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On The Trail

Clockwork

It’s Wednesday morning, column day, and nothing seems to be going smoothly, especially choosing a topic. One of those days, I suppose. Always dangerous. Never know where a man might wander on a warm spring day.

As for my unexpected issues, well, I imagine you all know the drill. First you go fiddlehead hunting, bag and knife in pocket, and find clumps that aren’t ready. Then you get home in front of the computer and go first to your email, procrastinating, and, of course, find everything working in slow motion, annoyingly slow. Shoot! Why now?

You close down Outlook Express, go to your anti-virus program, clean out temporary files and whatever else it is that you remove before rebooting and starting anew, hopeful everything will run snappier. This time, expecting an extended reboot, I signed in, stood and moved to the adjacent parlor to kill time flipping through the new Rolling Stone magazine. Then, only a few minutes into the rebooting process in the next room, door ajar, I hear a disturbing yet familiar “clunk” that’s always alarming when emanating from the computer. I ignore it, sort of, page through RS 1180 a little longer, and when I return to the computer, everything appears OK, much faster.

I guess this spell of bad karma actually began midday Tuesday, when I foolishly decided to tinker with a country tall clock I had stopped winding two or three years ago, maybe more … just learned to live without when it decided for some weird reason to operate just fine, thank you, for 10 or 12 hours before sounding half-hour chimes on the hour and hour chimes on the half, which got to be irritating indeed for anyone who pays attention to detail. I took the time at first to fix it and get it chiming correctly before heading to work, only to come home many hours later and — yup, you guessed it — same problem to greet me as I wound down. Finally, I got sick of dealing with it, didn’t know who to call and fix it because yet another one of my clock repairmen, Ernie Smith from Williamsburg, up and bought the farm on me. At that point, I just opened the long, narrow case door, stopped the long brass pendulum and taunted it with, “There, take that! That’ll fix you.”

As for Old Smitty, well, let me digress. I guess the old-time Yankee’s time was up. He was 93, I believe. The last time I saw him was at my place, age 91 if my memory serves me. I had picked him up in ’Burgy for a house call, brought him back to my Greenfield home, pulled out of storage in the shed a three-foot-high, four-legged stool with a round seat, placed it in front of a Chippendale slant-front desk standing in the taproom beneath the Aaron Willard presentation banjo clock I wanted serviced and, lo and behold, before I could even offer the man assistance, he had confidently placed his right foot on the seat and acrobatically stepped up straight as a preacher atop that stool. No lie, the man never swayed an inch, impressive indeed. Then the man of incredible feats just went and kicked the bucket on me. Yeah, Ole Smitty was quite the fella, a trouper with one of those devilish gleams in his eye and a grin that may have been worse. I loved it. He had worked for a Northampton jeweler named Gere long before I met him, a great day in my life. But with Smitty gone, I didn’t know who to call and thus have had two antique clocks sitting idle for many years.

Well, if you can imagine it, quite by surprise, that misfortune changed Saturday night during a Bat Mitzvah I hosted for a colleague’s teen daughter. Her name is Emily. I call her Mable. She does fine with it. Then again, what choice does she have with a critter like me? Anyway, her folks spared no expense for their only child, hiring Wholesale Klezmer Band to supply ethnic folk music for rambunctious dancing in the upstairs ballroom. The event drew quite a crowd, including many spring-fevered teens to test the spring-floor. It seems one of these young guests apparently took it upon himself to open my tall clock’s cherry case and nudge the pendulum into motion. I didn’t notice the clock running until everyone had gone, all was silent and I was sitting three feet away in a window-front La-Z-Boy. That’s when I heard the distinctive tick-tock, strong and true, remarkably in-beat. Every half-hour I’d hear a subtle click meant to engage the chime, which was not sounding, so I figured, “What the hell. Who needs it? I’ll keep it going as long as it keeps good time.” It was great to hear that clock beating again, always soothing in quiet spaces.”

Surprisingly, that 200-year-old clock, standing idle, tall and proud between a mantle and doorway for years, still kept great time and, by midday Tuesday, it was clear that it needed no regulation despite the interior dust and cobwebs among the brass works. That’s when — surprise! — this soon-to-be 60-year-old known for getting himself into situations he cannot easily pry himself from, especially when infected by spring euphoria, found trouble moments after finishing “Captors and Captives,” a book about Deerfield’s famous 1704 raid and its aftermath. Unhappy with the rhythmic tock’s sound, I decided to slide off the goose-neck bonnet to expose the works and see what was happening. I should have known better. My first chore was to bring that hood outside onto the sunny porch, where I blew off a thick layer of dust from the hidden, unfinished thin top board behind the goose-necks. Then I went to the cellar staircase for a beeswax-soaked, furniture-polishing rag lying on a disorganized shelf. But, no, I couldn’t just stop there. Uh-ah, are you kidding? Instead, I immediately started begging for trouble by, on a fanciful spring whim, grabbing a just-in-case oil can off the shelf tucked under the stairs leading to the second story. Yeah, right! What a fool. Will I ever learn? Or, better still, why must it always be the hard way?

