Repairman Races Time in Shop and on Track
By Linda Saulnier
News Correspondent, The Middlesex News
March 20, 1997
WAYLAND-What do race cars and clocks have in common? Timing would be the logical answer. But a more interesting link would be clock dealer Lee Smith.
A former race car driver, Smith veered off the speedway 20 years ago to apply his mechanical skills to fixing clocks, and he has never looked in the rearview mirror. He was just out of college at the time and racing open wheel sprints when Brookline clock dealer Richard Povall, recruited him.
"Povall came looking for me," says Smith. "He knew I was real good at repairing race cars and mechanical things tend to work the same way. I began repairing clocks as his apprentice."
Today, Smith owns Classic Clocks Etc. in Wayland, where he repairs, buys and sells new and antique clocks. He started his own company seven years ago opening his first shop in Wayland center. Five years later, he bought his present location at 135 Boston Post Road.
He repairs all kinds of clocks and never tires of their intricate beauty though cuckoo clocks quite frankly drive him cuckoo, he admits.
Smith spends his days watching the clock-or rather, 10,000 of them. That is how many clocks he estimates he sees each year at regional, state and national meets held by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors. At his shop, he repairs about 600 clocks a year.
Most mornings he is on the job by 6 a.m., doing service work for several hours before his shop opens.
"It's very time consuming work," he says.
A French carriage clock, for example, has a built in alarm and a mechanism that repeats every 5 to 10 minutes. Austrian clocks, circa 1760, have a quarter hour repeat mechanism. Experience helps him determine a clock's age.
"I have seen so many clocks I can tell how many different steps were taken in the manufacturing process through the years," he says. "Some clocks are dated."
Victorian clocks are well made, according to Smith, who collects clocks as a hobby. Very early English clocks are among the most beautiful. French clocks are very popular with Bostonians.
"I think Boston was such a big port that a lot of French clocks ended up here," says Smith.
Time and again Smith's workday ends many hours after his shop has closed and he has delivered the grandfather clocks he sells.
"When people spend that much money for a clock they should have it set up properly," says Smith.
Smith's life might be ruled by the clock, but whenever he can, he races against time on the speedways of New London and Waterbury, Conn. Asked if he beats the clock, he muses, "I've won enough."
Please note the manufacturers we represent warrant the performance of their grandfather clocks for 2 years, mechanical wall and mantel clocks for 1 year. Battery operated clocks are warranted for one year, as well. Case warranties are generally applied to grandfather clocks for one year but, as with all fine furniture, if care is taken to keep the environment from becoming too dry, a clock case should hold up well for longer than that. Specific warranty information and exceptions are described with the instruction manuals packed with each and every clock.
In order for the warranty to be valid, the clock must be unpacked, set up or hung and operated properly, according to those very detailed instructions.
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Clocks are both vocation and avocation for Lee Smith, who has been repairing them for 20 years. He demonstrates here his rare Dent skeleton clock.