By JESSIE HORTON
Eastland may have the horny toad, but Stephenville has a gecko!
The gecko in the photos above has had a pretty great view of downtown Stephenville for the past three years or so, but not anymore. Monday morning residents of Stephenville were able to hear the bell chimes in the Erath County Courthouse clock tower for the first time in three years.
“We installed the electronic chimes and the clocks in 1985 with the help of a company out of Massachusetts called Electric Time,” said John Wooley, Erath County Maintenance Director, who has been a major factor in getting the clock and chimes back in working order. “They’ve been in business working on clock towers across the country for over 100 years. They sent a repairman from Corsicana to help us repair the faces and install the new insides to make them all come together.”
Wooley said he and the repairman worked all last week to repair the clocks and the chimes. Most of the inner-workings of the clocks had to be completely replaced due to aging and the gecko.
“We had maintained the old clocks and chimes almost to death, and then three winters ago something shorted the wiring out and the maintenance department was unable to get them working again,” Wooley said. “When we got up there and started looking, we found this little gecko had climbed up in between two circuit boards (probably to get warm) and shorted out all the electronics in the clocks.”
In a previous commissioners’ court meeting, Wooley reported the replacement parts, the repairman and anything else needed to get the clocks back in working order would cost the county an estimated $9,000. He told commissioners his department had known the time would come when the clocks needed work and they had the money in their budget to cover the cost.
While Wooley and the repairman did lots of work to fix gears, chimes and inner-workings on the courthouse clock tower, they did not change the faces of the clock tower’s four sides. Several have noticed over the years (and if you haven’t, look up!) that the numbers are out of order on one of the clock faces. Wooley said that was the way the faces were when they were shipped to Erath County in 1985, and were installed any way.
“When the guy who was here from Electric Time was here to help me with the clocks, he said that he couldn’t believe they were installed despite the mistake,” Wooley said. “He took pics and sent it to people with his company. It’s an unusual thing, but we like it. It makes us unique.”
Wooley said another great thing about the repaired and replaced clock gears and chimes is that they’re basically maintenance free. Working like a wristwatch, the clocks now keep time with pulsing gears that are synced with GPS coordinates that keep the time right continually. Due to the change, all the boards (like the ones that shorted out) are now encased and no brass gears are exposed, limiting what can be damaged in the clocks.
Now, residents around the courthouse, on the hour or half hour, get to hear some of the 600 randomly selected chimes, tones and bells. And at 8 a.m., noon and 5 p.m., the clock will play randomly selected short tunes including hymnals, non-hymnal traditional tunes and seasonal music.
As for the gecko, he has been removed from the clock tower, but he’s still got a pretty good view from a new spot in the courthouse, while the rest of us get to enjoy the new chimes.