Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Time Passages: Clock collectors reflect on 25 years gone by.

Illustration by Ryan Spahr

Time may be tickin’ away, may not be on your side and might not even be your friend.

But, recently, time was the guest of honor as Chapter 158 of the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors (NAWCC) gathered at Messiah Village in Mechanicsburg to mark 25 years of honoring time and the devices that keep it.

James Kreiser came from Palmyra to mark the occasion. Many years ago, he started collecting and fixing clocks as an inexpensive hobby.

“Clocks are amazing little machines,” he said.

This group of dealers, collectors and repair people began in 1993 because there was no local NAWCC chapter. The late Avery Heisey served as its first president and Kenneth Markley as vice president.

Markley became interested in clocks by proxy. His father-in-law was a clock dealer, and Markley and his wife, Sue, inherited many of his timepieces. Since their retirement, they have sold nearly 3,000 clocks.

“I like the way they look, the way they sound,” Sue Markley said of her clock appreciation. “Each one has its own voice.”

Colleen Houtz and husband David (Howdy) Houtz, both chapter board members, started collecting clocks when Colleen’s aunt gave the couple a marble clock. It needed repairing, and they headed to Adamstown to get it fixed. Each weekend after, they returned and bought more.

Like Markley, Houtz enjoys the appearance of clocks, but, over time, her appreciation has deepened.

“Everybody starts with how they look,” she said. “Now, we’re more interested in movements.”

The chapter helped her as she become increasingly educated in the mechanics, she said.

“They are willing to share knowledge, teach us and help us with our collecting,” she said.

One of the people sharing knowledge is 84-year-old Merv Brubaker of Mechanicsburg—aka the “clock doctor”—who’s been repairing clocks since 1981. A physics teacher for 28 years, Brubaker has worked on 15,000 to 20,000 timepieces over the years, he said.

“I like the problem solving—what makes it tick,” he said.

He also has the distinction of “fixing” the Foucault (FOOkoh) Pendulum at Messiah Village.

In the early 1990s, the chapter helped purchase and construct this complex feat of engineering. The pendulum, which proves the Earth’s rotation, consists of a 55-foot cable suspending a 300-pound brass ball. It was stopping and not staying on course. After much investigating and a few overnight stays at the village, Brubaker discovered that a large fan used by a night maintenance person was interfering with its operation.

This type of expertise is indicative of many of the people who join NAWCC.

“Pretty much anyone who is an expert in time is a member of our organization,” said Thomas R. Wilcox, the group’s executive director and CEO.

Wilcox explained that timekeeping began with the stars and gave way to timepieces because of humankind’s desire to be more accurate and to give our lives regulation and organization.

Headquartered at the National Clock Museum in Columbia, the NAWCC boasts 13,000 members and 150 chapters. The museum serves as a center of horological (the study of timekeeping devices) research, education and collection. Wilcox announced that the NAWCC is receiving technology from Seiko that will allow for virtual reality clock and watch designing, noting that old and new technologies working together is the future of the industry.

This synchronicity is what Josh Romig enjoys about his work as a watch and clock repairman.

“Everything has to work together,” he said.

Romig, of Beaver Springs, began his business after a fall at his previous employment left him wheelchair-bound. He saw a need in the area and trained for the trade in York.

Not everyone in the chapter fixes timepieces.

Varlen Gibbs describes himself as “non-mechanical” but completely appreciates the intricacies of clocks.

“When I look into a clock and see the inner workings, it’s amazing, especially when you think they made some of these 200 years ago,” he said

Not all collectors prefer clocks or watches made centuries ago, before mechanization. Some enjoy more modern pieces. On display that evening were World War II-era watches, a novelty Kit-Cat clock, a 1911 Big Ben alarm clock and a 1980s Swatch Watch wall clock.

Whether collecting, dealing in or repairing timepieces, chapter members find great satisfaction in clock art, design and history. You could say that they’re out to enjoy the clock, not beat it.

To learn more about the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors, visit

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