Tic-toc, repair the clock
When daylight savings time ends later this month, it will be a busy day at Steve Lobel's house.
Lobel, a West Linn resident, doesn't have just one clock to change. Or two. Or three. Multiply that last number by 10 and you'll be closer to the number of antique clocks Lobel — who teaches a clock repair class at the West Linn Adult Community Center — has collected over the years.
"It's a hobby gone out of control in my house," Lobel says. "I don't keep all of them running at a time, but all but about two or three do run and keep accurate time."
Lobel just took over the clock repair course — which is one of the longest running classes offered by the Parks and Recreation Department — in March, but he's been a clock enthusiast since his childhood days in New York City.
"We had a neighbor — I was friendly with their kid — and they had this lovely wall clock," Lobel says. "It struck the hour, and I was just fascinated by it. I'm fascinated by all things mechanical."
Lobel, a retired journalist, "fiddled" with clocks for years before he started taking formal classes at the WLACC in 2004. He learned from several instructors over the years before the most recent teacher moved out of state and asked him to take over.
"Otherwise we'd just be disbanded, and it'd be pretty sad," Lobel says.
Yet while he got into teaching "by default," he has an easy rapport with students as they file into the second class of the semester Oct. 2.
"There's a box of cookies on the counter, and there are three or four clocks up there — free for taking," he says to the students. "So if you like what's there, take them, because I don't want to be taking these home, folks!"
Munching on a peanut butter cookie, West Linn resident Mitch Wiegand explains that he will spend the night working on a World War I-era cuckoo clock.
"I'm always working on something different — I have too many clocks," says Wiegand, who is entering his fourth year of classes at the WLACC. "It's kind of like having a lot of cars — you've got to run them. And mechanical clocks not only have to run, but just like a car you have to maintain them."
Part of the fun for Wiegand is learning about the history behind the clocks he collects.
"During the world wars, there wasn't enough brass, so they made clocks with — in this case, this is World War I — they made it with steel (because) they needed brass for shells."
Portland resident Marilyn Lindner says she inherited some clocks from her grandfather, who used to fix them in his workshop.
"When I found out there was a class, (I realized) I could either pay a lot of money to have someone fix it, or fix it myself," Lindner says. "I liked the idea that you could take something apart and put it back together.
"And then there was a value in being able to fix something, and a value in fixing something that, when the electricity went out, still ran."
Chuck Harrison, a Damascus resident, arrived at the class with a kitchen clock that he'd just purchased at a garage sale over the weekend.
"If you're lucky and the clock's been well taken care of, there's a label on them that tells you who made it and that gives you a clue as to when it was made, which is kind of half the fun of it," Harrison says. "I've got one clock at home; it's a bigger clock. I pretty much have a whole history of the thing. It was purchased in 1855 in Iowa, and in 1864 it was wrapped in a down or feather mattress, put on an ox cart and brought to Oregon, and it was in the same family the entire history of the clock until I bought it."
Lobel worries that knowledge about the inner workings of these historic clocks will be lost to the sands of time — which is part of why he teaches.
"Clockmakers retire, repairers retire. No one is going to take their place, and they're selling off their inventory," Lobel says.
He also laments that kids are no longer being taught how to tell analog time.
"Part of our (clock) club, which is affiliated with this class, we want to start an effort in the school system to teach kids how to tell time with an analog clock, because they're not teaching that anymore," he says. "My grandkids are a prime example. They don't have a clue what the hell I do, and don't have a clue how to read (a clock)."
Classes run from September through May, and are divided between three semesters that last between 10 and 12 weeks, according to Lobel.
To learn more, contact the Parks and Recreation Department at 503-557-4700.