As older clock technicians retire, more business for those who remain

Corridor clock technicians find there's still room for the craft in today's world

The movement from a mantle clock is being tested at Assembled Time in Cedar Rapids. Owner Dale Foust tests each clock fo
The movement from a mantle clock is being tested at Assembled Time in Cedar Rapids. Owner Dale Foust tests each clock for a week following the his repairs to ensure it is running reliably and keeping accurate time. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

In a digital age, traditional grandfather clocks may seem like a thing of the past. But for clock repair shop owners, business is still moving forward — and time is of the essence.

“Clock making is in our family history,” said Jason Hahn, owner of Hahn Clock Repair in Cedar Rapids. “My father started the business in ’92, and I came on full time in 2002.”

Hahn originally began working in the shop during summer vacations, handling simple tasks.

“Then I went off to college and worked for a clockmaker in Boone, Iowa, and learned a lot from him,” he said. After returning home from college, he got more hands-on training as an apprentice in his father’s business.”

Hahn services nearly every kind of clock, including grandfather, analog, mantle, antique-alarm and cuckoo clocks. His father still works in the shop part-time, and they also handle restoration — replacing and reconditioning worn or non-working parts.

“We’ve worked on clocks that date back to the 1700s,” he said.

Though he covers a service area from Iowa City to Waterloo, Hahn prefers to do his repair work in-shop, to better cater to the delicacy involved with the craft. But he also makes house calls on-site as many older, large clocks are hard to transport.

Steady business

Dale Foust opened Assembled Time Clock Repair in Cedar Rapids a decade ago, and also handles clock repairs of all kinds, though he specializes in antique and grandfather clocks.

While Foust runs his business out of his home, Assembled Time offers free pickup and delivery within 30 miles. For those in need of service further away, Foust will make arrangements.

“I also get mailed-in business from out-of-state occasionally from referrals or customers who find me online,” he said.

Foust admitted that while he doesn’t know how many other clock repair shops are still around, he has noticed that quite a few older-generation clock technicians have retired.

For him, that has means business stays steadily busy year-round. On any given day, he typically has a six-week log of upcoming work.

Hahn added that while clock repair is a trade rooted in the past, there is still room for the craft in today’s world.

“When people come into my shop, they tend to be surprised by my age. But I grew up in it. It fascinates me, and it’s a passion,” he said.

“People think it’s an older man’s profession.”

Learning curve

As other businesses have closed in the area, Hahn said those shop owners have offered him referrals, which has helped him keep a consistent customer base, with an uptick in work around the holidays.

“I deal with a lot of collectors, and we really end up seeing a cross-section of everybody,” he said.

Many of his customers have inherited pieces as family heirlooms that they want to fix up and begin using again.

Foust’s customers tend to be a mix of younger and older people.

“The older generation still likes the antique models. But now I see many customers who remember clocks from their past and bring them in wanting to work again like they once did,” he said.

No matter what type of clock — or customer — most repair jobs for both Hahn and Foust follow the same pattern. They generally start with an ultrasonic cleaning, which is similar to the cleaning techniques used in the jewelry industry.

Then they polish the equipment, troubleshoot and test different parts, and fix or replace any non-working pieces by hand.

With each job, there is a learning curve. Working with older clocks means there’s always the chance that a new challenge awaits.

“People are concerned about parts when they come in needing to fix older models. But if we can’t buy old parts, we make them,” Hahn said.

Once the work is done, the clocks are again cleaned, and then the most important step is taken — making sure the timing is spot on.

“The timing equipment we now use has become really nice in the past few years, so now this process is faster than waiting hours or days to make sure the clock is keeping time correctly,” Hahn said.

As far as the future of the business goes, Hahn is optimistic.

“I do see definite improvements in the quality of modern clock movements and craftsmanship, which is encouraging in a world that tends to make things cheaper and faster,” he said.

But a better build won’t sideline the need for repairs in the long term.“The products will hold up better, and the repairs may end up be slightly less invasive,” Hahn said. “But clocks are still mechanical devices, so they’ll always need to be maintained.”

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