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Posted August 28, 2009 | comments Leave a comment

Linden man's passion leads to clock-repair shop

By Preston Knight -- pknight@nvdaily.com

Stan Stocker, who owns Stan's Clock Shop in Linden, examines a spring. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Stocker works on a part using a lathe. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Stocker holds the inner workings of a clock. Dennis Grundman/Daily

A rack of tools Stocker uses to work on clocks in his shop. Dennis Grundman/Daily

LINDEN -- Stan Stocker's garage ticks, sounds created by a chorus of clocks that he is about to fix, has fixed or owns and has no need to fix.

The sounds bother him not. The mess does a little. But Stocker, 50, still has enough room to work, and that's what he does whenever he can.

His garage is his museum, he said, his workplace, and is formally called Stan's Clock Shop. It may be obscure to most of the general public, but Stocker is working to fix that. Fixing things, after all, is his forte.

Whatever kind of mechanical clock you own and whatever kind of problem it has, Stocker has the ability to correct it. He's well-versed on the terminology of horology -- the science of measuring time -- and the innards of a clock. When a troubled clock comes in, Stocker will disassemble it beyond recognition to get to the root of the problem, which is often a loose or worn pivot in the clock's "movement," which is basically its body.

Once he finishes his meticulous, sometimes even dangerous work on a clock hours later -- the length depends on the type of clock and problem, and the danger is usually related to how much you pay attention when working with springs -- he hangs it on a stand for a test run, and if it works for a day or two, the fix is complete. Stocker also cleans clocks and does case restoration.

"It's kind of a fun business to be in," he said. "It's a fun thing if you're a nerd. ... It's not abstract nerdiness. It's hands-on. It's real."

Each clock has the potential to present Stocker with something new and never before seen. A recent example ties in to his golden rule -- do not get parts commingled.

A clock came in that had the wrong second wheel, either because someone who previously fixed it mixed it up with another piece or put the wrong replacement gear in altogether. Stocker told the customer that unless he made a new gear, there was nothing that could be done.

"It took me a few minutes to figure out what was wrong," he said.

That clock had run well for quite some time before breaking down, which indicates how tricky understanding the devices can be. Another clock Stocker fixed ran well for years after the culprit that ultimately made it stop entered the movement. A man had a rental company move his clock, a modern German grandfather, but did so with blankets that had been used in a semi-truck, where they collected sand, which then got in the movement, he said.

"Dirt, anything, slows it down," Stocker said.

The three-year-old clock shop was born from his lifetime love of gadgets and fixing things. As a child, Stocker worked on watches given to him by friends and family. He graduated to fixing turntables and cassette decks for date money as he got older. Stocker also made a model steam engine and, all the while, worked on clocks.

He has lived in Linden for 20 years but grew tired of the daily commute to Northern Virginia, where he was a software developer for Lockheed Martin. Stocker elected to go back to his childhood interest and open his clock repair shop, and has learned on the fly the difficulty involved in reaching customers.

His focus, he thought, would be on places such as the towns in Warren County, where there are older homes and the better likelihood of people owning clocks. Stephens City and Winchester, though, are where Stocker actually gets his most business.

Because of the economy, the shop's numbers are off about 20 percent this year. But if Stocker were in it for the money, he'd be in the wrong business.

"It's a fun thing to do," he said. "If it's a clock I really enjoy, sometimes I'm sorry to see it go."

When a repaired clock leaves the shop, Stocker advises people to place the devices in a room where the air temperature is constant and where there is no sunlight directly beating down on it. He shows people how to make adjustments, too.

"I usually tell people just relax and enjoy your clocks," Stocker said. "Don't obsess over it."

That may be easier said than done for some owners. The clocks Stocker sees, in some cases, are longtime family heirlooms. Seeing that variety of old clocks, versus the popular digital ones of today, is part of the fun for him.

"They're there to be enjoyed," Stocker said. "Most are running well, but for 15 bucks you can [go buy] more accuracy. ... It's like a museum, but I'm encouraged to play with and touch [artifacts]."

For more information, visit www.stansclockshop.com.

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