Daylight Savings Time begins today.
|D'Avanza oils the works of the tower clock at|
Central Congregational Church.
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- Springing ahead is simple, in theory.
But ask Phil D’Avanza about daylight saving time and he will enumerate the clock towers he painstakingly maintains. He will offer to take you to see how it’s done, up the rickety old wooden stairwells that lead to even more rickety ladders with impossibly narrow footholds that lead to three different levels of guts and gears in need of bi-annual adjusting and oiling, just to make sure that time goes on, and chiming persists.
“Between birds and bats and lack of maintenance, you never know what you’ll find up here,” said D’Avanza, who has been New Hampshire’s unofficial time keeper for more than 20 years.
Saturday, D’Avanza was ascending the tower at Center Congregational Church in Derry to adjust the time one hour forward so that parishioners would be on time for Sunday services no matter which of the tower’s four faces they check.
“I’ll be doing two clocks in Jaffrey on Monday — one at the women’s club and the other at the meeting house. They’re not so worried about it being done over the weekend,” D’Avanza said.
He also maintains the clock tower at Pinkerton Academy and First Parish Church in Derry, Thompson Hall at UNH, the administration building at Phillips Exeter Academy and several town hall clocks, including Lebanon, Pembroke and Manchester’s City Hall.
In Manchester, where his business is based, he also is caretaker of the clock towers at Jefferson Mills and the old Ash Street School, which now houses Silvertech, a Web service agency.
“That one is probably my favorite — it’s very unique because it uses the same escapement as Big Ben — the escapement is what powers the pendulum. It’s called a double three-legged gravity escapement. The pendulum swings back and forth, and at the top there’s a part that makes the ticking sound, which is basically the heart of the clock. It’s extremely accurate, and there aren’t many of them around,” D’Avanza said.
A tool-and-die maker by trade, he got into the clock-fixing business by accident.
“I used to collect clocks, but could never find anyone who could repair them properly,” D’Avanza said.
Dartmouth chimes in
Of all the state’s many remaining clock towers, the historic Baker Library Bell Tower at Dartmouth College could be the most famous.
“When a person comes from Hanover, crosses the Connecticut River and comes up the hill to level ground, you see it standing in the center of campus, with buildings all around it. It’s iconic,” said Patricia Cope, who maintains the school’s photo archives.
Although she wasn’t certain whether the clock was reset manually during daylight-saving time, or who actually handles that task, it’s well-known that the elaborate bell system, which used to run on a player piano-style paper-punch roller, is now programmed wirelessly on an iMac, via custom designed software, under the jurisdiction of the music department.
In addition to the alma mater, the bells can play a variety of songs, by request, from a growing library of favorites, including “Hey Jude,” “Tired of Being Alone,” “Feeling Groovy,” and the theme song from TV’s “Jeopardy.”
Goffstown back in action
After being stalled out for several years, Goffstown’s clock tower is back in action, under the direction of Dave Roberge, the town’s building manager.
“It’s electronic, but I have a key for it. What I do is go down to the mechanical room, where I can make it go forward or back. It’s easier just to stop if for an hour when going backwards,” Roberge said.
He will move the clock forward first thing Monday morning, which will take precisely 13 minutes. “Your timing has to be right when you speed it up. I’ve only overshot it once,” Roberge said.
“I keep a eye on it constantly, every time I drive by, to make sure it’s running properly. We synchronize it to all the other clocks in town, which are set to Universal Time. I’ve had a few complaints from residents over the years that the time is wrong, but I think it was their mistake, not mine,” Roberge said.
Restoring the town’s clock tower is part of the yearlong 250th anniversary celebration.
“Everything’s being upgraded and spruced up to make the town beautiful,” said Roberge.
In Portsmouth, Building Inspector Roger Clum has been maintaining the North Church and South Meeting House clock towers for 25 years.
“I was, how they say, the last person to sit down when they were looking for volunteers for the job,” said Clum, who winds the clocks twice weekly.
“Because I’m a city employee, they’d like me to do it on city time — I guess so that if I fall and break my neck there will be someone around who can pick me up,” said Clum. The only time he goes rogue is twice a year, when daylight savings time begins and ends.
“I don’t cheat by setting the clocks on Friday or Monday. I go up sometimes during the night Saturday so that the clocks are set right for Sunday,” Clum said.
He said the twice weekly trip up and down the tower steps to keep the weight-driven eightday mechanisms moving keeps him feeling young and connected to Portsmouth’s history.
“I won’t say it’s a blast; it’s hard work. But the North Church clock has an 1893 mechanism, and the guy who maintained it before me claimed he and his dad were the only two who’d ever wound the clock. Which means I could be only the third guy in history to wind it,” Clum said.
He prefers springing forward to falling back.
“To fall back you have to move it forward 11 hours. Springing ahead is a piece of cake,” Clum said.