Jim VanOrsdel
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Charlotte, NC
Charlotte is Jim VanOrsdel's home base.  He is well-known for his efforts to bring the correct time to Uptown Charlotte.  His skills have been documented in numerous articles and publications, including Around The Clock in South Park Magazine.  The articles on this page are from the archive of the Charlotte Observer. 
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Grand Post Clock

In 1989, Jim VanOrsdel, owner of The Clock Shop in Charlotte, NC was determined to have a clock at the City's Historical Square located at the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets in the heart of Uptown Charlotte, NC. A Clock Committee was formed in 1990 to design an appropriate clock and raise private and corporate funds to erect a permanent Clock on the Square in Charlotte, NC.

Jim VanOrsdel of The Clock Shop served on this committee with forner City Coucil member Al Rousso serving as Chairman, and during the planning and fund raising process, VanOrsdel decided to loan the City a 1920's Post Clock manufactured by The Brown Street Clock Company.

The cast-iron clock towers 14 feet above the sidewalk, and with 36" milk-glass dials on two sides, it is very easily read from more than a block away. The dials are back-lite at night. Once a week, the clock has to be wound with a crank, for it is a double-weight-driven pendulum-regulated style clock inside of the key-locked base.

The City of Charlotte, NC was very gracious to pour a concrete base, provide the needed wiring to the clock, and furnish personel to help install this Grand Post Clock. The populous certainly enjoyed its presense until the permanent clock could be erected. One could actually put his ear against the base and listen to it tick!

Jim VanOrsdel called on Mayor Sue Myrick, along with many dignitaries to be present for the dedication of this Post Clock on July 13, 1990. Mayor Sue Myrick had the resposibility of starting the pendulum swinging at Noon. This majestic Clock provided a meeting place for the citizens, was a loyal and warm friend for the community, and kept the correct time until a permanent clock was finally erected.

Allen Norwood, Observer Columnist

A uthor William Faulkner was right about time and clocks: ``Time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels,`` Faulkner wrote. ``Only when the clock stops does time come to life.`` From time to time, the little wheels in the clock at The Square in uptown Charlotte quit clicking.

Sure enough, things get lively as bus passengers relying on the clock sprint to make connections. The clock at Trade and Tryon streets often is slow, say uptown regulars. But there`s no telling how slow it might be, so it`s not just a matter of adding a few minutes to the time appearing on the clock`s two faces. ``Two months ago it was nearly an hour slow,`` said engraver Jim Buchanan, whose shop is in the Commerce Building a block from The Square. ``I called to complain.`` ``Sometimes it`s 15 or 20 minutes behind,`` said double amputee Keith Wideman, who watches The Square most days from his gurney, under the trees at NCNB Plaza. ``Two weeks ago I noticed it. It`s misleading. I tell myself, I could have sworn it was later than that.` ``And if you want to catch a bus, forget it.``

Good advice, said regular bus passenger Steve Manson. Forget it. Don`t glance up. Hustle. ``Sometimes the clock doesn`t even work at all,`` said Manson, as he waited for the No. 12 bus Wednesday morning in the first block of South Tryon. ``I remember when it was stuck on 20 minutes `til 8 for two or three days.`` That brings up a cosmic question. Which is better, a clock that works part of the time or a clock that`s broken all the time?

I mean, the one that doesn`t move at all is right twice a day. The 15-foot, black cast-iron street clock was unveiled in July by Mayor Sue Myrick. Uptown Charlotte had been without a freestanding clock for 66 years. But former mayor pro tem Al Rousso and other clock fans pushed to have one installed in the park at The Square when - and if - the park is ever finished. The clock there now was built by the Brown Street Clock Co. of Monessen, Pa., and originally served residents of Cleveland. It was bought and rebuilt by Charlotte clock maker Jim Van Orsdel, who loaned it to the city until Charlotte can erect its own.

Rousso gushes when he starts rhapsodizing about clocks. ``(A clock) would constantly teach punctuality and the value of time and would be a missionary worker against indolence,`` Rousso wrote in April in a persuasive piece in The Observer. I stopped by Rousso`s shop, Brownlee Jewelers on South Tryon, to ask him about problems with the clock at The Square.

I`m sure Rousso knows about the problems, because every time his pal Buchanan wants to fuss at someone about the clock being slow, Rousso gets the call. Rousso wasn`t there when I stopped by. He was, well . . . late for work. Can`t see the clock at The Square from his house, I suppose. Maintenance workers tending the Tryon Street mall sometimes hear grumbling when the little wheels in the clock quit spinning as they should. But it`s Van Orsdel, not city workers, who tends the thing, and I couldn`t reach him, either.

