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Clock tower takes up a lot of time

While time notoriously waits for no man, Petaluma's version of Big Ben is the exception.

To keep time, the 131-year-old clock perched atop the downtown Masonic Lodge on the corner of Western Avenue and Petaluma Boulevard waits patiently each week for city's field supervisor to climb the narrow stairs up to the roof, open the clock tower's copper door and manually wind the Petaluma icon with a metal hand crank.

"It takes about 10 minutes to fully wind her up," said Don Horner, the city's field supervisor for roads, who has been tending to the clock in recent years. "We also have to manually adjust the time every two weeks because the clock doesn't always keep perfect time. If it's within about two minutes of actual time, we're pretty pleased."

Given the clock's age and simplicity, the city has reason to be be pleased. The 1882 clock was built by the Seth Thomas Clock Company in Connecticut and has survived wind, rain, several moves, the theft of its original brass hands and a service trip to an Oregon prison.

"I've done a lot of things in my career, but I've never worked on a clock before," said Public Works Director Dan St. John. "They don't teach you this stuff in engineering school."

After the Masons' building was finished in 1881, the community raised $1,030 to build the clock and have it shipped to Petaluma. The Masons initially maintained the clock, but eventually passed it to the city during the Great Depression. The city has kept it up ever since.

While the clock's enclosure was replaced in 1934, the rest of the clock's parts are original, save for the stolen brass hands, which Horner replaced years ago by climbing the ladder of one of the Petaluma Fire Department's trucks.

"It was quite the experience," said Horner, who admitted that all of his experience working with clocks has been on-the-job training. "The wind kicked up and the ladder was moving. But we got it done."

The clock stopped working in 2007, causing the city to the ship its internal mechanism to the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institute near the town of Pendleton. There, under the watchful eye of a master clockmaker, prisoners repaired the clock's mechanics. After returning to Petaluma, the clock's inner mechanism remained on display for a week at the Petaluma Historical Library Museum before returning to its home above the Masonic Lodge.

And while the clock is usually fairly accurate, St. John admitted that it's difficult to keep such an old piece of equipment running perfectly. "We do the best we can to maintain it," he said.


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