The story appears on

Page A4

March 12, 2012

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Metro

Clock keeper keeps hands on tradition

THROUGH the iron spiral staircase soaring straight up the clock tower atop the Customs House at the Bund, the timekeeper swiftly climbed 69 stairs into the heart of Asia's biggest mechanical clock.

"It's fine if you just don't look down," said Wei Yunsi, the 54-year-old clock keeper. He was trying to comfort a group of reporters who had to lean against walls due to dizziness after climbing on the twisting and seemingly endless stairs. He took a firm stand and stared at the second hand on his watch to stop at 12 o'clock. At that very second, the hundreds of big and small gears that Wei has taken care of during the past 20-plus years in the heart of the clock all twirled steadily. The gears pulled the long hands on the four faces of the huge clock to march forward all at once and triggered the hammers to knock against heavy bronze bells on top of clock tower.

It was followed by the sounds of big bangs echoing across the Bund to report the time accurately, as it has every hour since January 1, 1928, when the clock was first put into use.

Behind the familiar big bang clock sounds and the iconic clock tower, Wei has spent his past 21 years climbing up and down the tower, rewinding the clock springs, lubricating the gears and repairing minor damage to keep the huge clock running accurately.

He is the fourth clock keeper, and likely the last one to have such skills to take care of the huge mechanical clock. The clock is the largest in Asia and third-largest in the world following Big Ben in London and another clock in Moscow.

One thing different about Wei's job compared to his predecessors: His time-tracking and maintenance work is more convenient and even enjoyable thanks to improved technology. In the heart of the clock where the gears are located, Wei started a small motor that can rewind the clock's three springs, the heaviest weighing 1,000 kilograms.

"In the past, five men were needed to rewind the springs and the process may take several hours, and now it only takes 15 minutes for the motor to get the job done," said Wei.

But modern technology cannot cover every part. The clock must be rewound every three days, which has prevented Wei from going on trips or vacations during the past 21 years. "Repair works are probably the toughest part," said Wei. "If some small gears are damaged, I can't just take it out and put a new one into it as it may stop the clock from running."

Wei said his method of repair is to wait until the damaged part of the gear moves into a clear position, and then fixing the part while racing with time.

"For each hour, the gear may only go to certain positions and stay around there for about 10 minutes. Missing that chance and I have to wait another hour," said Wei.

Repairing one small gear may take several days, he said.

In the gear room, the huge clock ticks only every two seconds, a special design to reduce friction and prolong the clock's service time. Thus Wei usually gets the feeling that his time in the tower is much slower than normal.

"To me, this is no longer a job, it's also an obligation and life," said Wei.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend