clockmaker fix me a clock
By Naoibh O'Connor-Staff
1977, Ray Saunders sported an 1890s vintage suit, black top
hat and tie for the unveiling of Gastown's celebrated steam
clock, which he had built.
he donned the very same hat for another special occasion-the
start-up of restoration work on the four neon clocks atop
the east, west, north and south faces of city hall.
president of Landmark Clocks International and Vancouver's
resident horologist, or clockmaker, dressing up in the old
top hat has become a habit.
tattered. It needs a bit of work, but any time I'm involved
in any restoration that involves height, I usually wear this
good luck hat," he said shortly before taking an elevator
up to the roof-top site with three assistants.
he put on a safety harness and climbed down a ladder to the
clock face on the building's east side. Restoring the clocks
will take about a week for each face and altogether cost between
$40,000 and $50,000.
a former skydiver, so the prospect of clinging to a ladder
more than 10 storeys up off the side of a building to dismantle
equipment didn't alarm him.
on each of the 69-year-old clocks are worn out and beyond
repair. Saunder's job is to install counterweights on the
1.8-metre hands to reduce the strain on the gear systems,
which had been overheating due to the weight of the arms.
The motors will also be replaced to keep more accurate time
and each of the hands sandblasted and repainted to spruce
up their rusted appearance. A new pilot clock inside will
keep the four faces synchronized.
The neon clocks
are an original feature of the Townley and Matheson-designed
city hall-an art-deco structure that opened in December 1936.
It was designated as a heritage building in 1976.
the first of the four mechanisms was no easy task Friday.
The delicate neon lights were removed first followed by the
two hands. "Would you believe there's a spider's nest in here?"
he said while unscrewing bolts.
the side of the building tempted him to test out a few puns.
"I'm working around the clock to get it done, but these hands
are giving me trouble-not these hands, but these hands," he
joked, pointing to the clock arms.
made it impossible to remove the hour hand on the east clock,
which he decided to leave for a later date. "I'll have to
come back and bring my mini-grinder and grind them off-they're
rusted solid," he said.
was the wiring, which will have to be fixed. Saunders said
the insulation is coming off. "It's a wonder it hasn't shorted
out," he said.
More than an
hour after starting the job, he was ready to leave. But he
still has several trips up and down the building remaining-at
least four times over the next few weeks before the project
apprenticed as a watch and clock technician for Woodward's
department store before starting his own business in 1970,
has built 150 clocks around the world. He also does restoration
One of his
upcoming jobs involves repair work on a 1990 steam clock in
Otaru, Japan that he also built and modelled after the clock
in Gastown. "The mayor of the town came to Vancouver. He liked
it so much he wanted one for his own town," Saunders said.
The main whistle no longer blows, a problem he suspects is
caused by calcium deposits from hard water.
to travel to Asia in June to complete the Japanese job. "It'll
be my longest house call in a while," he said.