Anyway, after carefully polishing the case, paying special attention to the dusty undersides of the inlaid, broken-pediment goose-necks, I figured, “What the hell, maybe now that I’ve got the top off, I ought to oil the gears and see if that tock sounds any better.” And oil those gears I did, all of them, including the chime’s, which — you guessed it — chimed within 10 minutes at 2 p.m. sharp. Problem was that it chimed 9 times, so I had rearrange the hands and run the chimes through the course to set it right and, yeeeup, problems immediately started rearing their ugly heads. First of all, having neglected the clock for some time, I had forgotten which of the two dangling weights were associated with what mechanisms, discovering to my dismay that I had wound the wrong one when trying to wind the clock. That was apparent when watching the one I had wound dropping with each chime. Oh well, so much for my theory that it wasn’t chiming because that weight was at its nadir. No problem, I’d just have to wind the other side, too, and hope for the best. But first I remounted the bonnet before it tipped over or I backed into it or something.

While winding up the heavy right-side weight dangling inside the dusty case, something didn’t feel right and the weight wasn’t climbing. So I stopped winding and hopped atop that same stool Smitty had used to figure out what had happened. I discovered that the braided brass chord had slipped off its wheel and gotten wound tightly around the post attaching it to the face. Not yet feeling totally defeated, I pulled a screwdriver and needle-nosed pliers from my toolbox but soon knew further disassembly would be required. Already in over my head and not wanting to “open a can of worms,” I stopped, Googled “antique clock repair” “western Mass” and came up with nothing that interested me. Then I pulled a thick stack of business cards from inside the case of our dining-room Eli Terry shelf clock to see what I could find. It seemed to me I had written the name of a clock repairman my father told me of. No such luck, though, just a forester who did clock work on the side but was long gone.

The search was on. I called my mother, who gave me the name of a Florence clock repairman, as it turned out a tuba-playing musician who knew Ernie Smith and was teaching his weekly UConn-Storrs music class when I spoke to his wife Tuesday afternoon. The wife, who teaches with my brother at Frontier Regional School, took my home phone number and assured me her husband would get back to me. When I asked if he made house calls, she laughed and said, “Yes, sometimes, if he must.”

So, now, I guess I’m finally going to get this long-overdue clock issue behind me. I’ll have the man fix the tall and banjo clocks, then swap the more formal taproom banjo with the plain Seth Thomas in my study. I’d been meaning to get to it for some time but had procrastinated. The repairman will be here Friday morning at 8:30, quicker than expected.

Isn’t it strange how things happen? Call it the revenge of a hormone-driven teenagers horsing around on a beautiful spring-weekend night enlivened by invigorating music and robust upstairs dancing that eventually shook the frame of an old building made for parties. I could feel the old tavern’s mischievous smile, one for which I typically buckle my chinstrap and gallop.

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Though I heard nothing back from my buddy who promised a hike into his secret squaretail pond for some ice-out trout fishing, I did receive an anonymous email from someone who read my tease and wanted to inform me that we aren’t the only ones who know of special sites where big native brook trout still lurk. Proof of the pudding is pictured above: three handsome, ice-out, brookies between 17 and 20 inches long, presumably caught this week at an undisclosed location, appropriate indeed with Mr. Karl Rove in Amherst just Tuesday.

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I received a sad phone call Tuesday morning from the wife of an old friend who’s fallen on tough times. Following two rapid-fire strokes, the second while in the hospital, my friend is recovering in an ICU and his wife is looking for a home Jackson, his soon-to-be 10-year-old English Springer Spaniel gun dog. Jackson is the littermate of my bitch, Lily. Interested parties can email me and I’ll pass the word.

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I couldn’t come up with a Valley District trout-stocking list this week but the Western District is scheduled to revisit the upper Deerfield River and will hit Ashfield Lake for the first time.

Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a longtime member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Blog: www.tavernfare.com. Email: gary@oldtavernfarm.com.

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