Clockmaker cherishes stories

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Clockmaker cherishes stories

Post by koimaster » August 4th 2015, 4:18pm

HICKORY – A modern-day Geppetto, David Pendley spends his days surrounded by clocks of all types and description. He spends almost two hours twice a year honoring Ben Franklin by springing forward or falling back until his last clock is set.

Unlike Geppetto’s shock of white hair and matching moustache, Pendley is clean-shaven and sports a bare scalp. When he’s working on clocks for his clients he wears a woodworker’s apron whose pockets house a host of precision tools at the ready.

Early Days

Pendley got his start in printing and worked in the industry for decades before he branched out into the world of timepieces.

“The gear trains in a printing press are very similar to the ones in clocks, but you don’t need to use a crane most of the time when you’re working on clocks,” he said.

Pendley started moving away from the printing industry by taking a six- to eight-month correspondence course taught by a North Carolina man who would mail his students a week’s worth of work. Pendley would repair the clock movements, box them up and ship them back to his instructor for grading. Then Pendley would wait for his next shipment of homework.

From there it was on to The School of Horology in Columbia, Penn., where he honed his skills and learned the intricate lathe and machine work he’d need to craft replacement parts that were no longer being manufactured.

When people learned that Pendley was a reputable clock repairman they started bringing him their clocks to work on at all hours. Once a woman left an antique clock on his front stoop at about 5 p.m. thinking he’d be home soon. What she didn’t realize was that Pendley was working the night shift and wouldn’t be home until about 7 a.m.

When he arrived he found the clock waterlogged from having sat through a storm. Its owner was unhappy, but Pendley saw the silver lining.

“Ma’am, that’s the better of the options,” he remembers telling his customer. “I have an old skunk who likes to mark stuff around here and we don’t need that.”

He’s been a clockmaker and clock repairman in his hometown of Hickory since 1999.

The Works

There are lots of ways to get a clock to tell the time. It can run on a battery. It can set itself by picking up radio signals. It can plug right into the wall and tell time based on the rate of the current passing through it, which works well until the power grid shifts and the clock winds up running faster or slower than it should. It is as though an occult hand had reached out through the electrical grid and into your clock with no purpose other than making you late for work.

Mechanical clocks are an old favorite because they’re not beholden to such finicky energy sources. The springs that keep the clocks running are long and powerful. Once when Pendley was winding a clock with a 17-foot-long spring its pressure sent the church key spinning backwards and broke off two lugs against Pendley’s fingers nearly breaking them in the process.

As long as you remember to wind up your mechanical clocks, there’s a good chance that they’ll work for 50-plus years. Pendley has plenty of clocks lined up on his shelves that are well over a century old just waiting for the right person to walk in the door and bring them home.

The Clocks

Pendley builds clocks from time to time. Sometimes he’ll gather mismatched parts and knock something together to see if it will keep good time. If it does, he’ll mount it in a case and display it on his sales floor.

“We call them marriages,” Pendley explained. “They can be good or bad. I put them together and home it works.”

But he specializes in repair work, although he’s often doing more than refurbishing gears and works.

“I fix a lot of memories, not a lot of clocks,” he said. “People will inherit grandma’s old clock and bring it to me so they can hear it chime like it did when they were kids.”

For aspiring collectors there’s no better starter clock than a classic eight-day American timing strike. Mantle clocks are nice too, but like most things it really comes down to customer preference.

“For most people the first clock they want is the one grandma had,” Pendley said. “I will track down a clock for a customer, but it’s not always easy. I have four books on Seth Thomas clocks and that’s not nearly all of them.”

He has grand old Western Union clocks, 19th century English grandfather clocks and new clocks for sale. His new Kit-Cat Clocks hail from the days when it seemed like everybody’s grandmother had a black plastic cat mounted on the kitchen wall with a white clock face on its belly, a tail that swung from side to side and big white eyes that constantly scanned the room from left to right and back again.

One old tabletop clock’s pendulum is a delicate weight on the end of a gossamer cord that swings right to wrap itself around a tiny post, unwinds itself, then swings left to wrap around the opposite post. And even though it’s not terribly efficient because it’s constantly getting tangled up in its own movements, it’s a marvel to watch.

The one Pendley calls the “Cat Teaser” is a battery operated wall clock. Its minimalist body is made from what appears to be a 10-inch square of brushed aluminum. Its pendulum is a ball chain that makes its wiggle way back and forth every second.

The one that stands out for Pendley is an old grandfather clock he sold years ago. Made in England, the date inscribed on its back was July 3, 1776.

Early on the mechanical challenge was what drew Pendley’s interest. These days it’s the stories behind the timepieces. But whether he’s making housecalls or working in his repair shop, he remains committed to his craft.

“It’s been fun,” Pendley said. “I have been blessed.” ... 7415c.html


“Your heart was warm and happy

With the lilt of Irish laughter

Every day and in every way

Now forever and ever after."
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