Timely labor of love finally comes to fruition

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Restored town clock to be unveiled at 375th gala

By Liz Premo

Hampton Union, August 2, 2013

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Cliff Pratt and Harvey Webber restoring the old town clock
Cliff Pratt and Harvey Webber work to restore the historic town clock.
(Lois Desrochers photo)

HAMPTON — When Hampton celebrates its 375th anniversary the weekend of Aug. 9-11, an iconic figure will be well represented during the event: the historic town clock once housed in the Odd Fellows building, which was destroyed by fire in 1990.

More than two decades later, efforts to restore the 1898 clock to working order appear to be a great success, thanks to a crew of volunteers dedicated to performing what could be best described as a timely labor of love involving an estimated "couple of thousand man hours," according to committee member Cliff Pratt.

"It's a fun project," said Pratt, who has an extensive trades background as a tool and die maker. "I have enjoyed looking at the craftsmanship of 150 years ago and seeing how well-built things were back then. Once you see it running, you see how carefully it was crafted."

An intricate meshing of hand-casted bronze gears and bushings with other parts composed of steel, the assembled clockworks is supported by a cast iron frame that measures approximately 6' wide by 5' high by 2' deep and weighs about a ton.

"The largest winding gear is 80, 90 pounds," Pratt estimated.

A few of the 50 or so parts have been replaced, while micro switches and a new pendulum are being added for time-keeping. No electricity is involved in running the clock, originally crafted by E. Howard & Co. in Boston.

The bell, which will be on display with clock faces at Tuck Field during the 375th celebration, was manufactured in Philadelphia.

Throughout the course of its "machine shop" restoration, the clock has been assembled, disassembled and reassembled in a concerted effort to make sure it will keep perfect time once it's up and running.

"We took it apart again and are shimmying it now," Pratt said regarding work that was recently completed. "We're making sure everything is nice and tight."

Pratt predicted that they will "spend a week fine-tuning it" once it is moved to its permanent home on the grounds of Centre School.

A fundamental part of the restoration project will be the clock faces, which naturally played a part throughout the years that the clock stood in the Odd Fellows bell tower.

In the days when wristwatches weren't widely worn or even non-existent, Hampton residents relied upon the clock and its bell for keeping track of the hour, wherever they happened to be.

"You'd come out of Colt News or the First National or the railroad station and look up to see what time it was. You could see that clock face from everywhere in town," said committee member Bud Desrochers, a millwright by trade.

"That's why the clock was so important," said Desrochers, adding how one side of the clock face was actually larger than the other three. This made it possible for workers to see it from where they were haying in the salt marsh, and thus be able to keep track of timing for the tides

The clock project actually began in the early 2000s when antiques dealer Robert Webber of Hampton stepped up to lead in the restoration once the parts — some of which had been thought missing — were salvaged. After he passed away in 2005, his son Harvey stepped in.

"Without Harvey Webber on the committee, without his knowledge of clocks we would be lost," said Pratt. "Harvey has carried on his father's (commitment) of getting the clock repaired."

In addition to Pratt, Desrochers and Webber, the committee includes Ben Moore, Jim Workman, Elizabeth Aykroyd, Jay Ring, Bob Towler, and architect Joan Eagleson. Don Lavallee of Lavallee Brensinger Architects in Manchester has also donated his time to the effort.

Although much of the work has been performed by volunteers, Moore acknowledged there are some financial goals that need to be met to bring the project to full completion. He estimated that the overall cost of getting the clock, bell and pendulum settled in front of Centre School is $100,000.

Moore said financial support is being sought from Hampton businesses. He expressed hope that they would follow the lead set by established donor Ronald Bourgeault at Northeast Auctions.

According to Moore, there are four categories of giving available: Platinum, representing donations over $5,000; Gold, $3,000; Silver, $2000 and Bronze, $1,000. Checks can be made payable to the Town of Hampton.Cliff Pratt and Harvey Webber working on the town clock

As far as additional fundraising efforts are concerned, Moore said there are plans to begin doing so in August, including the sale of commemorative bricks at $100 each.

The bricks, which will be used to pave the area around the clock, will have the capability of being engraved with two lines of up to 28 characters each.

"We'd like to sell as many of these bricks as possible," said Moore, adding that there will also be opportunities to purchase granite benches, although details about this aspect of the fundraising are still being coordinated.

"We're looking to kick off a good fundraising effort," added Pratt. "I hope everyone would consider giving," be it in the form of labor or dollars.

In the meantime, those who participate in Hampton's 375th anniversary celebration will have an opportunity to get a closer look at part of what promises to be one of the town's most timeless features.

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