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Caretaker of the Clock | Here in New England

The crank handle to set the strike train is worn shiny in one spot, a groove. Every time the crank comes around, it rubs against the bell rope, so that in 140 years the hemp has polished a little valley in the steel shaft. Bob Fogg accounts for a third of that wear. Add it up: He’s been winding the clock a little more than 46 years. That’s 2,400 weeks, 168 cranks a week … and Fogg has pushed that heavy crank through more than 403,000 revolutions. Then add to that more than 168,000 turns to keep the time train ticking.

Constancy, routine–Fogg has wound the clock through wars, assassinations, moon landings, riots, a presidential impeachment, inflation, stagflation, recessions, the Cold War, terrorist attacks, and all the rest. But it’s not a stifling routine; it’s a devotion. We count on people like him to keep all the other works in town running: the folks who organize the yearly town meetings and reports and parades, the committees who attend to necessary repairs and improvements, those who surprise us by showing us the grace of the ordinary. A quick check of Hancock’s town report shows more than 125 different people volunteering for town offices and committees to keep this community of 1,650 going.

Bob Fogg comes from people who believed in community service, but they never used those words at all. It’s just what they did; they pitched in and helped out. His great-great-uncle helped raise the money to buy the clock in 1872. When the town needed a water system, his grandfather helped see to that, and when electricity arrived, he helped with that, too. His grandfather also ran the general store from 1896 to 1926. His grandmother taught school in town. An aunt was the first “woman selectman” in Hancock (in the Dark Ages, the 1950s).

“His grandfather just had a little bit to do with everything that was going on, and everybody knew him and trusted him. Bob is like that,” a neighbor says. He leads field trips to see the bell, coaches sports, dresses up as the Easter Bunny, makes cookies for a fundraiser in town–it’s a very long list. It’s just that he’s always around, doing something for the town. He doesn’t say anything about it. If it needs to be done, he does it. He doesn’t have a grand plan or any ulterior motives. He won’t tell you any of this, either. He doesn’t smother you in ancestor talk. He keeps the clock going, just as his ancestors helped keep the town going.

“I do it because I take pride in living in Hancock and seeing the clock work,” Fogg says. “In all the years I’ve been winding the clock, the only other one who’s ever wound it is my son. When I started doing this, Bobby was about 4 or 5 years old. He used to come up with me; you know how kids follow their dads.

“Well, Bobby used to say to me, ‘Dad, when you retire, when you give up this job, I’ll take it over.’ And I said, ‘Well, maybe, but I have to tell the selectmen because they have to appoint you. I can’t just give you this job.’ ‘So,’ Bobby said, ‘you put in a good word for me.'”

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Updated Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

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