Texas Avenue property owner Tom Monick likes precise things. This is no surprise as his career as a Professional Engineer has shown the importance of precision in making things work, insuring that things are structurally sound and that they run on time. It is also no surprise that he would be intrigued by the Swiss’ centuries-long dedication to timepieces that continue to be the most precise in the world, and that is how this story begins.
Tom’s building in the 1100 block of Texas Avenue is one of downtown’s fairly typical older two story masonry structures. It is more than a century old with solid brick walls, windows important for ventilation in the days pre- air conditioning, & high ceilings. A lot of life has been lived in its four walls. Over the years from roughly 1907-on, the space has been home to a variety of businesses, starting with the Phoenix Furniture Company and then transitioning to the Kaufman Furniture Company and later still to Hirsch Brothers Grocery, purveyor of the ‘delightful and unique’ IXL brand of Liver Paste and Deviled Chili Meat, perfect for tea and card parties.
By 1964, the building had returned to its case goods roots and was once again a furniture store- home of McLendon Furniture, one of more a dozen furniture outlets along the stretch of Texas Avenue from the 800 to 1200 blocks.
While all of this activity was happening along Texas Avenue, half a world away, a man named Hans Hilfiker, an engineer with Swiss Federal Railways, was coming up with a way to make sure the trains ran on time. It was 1944 and WWII was still raging as Hilfiker and the Moser-Baer clock company designed something that would become a world wide landmark, the railway clock known as the SBB.
Trains, of course, have to run on time, not only for reliability, but for safety, so this clock needed to be the most precise in the world. Inventing one reliable timepiece is hard enough, but each also had to run synchronously with all the other Swiss Railway clocks in order to be of use to passengers and railway personnel. It was a tall order, solved by an electrical impulse from a central master clock at each full minute, advancing the minute hand by one minute. Over the years, these SBB clocks have become the benchmark of precision timepieces. Not only do they perform well, they have a striking modern look, selected by the London Design Museum and the MoMa (Museum of Modern Art) as an outstanding 20th century design. This is the clock that you can now see on the front of Monick’s Texas Avenue building.
Monick tells me there are many knock-off clocks, similar in style to the iconic SBB, but this one IS an SBB. “The clock on Texas (Ave.) is not a replica of a Swiss Railway clock,” Monick says. “This is a Swiss Railway clock, made in the same Swiss factory as the clocks used on the Swiss Railway with the same mechanical (not quartz) movement. The clock is GPS synchronized and automatically adjusts to the exact time. It will change automatically with daylight savings time, as well. Synchronization is not a big deal for a digital clock, however, it is huge for a mechanical clock.”
The clock took about 12 weeks to build and during that time, Monick put significant consideration into the mounting of the clock, too, which is on gusseted square tubing. “The assembly is bolted through the 15” thick wall and supported with back-up plates on the interior of the building. The plates behind the wall are considerably larger than what one sees on the outside. The idea is to distribute the load across the plates and sandwich the wall between the plates.”
The ‘red paddle’ on the second hand added in the 1950s is similar to the paddles used by Swiss Railroad personnel used to signal the departure of the trains. When you watch a Swiss Railway clock the red paddle second hand will stop at 12 and then the minute hand will advance one minute. Monick suspects that this is more information than just about anyone will ever want to know about the clock. We respectfully disagree because we, like Monick, find joy and interest in the coolness of this amazing new addition to Texas Avenue.
That is why you can now set your watch, clock and day at a clock on the front of his Texas Avenue building that is arguably always more right than almost anything else you will find.