by Lyn Vandebrake
If clocks could talk the seven foot tall Seth Thomas Grandfather would tell how his Mahogany cabinet was carpentered and polished in the 1800’s. And then how it came to be that he now stands proudly in the foyer of the Murray home on North Street in Marcellus, Michigan.
“It really all began when I was 15 years old,” says Lloyd Murray, clock and watch collector extraordinaire. Murray also repairs antique watches using parts he’s collected over the years.
“Folks would bring a watch to me and tell how jewelers had taken one look at it and said the piece just could not be fixed. Most times I proved them wrong and got it working. Most times it was because parts were no longer available for those old watches from years and years past,” Murray said.
“It’s just been a wonderful hobby that has grown over the years but it started back in 1926 when I worked for a dairy farmer. Back then we hand-milked all the cows. It was a job for sure. The farmer gave me a key-wind watch and that sparked my interest.”
Murray worked that summer and the next saving money. “I made whole bunches of it,” says Murray with a laugh. “About $25 a week. I wasn’t very selective and bought a watch every chance I got. They were pretty cheap back then.”
The plot thickens, as some might say, because WW II showed up on the doorstep of America. Murray would serve his country in both North Africa and Italy. “I came home all in one piece,” says Murray. “And then I got married to Florence and we had six kids. My wife was a big help in that – having the kids, I mean. I might not could have done it by myself.”
It takes one just a moment to catch on to the flowing humor of this kind soft-spoken gentleman. If in a lengthy conversation the one-liners will keep listeners laughing for a long time.
“We moved to Marcellus and bought this house 62 years ago. So as you can see, we’re really newcomers to the area,” laughs Murray. “We raised all six kids right here, plus a few from the neighborhood who happened to show up from time to time. We did the smart thing and had the girls first so they could help bring up the boys properly.”
Along the way, Murray acquired watches that needed fixing and cleaning. He took them to Otto Reich in Decatur. “This was back in the ‘40’s,” says Murray.
“The jeweler told me it’s going to cost more than I could afford and then said, ‘let me teach you how to do it yourself.’ For seven years I learned all kinds of things. I went over there every chance I had and it turned out I became rather competent. I’ve been repairing watches now for over 50 years.”
Among his collection is a minute repeater watch encased in an 18-carot gold case from the 1800’s. It strikes on the last hour with a single note and each quarter hour with a double note. A single note follows again on the last quarter.
There’s a 1700’s chain-drive with a miniature bicycle chain and spring that drives the mechanism. And Railroad watches from Hamilton, Illinois, Rockford and Elgin, dated 1919 and 1920. Each has at least 17 jewels. The watches were originally timed to within 15 seconds of accuracy every two weeks.
Murray wears an Atomic watch from the Stauer Company. “They say it may lose one second of time every 20 million years,” says Murray with a wry smile. “So you can see how that could make a fella get real worried. What if you really needed to be some place right on time?”
Murray’s antique clock and watch collection numbers in the hundreds even though he has sold or given away dozens. They are valued anywhere from under $50 to over $2500 so Murray keeps them in a safety deposit box at a local bank.
Several clocks adorn the home. There is a small grandfather clock in a cherry cabinet a friend made for the Murray’s. “I bought the Westminister chime movement to go inside,” says Murray. A smaller clock found at an antique store some years ago graces a shelf in the dining room and was kept rather than sold as it became a favorite of his wife, Florence.
Though this story revolves around Lloyd, the clock and watch collector, Florence plays a key role in the beautiful home kept with upstairs in-house clock repair shop that operated for many years.
“We visited many countries on family trips,” says Florence. “And each time Lloyd would look for watches to collect. Some didn’t work but that was even better because they would be cheaper and he could always repair them.” Through their travels the couple visited Norway, Finland, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, Australia, Portugal and Africa.
“It takes a lot of patience to repair a watch or clock,” says Murray. “And steady hands which I no longer have. I’m retired from it now. The task requires lots of different tools, a cleaning machine with three different cleaning and drying movements. A good repair will require that you then oil every spot.”
At one time Murray had four cabinets of crystals and thousands of antique replacement parts including spare bows (the little knob at the top), gears and miscellaneous. Most have now been sold to others who take up the mantel; the interest of fine tuning an antique watch in disrepair.
However, as one walks through the Murray home, the soft tick tock of many antique clocks brings memory of past right back into the present.