The Rock Island District’s historic clock, which sits atop the Clock Tower in the District’s headquarters building, is undergoing a significant preservation effort, not completed since 1950.
The Clock Tower building is on the National Register of Historic Places and its original clock, housed inside the tower, was designed by A.S. Hotchkiss in 1867, using intricate and complex detail.
Hotchkiss’s design of the clock is one-of-a-kind, in its painstaking workmanship and custom size. At the time of construction, Commanding Officer of the Rock Island Arsenal, Gen. Thomas J. Rodman, requested 12-foot clock faces, which were twice the size of the original plans. To accommodate for this change and the 32-foot pendulum which hangs down from the clock mechanism, Gen. Rodman redesigned the building and increased the height of the tower by 24 feet.
The 153-year-old Clock Tower consists of parts that produce the clock movement and their components, as well as, the bell hammer and bell. In order for the clock to operate smoothly, its parts need an overhaul of preservation maintenance that hasn’t occurred in nearly 70 years.
In order to achieve this goal, the Rock Island District contracted Tower Clock Company and contractor John Kraft to perform the maintenance. Phil Wright, clock restorer and owner of Tower Clock Company in Charleston, Ohio, is performing the restoration work on the clock along with Kraft.
“It’s a pain staking process.” “I will clean all the parts, put it back together, and then check the tolerances to find out what needs more work,” said Wright.
To accomplish the preservation, Wright and Kraft dismantled the entire clock mechanism and carefully cleaned each part so the machinery markings stay intact. They used mild solvents, soft rags, steel wool, mineral spirits and hand cleaners to clean more than 800 pieces. According to Wright, hand cleanser is the secret ingredient to cleaning, because it’s so mild.
The parts that need more intense attention to detail will go back to Wright’s shop in South Charleston, Ohio. The initial process of disassembling the clock and cleaning each piece took about two months but the entire process will take several more weeks.
The hands of the clock were out of balance, weather worn with some cracks, and needed replacement. Wright will replace them with sugar pine, which he believes was used originally. The counter balances, which Wright identified as being installed improperly the last time they were replaced, will be replaced and the hands will be returned to their original design.
“I have worked on 100’s of tower clocks, but the workmanship that went into this clock is unbelievable. Said Wright. “It may be the biggest clock ever built, and the best painstaking workmanship ever. It is a work of art.”
After the preservation process is complete, the team estimates it would be several decades before the clock would need this level of maintenance again.
The Clock Tower was the first building constructed on the Rock Island Arsenal in 1867. It has been a long standing landmark for not only the Corps of Engineers but the Quad Cities as well.