By Chris Stone
Eleven-year-old Nile Godfrey was helping a friend take trash to the Pleasanton dump when a man pulled up and began throwing away old clocks.
Fifty-six years later and the owner of about 1,200 clocks, Godfrey on Saturday displayed an array from his collection at the Southwest California Regional convention of the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Ending Saturday, the four-day event hosted by the group’s local chapter showed off a love of clocks and interest in collecting, repairing and preserving clocks, watches and other horological treasures.
About 200 vendors attended the regional convention. The national convention is June 28 – July 1, 2017, in Arlington, Texas.
Godfrey’s first love was working with cars, and at age 12 he built a 1942 DeSoto. He still owns several cars, including a ’37 Chevy, a ’63 Sunbeam Alpine and a ’55 Ford Thunderbird.
However, when he was a Safeway store manager in Albany, near Berkeley, he began repairing clocks for low-income people, charging only for the parts.
After retiring, he opened a 3,600-square-foot shop, Classic Clocks and Antiques, in Livermore, where he also teaches clock repair.
It’s the mechanics of clocks, the movements, that first fascinated Godfrey.
The bond that people have with clocks is special, he said.“If look at all of these (clocks), most of them are over 100 years old,” Godfrey says. “Just think if they could talk, the stories they could tell you, the history that they have seen, the things that they have gone through. It’s kind of a bonding thing.”
When customers come to his store, he says, “They always ask me: Why don’t you try to sell me a clock? I go, ‘I don’t have to.’ They say: ‘What do you mean?’ That clock will reach out and grab you and tell you to take it home. And that’s what happens.”
I don’t have to sell clocks; they sell themselves,” Godfrey says.
His largest clientele: ages 18 to 35.
“They see a clock, and it reminds them of their grandmother, or their parents had a clock just like it. It brings back good memories,” he says.
Godfrey welcomes children into his store, he said, while many clock-shop owners don’t like to have kids in their businesses.
“In 18 years, I never had a child break anything in my shop,” he said. “However, I cannot say the same for adults.”
He likes introducing a new generation to his beloved collection.
“I only have one rule in the shop for the kids: They can touch and play with anything I have as long as I am with them, and they respect that.”
Children are curious. They love to wind clocks, Godfrey said. Kids have never wound clocks before.Godfrey gives each child an assignment when they come into his shop: Look at all of the clocks and tell him which one he or she likes and why. At the same time, he tries to guess what they will say.
A girl dressed in all pink – pink dress, pink socks, pink bracelet – identified the only pick clock he had in his store. “That was the only time I guessed right,” he said.
One boy first came into his shop in his father’s arms at the age of 2 weeks. Now 12 years old, the boy has his own collection of 90 clocks, his own work bench and can take clocks apart and put them back together again, Godfrey says.
“If they don’t get exposed to them, (clocks) will die and go away.”
And it’s not only children who develop a bond with clocks.
“People are tired of replacing batteries in their watches, and they want something they can touch and talk to while they’re winding it,” he said.
In fact, 99 percent of his customers admit to speaking to their clocks as part of the ritual of winding them.Talking to your clock is kind of cool, he said.
It’s not only the bonding aspect, but also the history of U.S. clocks that fascinates Godfrey.
“Investigate the history of clock development makers in the U.S.,” he said. “If a soap opera of that history were made, it would put every other soap opera off the air because there’s the good, the bad, and the ugly and the really ugly. It’s fantastic.”
His least expensive items are clock faces at $20, but he recalls selling a large whole clock for $40,000.
Ship clocks are very popular these days.
His favorite clock?
“The problem, as my wife will tell you, is I love them all,” he says.
His latest acquisition — bought two days ago — is from a bakery. It’s from the late 1800s or early 1900s that tells time, but also has a timer to tell bakers when to take their breads and cookies out of the oven.
But he shares his problem. While he has 3,600 square feet of storage, he needs 2,000-3,000 more.
“My wife has this stupid rule,” he says laughing. “If I bring one home, one has to leave. If it’s a big clock, two or three have to leave.
“I try and sneak some in, but she catches me, though,” he says with a smile.
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