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Caretaker of the Clock | Here in New England

Caretaker of the Clock | Here in New England
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“When I started to wind it, I said, ‘Wow, this is working hard.’ I thought, ‘Well, it’s because the weights are all the way down and I have to wind up the weights plus the chain.’ So I’m cranking away and all of a sudden, bang! I hear this loud crack. A big timber that holds one of the pulleys had snapped right off.”

The weights had jammed. The tension had built up; a big half-inch-thick, S-shaped steel hook had stretched almost straight before letting go; the timber cracked and the chain went flying. “It took me about three months to get all of that straightened out,” Fogg recalls.

Another time, the clock was stopping at 25 minutes to the hour. “Just randomly. Not every hour,” he recalls. “And I’m thinking, ‘What the heck is making the clock stop?'” He’d reset it and “the clock might work for a day. Might work for five hours. Might work for two days. All of a sudden the clock would stop at 25 minutes to the hour. I spent two or three weeks coming down here, looking at everything, checking everything. What is doing this?”

He finally found the problem: On the east face, there was one loose screw on Roman numeral VII. Sometimes the minute hand would slip past that one screw; sometimes it caught it. That’s all it took to stop the clock. Fogg opened a small door in the clockface, leaned way out, and removed that screw.

But for almost half a century, maintaining Hancock’s clock has been mostly just a matter of being faithful and attentive. Fogg delicately adjusts the pendulum to compenstate for the weather, because metals expand and contract with the temperature. In the winter, when the metal contracts, the clock speeds up a little, so he adjusts the pendulum ever so slightly.

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.

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