David Carver will head down to Tacoma’s Old Town this weekend to reset the clock that greets drivers on North 30th Street as they leave Schuster Parkway.
It’s a ritual he’s performed twice a year since the clock was installed in 2001.
“Spring ahead” and “fall back” have real meaning for Carver. The biannual Daylight Saving Time adjustments take only six minutes in the spring.
A mechanism inside the clock’s control panel, hidden inside the pole the clock hangs from, allows time to speed up.
Never miss a local story.
But fall is another story.
“I have to turn it off and go down to the Spar, have a cup of coffee and wait an hour,” Carver said. “But I don’t mind waiting.”
If out of town, he asks fellow volunteer clock tender Bob Arenburg to do the honors. Arenburg tends the freestanding green clock at North 27th and North Proctor Streets.
“We’re like Batman and Robin,” Carver said. “I’m not sure which is which. He’s bossier than I am.”
Both clocks are the handiwork of Doc Farrens, who died in December 2001.
“I lived right across the alley, and I got to know him over the years,” Carver said.
Though Farrens never taught Carver the inner workings of the clock’s mechanism, he maintains the electronics and other parts.
The clocks in Old Town, Proctor and other points around town run on electricity.
But not the behemoth that rises outside LeRoy Jewelers at 940 Broadway in downtown Tacoma.
Abraham Rose installed the clock in 1920 outside his jewelry store at South 14th Street and Pacific Avenue.
After a truck knocked over the clock, it languished in a city warehouse.
“It was lying on a pallet there, it was broken in a couple of pieces,” LeRoy co-owner Steph Farber recalled.
Today, glass windows allow passers-by to view the movement. Originally, it was tin.
“When we peeled back the tin we found a couple of bottles of Scotch and the movement,” Farber said.
In 1987, the Farber family had the clock refurbished and installed outside their jewelry store.
While the city owns the clock, Farber maintains it.
A thin piece of metal attaches the pendulum to the movement. Because metal expands as it warms, Farber must shorten it in the summer and lengthen it in the winter to keep the time accurate.
“You don’t want to take somebody’s pulse with this,” he said.
The movement is a collection of gears with one crucial flat wheel on top. That part, conveniently located at eye level, allows Farber to change the time. No extension ladder needed.
Saturday night, just before he closes for the evening, Farber will advance the clock one hour. It will be a few hours ahead of Daylight Saving Time’s official switch at 2 a.m. Sunday.
Like Carver, Farber doesn’t work on movements. But he knows enough about them to keep his clock’s oiled.
The city doesn’t directly maintain any of the clocks around Tacoma, said Chris Larson, engineering division manager for the city’s Public Works Department.
But it will provide electrical work, light bulb changing and other tasks.
AN ENDURING LEGACY
Farber said public clocks are a holdover from a time when the average citizen didn’t have a time piece.
The huge clock faces on Old City Hall could be seen blocks away in the early 1900s. They still can be seen today, but with the four sets of hands stuck on different times, the clock now is just decorative.
The same goes for the blue, freestanding Stadium District clock at St. Helens and Tacoma Avenue South. The much newer clock is correct twice a day at 12:48.
Today, with a cellphone in every pocket, one might wonder why we even bother with public clocks, especially analog versions.
First, Farber said, digital clocks don’t provide the same context an analog one does.
“You don’t want to know it’s 8:57,” Farber said. “You want to know it’s almost 9.”
And while people are hard-pressed to remember where Tacoma’s public clocks are, they still use them, Farber said.
“If you watch people walk by, four out of five people will check up there to see what time it is,” he said.
On Friday, Farber wound his clock using a special key to raise a heavy weight.
“Old school,” a passer-by shouted in appreciation.