By Stephanie Finnegan
There’s a certain mindset that maintains everything comes in its own unique time. Life and its various events happen when they are meant to happen. For collector Fred Bausch, that philosophy is certainly true. As a young man, he certainly had no penchant for acquiring objects, and bore no outward sign of chasing rookie baseball cards, rare coins, or hard-to-find postage stamps.
The son of industrious parents, Fred was raised with a streak of self-reliance and independence, and he brought his hardworking talents to helping his father build a patio cover for family friends, back in the early 1960s. It was during this hands-on time that he encountered his first timepiece: “I did not purchase my first clock. It was a gift from a family friend. It had been ‘residing’ under her husband’s workbench for years, in total neglect,” he recalls. “She brought this old, decrepit mantel clock out from the garage and asked if I wanted it. I had never had any previous connection to, or an interest in, clocks. However, if someone is giving something away, I never say no!” he reflects with good humor.
“I took it home, and the case turned out to be lovely walnut under all the grime. I cleaned it all up and it was beautiful again. I took the movement to my friendly local jeweler and he allowed he could overhaul it for me. Nine months later, it hadn’t been touched, so I took it home, thinking I could possibly make it function again,” Fred relates. Not afraid to get his hands dirty, and ready to draw upon his imagination and intellect, he tinkered and prodded and experimented. “What I did to that poor clock movement is appalling to me today, but I did eventually get it running!”
Luckily for Fred, this experience occurred at the best possible time for a clock neophyte. It was the beginning of the sixties, and clocks were plentiful and reasonably priced at flea markets, tag sales, thrift stores, and other brick-and-mortar outlets. “I began to accumulate a small collection because the bug had bit me,” Bausch reveals, “it had bit me big time!”
As his collection expanded, Bausch returned to the friendly jeweler time and again. He sought out both parts and advice. “One day, he said, ‘Fred, you spend so much time here, why don’t you come to work for us. We’ll teach you proper repair techniques, and you can work for a percentage of the repair charges.’ That princely sum worked out to 25 cents an hour.”
At the time, Bausch was a newspaper distributor and was working from 2:30 to 6:30 every morning, so this proposition sounded like a deal he couldn’t refuse. “I learned a lot, and the money I earned enabled me to set up a repair shop in my home basement. Eventually, I started taking work home from the jeweler, and solicited trade work from other local jewelers, and also from antiques shops. This gave me a tidy extra income, allowed me to work from home, and, of course, invest in more clocks.”
In 1964, Fred Bausch joined the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC) and has been a member ever since. Over the years, he has served as an officer in his local San Carlos, Calif. chapter and has attended meetings and conventions all across the nation.
Closer to home, in 1967, Bausch decided to take the plunge and open up his own storefront clock sales-and-repair business. Realizing that union problems were going to disrupt his news agency business, he learned that one of the antiques stores that he had been doing trade work for was closing. He rented the shuttered store, and “that was the beginning of Clocksmith.”
Once again proving that the course of events happen at their own unique time and schedule, Fred met his future wife and helpmate, Penny, in 1968. Having endured a divorce, Fred’s courtship of Penny was welcome and heartwarming. On her lunch breaks from her job at Safeway, Penny would visit Fred’s store. She soon helped him in the paying of bills and organizing of paperwork. As time marched on, Penny was learning how to do minor repair work. “The stage was set,” Fred simply states.
Married in June 1969, the couple has enjoyed more than 40 years of conjugal bliss: “After 43 years of marriage, living and working together in the same building for 41 of those years, we are still quite compatible. Today, we are a fully family-owned and operated business.”
In addition to repairing and restoring clocks of all shapes and sizes, the pair also happily shares their living space with an array of glorious artifacts. “We have about 135 clocks in our personal collection. With a few exceptions, they are all operational, but we don’t wind them all,” shares Fred. “We have a wonderful 2,500-square-foot home above our business, where we live quite comfortably, and our clocks are part of the décor.”
The clocks that comprise the Bausches’ eclectic collection have personal significance — some were acquired under unusual circumstances; others were presented on a special occasion or were discovered during a shared trip. All of them are appreciated and loved by the duo: “If there is any single type of clock that we have more of than any other, it is early torsion pendulum clocks, from 1915 back to 1881. We have a total of 18! These are commonly called 400-day clocks. They have a rotating pendulum and reside under a glass dome.”
Torsion clocks are usually delicate, ornamental, spring-wound mantel clocks. The polished clock mechanism is exposed under a glass case or dome, which allows people to watch the torsion pendulum turn. Clocks of this style are also known as anniversary clocks, because many of them only have to be wound once a year or slightly more.
“An antique or vintage clock need not be functional in order to be valuable,” the self-described clocksmith notes. “Many clocks have value only because of sentiment. If the owner doesn’t care if it’s functional or not, there’s no reason to spend money to have it repaired!”
Showing exemplary honesty and ethics in their role of businesspeople, Fred and Penny are adamant about keeping their reputation above board. “We repair any clock on which we can guarantee our work and not waste our time or our customers’ money. We do major repairs and total restorations, as well as minor repairs and adjustments. We currently have a 2-1/2-year backlog of repairs for first-time customers, and six-plus months for established customers. All clocks we service or repair are given our full attention, with no shortcuts taken,” Fred explains. “We’ve developed an avid interest in the history of clocks over the years, and we consider ourselves fairly knowledgeable in that regard. Through our website, we get inquiries from the four corners of the world, many with photos and requesting info on clocks that may have been in families for generations. This often requires research on our part and is done at no cost to the e-mail enquirer. We never give out values, only information.”
Doing the research to satisfy these queries is a learning experience that delights and challenges the two Bausches. Fred and Penny continue to discover new facts and new undertakings each and every day. “After all the years we have been in business, we still frequently have clocks brought in for sale or repair that we have never encountered before, or that just plain tickle our fancy. This is what continues to make our business fascinating, interesting, and most of all fun!” Fred remarks.
Thirteen years his wife’s senior, will he be hanging up his repair equipment anytime soon? No need to worry or fret or obsess. When the proper time to retire arrives, Fred Bausch will recognize it right away. After all, all things come at the right time and place.
Contact information: Fred and Penny Bausch, the Clocksmith; 806 El Camino Real, San Carlos, CA; www.theclocksmith.com.