Clock Doc Peter Rioux Shares What Makes Him Tick

The Winterport tinkerer has rehabbed some 7,000 mechanical timekeepers.

Peter Rioux wearing magnifying glasses while working on a timepiece
By Joel Crabtree
Photos by Michael D. Wilson
From our May 2024 issue

Every second of every minute of every hour of every day, the dozens of antique clocks in Peter Rioux’s Winterport shop tick and chime the time away. The endless cacophony is enough to drive a person cuckoo, but for Peter, who painstakingly repairs mechanical timepieces in a red-clapboard Cape he and his wife, Susie, built near their home, the discord sounds like a job well done. “I find it very comforting,” he says.

Growing up on a potato farm in Fort Kent, Peter’s interest in mechanics was born out of necessity, with tractors and combines in constant need of repair. After college, he wound up working a series of jobs for construction companies. But when Susie, an antiques dealer, brought home some inoperable timepieces, his gears started turning. He tinkered with the clocks in a spare bedroom and eventually took on clients. To hone his skills, he amassed horology books and consulted masters such as Herschel Burt, former clock restorer at the Willard House and Clock Museum, in Massachusetts. In 1993, the couple opened Peter Rioux Clock Services.

When he’s not on the clock in his Winterport shop, Peter Rioux is out in the field, restoring tower clocks on landmarks such as the Aroostook County courthouse, in Houlton, and Portland’s Deering High School.

The shop’s pine-paneled main room houses a retail area filled with towering antique grandfather clocks, curvaceous banjo and pointy steeple clocks with elaborately painted glass panels, gilded mantel clocks, box-shaped carriage clocks (designed for traveling), and round Chelsea ship’s bell clocks (originally used by mariners). A wooden pedestal holds a prized showpiece: a brass-and-steel skeleton clock (comprising what are typically the elegant inner workings) Peter spent four years assembling in an effort to prove to himself that he could be a craftsman as well as a repairman. He works on customers’ pocket watches in the retail space and clocks in an adjacent whitewashed room, at tables laden with gears, springs, screwdrivers, tweezers, pliers, lathes, and soldering torches.

Peter figures he’s rehabbed some 7,000 household clocks and watches. He’s also restored dozens of tower clocks on churches, schools, and courthouses in New England. The physical maintenance required to keep these clocks ticking, he argues, is part of their charm. “If you’re winding a mechanical clock in your house, it becomes part of your routine. It becomes important. It’s something that can last for generations and you can pass it down to a family member.” Try saying that about your smartwatch.

9 Old County Rd., Winterport. 207-223-4732.

Time Savers
How to keep a mechanical clock running smoothly.

Positioning: Avoid displaying a wooden clock in a humid or sunny spot or near a heat source, which can bleach the case and cause cracking. (A mantel above a working fireplace is the worst place for a mantel clock.) 

Leveling: Secure standing and wall-mounted clocks to the wall with screws, as even a little bump can throw the inner mechanisms off-balance. With a pendulum clock, listen for an even gap between each tick and tock. Use a level and shim to shore up an off-kilter timepiece. 

Winding: Do this daily or weekly (depending on the model) and monitor how the clock is running. Mechanical clocks should be oiled and cleaned by a professional every two to five years.

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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