Old clocks tell tale of time

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A lot of people have one of those old clocks sitting around the house. They seldom work anymore, but since it was on grandpa's mantel for years, no one wants to toss it.

Tom Bartels says don't you dare toss it out. Instead, bring it to him to fix up.

"I really enjoy bringing these things back to life," he said, his hand on a 150- year-old timepiece with a hand-machined brass mechanism.

Not only does he repair and restore antique clocks, he collects them. More than 60 time pieces, several of them more than 200 years old, decorate his Douglas County home. They range from "tall clocks" -- often called grandfather clocks -- to two-foot tall shelf clocks to ornate, gilded wall clocks. The oldest was hand made in England, dated by craftsmen in 1690.

But they don't have to be old, he said. The only things he doesn't work on are pocket and wrist watches.

"They have historical value," said Bartels, former director of the National Watch & Clock Museum. "But they have a lot of emotional value too. They've been passed down through the family for generations."

That, he said, makes them well worth repairing.

Bartels has been fascinated by clocks since he was a kid, bringing home old clocks and trying, with varying degrees of success, to fix them. His father got interested too and soon, he said, it "turned into a family thing."

Since so many of the clocks have emotional value, he said there is a demand for people like himself able to fix them. In the process, he says, "I cannot only restore it but I can tell them the background about the clock."

Many of them are also surprisingly valuable. Bartels, 53, said most time pieces are reasonable but that a few special ones are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"There are a few million-dollar clocks," he said.

Beyond that, he said he and many other people just enjoy watching and listening to the old clocks.

"Clocks are very soothing," he said. "These days when life is so stressful, people are looking for things to help them cope."

He said sometimes the rhythmic ticking of an old clock is just what the doctor ordered.


Tom Bartels

Antique Clock Repair, restoration and appraisals.

(775) 901-1848


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