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Remembering a Westclox Repair Centre

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Joined: 29 Apr 2004
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PostPosted: Sat May 01, 2004 7:40 pm    Post subject: Remembering a Westclox Repair Centre Reply with quote


After seeing some of the great info that Jim has posted here, I sent him an email with the following reminiscences; which Jim asked me to post in this section, so everyone could see them. In 1971-1974, I worked for a Westclox repair centre, and as you'll see, some of the little mysteries encountered by collectors have at least one possible explanation. Here goes:

"As I mentioned on the site, I worked for a Westclox/Seth Thomas repair station in the early 70's, beginning when I was 19 years old, and I thought you might be interested in a few reminiscences, because I think they'll shed some light on a few mysteries that Westclox collectors run into.

The business was Bowers Watch & Clock Repair, on Piedmont Avenue in Atlanta, GA. At that time, the late Mr. George Bowers was the owner; the company is still in business and is now under the ownership of Mr. Bowers' son Tom Bowers. It has moved to an Atlanta mall, Lindbergh Plaza. Today, the business is devoted to fine timepieces; it has not been a Westclox repair centre for a long time.

My job was doing the shipping and receiving for warranty repairs, writing up the repairs, and certain small repair jobs. The company would get around 20-40 units by mail each day from consumers, and some were brought in by two Westclox salesmen, Dan Perry and Bud Apt, from their accounts in the field. In addition, some chain stores would send defective units in quantity via UPS.

As I unpacked units, I assessed which ones were unquestionably warranty, which ones unquestionably out-of-warranty, and which ones were 'iffy'. Mr. Bowers usually made the call on 'iffy' units, but there were some times when he had to contact Seth Thomas on their more expensive clocks, to be sure the repair was authorized; Westclox never questioned his judgement, to my knowledge. Unpacking units had one big occupational hazard- cockroaches. They were very often to be found in kitchen clocks, which often stopped running due to heavy concentrations of kitchen grease and roach droppings. This was most often seen on older units, but once in a while you'd get a clock that was a newer model in this condition, and you'd wonder how on EARTH anyone got a clock that filthy that fast. You also wondered why anyone would send anything like that out where strangers could see it!

Units qualifying for warranty repair were written up, on an IBM card (the old Hollerith type) that had squares to be filled in with pencil. The main information I had to deal with was the clock's model number. For common clocks, like Bens, Bingos, and some Dialites, I had them memorized, but I had a set of Westclox product catalogues going back for about fifteen years to help identify others (you'd love to have them today, trust me!). Although GT was very good about putting visible model numbers on most of its clocks, that wasn't true of watches. This made the reference catalogues vital.

While this was the era of the Style 8 Ben, it was not that uncommon to get clocks like the Style 7 Ben from stores in rural areas, like the Rose's chain in the Carolinas, to be repaired under warranty. Even though these were models that had not been made in some time, those warranty requests were handled without question; it was well-known that units could be in the stock of such retailers for years before being sold.

One problem in writing up warranty work was the proliferation of General Time models in those years. While every warranty unit was supposed to be written up with its exact model number, it was fairly common to get new units that weren't yet in any catalogues we had. This was a particular problem on what were called 'Fashion Bens'- the Style 8 pedestal models, etc.- which were coming out thick and fast at that time. All you could do was to select the closest match from the catalogues, and try not to use the same model number too often, so as not to trigger an inquiry from GT. If there was a big run of repairs on the same model, they did ask questions, for quality control purposes, and they'd sometimes want to see some of the clocks, so using the same model number for all the 'nameless' units would have caused a problem.

Units sent in by stores were often not defective, per se. They tended to have cracked cases, broken crystals, and ragged boxes, from mishandling, Parts stock was on hand to deal with most of these problems, and we had a supply of new boxes. However, there were times when we did not have exactly the part needed, and a substitution would be made, such as an ivory case being substituted for a cracked blue one on plastic alarm clocks, and dial substitutions, sometimes hands too. The stores really didn't care, as long as they got back equal value for what they sent out, but I'm sure that this kind of substitution is at the bottom of some minor mysteries seen by collectors.

