Father Time finally caught up to a century-old clock high atop the Douglas County Courthouse.
With Bill Bell unwittingly giving him a push.
"One of the faces stopped a couple weeks ago," said Bell, the county's director of buildings and grounds. "It was improper maintenance. It wasn't intentional."
But after two decades of lubricating the old clock in places where it shouldn't have been lubricated -- motor oil poured onto the slow-moving gears every six months inadvertently soaked up dust and grit -- the 1904 Seth Thomas Clock Co. model is finally getting an overhaul.
Monday morning, Bell and assistant Terry Fewel climbed 51 steps into the clock tower at 11th and Massachusetts streets, where they disconnected the clock's three remaining gear dials. The moves left time standing still as of 10:56 a.m., until they removed hands from all the exterior faces a few hours later.
The two maintenance workers unscrewed the gear dials, meticulously labeled their locations with duct tape and packaged them for overnight delivery to a Charles Roeser's timekeeper's shop in Lockport, N.Y.
There they will be disassembled, cleaned, properly lubricated, reassembled and boxed up for delivery back to Bell, who can't wait to get time rolling again. He thinks the process will take two weeks, an investment his bosses figure will be worthwhile.
"It was the clock of its time," said Craig Weinaug, who as county administrator has helped push several preservation projects at the limestone courthouse, a landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. "We think it requires maintenance at least once every century."
County commissioners are willing to pay the price.
Roeser's initial overhaul of a gear dial -- started two weeks ago when the clock facing the adjacent Judicial & Law Enforcement Center unexpectedly stopped -- cost the county $400. Each of the remaining three gear dials likely will cost $150 to $200 to recondition, preventative moves to protect what has become a county icon.
"I've always been disturbed when I see a clock tower that doesn't work," said Charles Jones, commission chairman. "That says, to me, that the organization is broken. Here, it gives people comfort to know that, in Douglas County, things work. I know it sounds silly, but that clock makes a difference."
Once the repaired parts return, Bell doesn't plan to let them fall into disrepair again. He's already busy taking photographs, scribbling notes and consulting experts for a new operations manual he's compiling for the next century.
After pouring 20-weight automotive oil on gears meant to remain dry -- and not using specialty oil to lubricate minute- and hour-hand rods meant to be lubricated -- Bell isn't taking any chances.
"We're supposed to use a synthetic, 10-weight, nondetergent oil," Bell said, demonstrating how the oil must be pumped only into small ports, which must be carefully aligned to accept any liquid. "You don't find that except at specialty places, so we were able to order two 8-ounce bottles of it from a company in Pennsylvania. When these things come back, we will be able to maintain this clock properly. ...
"A lot of people depend on this clock in this town, and it's something that's a wonderful antique. It's something that was so well-made, it's something we need to preserve."