Tick-tock tick-tock. This sound bounces off the walls inside of the historic Gingerbread House in Opelika. Two rooms on both sides of the foyer hold grandfather clocks, anniversary clocks, cuckoo clocks and mantel clocks, just to name a few. The Old Timers & Chimers Clock Shop and Museum, LLC is housed by the Gingerbread House. Owned by John and Margaret Hendricks of Auburn, Alabama, the museum boasts hundreds of antique clocks.
No Longer Just a Clock Shop
John’s clock shop in Auburn had been open for about two years in 1997. One day, a woman came into his shop that changed his perspective on his business. John showed the woman around a room in the shop. He was trying to create new customers and teach people about clocks. The woman told him, “‘You know, all of these clocks and the way you have them arranged reminds me of a museum,’” John recounted.
“It just hit me at that moment, ‘you know what? That’s a great idea. That’s what I ought to do…is create a museum atmosphere and teach clock making in a museum environment.”
But that was then, this is now. The grand opening of the Gingerbread House as Old Timers & Chimers Clock Shop and Museum, LLC took place in June 2008. John welcomes daily customers and visitors and specializes in repairing American, German, French and English clocks.
The name, “Old Timers & Chimers Clock Shop and Museum,” couldn’t be more fitting. Margaret recalled naming the shop and museum. “Basically, we were trying to come up with a name that reflected the fact that it was antique clocks,” said Margaret.
“I liked the idea of the ‘Old Timers Clock Shop,’ and he wanted the part of ‘Old Timers & Chimers,’” said Margaret. “He always wanted part of it to be a museum, even when he just had a shop.”
The clocks in the museum each tell a story of their own. However, people with taste pick and choose favorites. Two of John’s favorite clocks are upstairs in the museum.
The first clock is a Henry Terry clock. Henry Terry was the son of Eli Terry, known by many as the “father of the clock industry in the United States.” The clock, crafted about 1830, is John’s favorite because of its history. “It was made by the son of the father of the clock industry in the United States, and to even have the opportunity to buy that clock and to have it here is really very special.”
The second clock is the IBM master clock. The clock was made about 1900. It winds itself, with the help of some modern technology, Duracell batteries. This process takes place once each hour.
The Seth Thomas clock, which looks similar to the Henry Terry clock, dates back to between 1810 and 1840. Thomas apprenticed with Eli Terry. Thomas went on to become internationally famous for the clocks he created. This American clock uses the same wooden movement invented by Eli Terry.
An English Wall Dial, made about 1860 in England, occupies a large space on a table. It doesn’t strike or chime.
Perhaps the most interesting clock was one that John only likes visitors to see at the museum. While he won’t allow pictures, he does allow a glimpse into its character.
“This is one of a kind. There’s not another clock in the world like this,” said John. “It’s called the ‘Music Conductor.’ This is pure Americana. This clock was made…in the hills of Nashville, up in the Appalachians, by a lil ol’ clock maker. It’s all homemade, handmade. He designed it, he painted it, he did it all himself.”
Repairing Clocks at Old Timers & Chimers
Clock repairing classes have been offered at the shop and museum before, but they are no longer offered. Many people are not willing to sacrifice distractions to learn the art of clock repairmen.
“They think they have the aptitude, and then they come in and try to do this or try to learn, and they don’t have the patience to do it,” said John.
“It takes a tremendous amount of patience to repair a clock. You have to know what you’re doing, and know that you know. That’s an important phrase, ‘To know that you know.’ It takes a lot of time…and today’s public and society is a computer society. Everything is instant gratification,” said John.
John added, “You can’t be distracted by TVs and cell phones and everything else, internet, you name it, and try to work on a clock. It’s impossible.”
The Man behind the Shop
John repaired his first clock when he was 14 years old. A William L. Gilbert shelf clock, which now sits in his family room at his residence. However, his interest in clocks didn’t peak until much later.
“My really deeply involved interest didn’t get started until the late ‘80s, early ‘90s,” John said. “I bought some books on clocks because I was looking to retire from the business I was in. I had been in financial planning and insurance for almost 30 years. During that time, I still had this interest in clocks, and I would read about them from time-to-time. I was still fascinated with them.”
Toni Ambrose, a regular customer at Old Timers & Chimers Clock Shop and Museum, inherited five clocks from her father. She has taken all of them over the course of two years to be fixed by John. Her husband, Eddie Ambrose, shares her affinity for clocks. Together, the couple owns 12 clocks.
The first time Toni went to the Old Timers & Chimers Clock Shop and Museum was to have a clock repaired. “He has a deep knowledge of all kinds of clocks,” said Toni. “He knows the history. It’s fun to listen to the different stories of how he got this clock or that clock.”
Toni is fond of the clocks from the 1800s. The grandmother clock that sits in her hallway is from Old Timers & Chimers Clock Shop and Museum. “If you tell him the kind of clock you like, he’s going to help you pick out a very good one,” said Toni.
Toni, a customer for three years, said, “Just to go in there to enjoy, and look and talk to John, I’ll go any time. He’s a caring person, and we consider him a good friend.”
Mac Nelson, a neighbor since 1974, crafted woodwork in Old Timers. Mac said, “He has to be very meticulous and kind of picky. So he’s very demanding, I think, of himself and those that work for him, from time-to-time. With clocks, there’s really not much room for error. It takes someone with lots of patience and lots of dedication to get it right.”
Like Toni, Mac sees John’s passion for clocks. “He’s not just interested in making the clock work,” said Nelson. “He loves the history of each clock, and he can tell you when it was made and where and what type of movement it has, and the history of that movement.”
Old Timers and Chimers Clock Shop and Museum, LLC is located at 405 S. Ninth St., Opelika, Alabama 36801. The store hours are Tuesday-Thursday 10:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Friday 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. and Saturday by appointment. During the Christmas holidays, the hours are extended on Friday to 5:30 p.m., and on Saturday the hours are 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. The store can be contacted at 334-745-0129. Museum admission is $6 per person. For groups of 10 people or more, it is $5 per person. For groups of senior citizens, tours must be scheduled at least three days prior to tour.
This feature story was originally published in Chattahoochee Heritage on April 3, 2015. The story was written as the main feature story for the final project assignment in my JRNL3320 Magazine and Feature Writing course at Auburn University in fall 2014.