Passing the time

LOWELL-Lowell resident Walter Mincks never needs to ask for whom the bell tolls. Coaxed by his deft hands and decades of experience, the dozens of brightly chiming clocks in Mincks’ workshop toll for him.

Mincks, 76, practices a patient, intricate hobby not often seen in the days of digital clocks and cell phone alarms. Mincks repairs-and often makes from scratch-elaborate antique clocks. A pendulum that has lost its swing, a quiet cuckoo, an off pace hand-Mincks has fixed it.

While he now has breathed life into literally thousands of clocks, it was a single clock and a spark of curiosity that got Mincks involved in the craft in the late 1970s.

“When I first got married, I kind of wanted a grandmother clock. So I sent and got the plans and built it,” he said.

When Mincks says he built it, he means it. He personally cut down the tree used to make the clock and had it cut into boards at a local mill. After patiently waiting five years for the wood to dry, he began cutting and shaping the frame.

“On the first one, I made all the molding but one piece,” he recalled.

That grandmother clock still occupies Mincks’ living room, happily chiming away the hours.

In that same sense, the top of the hour in Mincks’ workshop is like a harmonious ode to his successful projects. Their chimes let him know his work on a clock has paid off.

“That’s good,” Mincks said Thursday morning at 9 a.m. when one clock near him began to sound. “That’s one I’ve been working on and it’s keeping the right time.”

Clocks have long been Mincks’ hobby, but never his job.

“I don’t advertise. I do what I like to do. I work on them when I feel like it,” he said.

But that does not mean he hasn’t lent his skill to a few friends and neighbors from time to time.

Mincks’ neighbor Brian Wilson, 54, inherited from his father an antique clock from the New Haven Clock Company which had a lot of history and sentimental value.

“It survived a fire. Part of it is scorched, which gives it more character as far as I’m concerned,” said Wilson.

But surviving is different than working. The clock had not kept time since Wilson inherited it. It was a lying around, beautiful but broken until Wilson contacted Mincks.

“Someone suggested getting in touch with Walter. He’s a great man. He came up and looked at it, took it home. A couple days later he brought it back, and it works like a charm,” said Wilson.

In addition to a few he’s kept for himself, Mincks has also made clocks for many of his family members.

Those family clocks will make a lasting legacy for Mincks’ grandchildren, noted Mincks’ wife Carol.

“It’ll be something to let them know who we were,” said Carol, who beams with pride talking about Walter’s hobby, though she jokes that it can drive her “cuckoo.”

In his estimate, Walter has made one grandfather clock, 16 grandmother clocks and numerous mantel clocks.

Typically they take one to two months to piece together after the wood has been procured and shaped, he said.

While few people seem to still be practicing the craft, the need will always be there, Mincks speculated. People will always be fascinated by the beautiful, and intricate objects, he said.

“It’s part of history, really,” he said.