The man and the time machine

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 EASY DOES IT: Claude Smith turns the lever that winds up one of the three huge weights that keep the tower clock at the town hall going. Picture: Supplied
EASY DOES IT: Claude Smith turns the lever that winds up one of the three huge weights that keep the tower clock at the town hall going. Picture: Supplied

COME rain, hail or shine, come Christmas, Easter or birthday, Claude Smith has climbed the (many) stairs every single day to wind the clock in the tower of the town hall for 14 years and if he did not, it would stop. It is thought to be the only tower clock still in operation in Komani.
Younger people don’t know and older ones have forgotten that all timepieces had to be wound every day to keep them going and in this era when they all work on batteries, we are inclined to take a reliable watch for granted.
Claude said he had always known he would be “in the trade” of watchmaking as he was interested in what his father, Freddie, did and never thought of doing anything else.
Freddie started working at Guards Jewellers when he was 14 and was trained by a Mr Tylee from England when the business was owned by Mr Holcombe. He remained there until the business was closed by Cliff Barber in 2001, when father and son branched out on their own. By then, Claude had worked for Guards for 21 years.
Freddie suffered a stroke a few years ago and is now cared for at Huis John Vorster.
In 2002, Freddie and Claude were asked to investigate why the town hall clock was not working and they found that it was sorely in need of service and repair and required winding every day.
The clock was made in Croydon, England, by Gillett and Johnston in 1898 (so it’s 118 years old) and Claude said it would probably cost a fortune today. It has three huge weights, five massive brass bells and a steel pendulum all situated in the tower on the roof, but it works on the same principle as an ordinary clock, just on a much bigger scale.
“I regard it as my gym workout for the day,” Claude said with a smile. “Every day I climb the stairs at 7.45am because the clock must not be wound when it is near to chiming as that could damage the movement and it chimes every quarter hour. So that gives me 10 minutes to wind each of the three weights by turning the lever until they are at the top of the tower.”
The tower has three levels – the lowest containing the clock movement, the second the dial and right at the top are the bells where the openings are to let the sound out.
The pigeons roosting in the belfry used to be a real headache, so Claude asked the municipality to close the openings with mesh.
“There is a wonderful view over the town from there and the clock has a great history,” Claude said.
At the entrance to the town hall, there is a plaque which reads: “The clock in the tower was erected by the townsmen of Queenstown in commemoration of the completion of the diamond jubilee of her gracious majesty Queen Victoria in the year 1897”.
Every three months he oils and greases the clock to keep the mechanism moving smoothly, which takes him several hours.
Claude used to stop the clock if he was going to be away, but now that he is training a young man to take over from him when he is no longer able to make the daily climb, the two are able to liaise and keep it going continuously.
So when you hear the town hall clock strike, spare a thought for the fact that it is thanks to someone named Claude Smith that we have the accurate time provided to us every 15 minutes, day and night, every day of the year.

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