will be lowered from its perch in the tower to a glass case in the middle of the County Commission boardroom.

From there, the antique workings will power the hands of the clock by a set of pulleys and levers stretching up into the ceiling.

"It will look gorgeous," Lemmons said.

The clock still works, sort of, but it frequently displays the incorrect time, Lemmons said. Gears are worn, allowing too much play, and resetting the hands is time-consuming and difficult, he said.

Phil Wright, a self-taught expert in tower clock repair, said there are only a few like him in the country. The old clocks, for the most part, have outlived their creators, and with advances in engineering and a new reliance on electronics, few people have the skills to work on them.

"I guess I just decided there was a need for this," Wright said. "I've always been mechanically inclined. There was never anything I didn't want to take apart and see how it works."

Wright, 40, said the clock in the Dade City tower is extremely rare, possibly one-of-a-kind. The clock was made by Boston-based E. Howard Watch and Clock Co. around the turn of the century. The clock is unique because it's much smaller than most of the tower clocks made by the company, he said.

The clock probably cost the county about $5,000 when it was installed, Wright guessed.

Lemmons said that if commissioners approve the job next week, he wants to sign Wright to a contract within a month.

Once he gets started, Wright said, it would take about three months to finish the work. He plans to take the mechanical workings out of the tower and bring them to his home in South Charleston, Ohio, near Columbus. There, he said he'll clean and adjust each gear and spring, replace worn parts with parts he has salvaged from other clocks and manufacture those parts that can't be repaired.

Larry Steinel, county commissioner in Ohio's Washington County, said Wright repaired his county's historic clock."He did a beautiful job," Steinel said. "He did so many little extra things, things he never promised to do when we hired him but made so much difference. He cleaned and shined each piece and really did an excellent job."

"This is really a showpiece," Wright said of Dade City's clock. "I want to save everything I can inside for the historic value."

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