Video production by Erica L. Lang ~ student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism
Something clicked inside the mind of Frank Beaudrot when he first took apart a clock. He was, at the time, 7 years old.
Fascinated with clocks’ inner workings, he soon learned how to put them back together, too.
For decades, Beaudrot has been giving clocks — some priceless, many sentimental — new life, fulfilling a small but necessary niche in the Valley economy.
And his rare talent for clock repair has drawn plenty of notice in metro Phoenix. With a backlog of work six months long, he’s a clock repairman perpetually fighting Father Time.
His shop, All About Time Clock Repair, is at Glendale and 27th Avenue in Phoenix, but he makes house calls throughout the state and even climbs into clock towers in shopping centers.
“I repair all kinds of household clocks, from the simple, battery-operated clock up to the larger grandfather clocks, and everything in between,” he said. “Everything from mechanical wind clocks to weight-driven clocks. It doesn’t matter. As long as it’s a household clock, there’s something we can do to fix it.”
Among his regular customers is Allan Privette of Yarnell, a clock collector, who escaped the recent Yarnell Hill Fire. As Privette fled in his car, he was enveloped by smoke and soot, and flames were licking near his car while electrical and phone lines were melting and falling. Before Privette left his home, he grabbed some precious possessions, including his cats and a few clocks from his collection of more than 80.
“I was very lucky,” Privette said. “I got my Atmos clock, my grandma’s clock, my Franz Hermle clock and one other. It’s all I could fit in the car.”
An Atmos clock, made in Switzerland, does not have to be wound by hand. It is powered by changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure.
Privette feared that he had lost his home and his valuable clock collection. He had spent a day watering pecan trees and irises along his driveway, making the ground wet. The fire stopped at his line of trees.
Privette says Beaudrot has a half-dozen of his that he’s working on.
Beaudrot has repaired clocks professionally since 1973, but before then, he helped in his father’s jewelry store. In high school, he apprenticed with a master clockmaker. He worked in California from 1976 to 1981, the year he opened a retail store in his current location. After a decade, he ended the retail operation to focus on repair, although he sells some refurbished clocks at his shop.
Among the tower clocks he has climbed to repair is one on Stetson Drive between Fifth and Sixth avenues in Scottsdale. He also has worked on tower clocks in Tucson, Peoria, Tempe and central Phoenix.
Beaudrot says what he enjoys most in his work is the troubleshooting.
“I have to understand the workings of a clock inside and outside in detail,” he said. “I have to know that to be efficient and successful. If you spend 20 minutes identifying a problem when it should take you 30 seconds, you’ve wasted time.”
Beaudrot enjoys the mechanics of the process, the satisfaction of working with gears and parts. He has custom-fabricated parts and even created tools that weren’t available to make the repairs.
“Sometimes I never use that tool again, but I do what I need to do to get the repair done,” he said.
Beaudrot sees beauty in the mechanisms, especially the well-made ones from Switzerland and Germany. Regardless of the brand in America, the mechanism likely was made by one of three German manufacturers, the only such companies still in business.
Many customers have sentimental attachment to their clocks, such as family heirlooms, and the clock owners must decide if a repair is worth it.
“A lot of clocks, the actual value is $150, and the repair could exceed that by twice,” Beaudrot said. “We’re straightforward and honest. We will not tell a customer a clock is worth more than it is to repair it.”
Beaudrot said that much of what he sees are clocks that have been neglected or poorly maintained, not having been oiled and serviced on a regular basis.
“It’s important that mechanical clocks be oiled every couple of years, especially here in Arizona, where it’s so dry and so hot,” he said.
Without oil, moving parts wear out and more extensive repairs are necessary. But he advises against the clock’s owner doing the oiling.
“The customer can make things wear out faster if they apply oil to the wrong places,” he said. “Oil in the wrong places tends to attract dust and dirt, causing the clock to bog down.”
Not only is he surrounded by clocks at his shop but at home, as well.
“I listen to them all day long,” he said.