E Howard Tower Clock Found - Seeking Input

Discussion in 'Tower, Monumental & Street Clocks' started by shetalksaboutclocks, Oct 24, 2016.

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  1. shetalksaboutclocks

    shetalksaboutclocks Registered User

    Aug 20, 2016
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    In Maplewood, New Jersey there is a high school, Columbia Sr High School, founded in 1885. In 1927 the school hired architect James Betelle to design and build a 7 story clock tower complete with bell, organ, and a clock with which to run 4 dials on the sides of the tower. This morning, after a great deal of research and scheduling, I finally managed to finally get a glimpse at what I had assumed to be a completely broken-down and neglected E. Howard tower clock. My goal was to find a clock to research and write about on my blog.

    Lo and behold, I can see where it has been oiled in the not-so-distant past, and some of the electrical wiring seems fairly new (for example, the lightbulbs are set to a new-looking timer to turn on at night and backlight the 4 faces). I am an amateur but could find no broken parts. Overall it is in surprisingly good condigtion. From what I can tell, just after installation it was changed from a weight-driven clock to an electric motor-driven clock, though the motor is currently not running. I have attached a few pictures of the clock, which I assume to be a No. 3 Striker.

    So what's the problem here... well, what do I do about this find? Part of me wants to start lobbying for a grant to restore the clock. A more pragmatic part of me wants to remove the movement from the tower and put it on display elsewhere in the school, and install a mechanical clock to run the dials in the tower (after all, it's a shame that the tower clock doesn't actually tell time). On display it wouldn't necessarily have to run at all, but it could be cleaned and a tower clock movement is certainly something to behold. So I'm opening this up to comments - what do you think? Is fixing and maintaining a tower clock just too unlikely for a public school to maintain? To get the faces on the tower to tell actual time would be lovely. I have attached some pictures. All comments and questions welcome! File_000 (3).jpg File_000.jpg File_004 (6).jpg File_007 (2).jpg File_008 (3).jpg File_008 (5).jpg File_009 (3).jpg
     
  2. gvasale

    gvasale Registered User
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    #2 gvasale, Oct 26, 2016
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2016
    That clock looks like it had a gravity escapement so it will be a little more complicated.

    Currently there are few if any mechanical clocks being manufactured.
     
  3. Jim DuBois

    Jim DuBois Registered User
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    Generally speaking tower clocks are simple devices that require very little for long periods of time. Notice I said "very little" not to be confused with "nothing". What they usually need is someone to put them in proper condition and then after getting them back in proper condition another party is needed, namely someone to be a "custodian" for the clock. This custodian needs to keep the clock mechanism lubricated, check on its timekeeping and the like and verify things like weight cables and chains and so forth stay in good condition. When they are manually wound the custodian will need to wind the clock on time without fail. When they have been electrified the custodian may only visit on occasion, his or her job is no less important than if they are winding it, just less frequent. Semi annual time changes are a good time for a complete physical so to speak. I suspect whatever is wrong with this clock could be remedied in pretty short order by a proper tower clock knowledgeable person with mechanical skills.

    But, you need be aware that public clocks have more than just mechanical needs. Specifically you will find there are equal mixtures of politics, greed, public interest, lack of public interest, mechanical expertise, and know nothing committees that will manifest themselves when most inconvenient. That is not to say your idea is to generate a funding plan is not a good plan. Just pointing out what many of us have found to be a series of hurdles faced when rescuing public tower clocks.

    To that point several of us offered to donate a restoration of a city owned tower clock last year. The city demanded we take out a personal liability insurance policy for each of us in the amount of several million $$ and each of us had to take a drug test at our cost, all to donate our time. Needless to say the clock has not been repaired but last I heard they were pursuing a $50,000 fund to do what we offered to donate. Oh by the way, who wants to bet what friend of the public official making the final call might be the winner of the bid?
     
