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Rural Missouri Magazine

Turning back
the hands of time

For nearly 30 years, Larry Boucher has
brought antique clocks back to life

by Jarrett Medlin
Larry Boucher, left, and his part-time woodworking helper, Charlie Forester, examine an antique clock in disrepair. Markings on the clock indicate it was built in 1820 by W.E. Conant in New York. Larry takes pleasure in observing the work of previous clockmakers and bringing old clocks back to life.

When time stops, citizens of Peculiar seek out Larry Boucher. Usually, they find him hunched over his workbench, peering at tiny, ancient cogs. They bring him broken grandfathers, cuckoos and wall clocks with the hope that he can restore life to their now-silent tickers.

“I’m just a servant to the lost clock that doesn’t work,” says Larry, who dons a flip-up visor with magnifying glasses atop his shiny, bald head.

The 56-year-old clock worker sports a salt and pepper mustache and silver-rimmed glasses that he peers through with soft brown eyes. At his small store in Peculiar, Larry repairs and restores antique and broken clocks.

“The whole purpose is to preserve and restore these old clocks, so they ring on the hour and half-hour like they used to,” he says. “And maybe I can earn some money to pay the bills and make some people happy along the way.”

Next to the entrance, where three grandfather clocks stand tall, a host of clocks rest on shelves and hang on walls in two adjoining rooms. The clocks date from the late 1700s to the present. Their perpetual tick-tock, tick-tock and routine chimes resonate from every room.

Larry's shop is full of old clocks, some of which date to the late 1700s.

In one back room, Larry stops at an impressive grandfather clock and spins the clock’s hands. “This ol’ guy makes a lot of noise when he goes off,” he says as the clock’s deep chimes begin to ring from within. Larry often refers to grandfather and grandmother clocks as “he” or “she,” and he treats them with the same care he would show any customer.

“The people who bring me their clocks appreciate the clocks’ value and history,” he says. “They don’t just bring those to anyone to work on, and I appreciate that.”

Larry enters the store’s back room where an elderly gentleman with a hunting cap, overalls and a pleasant smile is examining a clock’s wooden case. The man, Charlie Forester, works for Larry part-time, repairing the clock’s woodwork. Charlie is responsible for exterior repairs to the wooden cases while Larry fixes and cleans the clocks’ inner workings.

After peeling off the cover, Larry examines one clock’s inner workings. As he works, he’s careful to mark the parts so he can put the clock back together.

“I work on the guts and Charlie does the makeup,” Larry says.

He turns and sits down at his workbench, where dozens of screwdrivers, wrenches and other tools angle toward him from their resting spots in a homemade tool holder. He removes the face of an antique wall clock and begins to take apart the movement, or inner workings, one gear at a time. He carefully picks them up and places them in a nearby bowl.

“We’re gonna have to go through every pivot, every pinion, every gear,” he explains. “And everything has to be cleaned, polished and repaired.”

As he works, Larry scribbles on a small note pad and makes tiny markings on the gears with a fine marker so he can remember how to put the complicated mechanism back together. He is careful not to alter the appearance of the clock or make any permanent marks.

“I don’t do anything that can’t be undone,” he says. “We want to make it the closest to the original as possible.”

To see how the piece originally looked, Larry sometimes refers to photos of antique clocks in his collection of books and magazines that he receives as a member of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors and the American Watch Institute. Since he began collecting and repairing clocks in the early ’70s, while working as a meat and poultry inspector in Dallas, Larry has taught himself everything he knows about clocks from these publications.

The inner workings, or movement, of a clock often fail after years of neglect. To restore life to the clocks, Larry takes apart the movement, cleans and repairs it.

“It’s really not that complicated,” he says, though that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Once he finishes taking apart the clock, Larry carefully cleans the parts by hand with a solution based on a 100-year-old recipe. He is careful not to remove any of the markings from previous clockmakers that provide a clue to the past. While he works, he often ponders the origins of the writing.

“It’s kind of fun to ask, ‘Who made this clock? Why did he make it?’” he says. “After a while, you begin to see trends of clock makers going in and out of business during the Depression and Civil War.”

To pay tribute to his predecessors, Larry dresses as a traveling clock repairman from the 1880s, wearing a black vest and derby hat, during the Harrisonville Living History Festival each year. At his booth, he demonstrates a foot-pedal lathe and other antique clock-working instruments to educate others about clock restoration and history.

Larry spends much of his day at his work bench, where he takes apart old clocks, cleans and fixes them, then puts them back together.

“Those clock makers were craftsmen and artists in their own right, he says. “I like to think I’m just a shadow of that. Not that I’ll ever be that good, but just a shadow of it.”

Suddenly, Larry hears the door open. He gets up and goes to the front room where a woman with a small nose ring stands at the counter. She buys a set of clock-shaped salt-and-pepper shakers and leaves as a man with a brown vest and tinted shades walks in the door.

“I have another clock for you, buddy!” he exclaims. “My wife was in hog heaven after you finished that last one!” He sets a broken mantle clock on the counter and Larry examines it closely. Larry asks the man a number of questions about his expectations, from the price to the wood’s polish, and the man leaves.

“Consumers demand a lot,” Larry later explains. “When a customer comes in, I ask a lot of questions. I want to know, ‘What do you expect from me to make you happy with your clock?’”

During the Harrisonville Living History Festival each year, Larry dresses as a traveling clock repairman from the 1880s. At his booth, he uses this foot-pedal lathe to educate young and old about clock repair and restoration.

Apparently, Larry has answered that question. He currently has more than six months of work lined up, which is impressive considering his store has only been opened since March of last year. Before that time, Larry worked out of his home in Peculiar after moving there in 1986 with his wife, Barbara.

While Larry waits on customers, Charlie continues to work on the clock’s wooden case in the back room. He shapes elaborate new knobs and paints them with black spray paint. Once the paint dries, he will attach the wooden pieces and repair any other broken parts.

As he works, he talks about the “ol’ timers” and how they took their time to build products that last. He cites the pyramids of Egypt and Henry Ford’s Model T as examples.

In the meantime, Larry finishes cleaning gears and begins to reassemble the movement. When everything comes together, the clock will look and run like new.

“Really, the rewards of bringing these clocks back to life are worth more than the money or anything else you get from doing this job,” he says.

Larry’s Clock Service is located in the Sanders Center shopping center in Peculiar, just west of Hwy. 71 on Route C. The store is open Monday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m, and Tuesday from 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. Larry also makes house calls on Thursdays and Fridays. For more information, call (816) 779-6696.

Rural Missouri magazine - April 2014 issue
 
 
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