ELLSWORTH — It’s a Tuesday afternoon in February and Chris Bartol and Dave Camarra are standing in the carriage house of the former home of Old Whitney House Antiques, surrounded by dozens of gently chiming clocks.
“At the top of the hour you can’t have a conversation,” said Bartol.
Bartol is a clockmaker. He has been ever since the mainspring on the family’s mantel clock broke when he was a child and he brought it to an elderly gentleman the next town over. “We just hit it off,” said Bartol.
The man, who had a repair shop in his basement, told Bartol of clockmaking and repair: “You’ll always earn a living, but you’ll never be rich.” Bartol paused. “That’s fine.”
‘“The first time I saw Chris pick up a clock,” said Camarra, who spent years driving tractor-trailer trucks and working as a medical courier, “the aura in the room changed.”
“It’s just the joy of bringing something back to life,” said Bartol, who speaks softly and deliberately. “It makes people happy.”
Camarra readily acknowledges he doesn’t have the passion that Bartol does for clocks (although he has his own interests, including professional go kart racing). So he runs the business side: coordinating orders (which come from around the county and out of state), helping customers understand how to package a clock to send for repairs, keeping the books.
Pendulum clocks, like the dozens on display in the State Street showroom, were once considered the world’s most accurate timepieces. To keep them precise, pendulum clocks had to be wound: some daily, others every eight days or so, either by inserting a key into the clock’s face or by pulling on chains wrapped around the clock’s gears.
“The biggest thing I hear is ‘I overwound it,’” said Bartol. “But that’s not really accurate. What’s going on is you’re winding it up … but the oil has dried out.”
A clock’s mainspring must be clean and well-lubricated in order for it to wind and unwind easily.
“Modern oils are synthetic,” said Bartol, which means they generally last longer, but, particularly in antique clocks, the grease can dry out, causing friction in the spring coils.
Bartol and Camarra ran a clock showroom and repair shop out of their house in Easton, Mass., for 15 years before coming to Ellsworth. They vacationed in Surry each year, said Camarra, and “It’s 30 years ago up here compared to Massachusetts. People are so nice, people say hello, they’ll carry on a conversation with you, just out of the blue about whatever. You don’t get that in Massachusetts.”
Heading south was always a melancholy time, said Camarra, and “One day we said, ‘We don’t have to go home anymore, we can buy something and come up here permanently.’”
The former Old Whitney House Antiques store fit their needs perfectly: good visibility for a storefront, a beautifully restored old home and plenty of space for their hundreds of clocks (and Camarra’s racing memorabilia).
The couple moved to Ellsworth in November.
“We didn’t plan on doing it in the winter,” said Camarra. “It’s a hard time to move here,” he conceded, but, “Business is good, we’ve been very happy from the reception we’ve received from the people. We’ve sold a couple of clocks.”
“It’s starting all over from scratch,” Bartol chimed in.
Moving their hundreds of clocks and antiques took several trips, including 11 U-Hauls and four 22-foot trailers.
“The day of the move we were still packing clocks,” said Camarra, all of which made it unscathed to Maine.
Once you remove the weights and pendulum from a grandfather clock, said Bartol, “Basically it becomes a big china cabinet.”
Business in Maine has been steady so far, said Camarra. “We knew there was a need and we want to fill that need.” The couple will make house calls for repairs on grandfather clocks, said Bartol, or walk a client through how to package the clock for shipping.
“It’s not what the clock is worth, it’s what it’s worth to you,” said Bartol.
Do they have favorites?
“I have a real affection for tacky clocks,” said Bartol.
“If I hate it, he buys it,” laughed Camarra.
For more information, visit https://www.clocksbychristopher.com/ or call (508) 944-9645.