Eudora pastor and his father get centuries-old clock running once again
photo by: Mike Yoder
For the past six years, the hands on the centuries-old clock hanging on the wall in the chapel of Warren-McElwain Mortuary haven’t moved.
The clock was built in France and predates the American Revolution, said Jim Larkin, who brought it with him from California when he bought the Lawrence mortuary in 2013. But during the cross-country move, it stopped keeping time correctly.
“Something must have happened during the move,” Larkin said. So he let it stop running and left it hanging on the wall.
But now, with help from a pastor who also repairs clocks and watches, Larkin’s antique conversation piece is keeping time once more.
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Randy Watson, pastor of the Eudora Church of Christ, first noticed the clock when he was at the mortuary for the funeral of a member of his congregation.
Watson’s father, Avis Watson, owns a clock and watch repair shop in Raytown, Mo., and the younger Watson himself has experience fixing timepieces.
“I asked why the clock wasn’t running,” Randy Watson said. He was told it wouldn’t keep time accurately. So he offered to repair it.
“Because it’s so rare, a lot of clock workers probably never have seen a clock like this one,” Watson said. But he said he and his father have repaired some old grandfather clocks before, and this clock happened to have a similar mechanism.
Once he examined the clock, Watson discovered it was not broken; it only needed a tune-up.
“It wasn’t too complicated,” Watson said. “We cleaned out the old oil and checked to make sure each hole for the gears (was) open.”
When clocks stop keeping time properly, Watson said, it generally means they need to be serviced, much like a car needs regular maintenance to perform properly.
“If you never change the oil, it’s going to wear out,” he said.
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Watson knew the clock was old, but it wasn’t until he and his father picked it up to take it to the shop that he learned what a rarity it was. That return visit to the mortuary, he said, was when he first noticed the plaque on the wall that told as much of the clock’s story as Larkin was able to dig up.
According to Larkin, the clock was built in Paris prior to the American Revolution. It was first brought to the U.S. in the 19th century by a Frenchman named Hippolite Claudy, who had come to America to join the Icarian commune three miles east of Corning, Iowa. The nonreligious commune was founded by Étienne Cabet, a utopian socialist philosopher, in 1852.
“The clock became the focal point in the communal dining hall,” Larkin said.
After the Icarian commune was disbanded in 1898, the clock was moved to a jewelry store in Corning, where it hung in the window for years. The clock was eventually sold to the owner of a mortuary in Corning, and Larkin purchased it in 1972 when he bought that mortuary. Later, Larkin purchased a mortuary in California and took the clock with him. Then in 2013, he bought Warren-McElwain Mortuary and brought the clock to its current home.
Watson said this clock is the oldest one he and his father have ever repaired.
“It’s so rare,” Watson said.
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Watson first became interested in clock repair by watching his father at work. He would observe as his father disassembled the complex machines and carefully pieced them back together again.
It’s not as arcane as it may seem to the layman, he said — ultimately, clock repair is a matter of understanding basic mechanics.
“When you understand what each gear does, they can only go one way,” Watson said.
His passion for repairing clocks has touched other areas of his life, as well. For one thing, he said it’s given him inspiration for Sunday sermons.
Watson said that just like every part in a clock has a specific function, every person in a congregation has his or her own necessary role to play.
“In a clock, every gear, every lever and little spring makes a difference, and every part is important,” Watson said. “If you leave the little part out, it won’t function.”