Tower clock in Lancaster Ohio city hall

Discussion in 'Tower, Monumental & Street Clocks' started by kinsler33, Jul 11, 2017.

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  1. kinsler33

    kinsler33 Registered User

    Aug 17, 2014
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    It just occurred to me that I should ask for advice here. I think I'm up against some very odd politics here in our little town, and I wonder if anyone here has had a similar experience. Now, I repair clocks, and I also write for the daily newspaper: the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette. Usually my column is (loosely) classified as humor, describing daily life here in a small Ohio town. But last week I wrote about my adventures with our inoperative city hall clock. It's a poorly-electrified but once-magnificent E. Howard with a bell strike. Hasn't worked in maybe ten years. Two years ago I managed to talk my way up to the tower for an inspection (no pictures, unfortunately) and discovered the problem with the four shafts that turn the hands. Here is the column:

    What's wrong with Lancaster's City Hall clock?

    1973 spaces Mark Kinsler July 3, 2017


    "It's been two years," said Natalie. "You really ought to write about the City Hall clock."

    She's right.

    Its four sets of hands are driven by a single electric motor which also lifts a 60-pound hammer to strike the great bronze bell. And while the bell still rings, after a fashion, the clock's hands do not turn.

    The reason the clock doesn't work is that the four shafts connecting the central gear box to the hands are held together by couplers: short pieces of pipe that clamp onto the shafts. But the clamping bolts have loosened, which probably happened when an ice storm jammed the hands. So while the motor and the gear box still run, the hands haven't turned in years.

    I learned all this two years ago on a visit to the clock tower, where I reached up to each shaft and spun the hands of each of the clock faces by hand. It must have looked interesting from below.

    Repairs would likely require someone to climb a stepladder to tighten or replace the bolts on each of the bad couplings and then reset each pair of hands. The clock should then show the correct time, at least until the next ice storm. Ice storms are troublesome for tower clocks.

    The bell also needs attention, for the wire linkage that drops its hammer is loose. This allows the hammer to lie against the bell after each stroke instead of bouncing back a bit to allow the bell to vibrate. It may be that the linkage was loosened on purpose to relieve some of the strain on the clock mechanism, or it may have loosened on its own. It's eminently repairable in either case, and should sound much better afterwards.

    In the absence of any big surprises, I'd guess that the repairs would take a day or two, and for two years I have repeatedly offered to do them. I am a proud clock repairman and a citizen of Lancaster for 17 years, so there'd be no charge.

    I regret to report that while my offer was acknowledged by city officials there has been no further response, and our big clock still does not work.

    Mark Kinsler is a science teacher (and clock repairer) from Cleveland Heights who lives in an old house in Lancaster with Natalie and the four cats. He can be reached at kinsler33@gmail.com, and all work is guaranteed for as long as he can still lift a screwdriver.


    Bear in mind that this was written for people who don't know how clocks work. I'm pretty sure that the couplers are the major problem, but I didn't have a ladder to reach and inspect them. The bell is just gigantic.

    I'd greatly appreciate anyone's and everyone's opinion about this particular quest. Others have looked at the clock and have made similar offers, but we never hear back from the city.

    Mark Kinsler
     
  2. musicguy

    musicguy Registered User
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    It's always the newspaper men that cause trouble(at least in the old movies).

    I hope that your article will get these people motivated. Since you are offering to work for, "no charge",
    I don't see any reason why they wont let you fix the clock.

    I'm sure I could do a google search of your town and see this
    clock tower, but if you could post a photograph that would be great.




    Rob
     
  3. harold bain

    harold bain Forums Administrator
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    You may be up against union problems with providing free labor, as this may be seen as a job that could be done by a unionized worker.
     
  4. gleber

    gleber Registered User

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    Either that or liability issues if you get hurt, hurt someone else or something gets physically damaged. Are you bonded or insured? It seems like you have to find someone who can tell you what the issue is or who can actually address it and find out the reason. If the bell is ringing now it can't be a nuisance issue, and I can't imagine anyone not wanting the clock to work, so there must be another reason for no action.

    Tom
     
  5. BLKBEARD

    BLKBEARD Registered User
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    It may be a matter of liability also. Taking away the waver of fee's for services rendered, they may require a Certificate of Insurance. I have to provide one anytime I'm contracted by a City or Town, or another Heating Company. I've never serviced a Tower Clock, so I can't speak specifically to that.

    But I think you should have played more to peoples sensibilities in the article. How in these difficult days of budget constraints and funding issues, there is an opportunity for the community to once again enjoy the Tower Clock that the town forefathers so proudly erected. This opportunity comes at no cost to the Budget or the Community. Maybe a little history on when the clock was erected, who spearheaded the effort, etc.
     
