Telling time again

ALPENA – For decades, First Congregational United Church of Christ was known for having a clock tower that didn’t work. But these days time is ticking along just fine, thanks to a Presque Isle handyman.

Repair of the clock was discussed this summer, and had been a bit of an embarrassment to some in the congregation.

“When I moved back to be pastor of the church, my next door neighbor said, ‘Oh, the church with the clock that doesn’t work,'” Rev. Paul Lance said.

The clock, completed Aug. 4, 1931, by the Seth Thomas Clock Co., was donated in the early days of the Great Depression by Mr. and Mrs. I. E. Scott. It kept time in the original church at 201 S. Second Avenue, Lance said. Then, in the early 1950s, the building was razed. In its place, industrialist Jesse Besser build a showcase of modern concrete construction in 1953 and reinstalled the clock in the multi-storied tower above the steep copper roofs.

The clock became a landmark. But when time stopped in the 1980s, and times were tough, it became a joke. Over the next three decades, the oak hands weathered away.

Six months ago, 41-year-old Andy Lindahl decided to move from Arizona to Michigan to be closer to his parents, who attended the church. When he heard about the problems with the clock, and that it would cost thousands of dollars to fix, Lindahl got an idea.

With Lance’s permission, Lindahl climbed up some steel rungs into the tower. In the center of the room he found a dusty cast iron frame full of gears powered by a set of 100 pound weights.

When the weights would descend to the floor about a foot away, they would activate an electrical switch that raised them back up, he said.

Shafts with universal joints connected the mechanical device to the hands of two clock faces visible on the tower’s exterior, but the whole contraption looked more like a drawing by famed 1930s cartoonist Rube Goldberg than a precision time piece.

Looks were all Lindahl had to go on. There was no operating manual for the clock, no instructions on how it worked. So Lindahl said he began studying all of the parts. Then he took pieces apart, cleaned them and put them back together. He straightened the drive shafts with a hammer.

“I grew up in a garage,” said Lindahl, who is studing to be certified in automobile repair. “When I first got it to run in August or September, it worked for three days, then quit.”

Over a period of a month he continued to tinker with the clock and got it to run again. But it was now 20 minutes fast a day.

Lindahl wasn’t interested in giving up, though, and after making more adjustments, he got the clock working again.

One of the last tasks was to install some new hands he carved out of oak to match the originals, and attach custom-machined brass counter weights to their tails. But to do it, Lindahl said he had to climb a 40-foot ladder to reach the clock faces.

Lance said the church got one estimate that it would cost $1,250 to fix the clock. But Lindahl did it for free, even paying for the brass counterweights.

“I knew I could fix it,” Lindahl said. “That’s what I do. I look at stuff and I fix it.”

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.