By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Time has taken its toll on the clock that rises high above Bowling Green. Even the majestic courthouse clock is bound to lose track of time when pigeons roost on its hands, when blizzard winds whip in its face, and when it works round the clock for more than a century.
After several years of the Wood County Courthouse tower clock being behind – or actually ahead of the times, Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar talked with the courthouse crew about fiddling with the mechanism to get the clock to chime on time.
The commissioners’ office had gotten a few complaints over the years about the 195-foot tall clock running fast.
But now that the clock is on time, neighbors appear to be finding it discombobulating.
“Most of them aren’t happy the clock is on time,” Kalmar said.
It turns out some of the neighbors seemed to appreciate the advanced notice the courthouse clock had been giving them for decades.
“I’m kind of disoriented because the clock tower in the county courthouse is chiming exactly on the hour. I’ll get used to it,” Geoff Howes, a courthouse neighbor wrote on Facebook. “We’ve lived three blocks from the courthouse for 30 years and if I’m not mistaken, this is the first time it’s been on the hour. It changes every spring and fall, when we go on and off daylight savings time. Sometimes it’s three minutes early, sometimes two, sometimes five or six. Most recently it was four minutes off.”
That led to Victoria TenEyck responding on Facebook.
“It’s about time,” she typed, then added LOL about her clock pun.
Some Bowling Green residents had grown to rely on the early chimes, which acted as a giant snooze alarm of sorts.
“I count on it being five minutes early,” lamented Neocles Leontis.
“That is screwing me up,” Amy Fry said.
Gordon Maclean asked if this meant that Bowling Green Standard Time had been abolished.
“Ten years I’ve lived here and I count on those chimes being at least three minutes early,” Ellis Nigh wrote.
“What? That’s just gonna feel so wrong,” Amy Craft Ahrens added.
Kalmar defended the timelessness of the courthouse tower clock, which is about 120 years old, running on a motor that is about 70 years old. Relying on it for exact time is asking for a lot.
“It’s a giant clock. It’s not like the cell phone in your pocket,” he said.
Since the clock was running four minutes ahead recently, Kalmar asked the courthouse crew to turn off the clock motor for four minutes, then start it up again. That did the trick – at least for the chimes.
Those relying on the clock hands to tell the time will still be a few minutes behind … or ahead.
“The chime mechanism operates independently of the hands,” Kalmar said. “We can adjust the hands, although it’s not easy.” Moving the hands ideally occurs when the clock’s big hand is pointing straight down, so it’s easier to reach. A worker with a radio on the ground then has to talk through the worker in the clock tower, he said.
Time has taken a toll on the county clock.
The clock, perched in the 195-foot tall courthouse tower, has a storied history.
The story goes, according to the Wood County Auditor’s website, that the clock had been guaranteed to vary no more than 10 seconds a month. But a few months after it was installed, a Bowling Green newspaper reported the clock “goes when it pleases and makes its own time.”
When constructed, the clock hands were the second largest in the U.S., exceeded only by the clock hands on the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper building. Stories vary, however, with some stating that the Wood County clock hands were 16 feet in diameter and some stating they were 17 feet. Either way, the San Francisco hands had them beat by half a foot.
The original hands of the clock reportedly were made of basswood – not of wrought iron as spelled out in the contract. The present ones are of metal.
The original basswood hands are now at the county historical museum. Many years ago the clock would be slowed by pigeons roosting on the hands. The clock used to be operated by a weight system, like a grandfather clock, but is now operated by a small motor.
The hands on the clock were reportedly frozen during the blizzard of 1978. A few years ago, one of the clock hands was wrestled by high winds and bent backward, Kalmar said.
“When the wind blows really hard, it catches those hands,” he said.
Each of the four faces of the clock has 12 electric light bulbs, one for each hour. To replace a burned-out bulb a steeplejack has to climb 195 steps to the tower and then walk outside on a narrow ledge. The steps to the tower consist of three floors of steep stairs, followed by three steel ladders.
A little shanty just below the faces of the clock houses the mechanism. A huge arm with a sledgehammer on the end strikes the bell – which weighs 2,000 pounds.
The clock tower is frequently the home to a pair of nesting Peregrine Falcons, who often hatch a new batch of babies in the spring. The clock’s loud chiming – nor the lack of perfection in keeping time – apparently does not disturb them.
And the humans who live next door will likely get used to the change.
“I’d rather have inexact time than a digital readout on the courthouse,” Howes wrote on Facebook.
“So we should cancel our plans for a giant LED display?” Kalmar joked in response.