Sunday, November 17, 2019

Columbia's "Time Wizard" works against time to restore four 19th-century church clocks

Dr. Larry Laird positions an aluminum time ring (the white part) on a wrought iron clock face. The ring is held slightly away from the surface with rubber spacers to prevent electrolysis between the aluminum and the iron.

Why is Dr. Larry Laird working against the clock? Well, to renovate a clock, of course. Or more accurately, four clocks.

Laird, who owns the local company Global Time Wizard, reluctantly took on a big project several months ago: renovating four 19th-Century clocks from an old German Lutheran church in Philadelphia. The clocks had slowly deteriorated since their installation over 150 years ago due to exposure to the elements.

Each clock face has a little square door to access the clock movement once the clocks are installed. The doors are original. Each face is four feet in diameter.

Laird and assistant Cody spent over half a year working on the project at Laird's Locust Street studio. To begin, Cody spent several months wire-brushing rust and dirt from the wrought iron clock faces, each of which measures four feet in diameter. The next step was to apply a durable exterior paint made by Sherwin Williams. Laird chose a type used on battleships that will withstand rain, snow, and ice. The paint is extremely difficult to apply and each coat takes six weeks to dry, Laird said. 

The drill press Laird is using was used to make Hamilton watches and is extremely accurate. He says it runs "like silk."

As the paint was drying, Laird made four pairs of aluminum clock hands patterned on the originals, as well as four time rings containing numerals and notches. (The aluminum is specially coated.) He applied the rings to the clock faces with stainless steel fasteners. The rings are kept slightly away from the faces with rubber spacers to avoid electrolysis between the aluminum and iron.

Cody holds a state-of-the-art "movement," which drives the clock hands. When installed, the movement shaft will fit through a delrin bearing and will self-adjust. The bearing was made at Stevens Trade.

Finally, four sealed clockworks, called movements, were ordered to drive the hands. The movements are state-of-the-art electro-hydraulic motors that will be synchronized and operated from a single power switch after installation. The movements are custom made. "Everything you see here virtually is custom made by somebody in the United States," Laird added. "We bring together all these skills from around the country."

Laird shows a specially made metal plate to facilitate lifting the clocks to the tower. An installed movement can be seen near the bottom.

The clocks will be transported by truck in specially made wooden crates to the old church, which is now part of a retirement home known as The Loft. Steeplejacks will then install them into their original settings. Laird hopes to "beat the clock" and complete the installation before the onset of winter weather.

This whimsical automaton will sit in the lobby of the church.