Share this article

print logo

Time is good to him, and he to it

Walk into the house of a clock fancier and all you hear is ticking, a pleasant sound according to Marvin DeBoy, retired project engineer from Bell Aerospace Textron. DeBoy traces his interest in clocks to the 1950s, but it wasn't until later that tower clocks turned his head. A favorite project, he recalled, was restoring the tower clock at Erie County Hall in the mid-'90s.

At age 94, DeBoy has three children, three grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild. An engaging gentleman, DeBoy sees clocks as much more than a hobby. They may be what keeps him ticking.

>People Talk: Are you always on time?

Marvin DeBoy: I try to be. I'm usually the first one at a meeting. I was on the Evans Planning Board for eight years. That was a long time ago, when I was in my 70s.

>PT: What's your magic elixir?

MD: I have a very conscientious guardian angel. Other than that I'm a procrastinator, so I keep putting things off -- like getting old.

>PT: What did you do for a living?

MD: The type of engineering that I did was design. Working for an aircraft company, most of the people I worked with were way beyond me in education and intelligence, but I have a knack for mechanical things, and that seemed to let me move along in life. My first real design was a wire recorder, which I designed from scratch. Wire recorders preceded tape recorders. This occurred around 1948.

>PT: Do you travel much?

MD: I used to, for the company. In peace time I would have the weekends off, and if I were on assignment halfway across the country I'd search out tower clocks and learn their history and take photographs. Some collectors are more interested in collecting, whereas I'm more interested in what makes them tick.

>PT: Would you call yourself Father Time?

MD: No. I'm an amateur horologist, a person who studies timekeeping and its methods. I have a very extensive library.

>PT: Do you have other hobbies?

MD: I liked sailing and sports cars. In fact I just traded in my last sports car last year, a Mitsubishi Eclipse. The one I loved the most was an Austin-Healey back in the '50s. More recently, I cherished a Miata. It was bright red.

>PT: You are a young 94.

MD: Not when it comes to hearing, plus when you get to be older, your memory fails. I lost half my vocabulary -- I'm well aware of that -- especially names. But your long-term memory kicks in, so I find myself reminiscing a lot. There's a lot of reminders on TV. I'm very interested in antique cars. In fact, during the late '40s, I completely restored a 1941 Lincoln Continental, but that's too expensive a hobby.

>PT: You have a gift.

MD: I know that now. I feel as though I'm bragging when I say that, but it's true. I get calls from people yet on problems with tower clocks. The knack I have is to visualize a mechanism while it's working.

>PT: What was your crowning achievement?

MD: One of two projects. One is the Apostles Clock at the Erie County Historical Society, where the apostles parade every half-hour. It also tells the day, the month, the year, the phase of the moon. I spent a lot of hours on that clock. It's a very unusual clock.

The other clock that I'm proud to have worked on is the one at Erie County Hall. I refurbished that clock completely. It took all summer, for a fee this time. I had the whole clock here in my garage and then reassembled it in the clock tower.

>PT: What makes the Apostles Clock so unusual?

MD: It was made by a man who was not a clock maker, but he was a good enough mechanic that he could build a clock that could not only tell the time but had all these other features. There was a period around 1875 when a very complicated clock was being exhibited around the country. You paid an admission to see this clock, it did so many things. It led to a lot of people making interesting clocks.

>PT: What do you think about when you're working on your clocks?

MD: I don't know. What does a person think about when they are performing their hobby? You're obviously interested in what your hands are on at the time. You think about planning for the final assembly.

>PT: What's key to a good clock?

MD: Critical to the mechanism of any clock that ticks is what we call the escapement. That's the heart of the clock. The most popular is the deadbeat escapement. It consists of two pallets which are operated by the pendulum that rock back and forth to allow a toothed wheel called the escape wheel to move one tooth at a time, and that's what sets the time of the clock.

>PT: You were married in 1991?

MD: That was my second marriage. I was 75. We had a marvelous life together. Unfortunately it only lasted five years. A mutual friend brought her to see my clocks. Nothing came of that immediately, but I couldn't get her out of my mind, and later I decided I wanted to know her better.

>PT: Who is your best friend?

MD: My brother, Lester, who lives next door. He worked as a machinist until he retired. He's three years younger than me. We both built our own homes. I designed both. We're very close now.

There are no comments - be the first to comment