I am curious about all things, sometimes to a fault. Not only do I like to know what makes something tick, one of my joys is figuring out how to fix, restore, or make it myself.
This blog is an extension of a webpage I built several years ago. I hope you enjoy reading about whatever project currently has my attention.
Long ago, after I grew big enough to push a lawnmower, some of the first money earned from chores came from cutting my grandmother’s yard. My dad would drive us over to her house, and the two of them would sit on her front porch shooting the breeze after he started the mower for me. After I finished, we would go in the house, and Granny would open the door on the clock on her fireplace mantle, and pull two one-dollar bills out for me.
Over the years, I pieced together the clock’s story: Granny and my grandfather, who died before I was born, built their house around 1934, and he decided a clock he remembered sitting in his uncle’s barn would look good on the mantle. After retrieving the clock, he took it to a clockmaker who replaced the wooden clockwork with a brass movement. Since the inside of the clock, with its winding directions and assorted instructions, looked too austere for him, he cut the scenic view from a calendar and glued it over the clock paper. Lastly, the old movement was stuck in a kitchen ceiling cabinet.
Many years later when we moved Granny out of the house, I remembered the movement in the kitchen cabinet. Although I was happy to find it was indeed there, for whatever reason it had been stored in a shoebox completely disassembled. Everyone decided the only reason the movement was still there after ~48 years was that the 10 foot ceiling had effectively put the cabinet out of my five-foot tall grandmother’s reach.
Since I was just starting to tinker with clocks, the box of parts was left with a clockmaker for a consult. A few weeks later, he tells me at least one wheel is missing, and all the bushings (arbor bearings) are worn. Sensing his heart was not into getting the movement working again, I thanked him, and headed to the library (this was the ‘80s) to learn more about wooden clockworks.
At some point, I had peaked under the scenic view my grandfather glued in the clock, and noted the clock had been made by Silas Hoadley. After reading everything I could about him, and studying both pictures of his clock movements & clock theory in general, I was able to reassemble the apple-wood movement.
I believe what threw the clockmaker off track was that the count wheel was stuck on another wheel, and the combo appeared to be one part. Fortunately, no wheels were missing.
With the movement assembled, it was now obvious that the ivory bushings were indeed worn in an off-center oblong pattern. Between being unsure of what I was ultimately going to do with a working movement, and having no money, I opted to rotate the bushings 180 degrees to expose the unworn side. Afterwards, the entire works were then coated with boiled linseed oil as a protective coating.
Although this is a weight-driven movement, no weights were found in the shoebox. So pictures of the lead weights associated with other working movements were scaled & measured to determine how much weight was required for operation. The clockmaker was able to order both the weights, and catgut (to string the weights).
At this point, due to the pulleys necessary for stringing the catgut, it was easier to re-install the movement in its original home for the checkout instead of building a stand. Sorry for the poor quality pictures – they were taken over 30 years ago before I learned how to use a film camera correctly.
The wooden clockworks ended up working quite well. But between it only being a one-day movement, and the fact that the clock face had been modified for the 8-day brass movement’s winding holes, I opted re-install the brass movement, and acquire a new shoebox for the wooden movement.
Since then, the clock has been in my parents’ possession, and worked well until five or ten years ago when it stopped. Dad took it to an out-of-town clockmaker who probably did nothing more than clean and oil it because the clock only ran for a few months afterward. Exasperated, Dad decided to drop the subject.
Now, jump ahead to around a year ago. When we helped Dad down-size to an assisted living facility, the clock, which is now somewhere between 167 and 202 years old, made its way to my house.
Having maintained an interest in clocks, I tinkered with the clock a bit and got it running. But it did not sound quite right to me and would not consistently run for a solid week. Taking a hard look at the wear on the movement, I decided 80 years of service was reasonable, and it was best to just replace it at this point.
Back in the day, this particular brass movement, which was made by the Sessions Clock Company in Connecticut, was a popular movement for shelf clocks. But sadly, the company liquidated in 1969. Fortunately, clock repair parts houses still sell a new, eerily similar movement for a reasonable amount of money.
Although the shaft spacing dimensions were a perfect match, the suspension rod had to be sized to work with my existing pendulum.
After screwing the movement to the clock, it was noticed the striker wanted to hit the chime from the left instead of the right like the old one did. After modifying the chime to accommodate being struck from the opposite direction, the escapement arm was adjusted to attain an even beat.
