Old time’s sake

Thursday, December 6, 2012


For The Cabinet

MILFORD – Keeping exact time is important to Henry Anthony, who maintains and repairs clocks, a hobby that has turned into a small retirement business called Old Times Sake.

Recently, I followed him to one of his favorite clocks – the mechanical one that sits majestically above Milford Town Hall. Anthony has been the clock’s caretaker for the past 43 years.

At exactly 9 a.m. he was checking his antique old pocket watch when I came around the corner of the building to meet him. It was immediately apparent that he is a precise man.

Once a year, in October or November, Anthony makes a service call to the Town Hall clock, which is part of the reason it has stayed in good working condition. It is also wound twice a week by one of the Department of Public Works employees, either Russ Works or Leo Jasion, the latest in a long line of people who have cared for this 19th century clock. The walls in the tower where it sits are filled with what Anthony called “The Yearbook,” with signatures and dates of all the people who have worked on the clock over the past 14 decades.

“Clocks were my hobby but now it’s my job since I retired,” said Anthony, who was a repairman with the PBX company.

‘The best clocks out’

He is proud to say Milford’s clock was manufactured by E. Howard & Co. of Boston.

“Howards are the best clocks out there. There are a few of them left,” he said.

The clock was made for Milford and has been here since Town Hall was built in 1869. The box the clock was shipped in is still in the Town Hall attic and holds rocks that run the pendulum. Extra rocks are on the floor in case the weight needs to be re-adjusted.

Anthony, who is 72 and lives in Brookline, still climbs the rickety old ladder to the Town Hall turret, the highest point on the Oval, to check on the differential gears that turn the hands of the four clock faces. Space is tight – the turret is about 10 feet by 10 feet and not easy to access. From the locked attic of Town Hall, a small trap door only a few feet wide is the only way to get inside the bell tower. From there it’s a big step up over the Paul Revere bell to a skinny wooden ladder to climb to the turret. Here Anthony inspects and does maintenance on the differential gears, oils the gears and looks out the small windows on each of the five-foot diameter clock faces to inspect the clock’s hands and faces.

“When I was younger I used to sprint up there but now the hole has gotten further away,” joked Anthony. “I plan on doing this as long as I can.”

He clearly loves his job.

The mechanism that controls the clock and time are lovingly encased in a small and very clean room, two stories below the tower clock turret, with glass windows to protect the clock from dust, pigeons or rodents. Gear mechanisms run between the mechanical clock and the differential gears. Anthony thoroughly inspected the
mechanical clock and made adjustments, oiled the machine and reset the clock by turning the time setting handle. Ironically, he used a 150-year-old pocket watch to set a 140-year-old tower clock.

Once outside on the street level, he again took out his antique pocket watch to verify the time as he could now see the clock face.

Recently, the clock stopped working.

“I think it was an obstruction on the plywood that made it stop. We may have to do some repairs to the hands,” said Anthony.

From the bird’s eye view looking out the window on the clock face, I could see that the wood has peeled in some places and is coming off and paint is needed.

“The next worst case scenario is to repair the face. The clock has a fail safe when it gets stuck it will stop the clock before further damage can be done to the gears,” Anthony said.

About 20 years ago, Anthony made repairs to the clock face and replaced the eight hands. He cut them himself using the original hand as a template for wood he found at Currier Lumber. People there were surprised when he wanted half-inch thick native white pine – the exact width and type of wood of the original hands.

Those original hands are still in the attic of Milford Town Hall.

Many of the old tower clocks have now been electrified which means less interaction between humans and clock as daily or weekly winding is no longer needed but that can have a downside.

Paul Revere bell

“What is nice about being a windup clock is an employee winds it twice a week so they see it and give it a squirt of oil if it needs it and care for it. Problems can be noticed earlier and can hopefully prevent it becoming a bigger problem,” said Anthony.

He noted a tower clock in a Townsend church is now electric but that the north face has seized up.

When the Milford clock strikes on the hour, the bell that is heard is a genuine 1802 Paul Revere and Son’s bell that originally hung in the belfry of the Meeting House which is now called the Eagle Hall in Milford, only a few buildings away from Town Hall. This bell is the oldest Paul Revere bell still ringing in New Hampshire and one of the oldest in the country. The clock that was in the old Eagle Hall is now in Mont Vernon Town Hall.

A twang instead of a ping

During the Pumpkin Festival, Anthony heard the bell and immediately knew it sounded off, so one of the repairs during his annual maintenance trip was to adjust the hammer on the bell.

“It had a twang instead of ping sound,” according the Anthony.

Anthony enjoys the historical part of his job and working with antiques. He quoted a line from the Indiana Jones series: “We are just passing through; this is history.”

Russ Works is a relatively new town employee.

“At first it was kind of neat working on the clock,” he said, “but after reading all the names up there, it feels weird because it’s history. It’s ironic, because I was born and grew up in town and this was the first time I saw the bell,” which can’t be seen from the street level.

Clock repairmen are rare. Besides Old Times Sake, Anthony only knows of shops in Hollis, Nashua and one in Fitzwilliam.

Anthony repairs all other kinds of time keepers, from battery operated to grandfather clocks. For more information on Old Times Sake visit or henry.anthony@oldtimes or call 603-672-1757.

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