Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

When Springing Ahead Looks like Going Back in Time

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

When Springing Ahead Looks like Going Back in Time

Article excerpt

The times they are a-changin.' And doesn't Ivan Lengyel know it.

It's Friday -- roughly 2:21 p.m., but by whose watch? -- with the daylight saving changeover 36 hours in the future. And Lengyel, one of the area's last bona fide tower clock specialists, is busy adjusting one of the area's last public clocks that needs to be reset by hand.

"BONG!" sounds the chime of the great tower clock at Johnson Free Public Library in Hackensack. It's somewhat off its normal schedule, and no wonder. In a tiny room on the other side of the huge clock face -- reached by an elevator and an improbably steep staircase -- Lengyel is at the mechanism. "One of the hammers is busted," he said. "We'll have to come back to that."

Now he's adjusting the time, twisting the drive shaft from the main mechanism so that it matches up with the little numbers on a reference timing gear. Outside, the hands on the clock face are turning, too. He checks his watch. Correct? "It had better be," he said.

In fact, the time will be one hour off for the next day and a half -- until daylight saving time returns at 2 a.m. Sunday.

Nor is this unusual. Other towns, faced with the problem of a weekend clock-adjustment by Monday-through-Friday employees, have equally creative schemes. Paterson will be changing the big City Hall clock on Monday. Ridgewood, too, will be resetting its big clock on Ridgewood Avenue, near Van Neste Square, after the fact. "If we do it on Friday, then it's wrong for two days," said Jim O'Connell, supervisor of the village's parking traffic and signaling division. "If we do it Monday, it's only wrong for a day."

The Johnson Library clock, 36 inaccurate hours and all, is a beauty: raised iron Roman numerals, set in a crenellated stone tower topped by a weathered copper-green cupola. But the interior mechanism, seldom seen by outsiders, is gorgeous, too: gears, ratchets, chains, shafts, set in a chassis about the size of a cooking stove. "E. Howard & Company, Boston, Mass.," reads the plate. "It's cast iron, very brittle," Lengyel said. "You have to be careful with this stuff."

Public clocks like this were once a source of civic pride. Banks, jewelry stores and railroad stations erected them to dramatize their own reliability. …

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