STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) - Time may be an enemy to some, but it’s Duane Steiger’s longtime companion.
For more than 40 years, Steiger and antique clocks have been inseparable. They’ve shared a rustic workshop next to his Gregg Township childhood home at the base of Egg Hill.
Clocks serenade him as he works at his scarred bench, restoring and repairing wooden cases and intricate brass movements, at peace. Not everyone would hear the harmony of steady ticking punctuated by chimes and cuckoos, but the owner of Steiger Clock Shop does. It’s been the soundtrack to his life, as constant as the view of a distant mountain ridge from his shop window.
On a winter afternoon, the romance continues.
Steiger, 75, examines a clock’s shiny innards arrayed before him: gears, shafts, precision crafted by masters more than a century ago. He’s redrilling a hole in a plate for a tiny bushing. The old brass “cuts hard,” impressing him.
“Look at how hard those flakes are,” he says. “It’s not that soft (modern) stuff with a lot of lead in it.”
His hands move steadily, like those of his clocks, patience born out of necessity. Parts are miniscule; subtle adjustments leave little room for error. He carves an almost invisible bevel on one side of the bushing hole to create a countersink for lubricating oil.
Based on the plate’s thickness and the hole’s diameter, he selects the correct bushing from a bushing gauge with tweezers.
“One thing you don’t want to do is drop this one on the floor,” Steiger says. “I don’t think you’ll ever see it again.”
With a bushing stake and a small hammer, he taps the bushing into place. But he’s not finished. Because his pounding squashed the bushing’s aperture ever-so slightly, it’s now a fraction too tight.
Out comes a cutting broach first, to shave off a microscopic layer from within the bushing, then a smoothing broach to polish out imperceptible marks in order for the gear to spin freely.
“This is going to put the finishing touch to that bushing,” Steiger says. “It’s going to make it run smooth.”
All his care usually pays off in the end - and not just because he submits a bill.
One of a vanishing breed, he gains the satisfaction of seeing a family heirloom, a historical artifact, come alive after years of slumber, marking time’s passage as its maker intended, singing its song again.
To Steiger, a real-life Geppetto at home in his shop’s clutter like the “Pinocchio” clockmaker, there’s nothing better. He’ll do what it takes, for a beautiful grandfather or mantel clock, frozen and silent, deserves no less.