We are a Vermont Veteran-based business currently planning for our 44th anniversary on March 4, 2018.
Our featured products are Howard Miller Company Clocks, Electric Time Company Tower and Street Clocks, and Aladdin Lamps.
We’ve provided professional restoration and service of all antique and modern clocks, musical boxes, tower & street clocks since 1974.
Normal “Open” Shop Hours:
10 to 6 Tuesday through Thursday; other times by appointment
Secrets: Persistence and A Willingness To Continue Learning
by Alice Hellstrom Anderson, “COMPANY SECRETS – Vermont Companies Share Their Strategies” 2006.
Used by permission.
If you live in Indiana, what time it is depends on where you’re standing. 77 of Indiana’s counties are in the Eastern Time Zone and don’t observe Daylight Saving Time, 10 counties are in the Central Time Zone but do observe Daylight Saving Time, and five other counties are in the Eastern Time Zone and also observe Daylight Saving Time. Confused? Try living in Indiana!
If there’s one man in Vermont who can keep all that straight, however, it’s Pat Boyden, Vermont’s premier horologist (someone who is actively working in the study of time). Pat makes his living keeping time. Keeping it straight, that is.
Pat isn’t the first person to turn a hobby into a business, but how he first took up his hobby is an interesting story. Entering the Army through ROTC, Pat was sent to West Berlin in 1967. Several of his army buddies began buying mechanical clocks and sometimes they didn’t work properly so Pat began tinkering with them to get them going. He remembers those two years in Germany very well. “I was also the only married officer there, so I had less money to spend than the single men. They would go to flea markets and bring clocks back to the base. I would frequently stay up all night taking them apart and putting them back together again in working order.”
What’s so fascinating about clocks? It’s the joy of being able to take something that doesn’t work and make it perform as it was designed to do. Never having had any formal training in the art of horology (except for his apprenticeship under Finkenbiner in Texas), Pat learned as he went. “I have had a number of good friends who have helped me and advised me from time to time,” he explains, “but I quickly learned that if you guarantee your work, you get to practice—sometimes a lot!”
From Germany Pat was assigned to Vietnam as an infantry ground commander. Injured in a helicopter crash, Pat spent three weeks in the hospital and then was transferred to Fort Benning, Georgia. Pat’s last assignment was to Fort Hood, Texas. Two and a half years later he resigned his commission, left the army, and began working for Ben Finkenbiner’s Clock Shop in Killeen, Texas. A month later when Ben moved to Dallas, he simply gave the shop to Pat—without even signing any paperwork. And that’s how Pat Boyden went into business for himself.
By December 1973, however, the Boydens were ready to go home to Vermont. On March 4, 1974, the family settled into a nice home in Winooski, and Pat opened his Green Mountain Clock Shop. He hasn’t looked back, not even once. “Clocks are what I love,” he says, “so I decided I might as well enjoy myself while making a living and do it in a place that felt like home.” In January of 1980 the Boydens moved to their present location on Essex Road in Williston. The shop is in the basement, but there are clocks in every room of the house. “We live in a clock shop; we don’t have a clock shop in our home,” Pat jokes.
From 1984 to 1987 the company had a second store in the Champlain Mill in Winooski, but Pat found that having two locations divided his attention and it became too much of a strain, so he closed it. 1989 was the best year the business ever had because the economy was booming and grandfather clocks were selling extremely well. At that time the company was the largest Howard Miller clock dealer in the state of Vermont. Then the economy took a bad downturn and that high point was never matched again. That was the year the company had five full-time employees working in Pat’s basement shop.
Now Pat works with two employees and repairs about 1,000 pieces a year. That adds up to roughly 15,000 to 20,000 clocks over the years. Finding someone to pass the baton to is beginning to be a concern for him. He’s looking for a couple under 40 who would like to learn the trade and would continue the art. “It takes someone who is very interested, teachable and willing to learn. Oh, yes, and it should be some who is interested in more than passing the time—someone who is preserving time past while looking to the time to come.
