Keeping track of time
Local man able to turn his fascination into his occupation
By JIM MOUNT | The Journal Gazette
Walking into The Clock Shoppe in the Waynedale community is taking a step back in time.
Clocks fill the walls of the shop – most standing in spaces on the floor and on any table top or flat surface. Gears, hour and minute hands and various assortments of a clock’s inner workings fill any flat surface. The ticks and whirs of the room are punctuated by intermittent hoots and chimes from clocks of every shape and size: Wall clocks, cuckoo clocks, grandfather clocks, mantle clocks. Some working, some waiting to be fixed, others cannibalized for parts.
It is a step out of the digital age and into a world frozen in time but yet constantly moving forward.
Coming out from a curtained-off room called the “surgery room,” owner and resident clock doctor Jim Hansen meets visitors with a smile. But it isn’t too long afterward that the short and stocky Hansen begins to make jokes and puns, even commenting on the flat surfaces buried under clocks and parts.
Hansen recites a quote from Albert Einstein: “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is an empty desk the sign of?”
It’s clear after looking around the shop that Hansen’s mind keeps busy. Hansen keeps a fairly steady pace of maintaining, servicing and selling anachronistic time pieces, and it’s a job he loves.
The 54-year-old, who is married with three kids, has been at the shop since 2013. But his adventure into the world of ticking things began early.
“I’ve been into clocks for most of my life, watches mostly,” Hansen says. “I like the working gears and just to … just to see how things work, you know?”
“A clock is basically a giant vertical jigsaw puzzle,” he says. “As the power comes off of the source, which is the spring or the wound weight or if it’s battery operated or whatever it’s the energy that comes off of, you follow that energy around and where the clock stops running properly is where your problem is.
“So you actually follow the power. This touches this, this pushes that, this does this and you get to a certain point where it’s like, ‘Hey, the clock isn’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing right there,’ and you find out, ‘Hey, that’s where our problem is.’ ”
As a kid growing up in the Milwaukee area, Hansen was fascinated by some of the bigger clocks and loved to watch them work.
“I didn’t actually get to see the guts of those,” Hansen says, “but my grandfather had a wind-up clock at the lake and there were other wind-up clocks throughout my life, and I just sat there and watched them work, watched them slowly do their thing and they would always do exactly the same thing at exactly the same time in exactly the same way. That was pretty cool; I liked that.”
“I love the old clocks,” he continues, “I love the old-style clocks, the old wall clocks and the old mantle clocks as well as grandfathers. Just the older ones are better. They’re more fun to work with, more fun to look at.”
Experienced with silversmith, goldsmith and blacksmith work, Hansen worked with Peter Franklin Jewelers for 10 years and eventually earned the title of master goldsmith before leaving to be a stay-at-home dad. However, when his daughter was old enough to attend school, Hansen found jobs were hard to come by.
“The economy had tanked and there was no work for people with advanced degrees,” Hansen says, “So I started looking for other work.”
That’s when he saw an ad in the newspaper for a clock repair shop.
After working for then-owner Bill Rice for some time, he assumed ownership of the shop and began running the shop on his own. Rice stayed on another seven months after selling the shop to give Hansen a rigorous tutorial on servicing and caring for the different kinds and styles of clocks.
“Because each clock is a little bit different, they get worked on a little differently,” Hansen says. “Cuckoo clocks are a tangled mess of difficulty. Some of the easier ones are the wall clocks and the grandfather clocks; (they) are easier to look at and see what the problem is, as well as to repair and lubricate.”
Hansen finds the ticks and chimes of the clocks to be soothing and relaxing.
“I like to think of myself as a Luddite, someone who eschews the modern world, more or less taking a slower, more physical path,” Hansen says of his enchantment with antique clocks, intricate gears and levers.
“There is a certain amount of art to them. And the thing is about these clocks is that they bide our time. We have Grandma’s clock, Great-Grandpa’s clock, Mom and Dad’s clock. Those are items that have tracked our lives.
“A friend of mine once said they are the silent sentinels of the house; they sit there and they watch everything. They see our lives. They see every part of it and they just keep watch; they keep the passage of time.
“It’s a pretty comforting and cool way of saying that clocks are the silent sentinels of our lives because everybody has a clock regardless if it’s a wall clock or a watch; everybody marks time in the same way. It’s a connection to the past and segue to the future. It’s all time.”