musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: time

Watches and things

In 2012 I posted about having fun with my overpriced watch after travelling though various time zones. However, in my Looking Back post on allatsea I added in a section dealing with clocks and watches. It is quite an interesting retrospect and worthy of being duplicated in here too.

Way back then wrist watches had “winders” (I believe they call them “crowns” in the trade), every day you wound your watch, or, if you had an “automatic” it wound itself as your arm moved. The beauty of those manually wound watches is that they actually ticked!

My first watch was a hand-me-down and I got it at quite a young age and proudly wore it even though I did not know how to tell time. However, the movement in that watch would occasionally come loose inside the case and would then have to be sent back to a jewelers to be reset.

You were loathe to take any watch to a jewelers for repair because rumour had it that they would “steal the jewels” inside (referring to the “jeweled bearings” (many watches were advertised as having “17 jewels”). My parents eventually bought me a replacement when I was in high school and the watch on the left is that self same watch. Made by Lanco it went to the army with me and was a windup watch. I finally disposed of it in 2017. It probably still worked. 

Casio Wrist Calculator

My father, being an early riser, used to have a manually wound alarm clock (I seem to think it was a “Zobo” or “Westclox”) and every night before he went to sleep you would hear the familiar “croink croink croink” as he wound it up. You barely heard it go off though because he would instinctively wake up before the alarm went off.  

Travelling alarm clock

Then the LED watch came out (as opposed to the LCD watch) and everybody wanted one, even though they were kind of lousy when it came to battery life. My brother had an LED watch but I never bought a pure digital faced watch and even today I still have a watch with “hands” even though it has an electronic movement. My personal preference in watches includes a day and date function as well as an easily adjustable strap because I have thin wrists. I woke to the sound of a battery operated alarm clock for many years but nowadays I do not even need an alarm clock as I wake up at least an hour before I have to get ready for work. I DO NOT subscribe to the habit of using a cell phone to tell time with.  

And, amongst my stuff I still have a manually wound el-cheapo pocket watch and I am kind of proud of the cheapness of it (Only R5.00). When this thing ticks you can hear it and it’s cheapness really makes it one of those strange collectables from an era gone by. 

Whether we like it or not, the wristwatch is really here to stay, although nowadays it is laden with all manner of features that really have no place to be on a wristwatch. And of course the mania for really really overpriced tickers escapes me completely. I know a certain political figure in South Africa that has been criticised for wearing a watch that costs more than a car, and the irony is that he still does not understand the concept of being on time for a meeting. But, that’s a story for another day.  

© DRW 2012-2018. Created 01/04/2017

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:49

Marking time

Don’t even get me started on station clocks…. When I qualified as a telecoms sparky one of my duties were the station clocks on Germiston Station, these were stepped by means of a pulse every 30 seconds that originated from the master clock in the exchange. Each platform had a double faced one, usually close to the stairs (this is 1985 btw), every morning when I arrived from Johannesburg by train I used to check the clock against my watch to see if it was running fast or slow, and when I went to the depot would check 2 faces of the tower clock on the station building.

Platform clocks. Both showing the wrong time.


If the platform clocks were loosing or gaining I would then have to grab a ladder and a battery and climb up to that clock and disconnect it from the cable and manually step it until it was right and then reconnect it. I have no idea how old the clocks were, but they were definitely not the latest model. If you tried to step the clock with the cable connected you could then upset the other clocks. Unfortunately the wiring on Germiston station was covered in soot from the many steam locos that plied up and down in it. (Susan my favourite steam engine included). And, the wires had been disconnected and reconnected so many times they were becoming perilously short.

Approaching Germiston Station from President

The tower clock was a different ballgame, this was situated in a tower on top of the roof and was accessed via a trapdoor that led down a rickety ladder into a passage below. If my memory serves me right there was one mechanism that drove all 4 faces via a gearbox. But setting the time was another story altogether. Theoretically they should all have been showing the same time, but because of wear and tear in the hands and shafts, as the minute hand rose from 6 -12 the face would loose time, and as the hands fell between 12 and 6 the face would gain time (it’s called gravity). Each face was more prone to this than the other and we tried our best to find a way to prevent the hands from doing it but the whole mechanism was worn. You could also cheat a bit by physically moving a hand to try make the time more accurate but this could only be done from outside the tower. If we removed the hands or one face needed to be removed we then had to climb onto the station roof and blank that face off. There was a rusty iron ladder on the one side that gave us access to the ledge around the tower and a rusty chain that was to prevent us falling off. That crummy clock was one of my bugbears because the tech supervisor used to catch the train too and would check the clocks when he arrived and I would get a call logged to go sort them out.
 
You can see the white painted external ladder and the chains in the photograph below,  you can also see the faces are showing different times. Sigh. All my hard graft for nothing.

