MACHIAS – Since November 1870, a long line of dedicated clock minders have ascended the 77 narrow, worn wooden stairs to wind the town clock high in the steeple of the Centre Street Congregational Church.
Early Sunday morning, Don Paulson of Cutler, Harper Dean of East Machias and Richard Burman of Machiasport attended to the task. This time, the local volunteers made the adjustment for the end of daylight-saving time. Three more winders have been trained and are poised to take over the duty.
“I consider it an honor to wind the clock,” Burman said. “I mean, how many people look at the clock in a single day?”
Paulson has minded Machias’ clock the longest – about 41/2 years. Dean and Burman took on clock duty in the last year when Paulson sought extra help from the church parish. Now they take turns, with two of them coming every week to wind the clock at different intervals.
Done all at once, the winding takes about 165 cranks to raise the bell’s 1,200-pound weights, and about 75 cranks for the 600-pound weights for the clock itself. The whole task is much easier if it is done over two days.
Once a month, the clock-minder has to oil the bearings of the clock’s intricate metal workings. It all takes place in a narrow wooden booth high over the town. When a face-sized portal is opened up, the clock-minder gets a rare view of the town against the Machias River.
For decades, the Centre Street church clock has operated nearly flawlessly. And, in the years since Paulson has made the trek to the belfry, the clock has not required any repairs.
Dean actually had forgotten that this was the weekend to set the clock back one hour. He made plans to stop the clock for one hour at 7 a.m. Sunday, but Saturday’s pummeling storm gave the trio the added task of resetting the clock. The wooden hands had stopped at 10:45 p.m. Saturday after absorbing too much moisture from the rain.
That occurs about six times a year due to snow or extensive rain. The 2-foot-long minute hand gets too heavy to push itself up to the 46-minute mark.
The clock is a symbol of the town’s history. On both the outside and inside of the wooden booth where the winding takes place, men and women who have handled the task have signed their names and years.
The clock was purchased for the town with $600 raised by the Ladies’ Clock Society in 1870. Manufactured by E. Howard of Boston, it has four faces, each 7 feet in diameter.
The bell – cast by Paul Revere and brought from Boston in 1836 – chimes on the hour. It can also be rung manually by pulling on a rope. Those who do so in a delinquent manner, however, run the risk of being fined $2. The local law is still on the books to protect the townspeople from false alarm.
Dean, for one, loves the weekly ritual of minding the clock too much to pass it along just yet.
“People have relied on this clock and its chimes for 140 years,” he said. “That historical bind is enough for me.”
Paulson and Burman do it because they have an appreciation for time pieces. Paulson owns a dozen cuckoo clocks. Burman confesses to owning as many as 40 watches, including the Burger King series his daughters wanted.
Starting in 2007, Machias’ clock minders will be making time corrections on slightly different dates.
Daylight-saving time will be observed in the United States and Canada from the second Sunday in March – it is currently the first Sunday in April – until the first Sunday in November, instead of the last Sunday in October.
The new dates were set by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 partly as an energy-saver. Daylight-saving time serves to reduce the period between sunset and bedtime by one hour, resulting in less electricity getting used for lighting and appliances late in the day.