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All in time

Novi man collects, restores grandfather clocks

Created date

February 26th, 2013

If you need to know the time, ask Harry Burt. Chances are high that you ll find him standing in front of a clock. Harry s long-time hobby is collecting and restoring grandfather clocks. Back in the 1960s, Harry and his wife Jo started collecting antique clocks. Harry discovered grandfather clocks from Rhode Island built by Walter H. Durfee, who reintroduced the grandfather clock to the American people in 1882 after the industry had gone dormant around 1820.

Rolls Royce of grandfather clocks

Harry, who spent his career working for an automotive parts supplier to the Big Three automakers in Detroit, was quickly impressed by the stately Durfee clocks, which he calls the Rolls Royce of the American grandfather clock. He developed a keen interest in restoring the massive timepieces to their original beauty. Harry procures Durfee grandfather clocks from antiques dealers and auction houses. Each time he gets a new clock, he then sets about the lengthy and detailed process of restoring it. He says it can take up to four months to complete a single clock. You have to remove all of the grime and dirt that has accumulated over the last 125 years, Harry says. Everything has to be cleaned and put back into working condition. Over the years, Harry says he has brought about 20 grandfather clocks back to life. He has given beautifully restored grandfather clocks to family members as gifts and has sold some others. Of course, he s held on to one favorite clock from 1735 to grace his and Jo s home. It is in perfect running condition, and it keeps perfect time, Harry says of his prized grandfather clock.

Hobby shop without the home maintenance

Harry and Jo previously lived in Rochester, Mich., where Harry had a dedicated woodshop space to work on his grandfather clock restoration projects. In August 2011, the couple decided to move toFox Run, an Erickson Living community in Novi, Mich. The Burts move to Fox Run didn t end Harry s hobby. The community has a fully-equipped woodworking and hobby shop where residents can work on projects individually or with friends and neighbors. The shop is stocked with saws and other tools, and has plenty of space for people to spread out. Recently, Harry set up shop in Fox Run s woodworking space to restore a 129-year-old Durfee mahogany grandfather clock that is one of just two such clocks that remain in existence. Harry purchased the grandfather clock this past September from its previous owner in California. He learned about the grandfather clock from his membership in the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors.

Clock enthusiast shares his craft

Harry worked on that clock for a few months during the fall. He completed it in November just in time for it to be displayed in Fox Run s handsome clubhouse for the holiday season. After displaying it for a while at Fox Run, Harry and Jo gave the grandfather clock to their grandson as a gift. The presence of the stately grandfather clock in Fox Run s clubhouse piqued the curiosity of some other residents, who wanted to learn more about the restoration process. Harry was happy to indulge their curiosity. I held a training class for hobby shop members to show them the steps I take [to restore a grandfather clock] and to give them an opportunity to see how it works, Harry says. About 15 to 18 men were there. We will continue to meet, and I will do all the restoration work myself; but they will be able see the steps that are necessary and see how it develops as it s restored.

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