Once a week, Bill White climbs the stairs up the steeple of the Williston Federated Church. He is the official clock winder of the town clock, which has been wound by hand for 114 years.
"And people who are really interested in preserving this, the historical portion of these antiques, you don't want to see them modified, so they are still wound by hand by the purest," White said.
White inherited the job 16 years ago. The former IBM engineer says he has a deep respect for this hardware. There are actually two parts to wind.
"The clock is really like in two halves. One is the time side, which is responsible for the time, keeping the time. The other side of the clock is called the strike side and that provides the power to ring the bell on the hour," he explained.
The system involves large boxes of rocks that act as weight. That is where the winding comes in. Those weights have to be cranked back to the top each week. It is physically demanding.
"The weight that you have to raise for the strike side of the machine is 1,500 pounds and there is a hand crank up on the clock movement that you use to wind that," White said. "My back was really bothering me."
Bothering him so much, White thought about retiring from winding. But rather than retire, White was inspired to find a way to crank the bell side of the clock without straining his back. His daughter donated her bicycle for the cause, which White adapted and mounted just below the clock movement, allowing him to peddle rather than crank the 1,500-pound bell weight. Problem solved. He still cranks the time element by hand, and says the key to this clock's accuracy is a thin strip of spring steel.
"All you are doing is bending this spring steel back and forth and you never see the elastic limit of the material, so it goes on for years and years and years," White said. "And the way you increase or decrease the speed of the clock is with this handcrank, you lower the pendulum to slow down the clock or you raise it in order to speed it up."
The clock and the tower were restored in 1998. White says the mechanisms are set to run for another 100 years, at least.
White says the job of clock winder for the town of Williston pays $550 a year.
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