Man builds and repairs antique clocks

Story and photos by Laura Brookhart

Checking the time on your clock is an elementary exercise compared to what horologist Stephen Campbell sees when he peers inside any clock.

In the late 70s, Campbell, a Bell South employee, began to buy and build clock kits — some from Viking, Emperor and Klockit — and went on to complete some 15 wall clocks, grandfather clocks and four-bell clocks as a hobby.

Stephen Campbell can repair and build antique clocks.

Stephen Campbell can repair and build antique clocks.

He gained working knowledge of clock mechanisms, such as handling, adjusting and oiling, and by the mid-90s after working alongside another experienced horologist, Bob Hudson, Campbell realized this would be his chosen work after retirement.

He spent 25 weeks in Columbia, Penn., studying at the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors (NAWCC) School of Horology, graduating in 2008.

“Early on, when I fixed a clock, I would put that money toward the tools I needed, so by the time I retired, my shop was ready to go.”

Campbell shared the most frequent problem he encounters with fine or antique clocks is that they have dried out.

“A clock is always trying to push itself apart; the gears spread and then lack the energy to tick,” he explains. “Signs of wear are also evident on the bushings, so this is one of the first elements I look at.”

The oldest clock Campbell has worked on is a tall grandfather clock that belonged to George Washington’s brother and is currently in the Karl C. Harrison Columbiana Museum.

Campbell has also worked on an English-made clock dating from 1860 that has only been moved three times since it was built. It arrived at the Port of Mobile on a sailing ship and was brought to its Verbina home in a mule-drawn wagon.

“The most challenging clock to work on is a three-train clock,” Campbell says, noting that each train has four to six individual gears.

Frequently, when working on a grandfather clock, he removes the movement and brings it to the shop.

“I will transport a grandfather clock when someone is moving, making it ready for its new home. I am called upon often when movers damage clocks,” Campbell says. “When it comes to the more artistic elements, for example repainting the clock face or refinishing the wood, I use the services of Moman & Son, who do stunning woodwork and The Dial Shop for the faces.”

Campbell belongs to the NAWCC local Chapter 54 that holds a monthly program at the Irondale Café. “Sometimes, we have show and tell, and someone will share something wonderful they found at a yard sale,” he says. “I’m probably one of the youngest there. Sadly, we lose a couple of members every year.”

Stephen Campbell can be contacted at 205-663-2822.