Tinkers fix town clock
Lee Carter and Bill Hartman are the kind of guys who already know why that old phonograph doesn’t spin anymore before opening it up.
Broken gadgets, balky motors and reluctant appliances are natural challenges for the pair of long-time friends.
So when Carter saw that the old federal building in downtown Carson City was being restored, he was hoping the project included getting the clock in its tower back into operation. Hartman learned that wasn’t in the plans, so he gave Carter a call and suggested they do it themselves.
As he suspected, Carter was game, too.
“We hadn’t fixed a clock like that before, but we knew we could figure it out,” Hartman said last week.
They got permission from the state and soon found themselves climbing the narrow stairway leading to the fifth floor of the brick and sandstone landmark, know called the Paul Laxalt Building. It was the beginning of a volunteer project the former Navy fliers found rewarding as much for the community support they received as for the mechanical challenge.
“When we got up there, we found the clock had been taken apart to make way for the restoration,” Carter said. “The clock hands were still on the faces, but all the drive shafts, the gear boxes, the supports and the mechanism had been disassembled and were stacked in the tower.”
Carter and Hartman checked out the parts and how they would fit together. They might not have been professional clock repairers, but they knew physics and how machines work, so they could visualize what went where.
“The restoration including installation of a new floor, so the surface was a bit higher than when the clock was installed. We had to cut the support tripods down the same amount to get everything lined up again,” Carter said.
Despite the extensive work in the tower during the restoration, all the major components and most of the minor ones were there.
“I had a friend who owns a machine shop who was ready to custom make parts if we needed to,” Hartman said. “But the few small pieces of hardware we needed came right from Coast to Coast.”
The reassembly of the mechanism turned out to be the easier part. The big challenge came when they checked out the long vertical shaft down which was supposed to run the weight and cable that power the clock.
“We looked down there and the shaft was crisscrossed with all these bolts that had been installed as seismic reinforcement,” Hartman said. “When we saw that, Lee offered to lower me by my heels while I cut them all out.”.
After a lot of experimenting and repositioning of the pulley that would guide the cable down the shaft, the tinkerers found that a clear route still ran down the shaft – barely.
“There’s less than a quarter inch of clearance for the weight, but it was enough,” said Hartman, who spent many hours with his head stuck into the narrow opening at the top of the shaft.
In mid-June, Carter and Hartman pronounced the clock fit for service and state tourism officials – the building’s new tenants – joined Mayor Ray Masayko to set the clock to noon and put it back to work.
Hartman and Carter had agreed to perform monthly service on the device, while Nancy Dunn, the business manager of the Nevada Commission on Tourism, took on the job of cranking the 75-pound weight back up the shaft every two weeks to wind the clock.
That might have been that, but someone else had an idea about the restored building, too, and soon Hartman and Carter had another project.
Dottie and Bill Kelley were asking themselves, “What’s a town clock without chimes?” In the same spirit that moved the retired Navy officers to fix the clock, the Kelleys took it on themselves to make it sing.
An electronic chime system would cost $11,000, they soon discovered. They made their proposal, got permission to install the system and began stumping for donations in early October, with the goal of having the chimes sounding in time for the Nevada Day celebration at the end of the month.
While the Kelleys were soliciting local clubs, businesses and individuals for funds, Hartman and Carter were venturing into the remote areas of the building’s fourth-floor attic. Somehow the tinkers’ names came up early in the discussion of the chime system’s installation.
“We were very aware how important the ‘sound view’ of the of the speakers would be,” Lee said. A number of possible mounting locations for the four large speakers were considered and rejected because they would detract from the visual esthetics of the building, he said.
A round-capped vent shaft became the obvious choice, but a century’s accumulation of pigeon guano on the floor beneath it made the anticipated installation look like a pretty unsavory chore.
“We went to Pat McGuiness, the state chief engineer in charge of buildings and grounds, and told him what the problem was. He got on the phone and a crew had it all cleaned out in a couple of days,” Hartman said. McGuiness also had the paint custom-mixed so the speakers could be matched to the metal vent cap, he said.
The company that made the chime system was so impressed by the dedication of the Kelleys to the fund raising and of Carter and Hartman to getting the installation done in time that it delivered the four large speakers before any payment had been received.
“We’re talking about a product that has a six-month delivery lead time and they had it to us in less than a month,” Hartman said. “That includes custom programming ‘Home Means Nevada’ so the state song could play on Nevada Day. And the Kelleys raised the whole $11,000 during the same month. A lot of people really went to a lot of trouble to make this happen.”
Now the chimes gong on the hour weekdays from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., while the Westminster Chimes play every 15 minutes during daylight hours on the weekends. Over 100 tunes are programmed into the system and Christmas music will play a number of times during the holidays, including during the Downtown Christmas Tree Lighting Dec. 2.
A committee is being formed to take requests and suggestions for chime music during special events, Hartman said. Additional songs could be custom programmed if desired.
“The best thing is the tremendous support and great reception we’ve felt from the community,” Carter said. People recognize the pair from newspaper stories and tell them how much they enjoy the running clock and the sound of the chimes.
“We have to give a few ‘attaboys’ to people who also have been part of all this,” Hartman said. That includes McGuiness and the state building and grounds crew, Dunn, the mayor and the Kelleys, state tourism executive director Tom Tait, all the donors who paid for the chimes and especially Cyndie Carter and Sandie Hartman, who tolerate and encourage their tinkering husbands.
The flyers also credited their education and training over the years, both through the Navy and otherwise.
Hartman earned a bachelor of science in electrical engineering at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif. Carter said he really got involved in practical mechanics by building machinery for the Jergens lotion factory, then earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering science and a master’s in oceanography at the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, Calif.
They said they don’t have any projects planned of the scale of the clock and chimes. But Carter said Cyndie has started asking him about their mantle clock that’s not working anymore.