Elmer Westerman is an industrial engineer by trade but a horologist by hobby.
He may have a lot of time on his hands, but that doesn’t mean he sits around a lot. He keeps busy working with clocks of all sizes and even creating his own.
The workshop in the basement of his home in Hillsboro is filled with binfuls of all sorts of clock parts and tools plus equipment used to work on clocks.
He is an avid collector and repairs and restores clocks.
“I collect, but I also like to create one-of-a-kind things that are functional,” he said.
One of his latest creations is a bookend clock. It was made by cutting a mantel clock in half, finding someone who could cut a glass clock cover in half, and embedding clock works in two books, one for each end. Each end has its own movement, and both halves are synchronized to keep the second hands and hour hands in perfect time as they move around, no matter how many books are placed between them.
Westerman received a first-place award for this masterpiece in a contest sponsored by Clock Kit, a clock parts company in Wisconsin.. He published a detailed description of its creation in the April 2012 edition of Horological Times magazine.
Another award-winning piece is a two-sided clock inside a light bulb.
“Some people put boats in bottles, so I decided to put a clock in a bottle,” he said.
He started drawing up plans in 1955 and finished the project after moving to Hillsboro 16 years ago.
The 1,000-watt bulb came from an old opera house in Chicago. It is 6.5 inches in diameter and 12 inches tall with a one-inch opening at the bottom.
Westerman was able to insert all of the clock components through the opening. A central column of brass tubing that is soldered to the base of the bulb supports the clock works.
Westerman made some special tools to mechanically connect the clock components inside the bulb. To get the clock rims and faces into the bulb, he found gold-looking plastic rims and paper that could be rolled up and would spring back into shape for the faces.
“It took a lot of trial and error,” he said.
The clock is screwed into an attractive base that was cut out of a 4-inch by 12-inch block of acrylic.
Westerman also built a clock in the shape of a lighthouse made from stained glass. A light flashes in the top and the dome rotates to show the time.
He said the clock that got him interested in horology was a car clock his uncle gave him in 1959 from an early 1900s Oldsmobile. It had been mounted on a wooden dashboard.
He could not find anyone who would attempt to repair it. He had to figure it out himself, and that was the beginning of a fascinating hobby.
“I went to the library and checked out a book,” he said. “The clock is running today.”
He has a pocket watch collection as well as a collection of keys that were used for winding watches.
“I like to restore clocks more than fix them,” he said.
He totally disassembles and cleans them. Sometimes, he has to make new clock faces or parts.
His most memorable experience was a meeting he had with an elderly clockmaker who repaired a pocket watch for his father when he was young. The man was in a care home. People there said he wouldn’t talk to anyone. When Westerman approached him and started to talk about watches, he came alive, and they ended up having a half-hour talk.
“I’m the beneficiary of his legacy,” he said.
A neighbor girl has dubbed him “the clock doc,” even going so far as to buy him a white coat and stethoscope. They hang in his workshop.
“I haven’t lacked for unique things to do,” the 82-year-old man said. “I enjoy challenges.”