Well, I’m rather behind in my Curator’s Corner writing! It has just been a very busy summer around here. Now that schools are back in session, travelling is slowing down, so I’ll try to catch you up on what’s been going on.
Over the past few months we have greeted visitors from the four corners of the contiguous 48 states, as well as a few foreign countries. We enjoyed telling them about Westclox and the people who made it great, and we enjoyed hearing stories from former employees. The “love stories” are among our favorites. Many people met here, fell in love, married and raised a family – and they’re still happily married more than half a century later! We also had great fun helping children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren learn a little about their ancestors and what they did when they worked here by searching our Tick Talk database. We heard lots of “I never knew that!”, “OMG!”, and “I remember that!” comments. We even had a few sentimental tears (tissues are always ready and waiting) and hugs. All of these things have made volunteering here extremely gratifying. We thank all of our visitors and look forward to many more.
In addition to visitors, we’ve added numerous artifacts to the museum. When I say, “You never know what you might find at the Westclox Museum!”, I’m not kidding. Not only are we collecting more clocks, we are salvaging and archiving small parts of the old building. As build-outs continue for new businesses within the factory shell, workers are bringing unique items to us. We have an early 20th Century automobile horn that was once used as to signal such things as lunch time. An automobile horn, which is operated on D/C current, was a perfect fit for Westclox, since the company generated its own D/C current to power the entire factory. (In 1948, the gradually changed over to operating on A/C current – which they still generated from their own power plant. Other signal devices on display include an elevator call signal, an alarm connected to the sprinkler system and the large brass steam whistle that once resided on top of the power plant and was blown daily at starting, lunch and quitting time. Old-timers enjoy recalling that it could be heard “all over Peru and LaSalle” and “You could set your watch by that whistle.” We are very grateful to the person who bought it at the auction after the factory closed, preserved it and placed it on loan to the museum. Other building artifacts that you will find are old heating system thermostats, electrical switches and fuses, sprinkler heads and even a corroded horseshoe. (Yes, horses were used before and for a time after automobiles for construction and hauling, so it’s not unlikely that a lost shoe was found buried under the floor.) Did I mention the sink? We might not have everything including the kitchen sink, but we do have an old soapstone sink that was salvaged from the former laboratory in the factory.
Along with the building artifacts we’ve added numerous clocks, watches and other items of interest – some that you might not associate with Westclox – like an electric trolling motor. What, you might say does that have to do with Westclox. Well, this one was sold here in the company store and is still in mint condition, since the package had never been opened. The connection is that it was made by Eska, a division of Talley Industries. You may recall that Westclox became a division of Talley Industries in 1968, when Talley acquired General Time, the holding company created by Westclox in 1930. Westclox employees were able to purchase this and other Eska boat motors at a substantial employee discount. We also have some other items from Talley Divisions which were sold here to employees.
Now for the most unique clock we’ve added. If you are a regular reader of Curator’s Corner, you may recall my second article, back on July 23, 2015. (In case you missed it, it’s archived here. Yu can access it by clicking on the link on the right side of the Curator’s Corner page.) In that article I told of Westclox’s quest back in the 1920s to find examples of pre-1900 clocks made here. I then challenged readers to go on an expedition in their attics, basements, etc. to see what they could find that might help to build our collection in the museum. Literally hundreds of clocks have come in since then, and we are very grateful to everyone who brought them. The search is never-ending – we are always accepting new finds, so don’t give up. On August 18, 2017, we had the honor of welcoming home a real “old-timer” – Champion Alarm, who was born here in Peru, Illinois before 1900. Since he doesn’t have a birth certificate (Western Clock Co. a.k.a. Westclox didn’t put dates on their movements before 1900.), we had to examine him very carefully to try to determine his age. The experts finally agreed he was born “around 1895”. That makes him more than 120 years old! He’s in remarkably good condition for his age. He has a nice patina on his ornate cast case, and everything about him is original (more than most of us can say) except for a hand-cut replacement lens over his face (We all need vision correction at one time or another.). The best part is he still runs, but we’ve decided to let him live out his retirement without having to wake us up and keep us on time every day. He’ll be happy just to sit quietly and look handsome for his many visitors. It’s good to be back home with so many of his family members.
There has also been a lot of positive activity elsewhere in the old factory building, as restoration and build-outs for new businesses continue. If you’ve been able to drive past the building, you’ve probably seen windows being replaced on the front, along with other façade work. Watch for more exciting developments.
So, I think I’ve brought you up to date on the goings on here this summer. Now we must look ahead to what is yet to come this year. There will be some surprises coming up. For starters, we’ll be hosting our 3rd Annual Homecoming on Saturday, October 14, 2017 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. This is a public event, and we especially encourage former employees and/or their relatives to attend. We will have a new film to show you this year, “Westclox M423 Fuse Assembly Machine”. This film is color with sound, featuring detailed automatic assembly of the fuse rotor, with narrated explanation. Length is about 15 minutes, and it has never before been shown publicly in the Illinois Valley. Showing will be at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Also later this year some important artifacts will be changing location. Remember the WW I bronze plaque that was brought back to the building two years ago by Oglesby American Legion? Well, it will be returning to its original location on the wall just inside the main factory entrance. Since that entrance will once again be used to access Star Union Spirits Craft Distillery and Tasting Room, we felt that it would give everyone an opportunity to see this important piece of history – even when the museum is not open.
Remember that steam whistle that you could hear “all over town”? It will also be moving, not to its original location, but on top of the building where it can be seen and once again heard on occasions yet-to-be-determined. Details are still being worked out, so watch and listen for the sound of Westclox history.
Finally, our museum hours will change for the winter. The past two winters have shown us that we just don’t get many visitors during the week. Rather than burn out our faithful volunteers by asking them to sit here all day with no visitors, we will be cutting back to Friday and Saturday only, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., effective November 1 until March 1. Of course, we’ll be happy to open on other days by appointment. You can schedule an opening by contacting us through this website.
We wish everyone a happy fall and a safe and warm winter, and we’re looking forward to many new and exciting things in the spring.