The Ottumwa Courier

January 9, 2013

Volunteers repair historic city clocks

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — While many Ottumwans can tell the exact time with their watch — or a dozen different cell phone applications — there’s something special about a 100-year-old clock visible to the whole town.

A few area clock enthusiasts are visiting historic buildings, offering to get their old outdoor clocks running again.

“I worked on old clocks in my [spare time] at home,” said Ted “T.R.” Riley of Ottumwa. “But the first time I worked on a clock tower, I was in love.”

Riley has strong mechanical aptitude, he said. During his career in the U.S. Navy, he fixed whatever needed fixing. Now a disabled veteran, Riley runs his own computer business. But he still loves clocks.

He and another volunteer have been looking around Ottumwa for tower clocks. Most of the ones they see are broken. On Tuesday, Riley was at the Wapello County Historical Museum.

Staff went looking for him and his assistant, Tony Carnes. They found his ladder. They found the panel to the clock, which was open on the inside via a stairwell. And they could see the clock itself from the outside.

Eventually, they found the repairmen — on the roof. There were additional circuits up there that needed a jumpstart.

Riley himself got a jumpstart on Tuesday.

“Ouch! That was hot,” Riley said.

The power had been shut off to the clock. But with a clock that last functioned properly years ago, Riley said he anticipates surprises.

Fixing the old clocks is not always easy or quick, but it can be done, he said. The volunteers have the old clock on Ottumwa High School operating.

A woman at the bus and train station downstairs pointed out the high school, clearly visible through the big glass windows of the station.

She said it’s a beautiful old building, but that a broken clock seems to somehow detract from that beauty.

That problem is solved — at least for the time being. Those old clocks can be finicky.

“People have been up here before to work on this clock,” said Riley on the roof of the train station. “They said it couldn’t be fixed.”

When he hears that, he thinks one of three things. The first possibility he thinks of is that person didn’t really know what they were doing with that type of clock or they mean it can’t be done cost effectively. The third possibility is that the old clock really just can’t be fixed.

“And I don’t believe in that,” said Riley.



For Your Information

Those interested in repairing outdoor clocks may contact Riley at 641-799-4739.