A somewhat surprising difference between this no-name movement and the Sessions movement was that the hands were not interchangeable. It was not a show-stopper, though, because new hands came with the accessory kit purchased at the same time. The problem was that I did not care much for the look of the look of the new hands. Modifying the Sessions movement’s hands was not an option.
But after my wife fell in love with the wooden movement’s original metal hands, I figured out a non-destructive way of modifying them to work with the new brass movement.
So after letting the clock run for a couple of weeks while adjusting the pendulum for accurate timekeeping, the clock face was re-attached for I what figured would probably be twenty years.
Sadly, it wasn’t even 20 days before the chime spring assembly blew up during the start-of-week winding. Apparently, the click spring had been cut too short during fabrication to maintain a solid hold on the click. The best repair would be to install a new spring… which would require disassembling the movement.
To compound my annoyance, I found that the movement had decided to drip oil on the scenic view.
On the bright side it is only noticeable half the time (when the pendulum has not swung over it).
I emailed the supplier to see what relief they could offer. To my surprise, they apologized and said they would send a replacement unit out. And, there was no need to return the broken movement.
The replacement movement arrived a few days later. After noting that both click springs appeared to be up to the challenge, the movement was mounted on a wooden stand to run and drip excess oil.
It ran beautifully until the first time it chimed – Once it started chiming it would not stop. The movement had been assembled out of synch with itself. Once again, at least partial disassembly would be required to fix the problem.
This time I decided to fix it myself instead of contacting the supplier again. So, while I was at it, the first movement’s problem was addressed.
Both movements were allowed to run, chime, and drip oil for a couple of weeks before being declared good-to-go.
My blue toolbox of clock tools is now back in the closet. Hopefully, the next time I pull it out will be for a new project.
LED strip lighting was installed on the T&K Railway several months ago in an effort to both illuminate my antique 0-Guage rolling stock, and add a certain amount of ambience. Sadly, it was just too bright for its intended purpose.
But thanks to eBay, remote controlled dimmers were added to the 53 feet of lighting to limit the lumens. Although the goal was only to dim the brightness, the controllers' remote has the capabilty to disco-ball the presentation.
The clip above starts with the lighting dimmed to its lowest setting of 25% in a room otherwise illuminated by indirect evening sun from a window. Afterwards, buttons are pushed on the newly-added, LED dimming remote to show possible light settings. The crossing bell sound is another topic.
I do, however, get great benefit out of the 100% setting for practicing my brass instruments.
In a quest to get just the right sound for my O-gauge railway, here's eight chimes of PVC pipe being auditioned in the backyard:
On another fun note, the "steam" to power the octet came from a vacuum cleaner spotted on the side of the road this weekend. Since it only had a suction port, the motor was re-fitted to a different enclosure to act as a blower:
This setup has promise - my Valentine was in the the middle of the house & still heard it
One of my hobbies that fell by the wayside after my children were born was clock repair. Self-taught, my workbench used to have all the tools necessary to clean & oil most any unit, and do simple repair within easy reach. In fact, one of my "what if?" scenarios for retirement income at the time was to take in clock repairs because the talent appears to be a dying art.
Recently, I took possession of both a non-operational shelf clock that has been in my family for many decades, and a mantle clock that does not necessarily chime when it is supposed to.
After hanging a cherry shelf recycled from another project I built many years ago, the two clocks, plus another mantle clock shelved many years ago for un-remembered reasons were set in motion.
Counting the cuckoo clock on the adjoining wall, there are now four clocks in the room ticking... and chiming. Two of them on the quearter-hour. While I love it, all the activity appears to annoy my wife. Especially if the overhead train is running & whistling while the clocks are chiming.
As of this moment, the shelf clock's repair is almost complete, and parts have been ordered for the other two movements.
It has been fun to slip back in to hobby I used to enjoy.
Like many kids of the Apollo era, I had a simple model train layout which brought me many hours of entertainment. Unlike most kids, though, I hung on to mine in a disassembled state with the plan of one day building a track shelf around the top of a room in my own house on which the Lionel could run.
The project languished primarily because all the designs I came up either had some sort of shelf bracket or looked too bulky. I almost got really serious about completing the dream around 19 years ago when a yard sale provided me with several sections of three-foot track for a great price. But the bargain was eventually quietly stored away with rest of the train set.
A couple months ago I woke up and for some reason decided to get serious about the project. After less than an hour on the Internet I found a company marketing a product which had the right visual appeal. They were quite proud of it too because their online estimator came up with close to $1500 for the parts which I & a helper would have to trim & install. Then my own track would have to be installed on top of it after painting. Ka-ching!
