Courthouse clock ticks again

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By Cindy DiFazio

Staff writer/photographer

Dennis Yeary isn’t quite sure of the day the New Castle courthouse clock stopped ticking, but he is positive of the time and pretty sure why.

“The clock’s been stuck at 11:55 since it was struck by lightning,” he said. Yeary estimated the strike occurred earlier this summer.

David Neal, who restored the original clock, was contacted to make the repair. “It’s such a unique profession,” Yeary said.

Last Thursday Neal arrived to repair and restart the enormous four-faced tower clock once again.

On this go around, Neal said he would have to replace the striker and the time-keeping mechanism. He toted a heavy motor that needed to be carried up several flights of stairs and a ladder, then onto a platform.

“There’s nothing to it,” he said. “It’s a simple mechanism.”

Neal has been in the clock restoration/rebuilding business for only ten years.

“I was going to UK, doing odd jobs and noticed the courthouse clock wasn’t working in my hometown,” he said.

Neal spoke to the county judge about fixing it and the rest is history. He has tended to clocks in Garrard, Boone and Pike counties to name a few. Neal also has been called on to fix clocks as far away as Texas and the Virgin Islands.

He said his vocation is not as glamorous as one might think. Neal said the biggest problem is bird droppings, with bats running a close second.

“I’d rather stay home and work in my shop,” he said. “Clock towers are hot in the summer and cold in the winter.”

But these complaints are made with good humor.

Neal completed work on New Castle’s original 1877 clock in 2006. He said the antique was discovered in the clock tower dirty and dismantled.

“To put a timeline on it,” Yeary said, “the clock was built a year before Custer’s Last Stand.”

Neal said the E. Howard clock that was abandoned 45 years ago was a treasure. “These were built to run 200 years with minimum maintenance,” he said.

Since he was in the neighborhood, Neal checked on the E. Howard clock, now encased in a wood and glass display case in the courthouse lobby.

“Dennis, we’re running a little slow, buddy,” he said. “We’re about a minute off.”

Neal tinkered with the mechanisms and pronounced the timepiece healthy. “Never mind,” he said. “It was only 16 seconds. My limit is 20 seconds either way.”

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