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Friday, August 21, 2020

History of Bates County Series: From a much simpler 'time'

This small clock mirrored what was seen outside
As it stands today, including some updates, the Bates County Courthouse construction was completed in 1902 and with it came a very important but unseen mechanical marvel: a 600+ lb clock 'engine'.

From the street it saved a person from having to reach in their pocket and pull out their watch; simply glance up from anywhere in the area and see the time thanks to four very large clocks atop the courthouse. 
The pendulum can be seen in the back

However, this simple convenience came at a price- once per day the courthouse custodian climbed three flights of stairs and across a high walkway to 'wind' the clock and give the innards a shot of oil as needed. Winding meant turning a crank to lift two (albeit heavy) weights that would keep it going another 24 hours.

In those days, there was no OSHA to make sure you didn't lose a finger in the gears or get whacked by the 3 foot long air governor that spun around at head level. Other maintenance had to be done including greasing the gears on two driveshafts that extended upward to power the hour and minute hands via a planetary type gearbox some 10 feet further above.


Even though the wind up mechanism was retrofitted with an electric motor early on, the daily trip-to-the-top was required 'check things over' or make an adjustment. With that, would sometimes include a trip across another catwalk to the backside of a clock face and opening a door to change a light bulb that lit the face at night.


But those days are long gone. Today, the four clocks are independently powered by synchronized, modern gear motors mounted behind each of the faces that very rarely require the long 'trip upstairs'. 

So, at this moment in a small dark room, the 100+ year old mechanical marvel stands perfectly preserved in its original form as seen here; seemingly ready to provide time as it did for so many years.

Editor's note- while the task would be quite difficult, there have been many discussions about relocating the clockworks to the Bates County Museum for the public to see up close. Fingers crossed!