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January 18, 2021

Wineka column: He’s got time on his hands

My wife and I have a grandfather clock in the living room and an antique wall clock in an upstairs study. Together, they are making time stand still.
Each clock is in need of repairs ó something we have put off for years as we’ve been content with having them more as decoration than functional timepieces.
We figure the time is available all around us: on the microwave, the coffeemaker, the television, our cell phones and our computers. It’s hard not to know the time these days.
I still wear a watch out of habit, but I could survive easily without it, given the umbrella of time we live under.
It made me wonder if anyone pays attention to the clock on the Square.
I love that clock and consider it an important part of the downtown infrastructure, even when it hasn’t kept the right time.
I wouldn’t give the clock “iconic” status yet, which is something we writer types tend to dish out liberally. To me, the Confederate statue at Innes and Church streets deserves to be thought of as a downtown icon, given its 100 years at that same spot.
The Bell Tower probably qualifies, too. But the street clock? I say give it a few more years.
Every Wednesday morning, a city worker walks across Innes Street from The Plaza and winds the clock on the Square.
A small, Z-shaped handle fits into a rod, and it takes a good 14 or 15 cranks to pull two weights up from the floor of the clock’s base to a position that will keep things running for a week or so.
Some adjustments are made from below to reset the hands on the clock to the correct time. The pendulum is set in motion again, and the base is locked up until the next winding.
It all takes about five minutes.
Alan File, Doug Poole and Guy McGuire are the city guys who know how to wind the clock, with the job usually falling to File.
The inner workings are surprisingly simple for a clock so big. Without a tape measure, File and Poole guess the clock stands about 15 feet tall. It’s cast iron and surely weighs a ton, maybe two.
A crane set the timepiece on the southwest corner of the Square in late 1978, and it was formally dedicated Dec. 30 of that year.
Norman Ingle, the retired jeweler who donated the clock to the city, arrived in style for the dedication. Ingle was a character, and he and his wife, Evelyn, pulled up in a cart drawn by two burros. Ingle predicted the clock would be here for 500 years because of its cast-iron construction.
At the dedication, Ingle designated Clyde Overcash as the official winder. Clyde wound it every five days for the next 13 years, until the city assumed maintenance and winding responsibilities.
The clock itself dates back to about 1914. It came to Salisbury from Winston-Salem. For years, it stood on Trade Street in Winston-Salem in front of Fred Day’s jewelry store. Day died in 1949. When his surviving family members decided to move the store in 1954, they discovered that city codes would not allow the relocation of the clock to their new spot.
Ingle, who had begun his career in Winston-Salem before moving to Salisbury in 1925, paid the Days $140 for the clock and moved it to Salisbury. The Ingles kept it in front of Evelyn’s gift shop at West Innes Street and Link Avenue until its move to the Square.
People periodically tried to buy the clock from Ingle, who died some years back, but he resisted. Clyde finally persuaded him to give it to Salisbury.
Salisbury’s clock was built by the Brown Street Clock Co. of Monessen, Pa. Until street clocks fell out of fashion, many downtown businesses throughout the country ó especially jewelers ó installed them in front of their stores.
The clock has presented maintenance challenges through the years. For a long time, the city relied on George Steiner to make repairs and get it ticking again when the inner workings froze up.
In 1991, Steiner told City Council the clock would tend to gain a little time and lose a little time. “It will never be as exact as an electric clock,” he said, “but who wants an electric clock?”
Steiner has since passed away. The Public Services Division looked after the clock until a few years ago, when the Facilities Maintenance Department, based in The Plaza, took over.
Last Friday, I noticed that the street clock had stopped running, stuck at 6:53 even though it was lunchtime. The Thanksgiving holiday had thrown the schedule off for the city winders, who had the clock running again Monday.
Just make sure it never comes to my house.

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