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Parkersburg collector repairs antique clocks

Chris Dorst
Roger Mackey of Parkersburg has been collecting and repairing antique clocks for more than 40 years.
Chris Dorst Mackey just finished working on the wooden movement of an old clock. Most of the parts, including gears, are made out of wood.
Chris Dorst Painted clocks from the mid-1850s are on display in Mackey's home. clockman4

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. -- When Roger Mackey has to spring forward or fall back, it takes him a little longer than the average Joe.

The clock collector and repairman has about 400 antique clocks at his Parkersburg home, of which about 50 are kept running at any one time.

Mackey says you can't just move the hands back or forward an hour on most old clocks, because it will throw off the chiming mechanisms. So how will he set 50 clocks back by one hour when Daylight Saving Time ends this coming weekend?

"I'll probably just stop them all for an hour," said Mackey, 62. "To completely reset them would take the better part of a day."

Mackey got his first antique clock when he was 15. His grandfather, a garbage collector, found it in the attic of a home he was cleaning out in Parkersburg's historic district.

Mackey traded an old shotgun for the clock. "I didn't know whether I got a good deal or not," he said, but it turned out the clock was worth a lot of money.

"That just got me started," he said. "When I got it, I got it bad."

Before long, Mackey's interest in antique clocks made him want to repair the precision timepieces. "A couple of old guys showed me the basics," he said. "Over the years, I just picked it up.

"It's nice to pick up something somebody was going to throw away and bring it back to life."

Mackey has been repairing clocks for more than 40 years. He runs Mackey's Antiques & Clock repair out of his Parkersburg home.

Mackey says most old clocks can be repaired. But sometimes it will cost more to fix an old clock than the clock is worth.

He said the most common enemy of old clocks is neglect. "People run clocks for years and never oil them," he said. When that happens, things wear out. Commonly, the pivots of gears will start to wear out the holes they sit in, distorting the shape of the holes and eventually bringing the clock to a standstill.

The only remedy is to put in new brass bushings for the gears to ride in, an exacting and time-consuming task few people know how to do. "I'm one of the few true clock repairmen out there," Mackey said.

Repairs to old clocks start at about $85, but could cost more depending on how much work Mackey has to do and whether he has to fabricate new parts. He says he is able to charge less than other repairmen because his tools are paid for and he doesn't have to pay rent for a workshop.

His relatively low rates keep Mackey busy constantly. On a recent day he was finishing up a wooden clock movement -- complete with wooden gears -- and working on an antique cuckoo clock. Mackey was waiting on a new bellows, the part that makes the clock "cuckoo."

"I've had clocks in here from Greece," he said. Customers have sent clocks to be repaired from Alaska and all over the United States.

Some antique clock movements can be quite intricate. He has several antique calendar clocks that display the day and date, and know which months have 30 days and which have 31. They even account for leap years, automatically adding a 29th day for February every fourth year.

"I've got clocks that date back into the early 1800s," Mackey said. Back then, a clock was a major investment, and good clocks might only be found in banks, railroad stations or other public places.

Mackey is already training another generation in the ins and outs of antique clock repair. He is showing what he knows to his grandsons, Logan, Walker and Lakota Wilson.

Mackey said Logan took his first clock apart before he could talk. "These boys will be taking over pretty soon," he said.

Mackey used to keep 100 or so clocks running at all times, their ticking and chiming filling the house and workshop. But he's had to make a few concessions for age.

"It gets to be a hassle to wind them all the time," he said.

To reach Mackey's Antiques & Clock, visit www.mackeysclockrepair.com or call 304-422-7274.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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