Doug Campbell was always mechanical but he never expected to turn his hobby of bringing old clocks and watches back to life into a business.
“In the beginning it was a part-time thing…. Now it’s six days a week, but I love it,” he says. “It’s a passion.”
He hadn’t even planned on learning the trade until a serious workplace accident years ago left him with plenty of time and opportunity.
“I was almost killed, and I was laid up for three years,” he says.
Someone brought him a book about clocks and soon he was picking up the art. He then apprenticed under an Austrian clockmaker who taught him the trade, even getting Campbell to learn how to build his own parts. For example, even though parts such as tapered pins are cheap, his mentor taught him how to make them on his own using a lathe.
“He kind of took a shine to me, and I apprenticed under him,” he says.
He says he buys the parts now, but he does know how to make them on a lathe.
“I know if I have to,” he adds.
It has now become a post-retirement career for him after he retired as a service manager at Finneron Hyundai in Courtenay.
Campbell says the basic principle behind a clocks’ mechanisms is all the same, but there are aspects that can complicate working on them. For example, he points out that the number of key holes on a clock shows what functions a person can set by winding. One keyhole alone means time only, indicating it’s a simple clock with very few gears, whereas a clock with three keyholes means time, strike and chime – strike counts the hour while chime plays a melody – and it is a bit more complicated to fix.
He collects clocks and watches, which he both repairs and sells under his business, Timely Restorations, which he runs out of his house in Willow Point. He’s lived there since 2007 after living in Comox. His repair work he does on Vancouver Island, much of it in Courtenay, but for sales he ends up going to Vancouver every month. As far as finding the items, he runs ads on Craigslist, or he sometimes goes to auctions in Victoria, though he attends less often now. Sometimes, he finds out about clocks through word of mouth.
“You’ve got to have unusual stuff the collectors are looking for,” he says.
Smaller items he sometimes sells through eBay. Other clocks, if they are larger or less unusual he will post on Craigslist and go to Vancouver for deliveries every six weeks or so.
His workshop in Campbell River ticks along with the sounds of several clocks of different vintage, like the opening of a 60 Minutes episode multiplied many times over. He has a number of old clocks from different countries, the oldest one currently in the collection being a British one from about 1840. He has a pre-Confederation clock from this country stamped with Canada West. He has others from places like Germany, France and the United States. Most are from 1890 to 1920.
“I’ve got a real mix,” he says.
Among his favourites in the current collection are one from Germany, an 1889 Gustav Becker with Art Nouveau-style design. He also has an ebonized wood clock made by Seikosha, which became Seiko, sometime between 1890 and 1910.
His most-prized clock ever he found through an estate sale in Victoria, though the clock was in Nanaimo and needed some serious work.
“It was an absolutely stunning piece,” he says. “Nobody in the family wanted it…. I was able to restore the clock back to the way it was supposed to be.”
It was a museum-worthy piece called a weight-driven jeweller’s regulator clock with vials of mercury for temperature compensation. It would have been used in a jewellery shop as the master clock to set other clocks in a store.
“It was an amazing clock. I should’ve kept that one,” he says.
He started work on it almost two years ago and brought it to a clock show in Tacoma, Wash. He ended up selling it as a museum piece, as the clock was purchased by the West Coast Clock & Watch Museum in California for its collection.
“It was the show stopper,” he says.