Germiston Station Tower Clock


I was also responsible for the departure bells, and rewiring the main line platform with new bells, cables and bellpushes was the last job I did at SATS. I recall wading through 6 inches of soot on the roofs of the buildings to access the cables. We had a .22 powered Hilti gun that we had to use to mount some of the equipment with and had to notify the railway police (aka Stasie Blompotte) that we were going to use it, otherwise they would have thought somebody was letting off a firearm. 
An SPT, last time It was painted was 1986.

An SPT, last time It was painted was 1986.


I also used to be responsible for the Signal Post Telephones (SPT’s) between the rails as well as the battery chargers in the signal cabins (4 cabins in Germiston) as well as the foot switch alarms in the ticket offices and all the phones in the whole railway area that was part of Germiston. I also used to maintain the intercom system and the cables and speakers associated with it. Blimey, I worked much harder then than I do now. 
Signal cabin between Germiston and President Station

Signal cabin between Germiston and President Station

By the time I left SATS in 1986 they were looking at replacing the platform clocks with digital ones, but I don’t know if that ever happened. Although, the clocks I saw on the platform in 2010 looked very much like the ones I used to set back in 1985/6. Looking at the infrastructure today, after last seeing it in 1986, I can just imagine what Barney (seriously nasty Tech Supt in the Johannesburg Telecoms Depot) would have said about the current state of affairs. Probably rolling in his grave.

© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 24/03/2016

Updated: 26/12/2017 — 15:34

What time is it?

Many years ago I won an expensive limited edition watch at my local pizzeria. It is one of those landmine watches that weighs as much as your arm does. Fancy watches do not work well in the environment that I was in at the time, so I consigned it to the drawer.
 
Fast forward to 2006 and my trusty coal burning Lanco commits suicide. I need a new watch. Haul out the landmine!
 
Now the landmine, like so many other precision watches is a complicated bugger. It is easier to programme your VCR than some of these watches. But I got it to at least sort of tell me the time. This watch has an analogue face as well as a digital display that acts as a calender, stop watch, alarm etc. Setting this display requires the use of “The Crown“, or, as we knew it in the olde days: “the winder“.  It has 3 positions (I think), and that selects the function, as well as the individual setting for the function. 
 
Wind forward to 2008 and off to Hong Kong we go and time marches forward by 8 hours. Alas, my watch stays behind because I cannot figure out how to set the new time on it! (note to self, take manual with when traveling, or better yet, take a different watch). By the time I got back to South Africa, my alarm would suddenly go off at 5.30 every afternoon irrespective of what I did. Oddly enough, I am the only person who never seems to hear it go off! 
My next trip overseas needed a -2 hour time change, confusing said landmine even more, and leaving it’s owner running 2 hours behind for almost everything. In 2010 I made another Hong Kong trip, and the confused watch (and its owner) ended up spending a 4 hour layover in Dubai trying to get the time right.
 
I was hoping that when the time came for a battery change, this would all be sorted out. The battery duly died and now my watch changes its day/date at 9.30 am every morning. It also did not realise that 2012 was a leap year, so when it was the 1st of March, my watch thought it was the 2nd (up till 9.30) and then the 3rd (after 9.30). I have a love-hate relationship with my watch, it drives me crazy because I have to always know what time it is before being able to say what the day/date is. Did I mention that the day can be displayed in a gazillion languages? “Wed” may end up being “Gro” or “Spl” if I am not careful. 
 
Logically to sort it all out I would need to remove the battery at 23H55. to solve the problem, although it would then take till 04H37 to get the time/day/date sorted out again. And even then, there is no guarantee that the stupid thing won’t decide to change the day/date when it wants to, and set off the alarm at 02.18 pm. every day thereafter or until I travel across GMT or the battery dies.
 
The watch is a “Mad Bull” limited edition, it is a pretty apt name for a mad watch that is full of bull! Mind you, I only paid the price of a Steak Pizza for it.      
A  Postscript:
In March 2013 I relocated to London, once again flying via Dubai. Once again my watch and I had words, and I spent 4 hours trying to change the time zone. I had to give up though as the winder (or crown) was not doing what it was supposed to. It got so bad that the 2nd thing I did when I arrived in London was go to Argos and buy a new watch! My new ticker is an “el cheapo” Timex, and it has all the functionality of the landmine and I only paid 19 quid for it! Unfortunately, my skinny wrists meant I had to remove 4 links from the strap! It is now Dec 2014 and said el cheapo is still merrily doing its thing. The landmine? I took it back with me to SA in May 2014 and left it there! 
At the time of changing the date on this post the el cheapo is still doing well, it is just under 4 years and 10 months old.  
© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 24/03/2016
Updated: 26/12/2017 — 14:16
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