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‘It’s What You Know’ : Time and Time Again, Clockmaker, 84, Triumphs

Associated Press

The uneven passage of time has treated Miles Reist gently.

Time has provided the 84-year-old clockmaker with a comfortable living, a daily challenge and a status among the socially elite of Berks County.

In the 70 years that Reist has preserved the treasured timepieces of his area’s rich and famous, he has gained a privileged glimpse into households known mostly only by reputation--or rumor.

“I have good clientele,” the pleasant, sandy-haired horologist said. “I’m a terrific clockmaker!”

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Surrounded by the ticking, clanging, chiming timepieces in his confined clock shop, he paused and observed wryly, “You don’t get rich at it, but you make a good living.

“You don’t work cheap. Your talent is worth something. It’s not exactly what you do, it’s what you know. If you have to fool around all day with a clock to find out what’s wrong with it, you’re not making any money. The minute you look at a clock, you have to know what’s wrong with it.”

Good Nerves Needed

In his own home, Reist has 50 clocks, constantly chiming and frantically tick-tocking.

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“You’ve got to have good nerves to live in this house,” he said. “I wind them every Friday morning about 9 o’clock.”

Reist still works full time. He drives to the homes of customers, where he removes the works from clocks and makes repairs in his shop.

Reist, a widower, is a clockmaker of singular talent. Although many a clock has tried his patience, none has defied his ability, he said.

“Some of those clocks were tough--and they still are,” he said. “That’s because they’re wearing out--like I am.”

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What distinguishes Reist from his associates is his ability and the equipment to make clock parts: a milling machine to cut gears, a drill press, a lathe.

“They don’t make the parts anymore for many of these old clocks, and many clock-making firms have gone out of business,” he said. “Where do you get parts for chime clocks? You have to make them.

“I have a lot of knowledge about clocks. I can make the parts. Most people just clean ‘em. In 70 years, you learn a lot.”

The biggest clock of the estimated 50,000 Reist has worked on was 9 feet tall. He used a ladder to work on it. On the opposite end, he recalled working on a clock with works the size of a wristwatch.

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Reist said it is important for a clockmaker to have good eyes and a steady hand. He added patience as the most important virtue.

Running Out of Patience

“Patience gets all sometimes,” he said. “You run out of it. When that happens, I run around the yard. I had clocks already that gave me so much trouble I felt like throwing them out the back door. But I conquered them.

“Cuckoo clocks with music boxes are the toughest to fix. I’ve repaired thousands of cuckoo clocks. I have one out there now that’s giving me trouble.”

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Still, despite the frustrations, Reist isn’t planning on retiring.

“I had my horoscope read some time ago. It said I can reach 90, but what do they know?”

Time will tell.


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