TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Earlier Mention of WUTCO Clocks

Earlier Mention of WUTCO Clocks

Harry Joseph (
Thu, 26 May 2005 20:59:39 -0400


Here's my understanding how the WUTCO clocks worked, at least the one
we had at radio stations in the Southwest in 1966-68.

Our WU clock was big enough to contain an old-fashioned 1.5-volt dry
cell, the cylindrical kind about 3 inches in diameter by 10-12 inches
high, with knurled brass nuts on the threaded terminals.

Every so often you'd hear whirr-whirr as the battery wound the spring
motor or whatever; in the two years I was there I don't remember the
battery ever being replaced, which makes sense since both its duty
cycle and load were quite small, a nice bit of early-20th C. design,

What made it a WU clock was the telegraph pair leading, presumably,
to the local WU CO. The clock would always lose a few seconds per
hour, no more than five or ten, and exactly on the hour, every hour,
a voltage pulse (unknown voltage) would come down that pair and
activate a solenoid, which would literally pull the second hand to
the vertical position, with a metallic 'thunk,' to start each hour
right on the money.

This was a mixed blessing for broadcasters, since the clock was
<least> accurate just when you needed it to be <most> accurate, just
before the hour, when every network affiliate rejoined its net after
the hourly break, which lasted generally from :59:00 to :00:00.

The upshot was that every station I ever saw with a WU clock also had
an AC-powered (synchronous motor) Telechron clock on the wall next to
it. The Telechron with its sweep-second hand was used to meet the
network; the WU clock was useful only after a power outage, the
possibility of which made it worth the few bucks a month charged by

Or at least that's how I remember it.

Harry Joseph

Outside of a dog a book is man's best friend.
Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I had several WUTCO clocks many years
ago before they all got liberated. :( Instead of the two very large
'telephone battery' type things in each clock (1.5 volts time 2 wired
in parallel) I had a single 'battery eliminator' wired in series (then
parallel) to each clock. And it was _not_ true that they 'always lost
a few seconds every hour'. By very careful calculation, I had mine
adjusted to the point of a variance of twenty or thirty seconds per
_month_ usually. That required using a leveling device for both the
backboard they were on (as well as the platform they stood on) and a
_very careful_ tweaking of the pendulum set screw. To explain the
importance of careful adjustment, a variance of merely one second per
minute gives an aggragate variance of one minute per hour, or 24
minutes per day ... totally unacceptable. The pendulum has to be
exactly the right length and totally free-floating except for the
'fingers' where they resist the escapement. I do not know the math
all that well these days (diseased brains can really fu-- with your
abilities at times) but the idea is the swing the pendulum makes is
an 'arc' (in the larger scheme of things) a 'circle' and the circumfer-
ence, or distance 'around the entire circle' (or circumference)
is very important.

How long it would take in theory for the radius of the circle (let's
refer to it as the 'pendelum stick' to make one trip around depends
of course on the length of the radius (or pendelum stick). Ditto for
fractions of a trip around the circle (the arc). From one side of
the arc to the other you want the pendulum to take exactly one-quarter
second to free-fall from its starting point to the center, and three-
quarters second for the finger to in effect 'climb back up' the arc
to the other side, or one-quarter second for the finger to get out
of the way of the escapement and three-quarters second for it to
'resist and push the escapment back into place'.

So after you have made absolutely certain with a t-square and level
that everything is level (as best your eyes can see) and you have
made a gross adjustment on the pendulum stick, then you continue your
adjustments by _listening to the beat. You want to hear it go 'tick
... tock ... tick ... tock, _not_ tick-tock, tick-tock ...... tick-tock,
tick-tock ... you want to hear an even (again, as best as your ears
can deal with it) cadence. If the cadence is irregular, then check the
leveling again, both vertical and horizonal. Now you are at the point
the clock _appears_ to the naked eye to be level and it _appears_ to
the naked ear to have the proper cadence. But naked eyes and ears are
just that; only partially reliable human instruments. In actual
practice, the tick is not a second away from the tock, but only .95 of
a second away. And the wall is not exactly level, it is maybe a
hundredth of an inch 'out of level'. What do you do next?

Well, you are not going to rebuild your house, so we are going to
make compensation via the set screw on the pendulum. Recall, we
earlier gave the pendulum a gross adjustment (which is all some of
them ever had, depending on the installer's interest in the matter)
so now we are going to as needed give the pendulum the required fine
tuning. Using an independent time source, we adjust the hands on the
clock manually (_never_ turn them backward, just forward) so that the
minute hand sets exactly on the minute of the hour and start the
pendulum swinging. Watch the clock for about five minutes, and see, in
five minutes with your naked eye if the minute hand is exactly where
it should now be. If not, tweak the set screw just a tiny bit. (One
complete turn of the set screw usually made a variance in time keeping
of two minutes per day.) If after five minutes you can see a noticable
difference consider another gross adjustment. If you don't see any
difference, then good ... come back in 10-15 minutes and look again.

