Farmington Corner January 2016

The Delicate Art of Clock Repair

By John Nolan

At the Farmington Historical Society’s November meeting, the Rev. Kent Schneider reminded everyone that the bicentenary of the First Congregational Church – the tall, pointy building on Main Street, for those folks new to town – is not that far distant. In order that a history can be prepared, as part of a planned celebration, he hopes that people can bring forth tales and tidings of the church and its congregation over the decades.

This put me in mind of the late Mr. Oakley, and a Farmington Corner piece from almost 30 years ago.  The opening sentence referred to a 1988 presidential candidate, Joe Biden, whose speeches, it had just been shockingly revealed, contained chunks lifted from the repertoire of a British politician -- and it all went thus:
Any similarity between the following article and the first two paragraphs of George Orwell's "1984" is a purely coincidental Bidenism …

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clock was striking 13. Then it packed in altogether. John Oakley, halfway through a cup of Mros's coffee, sighed deeply, and slipped quickly out of the variety store, but not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from blowing into the shop.
Showing the concern of a protective parent, he gazed up at the clock-face on the tower of the Congregational Church, opposite where he stood, and with an absent-minded gesture tossed his unfinished Styrofoam cup into the gutter, before crossing over Main Street. Behind him, a balding garbologist silently materialized to snatch the abandoned container before the snell wind could bowl it away.

John gained the stout grey door of the church, turned one of the iron handles, and went inside. The hallway smelt of dusty pews and old hymn books and at one end of it a colored poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to a wall. It depicted the enormous face of a man about 55, with baleful eyes that seemed to follow one about, as they gazed from under a police hat. 

"Big Brownie Is Watching You," the caption beneath the picture ran.

Opening a small door off the hallway, John Oakley came to the foot of a wooden ladder that disappeared up into the darkness of the church tower where the faulty machinery of the clock was located and with a spryness that belied his grey hair and lined face, he began to ascend the worn rungs.

It was a journey of great familiarity to the repairman because the enormous timepiece, of such pride to the citizens of Farmington, had been in need of his regular -- indeed, sometimes hourly -- attentions in recent years ... but such love did John Oakley bear for those enormous cogs and wheels and spindles which comprised the "workings" that his face revealed only affection and patience sprinkled with a scientific inquisitiveness. Reaching the top of the ladder, his hand gripped the first of the cleats nailed to the internal framing of the tower, and slowly he groped up the remaining 60 feet, to stand on a narrow platform abreast the clock.

Down in the street, little eddies of wind were whirling torn paper into spirals and sending Bud cans rattling along the sidewalk after which the garbologist would scurry, but John was lost to this world. His hand found the candle on an oak beam above him, which he lit, and in the flicker of light thrown by its dancing flame, he peered with the rapt concentration of an engineer at the bewildering arrangement of levers and counterweights in front of him. He hummed gently to himself as he scanned the shadowy cogs and ratchets, and cocked his head sharply and made a clicking noise when he considered that he had spotted the seat of the trouble.

"We'll soon have you going again, old clock," John Oakley informed the machinery with great warmth, his hand reaching up once more to the beam from whence he had extracted the candle. This time his hand tightened around a two-by-four, which he swung with astonishing determination at a flywheel, striking it with an almighty clang. The entire contraption shuddered, and then, with reluctance, chugged back into life. John carefully replaced the candle and the piece of lumber before descending from the tower, and emerged, with noticeable satisfaction, onto Main Street.
He crossed over to Mros's Variety Store and poured himself another cup of coffee. The word "minivictory" formed in his mind.
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So there it is…a small contribution to the history of the First Congregational Church of Farmington (NH). Today, I believe, the clock has been electrified. At least, a few years back around $32,000 was spent up in that tower for something, and it probably wasn’t for gold-plating Mr. Oakley’s two-by-four.

And now, please relay your memories of the ecclesiastical institution to the Reverend Kent.

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