Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Bit of History Living Again -- Cuckoo

Earlier this year I became obsessed with getting a cuckoo clock.

It was a combination of things, actually.

When I refinished my kitchen, there was a section in the wall that had previously been behind the refrigerator that just would not do what I needed. It was rough, and there was no amount of paint or anything short of tearing it down and starting over that would fix it. I did not want to be redoing sheet rock, so drew the line there. Something long on the wall, such as a cuckoo clock and weights, would camouflage it.

That wasn't what made me think of the clocks, however. Having two little girls in that magical age when a cuckoo clock would have a special appeal did it. I remember visiting the neighbors who ran the local country store when I was a child on some rare errand. Perhaps someone was sick at their house and I was toted along. I still remember the cuckoo clock hanging high above me and the magic of the little bird appearing. It would be cool to have a cuckoo clock, especially since today's children hardly know what a clock that isn't digital looks like.

Finally, for crying out loud, my last name is German. My mother-in-law immigrated from Germany about 1960 and has the most beautiful accent. Although he doesn't recall the language now, my husband grew up speaking German before he started school and dismissed it as something that made him too different.

I wanted a cuckoo clock.

Naturally, my source for cuckoo clocks had to be Ebay. Back to my old adage that you can find anything on Ebay with patience and the right search criteria.

I did not realize what a daunting number of clocks came under the heading of cuckoo clocks on Ebay. I quickly narrowed down my search to vintage and German. Still, there were a lot of clocks to wade through. There was no way to eliminate "As Is" or "For Parts," unless the seller had categorized it as such. Finally I built a watch list and started bidding, only to be repeatedly outbid at the last minute.

Yes, I wanted a cuckoo clock but I didn't want to pay an arm and a leg for it. I was shooting for the $50 range, and it appeared everyone else was shooting higher. Factoring in shipping, which was high for some of the items, I would enter my maximum bid and try to leave it alone. Often I was high bidder up until the final minutes and then would get a message telling me I had been outbid. It became a frustrating process but I stuck with it.

Finally I won my clock. Shipping was outrageous, but I had only bid about $25 for it. It was small, marked Germany -- not West Germany, which seemed to indicate a pre-1940s manufacture, and supposed to be in working order. It very well packaged, and I happily hung it in the assigned spot in my kitchen, following the original hanging and adjusting instructions, which were included in the package.

A problem quickly became apparent. First of all, the cuckoo popped out and refused to return to his home, and when the weight that regulates the cuckoo was attached, it dropped immediately to the floor. The chain had come loose from the gears inside. I emailed the seller, who said it was simple to reattach, somewhat like threading a bicycle chain. I carefully removed the back of the clock and found it wasn't quite as easy as he'd made me believe. Between missing the gear and getting the small chain on the wrong gear, I finally managed what seemed to be a reattachment.

My efforts, however, were not a complete success. While I was able to get the cuckoo to make his happy sound, he was not synchronized and tended to sing until the weight hit the floor instead of just marking the hour and half hour. I took the weight off on that side and let the clock hang, frustrated at not achieving my goal. The girls were also disappointed as they had been eagerly awaiting the cuckoo for some time. But I didn't know what to do and clock repairmen are few and far between. Another message to the seller and I had partial refund on the cost, since a return would have left me in the hole in shipping.

I did like the clock though. After a bit of tweaking on the pendulum, it kept near perfect time. It just wouldn't cuckoo.

Then one day I noticed someone on Facebook (do you think perhaps I spend too much time on Facebook?) selling a cuckoo clock that had recently been refurbished. I sent her an inquiry about who had repaired her clock. A family member, she said by way of reply. It was his hobby and he'd be glad to work on mine.

In fact he was. I met her in a parking lot with the bundled clock and sent it away. A couple of weeks later we met again in the same lot for a reverse exchange and the repairs cost only slightly more than the refund from the original seller.

Now the clock works perfectly, although it has taken some training on my part to get it there and keep it running right. If you think setting the clock on your microwave after a power outage is a challenge, you've never tackled a cuckoo clock. The timing is controlled by the pendulum. Slide the little maple leaf up and it runs faster; down and it runs slower. For more than a week I was monitoring its chirps and running to slide the leaf one way or the other. Finally, it appears to be off by a minute, but not gaining time so all I need to do is reset it.

Then there is the winding. I wasn't able to get an 8-day clock. Instead this one runs about 30 hours. You pull down the chain and raise the weight to wind it, which is simple and ingenious -- unless you forget, or in the case of my clock, pull it too high. If it is pulled to the top, for some reason the clock stops. You can correct it if you remove the pendulum, let it run really fast a while until the weight drops, and then reset it. If you don't realize it, however, just resetting the clock may not be enough.

We ran into that problem this week and found that the cuckoo didn't recognize the corrected time. No, he thought it was two hours later. Now I've even figured out how to correct that by multiple resets.

No, I didn't get the cuckoo clock of my dreams. I'm sure the one of my childhood memories was larger and grander with a deeper cuckoo, although that could be memory talking. I still browse Ebay occasionally, and may stumble upon the one I see in my mind -- especially since I can consider one in need of repair, not just the picture perfect $500 one that is pictured at the beginning of this blog.

Either way, I've recaptured a bit of the magic for two little girls, so not only was it a learning experience, but far from a failure. E2 will still interrupt what she's doing to tell me the cuckoo is singing. And there is still a race for the clock in an effort to catch him in the act.

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