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Time not on clockmaker’s side

Pennsylvania builder of classic timepieces grandfathered in

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Danny Sobel, whose family owns the Clock Shop in Vienna, Va., stands by two grandfather clocks in his shop. The one on the left was was made by Pennsylvania craftsman David Lindow, who with his son and a part-time employee builds about 125 clocks in a typical year. (Barbara L. Salisbury/The Washington Times)

Think of him as Grandfather Time.

David Lindow is one of the last manufacturers in the country of grandfather clocks.

As he practices a venerable craft dating back to the 17th century, the clock may be ticking on yet another American industry battling competition from foreign rivals and technological innovation that has put market pressure even on the wristwatch.

“We’re already just about on life-support,” said Mr. Lindow, 42, who hopes to eventually teach his son the craft known as horology. “There’s one place left doing it. I could get hit by a bus or wreck my bicycle. Right now, there isn’t anyone else who could take over. There’s no one to take my place.”

Mr. Lindow has been building his clocks from the basement of his barn in Lake Ariel, Pa., for more than two decades. He fell in love with the business shortly after college.

David Lindow has been building his clocks from the basement of his barn in Lake Ariel, Pa., for more than two decades. He fell in love with the business shortly after college. He is one of the last manufacturers in the country of grandfather clocks.

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David Lindow has been building his clocks from the basement of his ... more >

There’s more to a clock than time, he swears.

“The mechanical sound that comes out of it is a very soothing thing,” he explained. “You hear the clock tick and tock, and it’s marking out the time with rhythm and pace. A clock says something to you, it’s telling you something.”

Grandfather clocks typically stand seven to eight feet tall, and weigh about 125 pounds. They strike on the hour, and newer ones also chime every 15 minutes.

Clockmakers are quick to point out that, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a “grandfather clock.” The proper name for these precious time-keepers is a “tall” or “longcase” clock.

They got their popular nickname from the well-known children’s song in the 1870s, Mr. Lindow said, and these days, the tall, stately timepieces tend to be passed down as family heirlooms.

“If it has been passed down two generations, it is, of course, your grandfather’s clock,” said Donny Sobel, who sells Mr. Lindow’s products at the Clock Shop in Vienna.

Historically, there are four steps to building a grandfather clock.

First, Mr. Lindow will construct the movement — the mechanical portion inside the clock that makes it tick and keep time accurately. Then, he cuts the dial portion of the clock that tells time, and sends it out to a painter, who designs the numbers and other artwork.

At the same time, he cuts the hands, which connect to the dial and point to the time.

Once these parts are complete, a cabinet maker assembles them into the grandfather clock case and they are delivered to the buyer.

The finished products can seem to be manufacturing works of art, but time may be running out on the grandfather clock industry.

Mr. Lindow’s company, which includes himself, his son, and one part-time employee, builds about 125 clocks in a typical year. They retail anywhere from $5,000 to $35,000.

Business, however, isn’t what it used to be. Just ask Mr. Sobel.

“If I sell a couple of his clocks a year, I’m perfectly satisfied,” Mr. Sobel said.

In the past, most of his business revolved around selling clocks, but these days his customers are more interested in having him restore and repair their old clocks, rather than buying new ones. In fact, he has a two-year backlog for restorations.

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About the Author

Tim Devaney

Tim Devaney is a national reporter who covers business and international trade for The Washington Times. Previously, he worked for the Detroit News, Grand Rapids Press, Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News. Tim can be reached at tdevaney@washingtontimes.com.

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