Clock restoration is not just mechanical science; it’s an art form. So is repairing and restoring musical boxes. Always interested in learning new skills, Pat attended a trade school to learn the art, and began repairing them in 1979. (That’s the correct term, by the way, not music boxes.) “1900 vintage musical boxes are my favorite ones to work on,” Pat says as he launches into one of his favorite subjects. “In the early 1700s clock towers had carillons and bells. As the clocks were moved inside the living quarters, it was necessary to make them smaller. But as the bells got smaller and smaller, they were higher and higher in pitch until the tone was indistinguishable.” Admittedly it’s a problem most people have never considered. The first musical box was built in 1797 by Antoine Faure who figured out how to tune a sliver of steel to an acceptable pitch. That was the birth of the musical box. By screwing the slivers of tuned steel together, he made the first musical comb, making it possible to play a melody.
“I can replace missing teeth on a comb,” explains Pat. “On a comb the base notes are on the far left. Usually the first note is an octave lower than the next note. After being plucked, a musical box tooth has to be dampened (silenced) before it can be plucked again. Each comb is designed for the piece it is going to play. Only the notes needed are put into the comb. The pins on the barrel pluck the teeth and determine the note sequence. Not every note on the scale is on every comb—only the notes needed for that song. Making music box combs is a higher form of metallurgy. The comb is a significant challenge to restore. It is truly clockwork music, but a level above clock work.”
Whether it’s a clock or a musical box, in this business there is a distinct difference between repair and restore. Fixing the broken part is repairing; restoration is doing the maintenance, overhauling the piece, from stem to stern to get it as close to the original as possible. Whatever the task, it takes time (usually more than the customer understands. It’s not enough to simply install new parts and put the pieces back together. Pat insists on doing performance tests to ensure the pieces are working properly when the customers pick them up. “The only way to make sure a clock is keeping perfect time (not losing or gaining) is to let it run for a while and check it frequently and regularly. It sounds obvious, but it does take time.”
Pat also repairs and maintains several mechanical tower clocks and street clocks; with their weights, gears and pendulums, they need periodic maintenance. He has restored several tower clocks in the state, including the old Union Railroad Station Clock, (now Main Street Landing), near the waterfront in Burlington and the clock in the Stowe Village Community Church steeple. One of Pat’s most interesting assignments is keeping the largest clock in the state running accurately: the clock is at the top of the Ira Allen Chapel at the University of Vermont and Pat has kept it running smoothly for 26 years now. In the first clock room is a 14-foot, 300-plus-pound pendulum dangling from a hole in the ceiling while swinging back and forth. A tall wooden frame in front of the pendulum is filled with pulleys, chains and two sets of weights. One set powers the clock; the other was used to power the bell that no longer is used, having been replaced by a digitized carillon. That and the electric motor used to raise the clock’s weights every six to eight hours are the only electric parts. All this is 120 steps up the tower stairs. One more flight above that is the metal mechanism of the clock, occupying a space 10 feet by 15 feet. Some of the brass gears are a foot or more in diameter. After Pat stops the gears and the pendulum in order to adjust the time, he lubricates the clock mechanism. Once the clock has been adjusted and checked for any problems, Pat starts it up again. He’ll go back in six months to do it all again. It’s a challenge, and a routine Pat thoroughly enjoys.
It’s one thing to take things apart. It’s quite another matter to put them all back together with no parts left over. One would think that Pat spent his childhood taking clocks and small appliances apart and reassembling them. “Only occasionally,” he laughs. “I was never very good at putting things back together once I had them apart. Thankfully, I’ve improved in that area as I’ve gotten older.”
Pat says that persistence and a willingness to learn are essential to any company’s success. “I have great faith and I am lead by that faith. When I left the service I needed an income that allowed me to raise and care for my family. Clocks were enjoyable to me and I enjoyed it, but there’s more to life than clocks. So I invest my time in volunteer work as a chaplain, mostly with veterans and the military. It allows me to be of service, and I’m giving back the blessings I’ve been given.”
Author’s Note: The trip up the Ira Allen clock tower at UVM was chronicled by Cathy Resmer in the publication sevendaysvt.com on 10/30/03. This account was rewritten based on her article and grateful acknowledgment of her work is hereby given.