The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 1, 2013

Group trying to turn back the clock

David Hurst

WINDBER — The metal hands on Windber’s historic town clock have been stuck on 2 and 5 for more than a year.

It’s time for that to change, Eureka Coal Heritage Foundation members say.

The volunteer group isn’t just stopping there. Thanks to a $2,000 grant from the Laurel Highlands Convention & Visitors Bureau, it is working to restore the weight-driven clock to its former luster, Eureka Coal Heritage President Sandra Pritt said.

“They’re going to repair the gears, remove the dial, clean it up and reassemble it,” Pritt said of the onetime jewelry store clock, which likely dates back to 1908.

The clock now sits at Graham Avenue’s 17th Street intersection in a small clock tower building built for it.

But for generations it was two blocks away at Graham and 15th Street inside a jewelry store nearly as old as the borough itself, said Albert Gaye, whose father, Glenn, was one of several borough businessmen who owned the shop over the years.

The original owners, Harry and George Dietz, opened the store in 1904, Gaye said.

Their watchmaker, Tony Yanelli, drew up plans for the clock four years later and sent them to France to have it built, he added.

Yanelli eventually became the shop’s owner – and Glenn Gaye his partner after the latter returned home from World War II, his son said.

For decades, the clock was a store centerpiece, with its inner workings displayed behind a glass door in a large wooden cabinet, Albert Gaye said.

“Back then, most of that clock was inside the store,” Gaye said.

He recalled winding the clock weekly with a large key that resembled an early 1900s automobile crank.

A pendulum and a 100-pound weight that dropped into the store’s basement turned gears inside the building – and they, in turn, turned the hands on the double-faced “slave clock” outside, Gaye said.

The clock ended up being sold in the early 1970s after the store closed. It changed hands a few times locally until Ron Corl bought it in 1998 and donated it to the Eureka group.

At the time, the clock was in storage, said Corl, of Windber, a Eureka member.

“I just felt we had to preserve it,” Corl said.

Local fundraising efforts enabled the group to build a small clock tower near the post office to display the clock. Several times since, the group has worked to keep it going – until last year, when the hands stopped once again.

The Eureka Coal Heritage group has a $3,200 estimate to have the clock repaired – a cost the nonprofit might not have been able to take on without the grant, Pritt said.

“This is a part of our history we can ill afford to lose,” she added.

John Russin, the clockmaker handling the work, agreed.  

“Windber should be proud to still have a clock like this,” said Russin, noting Johnstown’s City Hall once boasted a similar one until it was updated and electrified.

Russin’s job is to make the clock work again the way it was intended to – as a wind-up.

The Eureka group hopes to have the clock running again by Miner’s Memorial Day in June.

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