Jim VanOrsdel
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Biltmore Estate
From the online archive of the Charlotte Observer

Please contact Jim with any questions pertaining to your Heirloom Timepiece. Quotes for any restoration or conservation will be handled in a timely manner. All work has a one-year guarantee attached, with the exception of ‘Acts of Nature” or obvious abuse.

References and recommendations will be forwarded upon request. If you desire a specific type of Clock to purchase, his many resources are available to be of assistance.  As a master clockmaker, Jim VanOrsdel can repair almost any timepiece or music box.



CAROL D. LEONNIG, Catawba Valley Bureau

In George Vanderbilt`s mansion, elaborate clocks that the baron of industry brought to Asheville 100 years ago still tick, ding and chime. Jim VanOrsdel had the task Friday of readying the Biltmore Estate`s only working artifacts for Sunday`s change from daylight saving time. And it was no simple twist of the wrist.

The Charlotte clock maker needed a surgeon`s precision and a lover`s touch to turn back the 19 timepieces an hour. Some of the clocks in the 250-room chateau, which last year drew more visitors than any other N.C. attraction, are three centuries old and finicky.

What began as a hobby 20 years ago is now his livelihood. After two apprenticeships, he specializes in antique timepieces and tower clocks. ``With newer clocks, people can just turn the hands back,`` said VanOrsdel, 48, who owns The Clock Shop. ``But these older clocks all have little devils and ghosts in them.``

Take the 10-foot Dutch clock in the Biltmore`s grand entry hall. Three separate pendulums drive the second, minute and hour hands from inside the mahogany-encased timepiece, custom-built in Amsterdam in 1760.

The maker designed the clock to play melodies signaling specific times to Vanderbilt and his guests. Thirty-two miniature hammers strike 15 bells inside the clock`s bonnet, playing Mozart at the half-hour and hour. A high-pitched chime marks 15 minutes after the hour, and a deeper chime sounds at quarter to.

From a ladder Friday, VanOrsdel tinkered inside the Dutch clock`s bronze brain until he`d successfully moved all the right gears and convinced the clock it was 8:25 a.m. instead of 9:25.

Some of the Biltmore clocks are hard to reach, such as two that perch in four-story towers above the stables and winery. Squeezed into a stable attic. Friday, VanOrsdel twisted a metal rod in the back of the 1900s Bostonian clock until the dial retreated 60 minutes.

This ``master`` clock, so called because it drives 17 ``slave`` clocks in nearby servants` quarters, marks a week each time its 300-pound pulley weight descends to the bottom of the tower. At the week`s end, a worker comes in to crank the weight back up to the top.

Ellen Rickman, chief Biltmore curator, said that clocks are the only original artifacts still working in the mansion-turned-tourist attraction. ``They are still ticking away just as they did when George Vanderbilt lived here,`` Rickman said. ``They lend a sense of reality to Biltmore House - making it more like it was when it was a home.``

People want clocks to keep pace, VanOrsdel said. Without clocks, people lose their rhythmic connection to the present. ``Time - it`s something we can all relate to, we can all be loyal to,`` the former mortician said. ``When people come into the house, they look at the clocks to check their wristwatch.`` Clocks also connect us to our past.

``Every clock has its own little history,`` said VanOrsdel, who wore a 1960 Bulova on his wrist. ``My customers will say, I remember when this clock was on my grandmother`s mantel` or I had this clock back when . . . ` ``

There`s just one problem. Today`s visitors to Biltmore need to beware when they check their watches against most of the house`s decorative timekeepers. Until Sunday morning at 2, the clocks will be an hour early.

*October 24, 1992 Section: MAIN NEWS Edition: 3&4 Page: 1A Memo:This story also ran slightly different in ed. 1&2 on pg. 1a