  6. gvasale

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    Things like this always strike me as a bit odd.

    Talking about liability.

    There's a town a half hour away with a tower clock. I asked about being able to see it because it wasn't running. I never got a straight answer to "why not..." But, they have a swimming pool in the basement which as I understood was in use.

    Go figure.
     
  7. musicguy

    musicguy Registered User
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    Our town meetings are replayed on our local cable channel and
    from the yelling and dysfunction they espouse, I know my town would take years
    to figure this out. lol




    Rob
     
  8. FDelGreco

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    Mark:

    I would show up with a friend, a toolbox, and a stepladder and say, "We're here to service the clock." It has gotten me in to towers before with that approach. Doesn't give them time to think. They let me walk right through the metal detector, toolbox and all, without doing any checking.

    Frank
     
  9. scootermcrad

    scootermcrad Registered User
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    Out of curiosity, can you just ask them if it's a matter of legalities or liabilities?

    I'm currently starting a restoration in my little town. Similar story. I moved into town and saw the Courthouse clock wasn't working, and after two years of poking around I finally found someone that could get me in touch with the right people to get me up there. The county owns the building and technically own the clock as well. They made me sign waivers to go up there that used words like "death and dismemberment" and alluding to it not being their problem if I fall 7 stories from the Belfry to my death. Otherwise they were not interested. I signed and went up. :)

    I am volunteering all my time to the community to not only help with the restoration, but service it after the fact for as long as they'll have me. Again, for free. The county liked this, BUT! They were still sort of hesitant and had great concerns of historical preservation, liability, and various other things. All of which I understood and agreed to/with. But it took time because of the politics and I still don't have the clock out of their yet. Government owned "things" just take time to work through. I'm guessing it's the legalities and liabilities that are slowing down your process. If you feel comfortable, maybe just re-express your interest to give back to the community and what you can do to be part of it.

    Don't give up! I stopped our 1876 A.S. Hotchkiss from being replaced by a full modern electric clock because they simply didn't understand the significance of these clocks.

    If you do get to make this happen, please make sure you keep us posted!

    - - - Updated - - -

    Now THAT is just awesome!! HAHA!
     
  10. kinsler33

    kinsler33 Registered User

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  11. Donn Haven Lathrop

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    What's wrong with Lancaster's City Hall clock?
    The bell also needs attention, for the wire linkage that drops its hammer is loose. This allows the hammer to lie against the bell after each stroke instead of bouncing back a bit to allow the bell to vibrate. It may be that the linkage was loosened on purpose to relieve some of the strain on the clock mechanism, or it may have loosened on its own. It's eminently repairable in either case, and should sound much better afterwards.

    Ask someone who pays the bills if they have priced--even a used one--bell recently. It'll scare you. If the hammer is allowed to rest on the sound bow of the bell, it WILL eventually crack or break the bell. There should be a spring pad under the hammer shaft that will allow the hammer to hit the sound bow, yet pull back from the bell between strokes. Fairly easy to set up and maintaln.

    The "We're here to service the clock." has worked for me many times. It seems to leave them standing in the middle of the floor wondering. Helps to have a page full of repair gobbledygook in hand with past service dates checked off, and the current date pointed out to whomever seems to get rid of any doubts. What can I say? It works for me. Donn
     
  12. pmiddents

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    From the Howard Tower Clock Book 1, p.129:
    October 4, 1897 (date shipped from factory) Lancaster Ohio City Hall
    No. 2 Hour and Half Hour striker. Gravity escapement. Compensated Pendulum. Gas illumination Regulator. 4 sectional illuminated dials 8' diameter. Black hands and figures. Serial No. 1946
    From the Howard Clock Order Book 13 p. 37:
    July 23, 1897 (date of order) New York Office for City of Lancaster, Ohio ship to E. Howard Watch & Clock Co. c/o Charles C. Reibe Jeweler Lancaster O. Put up including 4500 lb bell (Menelley Co. Troy, NY) Price $2370.

    This was a magnificent clock! I just examined a similar one Ser. No. 1949 in beautiful original condition in the Memorial Chapel at Northfield Mount Hermon school in Massachusetts.

    Did the electrical conversion look like it might have been done by Howard? Vintage motor? ca 1920's or 30's? The motivation for these early conversions usually invoked reluctance to climb and wind.
    Paul Middents
    Silverdale, WA
     
  13. kinsler33

    kinsler33 Registered User

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    Someone said that it might have been electrified in 1958, but I don't know. What I do know is that E. Howard would have been unhappy with the present setup, for the motor is powered through a sort of timer switch, the purpose of which is to shut off the clock motor for 40 seconds every hour to keep the correct time. My guess is that the original motor was once replaced with one that ran at a speed that was slightly too high.

