Retired model builder Guerin now has time on his hands
CORNWALL — A recent vacation trip to one of the most scenic places on earth was more of a busman’s holiday for clock expert Russell Guerin.On Campobello Island, in New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy, he and his wife, Molly Hinchman, stayed at a hotel that was once Franklin Roosevelt’s summer home. It is now part of Roosevelt-Campobello International Park, administered by both Canada and the United States.Among its period decor is a Seth Thomas clock, a No. 1 parlor clock made by the Thomaston, Conn., company in 1902. It hangs on the kitchen wall. Guerin noticed it was not keeping time. “It sat there not running for a year,” he said in amazement. “No one could fix it.”Guerin is not obsessed with time. But he has become enamored of timepieces.About 10 years ago, he “inherited” a collection of clocks, in various states of repair, from his late father-in-law, John Hinchman, who had a shop at the corner of Pierce Lane and Dibble Hill Road, not far from where Guerin now operates The Clock Shop in a refurbished, 150-year-old barn at the couple’s home on Dibble Hill Road.“It’s not something I ever thought I’d be doing,” the retired industrial model builder said. “My father-in-law had all these clocks. A lot of them were just parts in boxes. I didn’t know what to do with them, but I couldn’t just throw them out.”Since then, he has turned the old tractor garage and henhouse into a cozy workshop and display room, complete with woodstove and coffeemaker. He has learned to repair everything from grandfather clocks to pocket watches and has established a network of contacts to find rare parts.In the center of the shop is a big, antique dining table displaying an assortment of clocks. It is the same table where John Hinchman plied his trade. Guerin found it covered in clock parts.These days, people call and drop off clocks for repair, or because they just want to get rid of them. There is something about timepieces that makes people hesitate to toss them out.Guerin looks for old clocks at estate and tag sales. He takes them as partial payment for repair work commissioned by antiques dealers. Vacations in Vermont or New Hampshire always net one or two finds from shops visited along the way.He doesn’t work on watches. The parts are too tiny for his fingers (although he does have a pair of antique jeweler’s magnifying glasses). Even with the grandfather clocks in which he specializes, he finds tiny broken rods and such can gum up the works. “If it has a pendulum, I’ll fix it,” he said.He has a list of customers, including local libraries, for whom he repairs and maintains old timepieces.Two lathes are on hand to make replacement parts he cannot find, and he has built wooden stands to safely hold the complex grandfather clock mechanisms after they’ve been removed from their cases.He calls his shop a home for unwanted clocks. The collection is amazing, and Guerin can tell visitors the history behind each. Many were made in Connecticut, which boasted a wealth of clockmakers, including dozens over the years in the Naugatuck Valley as well as the Gilbert Clock Factory in Winsted.There are double-dial clocks, triple-decker clocks with painted glass, banjo-style wall clocks and mantel clocks that double as art. A sculpture of a nymph is a swing arm clock.They range from a bracket clock made in Brazil — the only one of its kind Guerin has ever seen — and a Kit-Cat wall clock, whose eyes and tail move in time.There are schoolhouse reproduction clocks made in China, including one with the word “Chian” right on the face.German clocks stand out with their light-colored steel dial faces.His oldest clock dates back to about 1835. It is an eight-day clock made in Bristol. “An eight-day clock means it runs for seven days, and on the eighth day, you wind it.”The shop has a special charm:A friend gave Guerin a framed puzzle of a whimsical clock shop.“The box said there are 104 clocks in the picture; and 104 is the address here.”There are quiet times in between work and visits when he sits by the woodstove and enjoys the quaintness of the shop. But what about the constant ticking and regular chiming and cuckooing?“I don’t hear it anymore. This is the quietest place I know.”As for that Seth Thomas clock he found while on vacation, FDR once set his watch by it. Guerin offered to fix it at no charge. It was not a difficult job. The calendar hand wheel had slipped out of place following a previous repair, and locked up the mechanism. Guerin’s repair took a couple of hours — after two days of office paperwork to allow him to touch the clock. Then all it took was a trip to the hardware store for clock oil and finding the right tools in an attic workshop.