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Time on his hands: Bemidji area clock repairman’s second career becomes a real passion

Tom Turney points out a 1700s clock that he is fixing in his basement shop. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

If the symphony of clock chimes on the hour is your delight, be sure to make an appointment to enter the mystical, magical world of Thomas (Tom) J. Turney’s clock repair shop.

After he retired as a state trooper in his early 50s, Turney and his wife, Alma, moved to California where he apprenticed in the trade of clock building and repair. It was actually Turney’s interest in woodworking that led to his new career path.

In 1971, the Turneys opened their first store, “The Old German Clock Shop” on Winnetka Avenue in Golden Valley, Minn., patterned after the shops they saw in Europe, especially in the Schwarzwald or Black Forest region of southeastern Germany.

They still import the clock movements, dials and hardware from a German company Urgus.

That little shop was so profitable that they later opened a 4,000-square-foot space in a Twin Cities shopping center, which they sold in 1988 but retained their collection of mantle clocks.

Turney has designed and built more than 40 prototype clock patterns and is proud of his work with the Industrial Arts Department of Wayzata High School in Minnesota and Elmhurst

High School in Illinois.

“The students in both schools built the casings for the grandfather and grandmother clocks and I supplied the works,” Turney said. “Their parents paid for the works and were proud that their children built a clock that would last for generations.”

Turney is a clock repair expert, and this 90-year-old is now mentoring his apprentice in the art.

Stacey Sharp, a newly promoted to district lieutenant game warden for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, puts in as much time as he can in the repair shop in the basement of Turney’s home.

“I was interested in clocks as a youngster and watched my grandfather tinker with clocks,” Sharp said. “I met Tom through an ad because we had a clock that needed repair work. I asked him if there was any school you could go to learn the craft and he said, ‘no.’”

But Turney agreed to take Sharp, 53, also a long-time woodworker, “under his wing” and they started to work together last February.

There are many different kinds of clocks: 30-day, eight-day and 24-hour movements of cuckoo clocks first constructed by Anton Ketterer in the Black Forest, Germany. Sharp has progressed quickly under Turney’s tutelage and is looking forward to starting on grandfather clocks.

He has learned how to repair and polish the steel pinions, brass gears and diagnose why the piece has stopped working after a number of years. They use the German Clock Manufacturers standards in their repairs.

Sharp hopes to continue to fix and construct clocks after he retires from the DNR.

Turney’s shop is an authorized service station for Howard Miller Clock Co., Ridgeway Clock Co. and Sligh Clocks. He said Ken K. Thompson Jewelry in Bemidji has referred countless clock owners to his shop. Along with other interests, such as his newly started Turney Video Productions, he maintains membership in the National Watch and Clock Collectors Association, American Watchmakers and Clockmakers Association and the 400 Day Clock Association.

After the complete disassembling and then reassembling of each clock, Turney gives it an “end shake” just to make sure that everything is put back together properly.

The customer is not called to pick up their piece until after the two-week, in-shop testing. One can safely say that Turney has time on his hands.