    As for the order from the Howard book, wow and thank you. There is indeed a huge bell, and the gas illumination regulator is still on the movement: a gas valve that's kicked on by some cam or other. Lancaster had gas wells then, and so when they built the clock tower they had gas torches on pipes that extended out from the faces (I don't think that it was illuminated from the inside.) The torches were run on a pilot flame during the day and, presumably around sunset, the regulator would open the valve. It must have been fascinating to watch from the ground.

    For fans of finance and economics and/or small towns and their industries, there's a current book about Lancaster called Glass House, by Brian Alexander. It's attracted a lot of attention in the national press, though I'm sorry to say that my fellow Lancastrians are displeased with it.

    Mark Kinsler
     
  14. Tim Orr

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    Good evening, Mark!

    I tend to agree with Frank and Donn: Just show up and go to work. We have to remember that the easiest thing for any public official to do is ignore our questions. The second easiest thing to do is to say "No." There is no shortage of such people, but a great shortage of people who can and will say "Yes."

    Of course, should you or any of your associates be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.

    A group of us recently worked on a Hahl Pneumatic system in a courthouse, and the only thing the county wanted was a guarantee that if we injured ourselves, we would not file any claims against the county. And, of course, that we would work for free. They sent "minders" to stay with us every minute, but the interesting thing was that the "minders" (from the building and maintenance group) were so enthralled by the process that they are now taking care of the clock and trying to rejuvenate the secondary clocks in the building. Getting old clocks working seems to be addictive. And, it's a hell of a lot more interesting than seeing to it that the floors are cleaned.

    Best regards!

    Tim Orr
     
  15. pmiddents

    pmiddents Registered User
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    Mark,
    The electrical conversion sounds pretty bad. I would love to see photos of the clock and closeups of the gas illumination regulator.
    Paul
     
  16. kinsler33

    kinsler33 Registered User

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    The fellow who maintained the clock for years was pretty dedicated to its survival, but he's been dead for six years now. And the old mayor is now the new mayor due to the misfortunes of the fellow elected to succeed him. (Turns out that he and his wife were addicted to gambling, and things got worse from there.) And half of our city council sued the other half (the judge, annoyed, told them to settle it on their own.)

    But it's a nice little town: so typically American that it looks like either Walt Disney or the Soviet Union built the place. I want the clock to work already. I'll take lots of pictures if I ever get into the tower again; the rumor is that some of the city council is livid with rage at me, heaven knows why.

    M Kinsler
     
  17. bruce linde

    bruce linde Technical Admin
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    it's conceivable that they could be upset with you for making them look bad in front of their constituents, but I think you should make it a little more formal: give them a waiver of liability and show them your liability insurance, guesstimate a range for the repair costs and put in writing that you're donating that amount, and contact one of those consumer radio or tv departments ('channel five on your side!', etc.) and escalate the media pressure. if you were to talk your way in and mess with the clock and not be able to get it running, it could turn on you. If you have their blessing to go in there they would have to pony up any money required beyond the donation of your labor.


    Just thinking out loud… Your town, your call
     
  18. BLKBEARD

    BLKBEARD Registered User
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    You might also join the Town Historical Society, if you haven't already. From there you could form a Tower Clock preservation & maintenance committee. Then you will have the voices of many when you speak to the town officials.

    Of course this may lead to more aggravation if you get Purists on your committee who insist on returning the clock to its original design, or nothing. You might also take things a step further and form a non-profit organization for the preservation of said clock, such as they do with Light Houses. Then you would have a legal means to accept donations for the current & future repairs & maintenance. The media loves covering these feel good stories, and city officials will want to be portrait as being onboard.

     
  19. kinsler33

    kinsler33 Registered User

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    Blkbeard and Mr Linde offer good advice, and thank you.

    My relationship with the town (pop. around 35,000) is slightly odd. I'm a certified outlander in a place where roots run exceedingly deep, but I'm also the most minor of celebrities because of my weekly newspaper column.

    In addition, I write a sort of historical blog, as they term it, for the same newspaper. I think that this kind of makes me an honorary member of the historical society, or at least a friend of it. (I didn't know a thing about local history, but plow through the newspaper archives to produce two small articles each week for about the last ten years.)

    I think that the cause of the clock may have been taken up by others, so I'm going to lay low for a while unless and until someone asks me to fix the clock.

    I don't carry clock-repair liability insurance. I never thought that it was necessary.

    Mark Kinsler
     
  20. novicetimekeeper

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    It's not a repair liability they want but an indemnity insurance against any accidents involving third parties.

    I haven't had a business since I retired 6 years ago and then the minimum was £1million cover but it's a pretty cheap insurance to get. The rates are usually based on turnover.

    It's likely to be more expensive in the US as the insurance market sees it as a higher risk of litigation. We had an exclusion to supplying the US and got cheaper premiums.
     