Then do you see any difference? Remember, even if your eyes do not
see any variance from the clock to the other time source, or your ears
do not hear any irregular cadence, there are still wee tiny variances
present. But we did not see any (by this point it is unlikely you will
hear any), so we go away, and come back in one hour. Now see any
problems? Check again in three hours, then in twelve hours, and
finally after a full day, tweaking the set screw (which is the length
of the pendulum, which in turn affects how 'fast' or 'slow' the stick
[or radius] of the circumference will be traversed [or some fractional
part thereof] which is the arc. Since gravity is constant, the only
variables will be the geometry involved. Check the clock again in
a week or two against the independent time source. My clocks were
at the point even breathing on the set screw would put them out of
whack, I got to where I never had to touch the set screw eventually.

Even WUTCO was not that picky, so they allowed for a single gross
adjustment once per hour in the form of the incoming wire from the
central office which would periodically put a 'load' on the line and
retard the pendulum for the second or so needed if the clock was too
'fast' or push the hand up a little if the clock was too 'slow'. There
were a few other minor variables to consider also, such as humidity in
the air, pollutants in the air which would stick to the fingers or
the escapement, and regards pollutants, these necessitated a single
**tiny** drop of 'clock oil' (A-1 worked fine, or something from a
jeweler) typically once a year. Just a wee squirt of oil on the works
inside; let that wee squirt do its own thing, working its way through
all the gears by itself, which it will do in the next several hours.
Do not drench the gears in oil, a tiny drop or two tiny drops is
all it needs.

Of my three working clocks (at one point I had a couple dozen of
various makes and models, but I gave them all to friends except for
the three I held out for my own use), I gave them a very ocassional
'gross adjustment' maybe once a month or so. As long as the WUTCO
clocks were within two minutes (either side of the '12') in accuracy
and they nearly always were (WUTCO expected that much of the
installers in the field), just a little tap on the source of the load
would jerk the minute hand forward or backward as needed to place it
squarely on the '12' without the clock losing a single beat, and it
would just go on as if nothing had happened. My 'load' was in the form
of a nine-volt DC battery taped to the underside of my desk, with a
doorbell wired to one side of the line in series then run off to the
various clocks. I had an old Apple ][ computer and eventually
'automated' the process by having a modem dial into (what later became
'' but in those days it was) 900-410-TIME or
202-762-1401 and when the pulse came through the modem, the Apple
computer heard it, and a program I had sent a pulse through the
computer's parallel port to the clocks.

In 1963, when WUTCO discontinued their 'clock service' the old Western
Union headquarters building, 410 South LaSalle Street had dozens of
clocks in that building alone; every office had one, the public
message office on the first floor had one, etc. The day after the
clock service was discontinued, _every damn clock_ in the WUTCO
headquarters building was gone! All had been replaced with cheezy
looking wall clocks. I thought to myself, some executive(s) at WUTCO
were smart, and I decided I would be smart also. So I went around to
the places I frequented in those days, and tried to 'be helpful and
replace that old WUTCO clock with a new, modern style wall clock'.
Some people listened to/accepted my thinly-veiled BS; other folks
would not. Those who accepted my 'generous offer' to get them a new
modern clock (and don't worry about the old WUTCO clock; I will remove
it and dispose of it) did get a new clock; I took down the old clocks
and took them away.

At Chicago Symphony, the building manager of Orchestra Hall gave me
two clocks, both in mint condition, although they were fifty years
old. From Chicago Public Library I got a clock from the employee's
lunchroom, and also one from the cafeteria in the old Board of Edu-
cation Building on North LaSalle Street. I was about to raid the
Chicago Temple Building (which had six clocks in various areas of
the building) -- and did get one -- but when I went back the next
day to get one or two more, the building manager had changed his
mind on the deal. I had gotten the one out of the lobby area the
day before with the manager's blessings; when I went back, I had to
find a ladder to get one out of the organ pipe chambers area; I was
setting about my work when I 'bumped into' the building manager.
He said (as best as I can recall to quote him) "I have to call the
deal off; last night the Board of Trustees had their monthly
meeting; one of them asked me about the 'clock in the lobby' and
I told them; they gave me hell and said don't do that anymore."
So now it appears others were getting smart as well as just me and
the WUTCO executives. Besides in their second-floor offices,
Temple Building also had a very elegant grandfather style clock
(with Western Union works in it) in the third floor library. Now
that I think about it, I am sorry I did not get that one first, while
the manager was not on to me, but I recall thinking at the time
I would never have the nerve to ask him to part with that one in
its elegance. The clock I _did_ get however had a typewritten note
inside the case saying 'put in service (some date) in 1923' and like
all my WUTCO clocks from that era, they were all keeping almost
perfect time seventy years later, despite a few moves in location
and rehangs, and resets later.

I wish I could find a WUTCO clock now! I understand I would not get
one for the 'price' I paid in 1963 (nothing, except a wall clock
trade). Someone stole the three I had held onto in 1999. After my
brain aneuyrsm I could not find them around anywhere. :( PAT]

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