When I was a boy and stayed overnight at my Grammy and Granddaddy’s house, they put a Baby Ben alarm clock by my bed (not to wake me in the morning, but because I liked clocks). I looked at the dial and saw the name, Westclox. “That doesn’t sound like a real word”, I thought, and later learned that Westclox is an abbreviation for Western Clocks, and that one of the company’s former names was Western Clock Company.
On later visits, my grandparents let me use a Big Ben Chime Alarm, whose alarm first does a gentle ding – – – – ding – ding, then rings faster if not shut off in a minute or so. It was fun to wait for the alarm to ring when I was already awake!
I visited my Great Aunt Marion in Washington, DC when I was 13 (August 1968), and her neighbor gave me a Baby Ben Style 5. I did some tinkering and got it to work.
My mom and I were at an antique show in Lansing, Michigan in March 1969. I had my tweezers with me so I could check pocket watches for broken balance staffs. As I started to examine a watch, a lady told me “Careful! I don’t want my watch all tweezed up!” That day we bought three clocks for $5: A crackle pink Baby Ben Style 2, a small German time-only clock, and a miniature Sessions tambour.
In April when I turned 14, my parents gave me the book “A Treasury of American Clocks” by Brooks Palmer. In the “Alarms” section I found a picture of Westclox Baby Bens. The caption said, “Illustration shows what are believed to be the various case forms”. I thought, “I have two Baby Bens now, all I need are five more and I’ll have them all!”
A few months later, when Grammy found out that I was collecting Baby Bens, she gave me one of her style 5 Baby Bens.
In July, a friend and I went around to our neighbors’ houses asking for old things they didn’t want. Chris asked for old radios, tape recorders, etc. because he liked to “take them to bits.” I asked for old clocks, and received several Style 7 Baby Bens including one made in Canada.
My mother’s side of the family had a cottage near Saugatuck, Michigan. The downtown was full of antique stores. In August 1969 we were in Holland (12 miles from Saugatuck) and I found a Style 3 Baby Ben in an antique store. That was pretty exciting because that model wasn’t shown in the photo in Palmer’s book, so I thought I had made a great discovery!
A month later while visiting Aunt Marion, I found a Style 4 Baby Ben at a used furniture store.
Every February, the Lansing area Kiwanis Clubs held a huge rummage sale as a fundraiser. It was BIG; it filled the National Guard Armory, and lasted for five days. I looked forward to it every year for the possibility of finding clocks, watches and other interesting things. One year I bought 10 Marchant mechanical calculators for $1 each. I thought they were great! My dad thought I was crazy but helped me load them into the car. They must have weighed 30 pounds each!
At the February 1970 rummage sale (when I was 14) I bought my first Big Ben, a Style 7 with radial numerals made in 1957. It had slight dial damage, but wasn’t bad for 50¢! From then on, I looked for both Big Ben and Baby Ben alarms.
One day, Grammy was winding the Chime Alarm, and the time key “felt like it peeled away” as she put it. I took the clock apart and the time main wheel shaft body was broken in half. “I’ll solder it together!” I said. The body of the arbor melted and fell apart! That was my first experience with the lead alloy used in Westclox gears. I found a junk clock to get another part from, and the clock is still working today.
By 1976 I had 26 Baby Ben and Big Ben alarm clocks in my collection.
I graduated from Michigan Tech and settled in Indianapolis in January 1979. I went to the Marion County Public Library and found the first Baby Ben advertisement in the September 25, 1915 Saturday Evening Post.
I joined the NAWCC (National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors) in 1977 and found their regional conventions (and later, the local chapter meetings) to be a great source for clocks, and a place to meet wonderful people. In 1980 I met Richard Tjarks, who gave a Westclox a program at the 1980 Mid-America Regional. Richard and I became best friends. I saw the name Jeffrey Wood in the NAWCC Mart around 1978. Jeff was looking for a rare early “baby Ben”, and is still researching early “baby Bens” and other things. Richard and Jeff were my earliest Westclox collaborators. Many people have helped over the years and are still helping. I’ve tried to list everyone who has helped on my contributors page.
I’ll end this story here, for there is too much to tell in one blog post.
Note: I give style numbers (Style 2, etc) in the story above, because they are commonly used now. At the time I collected these clocks, I referred to them by model number, as we didn’t use Style numbers until the 1980s.
For details on dates of Big Ben and Baby Ben alarm clocks, see History of Westclox Big Ben and Baby Ben Alarm Clocks and Related Clocks.
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