Jason Soule of Great Escapements works on a number of different clocks from large grandfather ones to smaller ones someone might set on their cupboard or desk. He goes beyond making the necessary repairs and often corrects previous fixes that someone else did but aren’t quite up to his standards. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton
EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
LAMPASAS — The constant “tick-tock” fades into the background after a few minutes, but at the hour, half-hour, and quarter-hour, chimes ring out. Some are loud enough to cause a visitor to Jason Soule’s shop to look up.
“Oh, we don’t really even hear them anymore,” said Donna Soule, Jason’s wife. She pointed to a large wall clock hanging about 10 feet away from her desk and Jason’s work bench. “Sometimes, at noon, he’ll look over at that one and say, ‘Did you hear it chime?’”
“You kind of get used to it and even tune them out,” Jason said.
That’s one of the side effects of running Great Escapements, a clock repair business in Lampasas.
As a clock repairer, Jason enjoys being able to provide people with the gift of time, kept in a very distinct and stately manner. You won’t find digital clocks in Great Escapements; Jason works on what one might describe as “traditional” clocks. They often come from clock makers with names such as Ridgeway, Seth Thomas, Howard Miller, and Kieninger. Many were made by the hands of American craftsmen, while others come from Germany and a few other countries.
These aren’t the kind you purchase in a discount store that are easy to replace when they stop working.
“Some of the clocks we get have been part of a family for years,” Donna said. “They might have a sentimental attachment to them.”
“They all have stories,” Jason added.
Part of Jason’s job is to restore a clock’s voice if it’s fallen silent for one reason or another.
There aren’t many clock repairmen around these days, especially like Jason, who is a craftsman much like the people who built the very clocks on which he works. Though he shies away from explaining how intricate and detailed his work is, there’s no mistaking the pride he takes in what he does and, especially, the finished product.
Jason didn’t come from a line of clock repairmen. He actually caught the bug in flea markets around his Connecticut hometown some 35 years ago.
“Donna and I would go to flea markets,” he said. “I started with pocket watches, fixing ones I’d find, but then, I started getting into clocks.”
Jason’s hobby followed him and Donna to Wyoming, where they moved to find a better place to raise their kids. He kept working on clocks, and word spread around the state and beyond about his workmanship and care.
Three years ago, Donna and Jason moved to Texas, mainly to be closer to their daughter and her family. Jason also saw it as an opportunity to expand his hobby.
“When I moved to Texas, I moved with the intent to open a shop,” he said.
Right from the start, Jason filled a need in the community and surrounding area. Business grew.
Jason only works on clocks, no watches. He knows a watch repairman he recommends if people insist on it.
His services sound simple: complete clock repair and service calls. To protect valuable clocks — such as grandfather clocks — from damage, Jason goes to the customer’s home, removes the clock mechanism, takes it back to his shop for repairs, and when he’s done, brings it back and sets it up. If someone is moving, Jason will come out and properly pack the grandfather clock for them.
The simplicity on the outside of the clock ticks away once you look at the gears and parts inside, all working as one to keep time.
Repairing a clock, at least at Jason’s level, requires complete disassembly. He checks all the pivots and their fit into the plates. If there’s too much movement in the pivot hole, he finds the right size bushing, drills out the hole a little more, installs the bushing, and fits it to the polished pivot. He works on a scale that would make a mouse squint.
He has all the necessary tools in his shop: a milling machine, a lathe, and several hand tools.
For a repair to live up to Jason’s standards, it often means pulling out every screw and pivot in the clock’s train or gears, addressing any excessive wear and tear, and replacing them once completed.
“He’s kind of a perfectionist,” Donna said with a laugh.
Jason doesn’t stop with the necessary repairs. He gives the entire set of gears and mechanisms a once-over. Sometimes, he notices dings and scratches left not by normal wear but by the hands of a previous repairman.
“If there was a poor-quality repair previously done, I try to clean it up,” he said. “The way I look at it, I’m the last person to touch the clock, and I want the end product to be something I’m proud of.”
A clock, on its most basic level, is for telling time, but it can tell so much more: the history of its owner, the era in which it was crafted, and even its home country.
The Soules have seen quite a bit of history come through their shop’s door.
There was one gentleman who had Jason repair a grandfather clock made in 1767.
“And it’s been in his family, for as far as he can tell, from when it was built,” Jason said.
He’s worked on others from the late 1700s and many from the 1800s.
While Jason admitted he has a soft spot for early American timepieces, he’s knowledgeable about an array of clocks.
“He’s done a lot of research,” Donna said. “Sometimes, people come in with a clock and say, ‘What is this?'”
So Jason goes to work to find the answer.
As you listen to Jason talk about different clock makers, parts, and styles, his voice comes alive. He has concerns about the world of clocks today. Most quality American clock makers shut their doors long ago. The few remaining build the clocks but usually import the trains and mechanisms from Germany. You can purchase Korean- and Chinese-made knockoffs, but the quality just isn’t there.
Then, there’s the change in today’s society, which favors smartphones and digital pieces over the classic wall, mantle, galley, and grandfather clocks.
“You don’t see many younger people interested in clocks like these,” Jason said.
Donna nodded in agreement.
“Everyone is into these,” she added, pointing to her smartphone.
The couple, however, continue to share the importance of these elder statesmen, whether they were built in the late 1700s or 1980s. If you’re looking for a classic clock, or just curious about them, stop by Great Escapements because Jason has some for sale, and he’ll also enjoy discussing them with you.
“Yeah, he’s kind of obsessed,” Donna said with a smile.
This time, Jason nodded.
Great Escapements is located at 1305 S. Key Ave., Suite 101A, in Lampasas. Shop hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 10 a.m.-1 p.m. most Saturdays. Call ahead on Saturdays to make sure he’s there. Contact (254) 394-4393 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. You can also visit the shop’s Facebook page @greatescapements.