Clock docs: Whimsical workshop keeps downtown Gilroy eclectic

Larry DeMoss puts a 1950s Herschede clock back together after

For the aging duo of leathery characters tinkering away inside
Clocks
&
amp; Collectibles in downtown Gilroy, hearing is relative. Owner
Larry DeMoss and his sole employee Randy Swartz are so immune to
clock chimes, they’ll set alarms throughout the work day reminding
them to stop, listen and make sure whatever it is they’re fixing is
on key.

As a general rule, we don’t hear it unless something is
broken,

said DeMoss. The eloquent veteran with a deep, guttural voice
started his business 15 years ago at 7573 Monterey St.
For the aging duo of leathery characters tinkering away inside Clocks & Collectibles in downtown Gilroy, hearing is relative.

Owner Larry DeMoss and his sole employee Randy Swartz are so immune to clock chimes, they’ll set alarms throughout the work day reminding them to stop, listen and make sure whatever it is they’re fixing is on key.

“As a general rule, we don’t hear it unless something is broken,” said DeMoss, a cowboy boot-clad expert who’s collected novelty timepieces since he was 18.

Now 72, DeMoss is the area’s unassuming omniscient clock wizard. He sports a handlebar mustache and partiality to nacho cheese Doritos chips, enough to where a pyramid of empty cans several feet high in the back of his store can prove it.

The eloquent veteran with a deep, guttural voice started his business 15 years ago at 7573 Monterey St. He possesses the poetic perspective only someone who spends painstaking hours dissecting and reassembling mechanisms, some older than the industrial revolution, could.

“Clocks have their own personality,” he said, gazing down at a glass case filled with polished antique pocket watches.

His treasures are listed from $10 to $1,500 and up; but he points out value is according to a person’s perception.

“Every clock is different. Just like people – except they don’t talk back to you,” said DeMoss, who has a likable habit of personifying timepieces. “They do tell you when they’re not happy, though.”

His counterpart Swartz periodically chuckled from a beat-up desk as he listened to the conversation.

You can have three clocks, Swartz said: Same model, same manufacturer, and they’ll each be different.

Like the grizzled individuals who run it, Clocks & Collectibles has a quirky appeal. It’s a time capsule surviving earthquakes and recession; a business contributing to Gilroy’s entrepreneurial personality – mauve pink exterior and all.

“We’re outta cuckoos right now,” said DeMoss, giving a tour of his merchandise.

“No cuckoos,” echoed Swartz from his work nook scattered with delicate instruments, gears, springs, levers and an ashtray.

From the 1800s carriage clock, to the Princess Cruises digital souvenir wristwatch to an 1890 Swiss-made triple date moon phase watch, each object had its own back story.

Swartz – more DeMoss’ odd couple sidekick than co-worker – said the Westminster Chimes in the key of E major is the worst.

“So many clocks have only that,” interjected Swartz as he paused and peered from behind a pair of bifocals with an additional two lenses protruding from one side.

His tone had the knowing twinge of someone who’s been subjected to the same song one-too-many times.

“We hear it so much that we don’t hear it. It doesn’t register in our audio track.”

Swartz, 59, is a wiry fellow with a candid sense of humor.

DeMoss explained his co-worker repaired watches, clocks and instruments during a 20-year career in the navy.

“So when he retired, that was what he knew,” said DeMoss. “That’s what he likes to do, and that’s what he still doing.”

There have been days, Swartz said, where people ask if the two are mad at each other.

“We’ll go a whole day without speaking,” he said, with a casual shrug. “We’ve worked together for 11 years. We’ve learned to deal with each other as if we were family.”

Hanging on a wall in the left hand corner of the store, a cuckoo clock began twittering.

“Did I hear what?” said DeMoss.

Selective listening is one of the traits that comes with the territory of 15 consecutive years laboring in small theater of sound, where a chorus of ticks, tocks, ding, dongs, chimes and chirps define the job’s daily soundtrack.

That, and a scratchy radio eternally set to a country station.

Holding a teensy vintage Rolex watch smaller than a dime in the palm of his hand and a doll-sized screwdriver in the other, DeMoss said the job teaches extreme patience. For any given project, one item could require five hours to eight months of work.

His careful but worn hands far from slender, DeMoss said he must handle the delicate items “very carefully.”

“Otherwise, the pieces go flying all over the place.”

DeMoss’ choice vision enhancer is a head loupe; a magnifying accessory he’ll sometime forget to remove at the end of the day. He said occasionally he’ll reach up when he’s wearing a baseball hat, pulling the bill down before remembering it won’t do his sight any good.

A bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering followed by a professional background in the electronics industry in and out of the military all contribute to DeMoss’ extensive grid of knowledge, though the seasoned problem-solver admitted, “a lot of it is trial and error.”

Indicating to a small library neatly stocked with periodicals, books and encyclopedias, Swartz pulled out a 1971 issue of National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors as an example, then grabbed a thick encyclopedia.

“So if you’re trying to identify a movement, or need a part of a Bulova … ” his voice trailed as he flipped through pages, muttering something about a balance staff number. “This is a reference book.”

Sprinkling the conversation with tidbits and facts as he unraveled the history of various items, DeMoss, who’s worked on pieces dating to the 1600s, opened an antique lady’s wristwatch to reveal its metal innards, kept alive by a balance wheel rapidly rotating back and forth “18,000 beats per minute.”

He pointed at the tiny wristband, impossibly small and seemingly designed to fit a 6-year-old, and explained the average wrist size for men and women was once closer to five inches.

“Nowadays, it’s seven.”

As for the modern day “aficionados,” Swartz said he could pick out the pretenders.

“We can tell those who know what they’re doing, from those who don’t,” he said.

Of his store’s average clock count at any given time, DeMoss scanned the shelves of antiquated ticking merchandise, unable to come up with anything specific.

“We got a lot.”

Consumer behavior is a slave to trends, DeMoss noted, but maintained there would always be a market for his artisan craft.

His store may be an endangered breed, but tourists are steady customers, as are industry zealots and keepsake collectors who visit periodically – not to mention locals whose watches need checkups.

“It doesn’t matter, clocks and watches have their historical value, and everything runs in cycles,” he said. “Fifty years from now, nobody will give a damn about a cell phone because there will be something else.”

DeMoss said people depend on clocks and watches.

“Take any well designed time keeping mechanism – if well maintained, they last 300 years or more.”

Leave your comments