Engineer works to restore 1930s clock for SC college

The (Spartanburg) Herald-JournalJuly 5, 2013 

— Peter Knapp doesn’t have a lot of time.

But clocks? He has plenty of those.

Knapp, a Swiss-born engineer who has worked on Spartanburg’s clocks for 30 years, has a special project – restoring a piece of history that once kept Spartanburg High running.

The so-called “master” or “supervisory” clock will be restored to its place in the school once it opens later this year as the new downtown campus for Spartanburg Community College.

SCC officials purchased the clock earlier this month and briefly displayed it in the college board room.

Now, the clock is in Knapp’s workshop south of Spartanburg, surrounded by dozens of other timepieces in various states of repair.

The clock, standing about five-feet tall and weighing over 120 lbs, was made by IBM in 1938, Knapp said. At one point, it would have been connected by wires to nine smaller, “secondary” clocks.

“This clock tells all the other clocks what time it is,” Knapp said, adding that similar clocks could be found in mills and factories.

The clock, which appears to be in good shape, is the first of its kind Knapp has worked on after nearly three decades of fixing clocks.

“They’re not very common,” he said. “There just aren’t a lot around anymore. Every clock is different. But this is something new to me.”

“I love this clock,” he added.

The clock itself is younger than the 1920s-built Evans Building, formerly known as Frank Evans High School, Evans Jr. High School and the original home to Spartanburg High School, but it would have sat in the school principal’s office and dictated school bells through a mechanism attached to the clock.

“These nine disks have little starts and stops,” Knapp said. “It triggers a switch or a school bell.”

Knapp will soon begin the process of cleaning and refurbishing the clock, cleaning up past, haphazard repairs that left glue visible on the clock’s glass door.

He’s not yet sure if the clock will run – Knapp said the wiring is old and needs to be tested before he can plug it into a power source. But he’s confident it will run again.

Knapp, who moved to Spartanburg in 1977 to work as an engineer in the textile business, said clock repair began as a hobby he inherited from his father.

“I’m mechanically inclined,” he said.

In his home, his work has expanded out from his workshop and spilled into at least three other rooms.

At any given time, Knapp said, he’s working on 10 to 15 clocks.

Sam Hook, executive director of the SCC Foundation, presented the clock to the Spartanburg County Commission for Technical and Community Education at its meeting June 17.

Commissioners, noting that the clock would have been in the principal’s office, joked about it looking familiar.

At the time, Hook said officials paid $100 to Dr. Thomas White for the clock and heralded its return to the school.

“It will return to its original home,” Hook said. “We’re very proud of it. Proud that we finally found it.”

Knapp said the school got a good deal, too.

If the clock was in pristine condition, Knapp said, it would be worth between $2,000 and $5,000.

SCC President Henry Giles said the school was searching for any of the secondary clocks that would have matched the master clock.

Officials are also interested in other historical items from the old high school.

“We’re looking for any items representing the history of that building,” Giles said.

SCC is hoping to display some of those items alongside photographs in the new campus when it opens later this year.

Another larger restoration project involving an Evans clock is also under way.

Griffin Gear in Roebuck has been working on repairs to the large clock located on the outside of the Evans Building.

SCC said the company has kept them abreast of the repairs and the clock appears to be keeping perfect time. SC-based Shenandoah Restorations is restoring the clock face and hands.

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