The clock tower at the La Plata County Courthouse could be back up and ringing out the time as early as next week.
Over the summer, the clock in the 1000 block of East Second Avenue started chiming out of time, and eventually stopped working altogether, said Landon Belveal, a maintenance operation specialist with the county.
For the next few weeks, county officials shopped around, having difficulty finding a clock repairer who could fix the antique clock that dates back to 1891 at the right price.
“It’s getting harder and harder to find people who know how to do this kind of stuff,” Mark McKibben told The Durango Herald Action Line columnist Mike Smedley in July. “The last time the clock stopped working, we had to fly out a repair person from the East Coast. So we’re looking around for somebody closer.”
The solution, it turns out, was right here in Durango.
Recently, the county hired Clock Repair and Restoration’s Robert Scott, who has worked as a local clock repairer for nearly three decades, and his employee, Alex Krebs.
“It’s kind of a milestone in my career, really,” Scott said. “It’s probably one of the most important clocks I’ve worked on, and I’ve worked on some pretty special stuff.”
The clock at the Courthouse was manufactured by Seth Thomas Clock Co., based in Thomaston, Connecticut, built and shipped to Durango in 1891.
The average price for one of the clocks in the late 1800s was about $1,000, Scott said. According to an inflation calculator, that would be almost $30,000 in today’s dollars.
“That was big loot in those days,” Scott said.
Duane Smith, a former Fort Lewis College professor and local historian, said having a clock was important to a town’s identity back in the day. Businesses opened and closed to its hourly tolling.
“It was such a meaningful thing to the people in the earlier decades in Durango,” Smith said. “You couldn’t pick up your phone and check what time it was.”
Yet, the clock must still hold special meaning to Durangoans today, as the county received a number of phone calls in the days after the clock went silent, Belveal said.
To repair the massive antique clock, Krebs said many of the same concepts applied to other clock restorations can be applied to the Seth Thomas clock.
With most clocks, more than 50 percent of repairs are general cleaning and oiling, as well as making adjustments, Krebs said. It’s when you have to perform repairs or custom-make pieces no longer in production that things get tricky.
Also, horologists (the official term for clock makers and repairers) must thread a balance of preserving original pieces while fixing the issue, Krebs said.
“With this one, and most antiques, the main approach would be to try and preserve what is there ... opening up the most limited amount of risk to losing something because some of these parts you can’t get or have to make,” he said.
Upon an initial inspection Tuesday, Scott and Krebs said it appears most of the troubles with the Courthouse clock appear to be relatively minor in nature, requiring some deep cleans and adjustments.
A follow-up visit late next week will tell more, they said, and likely result in a test run.
And no time too soon: Durango’s clocks have run into trouble recently.
The other prominent time-keeper, the clock at the Crossroads Building at 10th Street and Main Avenue, installed in 2006, was likely the target of vandalism when hands on the clock were found twisted like pretzels, General Manager Tim Kotlar said.
“We could not come up with anything other than someone got on the roof and vandalized it,” he said. “But we were able to fix it in-house.”
The last major restoration of the clock at the Courthouse was in 1988, when, as legend has it, Durango native Anthony Ferdinando spent 600 hours, unpaid, fixing the antique clock.
For this fix, La Plata County spokeswoman Megan Graham said the bid is estimated at $1,520 for eight hours of work.
That’s small potatoes compared to the cost of renovating London’s famed Big Ben clock tower, which recently doubled its estimate to $82 million after a Parliament committee said the landmark is “more complex” than previously thought.
And, it’s an opportunity for local horologists, rare in their own right, to restore a local fixture.
“It’s an exciting opportunity to work on a clock like this,” Scott said.