The MUSEUM -- 514 Poplar Street, Columbia, Pennsylvania 17512. 717/684-8261. It has clocks from around the world, from early timepieces to the atomic clock and quartz watches, as well as tools and old items connected with clockmaking. Admission is $1.50 (under eight free), with special rates for senior citizens and groups. 9 to 4 Monday through Friday; 9 to 5 Saturday.
Magnifying glass at his eye, Bill Fox extracts a minute part from one of his many drawers and replaces the balance staff on a ladies' watch. "I like to see things come alive," he says with satisfaction, as the movement begins to tick.
After a day of housecalls, his patient, steady hands set screws as small as a dot, fitting openings of 3/1,000 of an inch.
His workshop in Friendly, Maryland, pulses with clocks; bins and cases overflow with stems and sleeves, crystals and gears. One box holds only watch movements, stripped of their cases by owners when the price of gold rose. Key-wound pocket watches, cuckoo clocks, watch chains with seals, a 19th-century French marble clock, 400-day clocks, an early American clock complete with calendar and phases of the moon, and movements of tall case or grandfather clocks crowd the walls.
"Some clocks develop personalities," Fox says. "They aggravate you every time you walk up.Before you can fix them, you have to break them of their personalities."
Fox will repair any timepiece, no matter what the age of origin: "If I can't find parts, I'll make them," he says. "I haven't seen one I couldn't fix." But he doesn't just handle the obvious trouble: "You have to tear it down piece by piece," he says. "Check it, clean it, then take care of the problems."
A tinkerer since boyhood, Fox remembers asking neighbors for old clocks when he was 12, at first for large movements to serve as motors for his toy boats. But he soon found he could make them work again, and a lifelong obsession took hold. Without formal training, he has been in the business -- first as a sideline -- for 44 years.
"You have more trouble with the new clocks than with the old ones," he says.
"Look at this thing," and he points to a German grandfather clock movement. "Only 10 years old, and I had to refit 10 bushings.
The one next to it is from about 1910 and I only had to clean it and adjust it." As far back as the late 1700s, some clockmakers guaranteed their clocks for 10 years, and Fox says most old models are worth fixing: "People buy old clocks for looks," he adds. "Two weeks later they want them to be running right. People call, saying, 'I have a Tempus Fugit clock. Do you work on those? 'And I'll tell them that it means 'time flies' in Latin," he says.
A customer comes in with two gold ladies' lapel watches, saying: "My sister-in-law wants you to look at these. Are they worth fixing? Will they run?" "They will work good," Fox assures him and gives him an estimate of $60 each.
"Parts," he says later, "is where the cost comes in. If you machine a piece, the set-up time is costly. The second piece would only cost you pennies. Those alarm clocks sold in drug stores for $4.95 -- if you'd buy each individual part, they would cost $15."
He does not advertise and is not listed in the Yellow Pages; but because of word-of-mouth, he makes housecalls from Silver Spring to Annapolis and throughout southern Maryland. To keep up with the latest and get new insights on old clocks, he meets monthly with other members of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, Inc., which offers talks, trade marts and occasional workshops on repairs.
The association also runs a clock museum in Columbia (Lancaster County) Pennsylvania, which, between the 1750s and the 1850s, was considered the center of American clockmakers.