Clock tower repairs prove timely

Clock tower repairs prove timely

Thayer Academy’s tower may be iconic in and of itself, but the structure houses within it another historical gem: a massive E. Howard & Co. tower clock built at a time when the Boston company was considered one of the finest in the world.

Two trusted contractors — Ross Hochstrasser and Ed Warchal — began work on the clock this summer. Rusty mechanical settings caused by weather had necessitated the shutdown of the clock about three years ago until more comprehensive renovations could take place. That work — namely, roof repair and repointing the tower’s brickwork — also began this summer and was completed by the start of the school year.

Hochstrasser and Warchal undertook the complete overhaul of the clock mechanism and its striker (the external hammer that hits the bell to create its peal). The clock mechanism is made of cast iron and forged steel and is estimated to weigh between 350 and 500 pounds. Its gears are made of brass. The clock features steel aircraft cables, an eight-foot pendulum, and suspended weights that drop roughly 50 feet down near the base of the tower.

Ross Hochstrasser demonstrates     
how the clock mechanism works

The clock is driven by gravity. About once a week, the mechanism requires winding via a two-handed crank to raise the weights. In fact, according to Upper School History Faculty Larry Carlson P ‘02, ‘05, ‘10, who is also the school’s archivist, it used to be considered a privilege for Thayer students to be given the honor of winding the school’s clock. Gravitational pull on the weights applies energy to the cables, which translates into the movement of the clock. The clock begins striking the hour a minute early so that the final peal at noon can be heard on the hour. The four clock faces are roughly 75 feet off the ground while the weathervane atop the belfry is 118 feet in the air.

By all accounts, the E. Howard & Co. clock appears to be the original clock first installed when the Main Building and its tower were built in 1876 to welcome Thayer’s first class of students in 1877. However, structural defects in that first tower necessitated that it be torn down in 1910 and replaced with the current tower, a South Shore landmark but one that is nonetheless five feet shorter than its predecessor.

Hochstrasser, a craftsman with decades of experience with clocks of all sizes, has maintained Thayer’s tower clock since 2001; he called it “one of the finest in the world.” Similar E. Howard & Co. clocks also adorn South Station and Boston’s Custom House, Hochstrasser said, but Thayer’s model predates them both.

With repairs complete, the school’s bell rings hourly from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.; a night silencer keeps things quiet the rest of the time. The sound of the bell, as anyone familiar with the Thayer Academy alma mater penned by former Latin teacher Lillian Sleeper Lane, is “clear-toned.” See the clock mechanism in motion.

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