  4. shetalksaboutclocks

    shetalksaboutclocks Registered User

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    Thanks Jim and Gvasale. Let's just say that I'm not optimistic about this public school maintaining the clock for all the reasons Jim pointed out. I was thinking the clock may be better used taken out of the tower and prettied up and put on display somewhere in the school. However, what would run the dials in the tower then? I was hoping there was a less maintenance-heavy motor driven option but don't see much online. As a resident of an NYC suburb in northern NJ where property taxes are already through the roof, I have a hard time
    imagining locals being on board with a restoration. :(
     
  5. Jim DuBois

    Jim DuBois Registered User
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    #5 Jim DuBois, Oct 27, 2016
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2016
    You might try Electric Time as a possible provider of motor driven solutions. I am not supposed to provide links, so I won't, but Bing will take you to their site. My experience with them has been excellent. There are several major steps to save a tower clock, not in a proper order I think 1) gain consensus on what to do 2) find a competent party to do what needs to be done 3) gain approval on what needs to be done 4) figure out a funding scheme, be it a benefactor or group of benefactors, a historical society, local municipal funding, (yeah right?) a donated effort by local tower clock aficionados.... commercial enterprises that "do tower clocks" are generally VERY expensive and some are not competent, a few are absolutely outstanding. If heavy equipment is required, or steeplejack services on the outside of the tower are necessary, costs go way up......and these services are not generally donated, no matter the public empathy for the project....rest assured, all this can be accomplished, just a matter of finding solutions for what should be a simple issue, that of repairing a simple device that has worked for 100+/- years and could be repaired by a farmer with a monkey wrench if not for all the general hoopla surrounding it. By the way, no disrespect directed to anyone repairing tower clocks, I repair them myself. But, they are pretty simple devices that usually are responsive to proper care and proper repair. When parts are required then more sophisticated work is needed.
     
  6. shetalksaboutclocks

    shetalksaboutclocks Registered User

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    Thanks Jim. The motor now was installed in January 1997 according to some helpful people at US Electric Motors (NIDEC). It has a Graham deadbeat escapement instead of a three-legged gravity escapement (see, I've been doing my homework!). Here's my plan: 1) Meet with the group of retired teachers of the school that maintain the school's historical documents. 2) Stalk, I mean uh, find the custodians who have apparently been caring for the clock and figure out what on earth they were doing. 3) Write an article about the history of the clock and the work required to maintain it, and get it published in as many local sources as possible (local Patch website, my blog, distributed in the school, hopefully to the School Board, hopefully in another local paper). 4) Gather input and evaluate the public's opinion on the clock.
     
  7. pmiddents

    pmiddents Registered User
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    The second Howard customer list has order numbers for Maplewood, NJ High School. The approximate dates for these sales order numbers are based on the two digit prefix numbers. 40/10366 (1925-26), 41/10651 (1926), 42/11004 (1927-28). 43/11545 (1929). There is also an order for the Board of Education Maplewood, NJ 44/13157 (1929-31). There is no way to determine what each of these orders were for. Obviously one of them is for your tower clock. I agree that it is a No. 3 striker with Graham deadbeat escapement. The pendulum probably beats 1.5 seconds (about 8 ft. long) and may be a temperature compensated zinc and steel model. I would not be surprised if the clock were originally run by an electrically wound system. The clock might have been used as the master clock for a school wide system of slave clocks and programmed bell system. The number of separate orders would indicate a Howard institutional system. You might find details in archived school board minutes from the period. The clock's serial number would be of significant interest. It was often stenciled on the frame and also stamped into the frame under the name tag.
    Paul Middents
    Silverdale, WA
     
  8. shetalksaboutclocks

    shetalksaboutclocks Registered User

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    Thanks Paul! Can you point me towards where you found those orders? I would be extremely grateful. I'm hoping to meet soon with some retired teachers who manage the historical documents of the school. I will look for the minutes for those dates like you recommend. And I can confirm that the clock does have at the very least a cord that goes down the tower, perhaps to attach to other bells, I don't know. The partial correspondence I have read indicates that there was also an order for secondary clocks, and lists some of the proposed locations. I hope that the historical society will be able to provide me with more information. I did not see a serial number stenciled anywhere but I was not looking for one. When I next go back I will inspect the clock for one (if it's visible under the grime!).

    Thanks,
    Margaret
     
  9. Jeremy Woodoff

    Jeremy Woodoff Registered User
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    Margaret, you are to be congratulated for taking this project on. My colleagues and I have been visiting clock towers in NYC lately and finding that these few wonderful movements that were left are disappearing at an alarming rate--either into storage, private collections, or even the trash. I think the best result is to keep the movement in place and get it operating. Sometimes, I think the mechanism can be moved to a lower spot in the building where it is publicly visible and still be connected to the dials. This is more complicated and possibly not feasible in a public school. This clock was running 19 years ago for sure, as that's when the winding motor was replaced. It may have little, if anything wrong with it.
     
  10. pmiddents

    pmiddents Registered User
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