|Howard Bouldry checks the time on his mother’s Seth Thomas wall|
clock as he adjusts the time on one of the clocks in his shop.
Union Leader Correspondent
CHESTER -- Tick, tick, tick...
Whrrrrrl. Cuckoo. Mong, mong, mong. Cuckoo.
Bonnnng.Tick, tick, tick....
Without looking up from his work bench, Howard Bouldry knows by the cacophony of chimes, dinging and donging and chirping that it’s 9:15.
For 14 years Bouldry’s been repairing clocks, and those that are fixed and ready to go are perfectly synchronized. “I usually set them by that one,” says Bouldry, hands full of a small brass ship’s clock in need of winding as he nods toward the face of a Seth Thomas antique time piece hung by the door. It belonged to his mother.
He apologizes for the clutter, adding that someone once likened his workspace to Gepetto’s workshop. Fitting, given the number of woodworking tools and hand-labeled tin canisters of spare parts stacked quaintly on shelves, the wooden frames meant to cradle suspended clock guts hanging, like marionettes, along ceiling beams.
After a fulfilling career as a financial analyst, Bouldry was staring down the barrel of retirement.
“I had a friend who repaired clocks as a hobby, and I thought I might like to learn, so he taught me what he knew. I figured it would be a way to supplement my income,” says Bouldry, who has enough work these days to put in full-time hours.
Although he’s not the only clock repair guy around, he’s one of the few who tackles cuckoo clocks.
He slides a white plastic tub across the top of his work table and lifts out a small wooden contraption. Using his index finger, he lifts a hinged rectangle of wood which expands a miniature bellows and as it drops, a puff of air makes the hollow sound of a cuckoo bird.
“The longer the chamber, the lower the note,” says Bouldry, who goes on to explain the history of German engineering in the Black Forest, which leads to a tutorial on the mechanics of gong springs and rack gears.
He nudges the minute hand of an intricate cuckoo clock toward the 12, which prompts a small wooden bird from behind a teeny door and launches four music box measures of “The Happy Wanderer,” while two small figures dance to the music and a tiny trio of musicians on the edge of the clock engage in faux play.
“With cuckoos, it’s a love/hate relationship,” says Bouldry, explaining how some people become disenchanted with the persistence of time and disable the mechanism that accounts for the cuckoo’s whistle every quarter of an hour.
“Others live for it. I have a customer in Hooksett who is housebound and can’t travel, so when she has a problem with her cuckoo I drive over there to fix it; it’s a big part of her life,” says Bouldry.
Although he insists there was nothing significant in his childhood pertaining to clocks that subliminally led him to this obsession with other people’s time, he still recalls his grandfather’s clock, a substantial quality time piece like most of that era.
“It was the only way you knew what time it was in the 1940s,” says Bouldry, explaining that the religious ritual of clock winding was the only way to keep them running.
It’s not like you could check the digital display on your cell phone to get the accurate time if springs were left to unfurl.
When it comes to his favorite kind of clock to repair, he’s impartial. Whether it’s a Howard Miller mantle clock, a 400-day crystal anniversary clock or an old wooden cuckoo someone found in the attic, Bouldry is up for the challenge.
Sometimes it’s not about the time it takes to solder new teeth on a worn escapement wheel or the painstaking precision of fine-tuning a pendulum regulator nut.
“A few days ago a customer brought in a clock that had been in her family for three generations. She said she remembered it from the time she was a little girl. She wanted to pass it on to her children, but it needed fixing and cleaning,” says Bouldry.
“It needed a lot of work. I don’t know if she’d ever had it cleaned before. But I got into it and polished it up until it looked brand new. When she came back to pick it up, she was beside herself. She couldn’t get over how good it looked — she said it was just the way she remembered it,” says Bouldry.
“It took some time to get it right, but it was worth it,” Bouldry says. “I would say that’s my favorite kind of clock to work on.”