In a digital age, Carl Witt is making a go of it as a repairman of antique timepieces.
Time used to be so audible. But the clock on the wall doesn’t tick these days, and conversations are never interrupted by the chiming of the quarter hour—much less by a cuckoo. So a visit to Carl Witt’s new Curiosity Clockworks in Fairmont is an auditory trip back in time.
Witt got his start in clock repair about a decade ago when he stopped by the shop of Charles Decker in Mount Morris, Pennsylvania. Decker had been doing it for half a century and, although Witt was a full-time welder for Pratt & Whitney in Bridgeport, he also became Decker’s part-time apprentice. He learned to repair the movements—the workings—of all kinds of clocks and found he loved bringing old things back to life. “And also the challenge—some are very hard to work on. I like that, thinking, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ And in the morning it’s a fresh start.”
Decker had an old-fashioned business philosophy: “If he couldn’t fix it he wouldn’t charge them, if they weren’t satisfied he didn’t charge them, and he kept his prices pretty low,” Witt says. He apprenticed with Decker for three years, then set up a workshop in his own basement. His hobby turned into a side business and, when he outgrew the basement a few years ago, he built a workshop behind his house.
Meanwhile, he became a collector. He owned just a few clocks when he’d first met Decker. Now he has a houseful. “I think I have six grandfather clocks,” he says. “I have about seven Vienna Regulators. A lot of mantle clocks. Old American, old French, old German. I have about 75.” He keeps some of them wound, and he recognizes their chimes from other parts of the house. “I think they actually bring life into a home.”
In the shop, Witt might have 30 clocks mid-repair at any one time. His favorites to work on are American. “Pretty much the same things always go wrong with them and the problems are easy to spot,” he says. “French ones are harder. They’re smaller, and you have to be a lot more careful with them.” One of the rarest clocks he’s worked on was an antique master clock—a precise timepiece that others are synchronized with. “It was probably 8 feet tall. It had heavy, heavy weights. I actually had to open the loft in my little shop for the height to run it, and it was amazing.”
It’s obvious why the business has grown: Witt and his business partner, Greg Carruba, adopted Decker’s customer-centered philosophy. Witt makes house calls for grandfather clocks, for free within about a half-hour radius of his shop. He charges just $50 to service the clock in place and $125 to take the movement and weights back to his shop, tune it all up, and re-install it. He guarantees his work and takes good care of repeat customers.
In addition to repairs, Witt will sell clocks at Curiosity Clockworks that he’s found and refurbished—again, with the customer in mind. “A lot of people would enjoy owning old clocks, if they could afford them,” he says. “My goal is, if they like something in my shop, they can afford to buy it.”
124 Adams Street, Fairmont; 304.288.4570