Restoring life to aging clocks a rare profession

AUBURN — There's something about a grandfather clock's low "tock ... tock" that speaks to Patrick Rohman.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Pat Rohman works on the internal working parts of a clock at his Minot Avenue business, Rohman Clockworks, in Auburn Friday. Rohman is one of the few people in Maine who repairs clocks.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Pat Rohman inspects the cog of a clock at his Minot Avenue business, Rohman Clockworks, in Auburn Friday. Rohman is one of the few people in Maine who repairs clocks.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Parts from a clock litter the workbench of Pat Rohman in Auburn.

"It's kind of like a heartbeat," the 57-year-old clock repairman said.

Clear out the dead spiders. Clean the gears and springs. Restore the oil. Life returns.

In his career, Rohman guesses that he's worked on 2,000 clocks, from century-old, 10-feet-tall grandfathers to ceramic clocks that look small enough to fit on a wrist. He figures he has been unable to fix only a dozen or so.

"It's the challenge of the thing," he said. "I like to get them running again."

His shop, Rohman Clockworks, seems surrounded with swinging pendulums and ticking machines. They include stately mantle clocks, precise regulators and whimsical cuckoos.

Their repair is an increasingly rare specialty.

Part of the reason is cheap, battery-operated clocks housed in mass-produced plastic cases with little machinery inside. The coin-sized motors are powered by AA batteries rather than weights or wound springs.

The other reason is time itself.

Repairing a single small clock can take half a day. Fixing a grandfather clock can take a day or more. His work might cost as little as $60 or grow to $250.

However, in most cases people understand and pay. They bring in their dusty old clocks and he listens to the stories of where they came from and how they once worked.

"There's a lot of sentimental value," Rohman said."I don't know if the baby boomers are keeping them alive or not, but it's good for me."

Clocks have fascinated Rohman since he was a kid. He grew up moving around, the son of a Navy man. After getting his bachelor's degree in geology from the University of Maine, he was studying for his master's in Vermont when he got a job selling antiques in a secondhand shop. The dealer, also a clock repairman, closed the antique shop but kept fixing clocks.

Rohman spent two years apprenticing.

"I'm a tinkerer," said Rohman, who would leave clocks to work on cars. He even earned a two-year mechanic's degree and fix innumerable cars before he went back to clocks, eventually opening his modest shop on Minot Avenue in Auburn. He's been there for five years.

"It's the variety," Rohman said. "It's not like working on cars where it's all pretty much the same stuff. And to hear the history of these clocks from the people who come in. They tell you, 'My great-grandfather brought this over from Germany or whatever. The cases are unique.

"And they're lovely to look at and listen to."

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Trudy Haines's picture

Lewiston is fortunate

Finding a repairman for a valued clock is hard to find. I've been very happy with his work and happy to hear my clock chime after many years. Thanks, Mr. Rohman.


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