Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Lucas County welcomes 1894 courthouse clock home

Lucas County's principal timepiece came home Tuesday after more than a year and a half of absence from the courthouse tower. Now fully restored and ready to run, it shouldn't be long before all four of its faces are telling accurate time again and the big bell is ringing out the hours --- quarter, half and full.

Rory DeMesy (right), of Minneapolis, who disassembled the clock and took it home to his Twin Cities shop for restoration during March of 2015, drove the clock down home Tuesday morning. The big Seth Thomas, looking exactly as it did when installed 122 years ago, was greeted at the south courthouse door just after lunch by a welcome-home party led by County Supervisor Steve Laing (left), who has poured heart and soul into the restoration project, funded in part by the county but in large part by donations.

Anyone interested was welcome to examine the mechanism --- and enjoy a cookie or two --- during the afternoon.

DeMesy and his associate now will disassemble the mechanism and hand-carry the pieces up to the clock chamber in the courthouse tower where they will be reassembled. Next week, the driving mechanism will be connected to new hands installed on all four clock faces, the massive pendulum and weights reattached and the big hammer that strikes the bell reinstalled. Then, after testing and adjustment, the clock should be back in business.

The restored clock will function exactly as it did when installed --- with one exception. An automatic winder will be attached to the shaft so that it will not be necessary to wind the weights up by hand. The original hand crank is available, however, and could be used if anyone especially wanted to.


The courthouse clock was a gift to the people of Lucas County from Chariton entrepreneur Smith Henderson Mallory, announced on Jan. 1, 1894, as the new courthouse was nearing completion. It arrived by train from the Seth Thomas plant in Connecticut during February, was assembled, installed and tested and began running on May 22, 1894, the day the new courthouse was dedicated.

According to DeMesy, the clock is a Seth Thomas Model 16, the most popular of the company's big clocks. It tells the time in second-and-a-half increments, which makes it highly accurate but also requires a very long pendulum that extends through the clock chamber floor down into the tower.

Although the clock has served faithfully since 1894, a number of changes were made as the years passed. For one, a stationary bicycle was installed in the tower and attached to the winding mechanism to ease the burden of cranking the weights up by hand.

During 1954, new hands were fabricated and installed on the clock face.

And at some point during the latter half of the 20th century the mechanism was electrified. That resulted in major damage --- the pendulum and weights were removed and taken to the Lucas County Historical Society (the society gladly returned them to the county two years ago). And several parts of the drive mechanism were removed and apparently destroyed. In addition, someone apparently had decided to brighten the mechanism up by applying copper paint to some of its parts, doing the clock no favor.

DeMesy fabricated some of the missing pieces himself. In other instances, he was able to recycle with a few modifications parts from other Seth Thomas Model 16 clocks that had been declared beyond repair.

However he did it, the clock now looks and functions as it did originally. Later paint was stripped away carefully to expose the original green and black color scheme of the clock stand, touched up a little as one would a restored painting, DeMesy said. The dedicatory and manufacturer's plaques were carefully cleaned and polished as were the small clock faces --- both hour and minute --- that mirror the time being told on the four exterior faces.

DeMesy began his career among clocks by working primarily for collectors. His first building-sized project was restoration of the Appanoose County Courthouse clock in Centerville. Now, his services are widely in demand --- so projects fall in line behind each other on a waiting list.


DeMesy also fabricated, out of redwood, new hands for the four faces of the clock. These hands mark the hours by moving around the clock face fully exposed to the elements, so must be sturdy.

Some of the old hands, somewhat deteriorated but still in working order, will come to the Lucas County Historical Society for display once the project is complete. But Barbara Tolly (left) was on hand Tuesday to pick up one of the old hour hands for her father, Bill Jones, who was part of the three-man crew that installed these hands as replacements back in 1954 and had been following the project closely from his current home at the Chariton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Barbara suggested that I visit with her father about that project and so I drove out and did just that.

Bill, a Humeston-area native who lived at Derby until moving into Chariton during 2012, was working on the Lucas County bridge crew during 1953-54. Bill Crow, of Lucas, was foreman of the crew and also was given the assignment of fabricating new hands for the clock. The original hands, also wooden, had been in service since 1894, were deteriorating and in some cases had warped so badly that they were interfering with each other. Loren Storm, also of Lucas, was the third member of the bridge/clock crew.

Bill recalled that Crow special ordered cypress at Rodgers Lumber and Hardware in Lucas and began crafting the new hands during spare time during 1953, completing that phase of the project during 1954.

The new hands were installed by Bill Crow, Bill Jones and Storm during 1954.

This involved climbing to the highest part of the clock tower, into the area behind the faces, removing the batting that held the clock faces in place, then leaning the faces back into tower chamber so that the hands could be installed.

Bill Jones' principal job was to notch narrow strips of soft pine so that they could be bent and molded to form new supports to hold the clock faces in place, a tetchy and time-consuming job.

He recalled that the south, west and north faces were handled in this manner, but that Crow decided not to tackle the east clock face because it had a slight crack and he was afraid of worsening it. As a result, new hands were not installed on the east face until the next time the courthouse was sandblasted and a lift was being used for that project. That allowed him to install the hands from the outside without moving the clock face.

Bill wanted to know if that crack in the east clock face had worsened --- and I couldn't tell him. Maybe someone working up there during the next couple of weeks would be kind enough to check.

1 comment:

BKE said...

Out of what material are the clock faces made, wood or glass? Are they original? Growing up in Chariton in the 60s and 70s I seem to recall the clock faces being amber, not white, and I had the impression they were back illuminated.