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Historic Verdin Clock Ready To Return To Union Terminal

Editor's note: As of August 24, the clock installation has been moved from Aug. 27 to Aug. 31 and September 4.

The widely recognizable clock gracing the Union Terminal facade will soon return to its lofty perch. The more than 80-year-old timepiece got a sprucing up as part of the Cincinnati Museum Center restoration.Dating to the early 1930s, the clock was built specifically for the train station by the third generation of the Verdin family, owners of the clock and bell making Verdin Company.

"It's really cool," says sixth generation Verdin, Bob Verdin, of the opportunity to work on a piece of family and Cincinnati history. "When we are able to work on a project that we did 100 years ago, even 50 years ago, it's really fun."

The clock mechanism and hands were removed and taken the company's Kellogg Road factory for cleaning and minor repairs.

"My primary responsibility was to put it all back together," says technician Jeff Mann. "I had to figure out how it worked - and if it worked - and what parts needed to be replaced."

Mann says just one part, a gear, needed to be changed.

"We did run into some issue with the balancing of the hands because they moved the ballasts, so that took a while, but that was the only challenge... It's an amazing timepiece."

Credit Courtesy of Cincinnati Museum Center
A company specializing in neon was responsible for restoring the red hand outlines that give the Union Terminal clock its iconic look.

The clock was state of the art at the time it was created, according to Verdin, because it uses an electric motor to wind the weights that run the clock. Previously, clocks were wound by hand. It's also specially wired to get electricity to the red neon outlining the hands without the wires getting twisted in the mechanism or drive shaft. Illuminated clock hands were a rarity at the time.

The Art Deco-style clock doesn't have a name. Being the second largest size Verdin made at the time, it would have been called a "number two." The hands, with counterweights, weigh around 150 pounds for the hour hand and 175 pounds for the minute hand. The clock is 18 feet in diameter.

Unlike some projects, no original technician markings were found, much to the disappointment of the restoration crew. "That's one thing that's been getting us because we wanted to find something," Verdin laments. "A lot of the guys here may put a little something so in a hundred years if something comes around someone knows who made it - maybe sign a clock here or there - but they haven't been able to find anything."

Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU
Two 16-penny nails hang from an arm. They spin every 30 seconds and help keep the gears weighted perfectly, making the clock operate on time.

The clock does have two spinning 16-penny nails that help regulate the clock's gear system, making sure it moves properly and precisely every 30 seconds. The concept is similar to adding pennies to a weight-wound clock's pendulum to get the weight just right to keep it on time.

Fun fact: a stack of pre-decimal pennies atop its pendulum kept London's Big Ben "on the money" for 150 years.

Verdin isn't sure when the spinning nail system was added or by whom but they seem to do the trick. At eye level, it's easy to see the minute hand move a notch every 30 seconds. However, once in place, if you watch very closely, Verdin says, "every 30 seconds you can watch the hand move just a little bit... you have to have a good eye."

The historic clock is set to be reinstalled Aug. 27. The gear housing will be separated from the drive shaft and pedestal in order to be carried into the clock house behind Union Terminal's glass fronting. After it's reassembled, a special crane will be used to raise the hands into place.

The restoration cost about $8,000, though Verdin says the work that went into it was probably worth more. The company doesn't have an original bill of sale but he estimates it cost $10-12,000 in the early 1930s.

Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU
The green weights hanging in the center of the clock mechanism are raised by the electric motor above them rather by hand, making this clock state of the art at the time it was created in the early 1930s.

Click the photo at the top of the page to see more pictures from inside the clock.