Some of the repairs were done by me, particularly on the cordless battery clocks. The General Time TR-3 battery movement was used in an astonishing number of Westclox and Seth Thomas models, and repairs were handled by replacing the movement, a simple task. On store stock, mangled hands were a big problem, particularly on open-faced wall clocks; this was still the era of metal hands. I became very adept at the use of a pair of duckbills and a can of flat black Rust-O-Leum.

Digital clocks were a problem for a time; the General Time digital tape movement gave some trouble at first, breaking the tapes on which the numbers were printed. It got straightened out pretty quickly, as I recall.

I remember two main concerns of consumers. As sturdily made as we consider the Style 8 Bens to be today, many consumers of that time were buying them to replace Style 5's and 6's, and they often criticized the Style 8 for perceived flimsiness (little did they know what was in the future!). Also, older Seth Thomas retailers and customers were appalled at the proliferation of inexpensive battery clocks bearing the hallowed Seth Thomas name. Some Seth Thomas battery clocks of the time were little more than a piece of woodgrained Masonite with hour markers. Today, after years of experience in design, writing, and marketing, it's my opinion that General Time was making too many models, and was trading too freely on the Seth Thomas name. The tooling, silkscreen, and printing costs had to be astronomical for all the models. The image of the Seth Thomas brand was badly diluted by all those $30 battery clocks; it just didn't feel like a luxury clock company for a while there, though I see that Colibri is working to turn that around.

The shop itself was something you'd love to see today; it was full of parts for Westcloxes of all descriptions, and there were a lot of older units lying around that customers had sent in, and said, 'forget it', when they learned the cost-to-repair. There were a LOT of Style 5 Bens lying around in boxes, and a few earlier ones, from this source. And Moonbeams galore, which would be worth a fortune today for their dials and hands and case parts, if nothing else. Nobody cared about any of this stuff then; they were just old, unfashionable, worn-out clocks in the 1970's.

The hardest thing for me about working at Bowers was that there were a lot of very tempting clocks around, ones I wanted to own. Since my salary was, ahem, modest, I didn't get to own much of what I wanted. The Style 1 repro was still available at that time, and I wanted one very badly, but it cost half what I made in a week! BEFORE taxes.

Fortunately, a lot of those clocks I coveted then have survived the years quite handily, showing a lot less wear and tear than I do, so I have some of the ones I had to pass up at the time. That Style 1 repro still eludes me, although my taste has changed a lot over the years, and I collect the more modern-looking clocks today. Even though Westclox meant a lot of very hard work for me all those years ago (in Georgia heat, in an un-air-conditioned building!), I remember working with the clocks pretty fondly, and I'm enjoying collecting them today."

The reason I value this experience so much is that I got to see the clock business when it was still pretty much mechanically based, with clocks and watches that were made to last, and to be valued by their owners, instead of today's disposable quartz stuff. I saw the very last of that era, because not long after leaving Bowers, I saw a Hamilton Pulsar for the first time, which cost hundreds of dollars when it was introduced. Within a year or so, I had a $75 Pulsar copy on my own wrist, not realising at the time that I was witnessing the end of an era. There are still mechanical clocks and watches today, and even a return to really fine clockmaking, but the mass market that used to get solid quality for its money now gets throwaway trash.

Sandy McLendon
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Joined: 16 Jan 2004
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Location: Raleigh NC

PostPosted: Sat May 01, 2004 11:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks Sandy,
I enjoyed reading your post.

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 07, 2009 8:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree with danemodsandy

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 08, 2009 3:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the post - really enjoyed it.
You give a lot of insight of what went on with both Westclox and Seth Thomas. The usage of swapped parts explains why we collectors occasionally see a clock that we never saw before.

I can only imagine what the guy before you (and so forth) saw in days gone by.

Thanks again!
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 15, 2009 6:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice post!

It is hard for anyone to understand why I value an old mechanical clock. Today the battery powered plastic movements are pathetic. I wish I still had my first wind up clock.
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