ARE FRUIT OF THIS NOBLESVILLE CHERRY TREE
By George Stuteville
There was an old wild cherry tree right between the edge of the yard and the woods of the Noblesville farm where Richard G. Stevenson was reared.
And the tree was there for his three children, too, as they grew up and moved away.
It consistently gave its seasonal gifts of color in springtime blossoms and fruit for the summer, until time weakened and felled it.
This Christmas, the tree will be returned to the family in the form of three grandfather clocks – gifts for Stevenson’s children.
The clocks were made by John Stevenson’s cousin, John F. Stephens, 3639 Rahke Road, in a project that began two years ago.
ORIGINALLY they were intended as 1983 Christmas gifts but a year of bad health interfered with Stephen’s meticulous labor.
It had to be slow work.
Using only the small power tools that might be found on any do-it-yourselfer’s workbench, Stephens had never even built on grandfather clock before, let alone three.
And the 64-year-old Stephens did not have huge blocks of time to give to the project either, just weekends and a few hours at night after putting in 10-hour days at Universal Tool and Engineering Corp. where he is a machinist.
For plans, he just let his creativity run free to imagine the finished products from a stack of rough-cut cherry lumber. Then he penciled in a few dimensions on several pieces of legal-sized notebook paper, mostly as a reminder.
“I AM satisfied. It was an accomplishment, a challenge,” said Stephens as he stood in the tiny backroom workshop that was crowded with not three but four of the six-foot grandfather clocks. (He decided to build an oaken one for himself and wife Mary.)
“I really hate to part with them,” he said with a sigh.
It’s understandable. Stephens gave 150 hours to each of the clocks, worrying over every square inch, making mistakes, then easing out, turning trial and error into certainty and precision.
“It was a nice change to come home and work in wood after working in metal during the day.” Stephens said.
HIS HANDS and eyes said more, however, as he took a soft cloth and rubbed it down the long, smooth, re-brown surface of the case, remembering that he had used a weighted fishing line as a guide to make sure the sides were at perfect 90 degree angles from mitered corners cut as precisely as a surgeon’s incision.
“It wasn’t like I had the big power tools to shape a piece of wood real quick. I used this little router for the scrolling. There are so many cuts. What might take a professional five minutes with the right tools took me five days.”
Somehow, just the knowledge of the time and care Stephens invested increases the value of the clocks.
HE REACHED inside the case where gleaming brass chimes hung waiting for the quarter-hour as the pendulum, the heart of the movement, swished obediently back and forth. Then he lightly tapped one of the chimes.
As it sang its one-note song, he looked like a choirmaster in work clothes, with his head tilted and his ear critically turned toward the clock, as if it were a student practicing a solo for a yuletide concert.
“You know, each one of these has a different sound to it when the chimes go off. I think that it has something to do with the densities of the wood.”
“The pendulums also swing differently. Sometimes I have sat down here and got them all going the same direction at once. It doesn’t take to long before they start changing – one going a little faster or slower – but it doesn’t seem to make a difference on the times.”
OPENING THE top case of the clock works, he stared into the grandfather’s daytime face.
“I had it in my mind pretty much how it was going to look. The problem was the works. We had to search around to find a place to buy them. Once I had them, I put all my other dimensions down on paper and went from there.”
Building the clocks sent him off in other directions too. He had to search out of town for a certain kind of brass hinge and other hardware. He also loaded the lumber and took it to mills where the roughest edges of the cherry were smoothed. Finding the correct finish sent him to paint manufactures until one local company finally created a special blend of stain to show off the swirl and whorl of the wood grain.
“But it was worth every minute I guess I’m a clockmaker now.”
And, as if agreeing with their creator, the clocks all reached the quarter-hour
and rang, filling the workshop with the resonance of bells.