The Minnesota Clocks & Watches household is coming up on the end of the second week of semi-quarantine, just in time for Governor Walz’s “shelter in place” order to extend it another couple weeks. We are adequately stocked with toilet paper and have enough carbs in the cupboard to feed a small marathon. I bought Super Smash Brothers to play on our Nintendo with our boys and there’s been a lot of floor hockey happening in our bonus room. Thus far we haven’t killed each other. I don’t mean to overly make light of a very serious situation, but a little levity is necessary for surviving the isolation.

Our children seem to absorb a lot of the extra time we’re supposed to have (no commute, no social events) but I have managed  to get in a little repair work in. I’m continuing to work on the batch of clocks I purchased from an estate last month. I just finished up this Colonial grandfather clock. Colonial made so many models it’s hard to pin down exactly when this was made, but I’m guessing 1920’s – 1930’s.

The clock stands about 75 inches tall. It counts the hour and strikes the half hour on a nice mellow sounding coil gong. The case is a vey dark brown. In low light it’s almost black. The metal dial is bronze colored. I’m not quite sure it’s fair to call this Mid-Century Modern, but it’s heading in that direction.

Colonial Manufacturing was based in Zeeland, Michigan and operated from 1906 – 1987. They were a prolific maker, and in the 1970’s had nearly a third of the market share of large clocks in the US. Colonial was primarily a casemaker, using movements manufactured in Germany. 





This clock’s movement is stamped Colonial Mfg Co, Zeeland Mich, Germany. The movement manufacturer is stamped Haller & Benzing Schwenningen A.N.

The movement was a dream to work on. It has nice thick plates, and all of the strike synchronization is done on the front side of the movement, which saves considerable hassle in trying to hold all of the levers and pins in place while putting the movement plates back together. With this style of movement, the trains can be assembled between the plates without any care in alignment, and the levers can be adjusted later. This is in contrast to count wheel-style movements where assembly is an iterative exercise in frustration and cursing, trying to coax all of the pivots into their holes while holding the gear train to mesh in just a certain way.

This clock is a bit newer than most I work on, and that plus good design and probably some reasonable care meant that the overhaul wasn’t as daunting as a lot of what I get. A full disassembly and ultrasonic cleaning followed by polishing the pivots to a mirror finish and a bit of polishing and cleanup work to rest of the movement was the extent of what it needed, and back together it went. Note the adjustable pivot holes – the circles near the top of the plate with a slot to rotate to adjust alignment. No bushings were required. 

The most challenging part of the whole repair process was dealing with the weight chains. The chains have a large ring on the free end and a link with wide arms that stick out on the weight end. The holes in the seatboard (the wooden board the movement sits on) are very small to ensure that careless winding won’t pull the chains all the way through the clock. To remove the clock, the chain must be split to remove one or the other of the large links that interfere with the seatboard holes. For disassembly, it’s advantageous to split the chain on the weight end as you can then pull the chain all the way through and out of the movement. For reassembly the reverse is better – removing the ring on the free end allows a string to be fished through the movement and the case to fish the chain through without fighting the ratcheting mechanism.

I did a bit of case work to repair some torn fabric on one of the access doors where someone had punched through.

This was a very satisfying project. Some of the clocks I see are incredibly worn and it becomes a calculation problem of how much work they are worth, considering the low prices of clocks at the moment. This clock, on the other hand, needed a 30,000 mile tuneup, rather than a 200,000 mile drivetrain replacement. I am confident the clock will run very well for a long time.  This clock needs is a new home. Maybe yours?

I have begun work on two more from the batch – an American tall case from about 1850 and an English brass dial clock from about 1725. More on these soon!

We live in interesting times. Here in the Twin Cities metro area life has radically changed from just a month ago. After rattling around solely in geographies that are “someone else’s problem”, the Coronavirus situation has come home to the US. In the last 30 days, the stock market has fallen from its highs on February 19th by about 33%, panic has caused stores to have to ration basic supplies like toilet paper, and schools nationwide have been closed, possibly for the rest of the school year.

My children are home now. I am fortunate to have a job that I can do mostly from home, and am fortunate to have an amazing wife who succeeds for the most part in channeling my kids’ immense energy in positive directions allowing me to be able to focus enough to stay employed. I am very aware that many are less fortunate. Many have lost jobs, and many people with jobs are without childcare to allow them to work. Our healthcare workers have a monumental task ahead of them. And of course there’s the sickness itself, which for some people can be very serious. My heart goes out to you, no matter how you are impacted by this.

“Don’t watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going.” – Sam Levenson

American writer and humorist Sam Levenson said “Don’t watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going.” This quote has been used by many motivational speakers, and its meaning has been stretched to anything from ‘don’t let the clock run your life’ to ‘in difficult times, don’t wish for it to be over, live in the moment’ to ‘embrace the busyness’. I don’t really know what Sam originally meant by this or what the circumstances were when he wrote it, but as he was born in 1911 and lived through two world wars and the Great Depression, I’m sure he had ample experience with adversity. I suspect his aim was to encourage us to focus on the task at hand and not to pine for easier times so much that we forget to live in the moment.

I would like to revise his quote to be “Look at the clock and do what it does. Keep going.”


In addition to my wife and children keeping me company at home, I have a number of inanimate friends that remind me of their presence with ticks and chimes. The picture above is of a few of the clocks in my home office. On the left is a Welsh Tall Case clock from about 1750, signed Winstanley, Holywell. In the center is a Waterbury No. 3 Regulator from around 1880, and on the right is a Waltham regulator labeled Central Scientific dating from about 1910.

I find antique clocks very beautiful and fascinating. They are surprisingly precise – even low-grade clocks run within a few dozen seconds a week, which considering there are almost 605,000 seconds in a week, is quite something. I’m also captivated by the history of the clock. How many families have treasured our Welsh Tall Case since its construction 13 generations ago? Where has it spent its life? When did it make the voyage across the water to America? What conversations did it overhear while ticking away in the corner?

In the 275 years since this clock was made empires have risen and fallen, America became a nation, we have fought brutal wars, and we have made technological and humanitarian advances. The clock shows some wear and tear, which I find beautiful, but through all of that time and history, it’s still going, having ticked somewhere around 8.6 billion times. Not without help, of course; many clockmakers have cared for this clock over the centuries without whom this clock would have been on the scrap heap long ago.

Look at the clock and do what it does. Keep going.

I think looking at an old soldier like Winstanley reminds us that tomorrow will come. We were never promised a life without challenges, but with a little help from friends we will keep going.

Psalms 34:1-8 (New Living Translation)

I will praise the LORD at all times. I will constantly speak his praises.
I will boast only in the LORD; let all who are helpless take heart.
Come, let us tell of the LORD’s greatness; let us exalt his name together.
I prayed to the LORD, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.
Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces.
In my desperation I prayed, and the LORD listened; he saved me from all my troubles.
For the angel of the LORD is a guard; he surrounds and defends all who fear him.
Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!