  21. MartinM

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    #21 MartinM, Jul 13, 2017
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2017
    Maybe a fundraiser?
    [​IMG]
     
  22. kinsler33

    kinsler33 Registered User

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    I've never seen "Back to the Future," where this picture is from, but I have a friend here in Lancaster who has built an entire model railroad setup featuring the village of Hill Valley.

    http://www.hillvalleymodelrr.com/

    Scroll down to enter the site.

    Mark Kinsler
     
  23. gvasale

    gvasale Registered User
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    Adding to what Donn said, it also very likely that the arbor the bell hammer pivots on has seen less attention than the clock. Castings for the pivots and the arbor ends are frequently shot in addition to the hole where the wire link connects is elongated too.
     
  24. OGC5

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    Florida boy here but wife is a 1961 Graduate of Lancaster H.S. She said it sounds like the old town has not changed much. :whistle:
     
  25. scootermcrad

    scootermcrad Registered User
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    This is what I did in our community. It's working! It's a much larger project, but the community is really behind it. I was asked to join the historical society which lead to the introduction of some wonderful community activists. From there I started a non-profit group to preserve and restore any and all public clocks in our county and adjacent counties (if needed). It's amazing how many people came out of the woodwork and said, "DO IT! Fix it! We want it." Voices in numbers just speak louder and the county has responded pleasantly.
     
  26. kinsler33

    kinsler33 Registered User

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    I might be expecting too much too soon, but my sense is that the city is stonewalling, so to speak. I read a second-hand quote from a city official which said that the clock is being taken care of and that there's a guy looking after it who adjusts the hands four times per year.

    Well, he's not: the hands on all of the faces are hanging down at sort of 6:30 and have been that way for years. My current theory is that someone with political influence tried to repair the clock years ago and either messed it up (maybe) or couldn't figure out how to fix it (more likely). Thus an inspection by a talkative outsider (me) could lead to embarrassment.

    I have a question anyway:

    On each face a shaft drives the minute hand, and the hour hand is driven by a 12:1 reduction gearbox that hangs just behind the face. Question: how do these gearboxes fail, and how repairable are they? It seems possible that this may have happened in the past and when nobody could understand or figure out how to fix the bad gearbox(es) they loosened the couplings on the four shafts to prevent further damage and/or to keep the hands from displaying unlikely times. That way, the bell would still ring on the hour and perhaps everyone would forget about the hands.

    Of course, there's nobody to ask; there have been retirements, deaths, and the occasional prison sentence.

    Mark Kinsler
     
  27. BLKBEARD

    BLKBEARD Registered User
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    Could be as simple as a broken shear pin. You or someone else mentioned that icing is a common problem on tower clocks. Maybe the shafts are meant to slip if there's an obstruction, and they just need to be reset, & re-torqued. If that's the case you don't want to over torque them or something will break the next time there's an obstruction. I would think that if all of the couplings are slipping, it was done intentionally. Since ice doesn't usually form on all four sides in a storm. (although I'm sure there are exceptions.)

    The gear reduction unit probably has a Make & Model tag, or at-least a Makers Name embossed into the casting. If you find that, you might find an "Illustrated Parts List" or exploded view.

    But, first things first. You need to see why the hands aren't turning.

    I'm enjoying this thread and hope it gets into the "meat & potato's" of repairing this Clock & putting it back into service.

    Please understand that my comments are just from mechanical repair experience servicing a variety of machinery, and not from servicing Tower Clocks.
     
  28. kinsler33

    kinsler33 Registered User

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  29. BLKBEARD

    BLKBEARD Registered User
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    Seems like you may have helped to advance the repairs from the back burner, a little closer to the front burner.
     
  30. FDelGreco

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    You don't need scaffolding to get to the hands to remove the motion works. For the Village of Chardon in Ohio I was up 90 feet in the air changing the hands and removing the motion works nut (my helper was inside to remove and lubricate the motion works) using the local fire department's ladder truck. The FD volunteered the truck.

    Frank
     
  31. Jim DuBois

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    Donn Haven Lathrop passed away with little note on 8/8/2017 in Lyndon NH. We, in the tower clock group, only learned of his passing last month when one of his customers brought it to our attention. He was extremely active in all things concerning early tower clocks. He assisted or partnered with Fredrick Shelley in his book on tower clocks and was active in the updated version of the same book. His website at American Tower Clocks, 1717 - 2011 is still operating, for how much longer is unclear. Other members of the tower clock group have captured at least some, hopefully most, of the vast amount of information he had on his website. Donn was not active on the MB but his contribution to clocks can not be overstated, at least in my thinking. He was a friend, a scholar, and was known to tilt at a windmill or two.....he is already missed.
     
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