If you live and work in downtown Hermann, you’ll hear the bell tower clock chime at Historic Hermann Museum at the German School, every hour on the hour. That’s a beautiful sound at 12 noon—maybe not so much at 4 a.m. Most residents are forgiving, just glad they don’t have cows to milk at that hour, like the old Germans did. It’s easy to turn over and go back into dreamsville however, knowing it’s all these little eccentricities that make this a fun, beautiful and quirky little town.
A couple weeks ago, the old clock got out of sync with the ever-steady Casio G-Shock wristwatch. The puzzled glances at the clock tower necessitated a call to St. Louis, because something just wasn’t quite right in town. An out of sync clock in a German town, coupled with a full moon, was not going to turn out good for some superstitious residents. While the town waited patiently for Robert Mazzocchio, the tower clock technician, from Maryland Heights, life went on as best as it could in the middle of this miserable Missouri February.
Hermann resident Steve Mueller, met this reporter last Saturday to find out more about the tower clock. According to some information posted near the clock works, Hermann residents felt the need for a town clock because the bench-sitters outside the school kept asking local shopkeepers, such at the Advertiser-Courier, “What time is it?”
They started some fund-raising campaigns in the mid-1870s and were able to purchase the clock, once $435 was collected. It was installed in 1890, by the A.E. Pollhans, clock makers, in St. Louis. It was September 1, 1890 when the clock pendulum took its first swing.
“By having a town clock that would chime out the hours, everyone was able to keep better track of time,” explained the information card.
There’s only one problem—someone has to wind it consistently and in Hermann, there are now six residents that belong to an exclusive club, known informally as “The Clock Winders.” If anyone wants to join this prestigious group, you’ve got to figure out the first instruction written on the 2016 Clock Winder Schedule, posted near the clock works on the second story of the Museum. It’s hand-written in pen at the top, as quite possibly an afterthought or to explain one of those things that should be one way, but for some strange reason, is 180 degrees different, such as trying to navigate a nut, clockwise, on a reverse threaded bolt.
“Turn c/c-wise to rotate clock clockwise.”
That’s what it says, but It’s probably easy to visualize once it’s done the first time. Serving as a Clock Winder is a commitment. According to Dean Stucky, one of the six, the clock needs to be rewound every other day, though the information says “every third day.”
“I’m always worried that it will be stopped by the time I get over there,” says Dean. “Then I’ll have to call Jon (Layman) and say, ‘You’ve got to reset the clock!’ The longer you wait, you’ve got to crank it that much more.”
He says it’s a little bit of an aerobic activity. Dean said he didn’t have to wind the clock this past year because during his turn, the wooden clock hands (on all four sides, being four clock faces) were replaced with aluminum, for longevity.
This clock has two adjusting cranks: one for time-keeping and one for the hour striking. The information card says most Pollhans clocks have a cast-iron frame with bronze bushing and a cast iron pendulum that weighs 150 lbs.
“All the gear teeth and pinions were hand cut, as were the wood patterns for the wheels and frame.”
Standing next to the clock, one can hear the mechanism move when the pendulum swings left, until it reaches its amplitude (the maximum distance), and again when it swings the other way and reaches the amplitude on the right. It sounds like big water drops from a leaky roof, hitting the bottom of a metal pail. Drip-drop, drip-drop.
What about the clock tower’s structure? Steve says after a big storm, you’ll see pieces of ornamentation littering the museum grounds or the street from both the clock tower and the bell tower.
“We’ve checked on this many times,” he notes. “More than 90 percent of the integrity of the support structure of both towers is still in good shape. The trim, however is in dire need of repair.”
The majority of the cost for this maintenance project lies primarily with access—getting both workers and materials up there to work on the towers.
“As a non-profit [organization] we’re in the process of checking on grants, to see what might be available [to help with repairs],” he said.
According to his estimates, a project like this would cost in the vicinity of $100,000.
That’s more than three times the annual $30,000 budget of the Historic Hermann Museum.
In spite of financial challenges, Steve and his board members Jon Layman, Chuck Hartbauer and Walter Els are proud of what they, the volunteers and those that went before them, have accomplished as caretakers of the museum within the German School and it’s clock and bell towers.
“We get visitors from nearly every state in the Union, except for Hawaii (not in a long time) and many foreign visitors, mostly from Europe, but also Asia,” said Steve. “We typically entertain around 4,000 paying guests per year, so it’s a significant part of Hermann’s tourist economy.”
Those Hermann tourists may stir at four in the morning in their B&B or hotel beds when they hear the clock tower chime four times, but they subconsciously know they don’t have cows to milk. At least we hope they don’t.