But after studying their low-res pictures for a while, I decided to build a version of their product which would look even better than they offered due to the way my idea would be mounted to the wall. So, after a long time sitting in a box, what was left of my 1952 Lionel train set finally saw the light of day to get measured for its new layout.
I would have chosen MDF for the project even if it did not appear to be what the high-priced guys were milling. After studying & measuring everything, what appeared to be good proportions were established before drawing up plans.
The curves were the toughest parts to conceptualize because the parts have to be anchored to both the wall & straight sections of track, and look good doing it.
After the meat of the design was done, I took one last look around the shelf’s future home to identify obstacles. While a wall-mounted smoke detector would be easy enough to relocate, the cuckoo clock really needed to be at the height it is. Ultimately, a stand-off was constructed to allow the train to run behind the clock.
As with the start of any big project, all the Shop’s cast iron was waxed before verifying all cutting tools were properly aligned to their respective work surfaces. Funny how you never see this time-consuming part on home improvement shows.
In addition to requiring more design effort, the four curved sections also required a whole lot more construction steps than the straight sections. Not including sanding, 11 individual machining steps involving five different tools were required just to complete the general shape.
The radial arm saw was used for the bulk of the cuts:
Although the finished curved cuts came from a router on an arm, a giant compass (pencil on the end of a pinned board) was used used to mark the path.
The bandsaw took most of the excess off so that only one pass of the router would be necessary to finish it.
Well, they say that part of the joy of woodworking is recovering from mistakes & accidents. “They” say that; I don’t. While routing the the very first arc, I heard the router load up. Although I immediately stopped, the damage was done.
The work had fed itself into the router bit because it was only constrained from getting away from the router as opposed to drifting into the bit. Since all forms of trying to aesthetically recover from so much missing wood looked fairly time consuming, I opted to mill out another blank. The benefit was that I now had a sacrificial curve to verify the remaining milling operation setups.
Fortunately, milling of the remaining curves and all the straight sections went without incident.
The next step was rounding over of exposed sharp edges.
With what I thought was all of the edge treatments done, the roundover bit was swapped out with a straight bit for the lapping the ends which join the curves to the straight pieces.
Now, you might have only been reading till now just to find out the exact secret of how this shelf is supported on only one edge. Congratulations – you endured ~720 words to get to this point, and I know it was no easy task. The secret is Plate Joiner with #20 biscuits.
Basically, a furring strip drilled & countersunk on 16-inch centers and slotted for biscuits was mounted to the wall studs. Although the smoke detector wires follow where the device was relocated, the electrical box itself was left & covered with a blank plate in case I decide to run track wire through it later.
With a plan in place, installation consisted of marking/cutting everything to align with the wall studs.
After cutting the first furring strip, I realized another roundover procedure would be needed on one end each custom-fit strip to match part of the curved section. Since the big router table was set up for lap joints, I pulled out my original router table and mounted the router I got in high school in it with the roundover bit. This is the first project in a while that required three routers.
Since there are ~184 biscuits involved in the T&K Railway and they all fit tightly, only the biscuits on either side of the mounting screws were glued. The lap joints were also glued and clamped until dry.
It was a two drill press operation – One to drill, and the other to countersink for the screw heads. I ran out of photogenic work supports on the project. The table-top drill press’s work support is an oak 2X4 clamped to a Jorgenson clamp tightened on to the door.
On the first Saturday of inside work, the central air conditioner conked out. Although it was not unreasonably hot outside, with all the lights I had on for the work, the train’s new room started getting hot. Fortunately, I still had a small window unit left over from when the Airstream’s A/C quit.
The plan had always been to paint the project after installation. I hate painting. Since any smile I have while painting is insincere, here’s a shot of a happy Number 1 son helping me mask off the area.
After caulking, priming, and painting, new & old track was screwed down before running a power bus around the perimeter. Five different taps were used to supply power to the 58 feet of track.
To my reckoning, it’s been about 40 years since my 63 year-old locomotive developed tractive force. Although there is a bit of a story involved in getting Lionel 2034 to steam up again, it is a tale for another time. Suffice to say it did steam up without having to buy anything.
Since the video was made, Kim & the Boyz gifted lighted sleeper and mail service cars to the Railway. It looks awesome in action.
I’m thinking about other improvements like a backdrop of sky or something. Feel free to comment with any ideas.