- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2005

John Liversidge spends his days figuring out why a clock won’t tick.

Mr. Liversidge is a clock repairman at the Hands of Time Ltd., a collectibles, art gallery and clock shop in the historic Savage Mill shopping center in Savage, Md.

The 52-year-old Laurel resident fixes mostly kitchen and mantel clocks. He works at the back of the store, located in the converted New Weave building.

On a recent afternoon, Mr. Liversidge is working on an 1879 kitchen clock. He first disassembles the clock, taking its movement, the part of the clock with most of the gearing in it, out of the wooden case.

Mr. Liversidge then takes the clock movement and begins securing its springs, which provide the power keeping time and the hour strike. “I need to close them up so that I can take them out without having them explode in my face,” he says, attaching clips onto the two springs.

Mr. Liversidge, who is wearing jeans, a black shirt and faded jean apron, dons magnifying goggles and uses tiny tools to extricate parts from the main clock part. He unscrews gears and other pieces from the clock’s brass front-and-back plates, which hold most of the main gears together.

“I’m slow, I admit it. I just want to make sure I am not doing the same job twice,” he says while carefully examining the different parts of the clock.

Mr. Liversidge checks how damaged or complete each piece is, occasionally marking some with a special marker to remind himself of parts he will need to fix.

His nimble fingers check each part of the clock and set each piece aside on a small work desk for cleaning. The clock, which is for a customer in McLean, will likely ring up a total repair bill between $425 to $475, Mr. Liversidge says.

“But that cost is because I have to rebuild parts of this clock,” he adds.

Once the grimy steel and brass pieces are taken out and checked, Mr. Liversidge arranges larger pieces in wire baskets and smaller parts in tea strainers.

The baskets and strainers are placed in a vat full of petroleum-based cleaning solution. Those parts will later be rinsed and fixed before the clock is reassembled.

Then Mr. Liversidge goes back to another clock on his desk that he has been working on for the past several days. This clock, also built in the late 1800s, required extensive work.

Mr. Liversidge has finished most of the repairs but still has to make sure the pieces fit back into the plate precisely enough that the clock operates like a new machine.

“Really, what I do is a lot of checking over and over again to make sure things are fitting how they should,” he says, adding that patience and attention to detail are the biggest requirements of his job.

Once the clocks are finished, they stay at the shop for another week to test for any additional problems. The closet-size testing room, next to the service area, holds grandfather and smaller wall clocks, which are checked daily for their time keeping and compared with an atomic clock that hangs on the wall.

By the end of the week, “almost all of the kinks worked out,” Mr. Liversidge says.

Prior to his clock repair days, Mr. Liversidge was a UPS driver who was ready for a job that required more hands-on work. “I had been making jewelry as a hobby and I liked working with my hands that way,” he says.

He took on an apprentice position at the clock shop after his wife, Suzanne, saw an ad in the local paper.

Most of his clock skills came from the apprenticeship, in which he worked under the store’s owner, Robert Capone.

Additionally, Mr. Liversidge took a professional class at the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors Inc. in Columbia, Pa.

Today he is the main technician for the store’s service department, taking care of older clocks that need substantial repairs.

Mr. Liversidge also makes house calls to service clocks, mostly large grandfather clocks. The store salary and extra house calls bring in $35,000 to $40,000 annually.

Since joining the store, Mr. Liversidge has started a collection of antique clocks at home. “But most of them don’t work,” he quips. “It’s the kind of thing that I’ll get to when I retire.”

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