Last month, the clock on the Great Northern Railway tower in Riverfront Park was stopped temporarily for repairs.
The clock was fixed by Dave Stillman, a city fleet services foreman, whose father was a clock repairman, and Dave Randolph, Riverfront Park’s maintenance foreman. Except for a gap of about eight years, Randolph has been charged with maintaining the clock since the 1980s.
The Clocktower was built in 1902 as part of the Great Northern depot. Most of the depot was torn down to make room for Expo ’74, but the tower and clock were saved.
The clock still runs as it did a century ago, with a large cast iron counterweight and a 700-pound brass pendulum. There are 122 stairs and rungs in the series of ladders and staircases to the top floor. We toured the tower with Randolph during his weekly visit to wind the clock.
Q. Why are you so passionate about the Clocktower?
A. It’s a piece of history. The craftsmanship is unbelievable. I don’t know whether people could use the tools that they used back then and replicate it. I haven’t met anybody who has been up here that hasn’t went, “Wow, this is special.”
Q. What’s the lifespan of the clock?
A. As long as we have somebody responsible, it should last forever. There may be a few repairs that we have to do as parts wear out, but as long as it’s maintained, it should last forever.
Q. How accurate is the clock?
A. Well, let’s see. (Randolph looks at his watch.) Right now it’s 8:01 and the clock is at 8:01. The most it will lose is one or two minutes a week. If you leave the handle (for winding it) on, it will lose 12 minutes a week because when that’s put on, the weight of the handle going up slows the clock and the weight of the handle going down speeds up the clock – but not at the same rate.
Q. Do you have any ideas to improve the Clocktower?
A. I’d like to have an elevator so that it was ADA accessible. I’d like to have a viewing area here (on the floor with the clock and clock faces). I’d like to have a viewing area up above (where visitors could look out the windows), where we could have private parties, photography setups, different groups. Can you imagine being up here and renting the Clocktower for the Fourth of July fireworks? But the biggest thing is money. To make money, you’ve got to spend money – and it’s a bunch. I don’t foresee it in the future unless it would be on some kind of bond.
Q. What does the Clocktower mean to Riverfront Park?
A. It’s a gathering point. It’s something that shows the history of the Spokane area, which was in large part a train city. It’s a piece of history.
Q. How many times do you have to turn the crank to fully wind it?
A. Ninety-nine times every seven days I wind it. It’s an eight-day clock (meaning it could be wound once every eight days rather than once a week).
Q. Describe the view from the tower.
A. The top of the Clocktower is about 155 feet, so it’s a rather panoramic view of the downtown part of the city. It’s a different view every time you go up.
Q. How do you feel about craftsmanship in this era after working with the clock and Clocktower for so long?
A. I know that they really took pride in their work back then. It really showed. There’s some great craftsmen in this day and age, but if you weren’t a great craftsman back then, you didn’t have a job.
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