Personally, I stand with Rousso and Van Orsdel on the issue of public clocks. A town square ought to have one, even if it has to be reset occasionally. The city ought to do all it can to see that the clock is right. But when the clock is wrong, well, it`s not the end of the world. It`s the way of clocks.

The clock at The Square, built in the early 1920s, is about as likely to be right as the modern, electronic time pieces that dominate my life. There are three clocks I have to pay attention to here at the desk. Wednesday morning, when the clock on the computer screen said 9:36, the one on my wrist said 9:38 and the big face hanging from the ceiling said 9:41. At the same moment - precisely 9:41/9:38/9:36 - the telephone time and temperature service said it was 9:34. And the clock at The Square said it was 9:33.

Whatever time it really was, all those clocks had it surrounded. 

TEX O`NEILL, Staff Writer

A once-familiar face has returned to uptown Charlotte - after 66 years, the city again has a town clock. At noon Wednesday, Mayor Sue Myrick unveiled the 15-foot black cast-iron street clock at Trade and Tryon. Then, reaching under twin 14-pound weights at its base, she gave the brass- faced pendulum a swing. It began to tick. The clock, manufactured by the Brown Street Clock Co. of Monessen, Pa., in the early 1920s, once graced a street in Cleveland.

Recently, Charlotte clock maker Jim Van Orsdel bought it, rebuilt it and lent it to the city until Charlotte can erect its own in Plaza Park. The much- delayed park at Trade and Tryon is scheduled to be finished by September 1991.

At Wednesday`s unveiling, former city council member Al Rousso announced a campaign to finance construction of a permanent tower clock on the site. An 1871 clock from Des Moines, Iowa, and a bronze bell have been secured. Architects will be asked to submit designs for the tower. The Rousso family has donated $5,000 toward the project. The clock unveiled Wednesday has a 32-inch face. Set at an angle to the intersection, it can be seen by motorists driving toward The Square from two directions - south on Tryon or west on Trade. Once, few towns were without such clocks. Strategically located, they offered much more than time of day. In a time when people couldn`t afford watches, their periodic peal gave the day rhythm. People met under them.

Van Orsdel said Charlotte last had a town clock in 1924, at the old city hall on North Tryon Street. Such old clocks, because of their modest scale and ties to the past, are a comfort to people, said UNC Charlotte history Professor Dan Morrill.

``There is something very reassuring about a clock,`` he said. ``Uptown Charlotte needs something to give people a sense of security and comfort.`` Said Van Orsdel: ``This clock, amidst all the steel and glass and stone, will add a little warmth.``

RICKI MORELL, Staff Writer

Today, Jim Van Orsdel will stop time.

He`ll climb a rickety ladder inside the old Statesville Drug Co. to the roof and a green wooden tower. Then he`ll turn back the hands on the four faces of Statesville`s 99-year-old town clock. As daylight saving time ends at 2 a.m. Sunday, millions will join Charlotte clock expert Van Orsdel in doing what seems impossible.

They`ll stop the march of time - or at least fend it off for an hour. But for those who know time, this setting back of clocks is only an elaborate deception.

``The time of day is a very arbitrary thing,`` says Leo Hollberg of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which keeps official U.S. time. Real time, says Hollberg, is immutable. It ticks away second by second, year by year.

At the institute in Boulder, Colo., a super-modern atomic clock measures real time. ``It`s a big stainless steel pipe, about 1 foot in diameter and 10 feet long, with lots of electronics attached to it,`` says Hollberg, a physicist.

With it, scientists pick up a microwave signal, ``a stable oscillation,`` they call it. About 9 billion oscillations equal one second. ``We experience time from motion,`` says Hollberg. ``The only way we can see it is by something moving in a repetitive fashion.``

All the rest - daylight saving time, Eastern Standard Time - is smoke and mirrors. ``It`s purely a thing that we as a society have decided on for convenience,`` Hollberg says. Still, Van Orsdel knows his role today in the national resetting of clocks. First, in his clock shop on Charlotte`s Commonwealth Avenue, he`ll spend the better part of the day turning back hands on more than 300 timepieces: The miniature 3-inch brass clock and the 180-pound cherry grandfather clock. Clocks that advertise ``Drink Chero-Cola`` and ``Calumet Baking Powder.`` And the barbershop clock with numbers painted backward, which can be read only by looking in a mirror. Then he will drive to Statesville to fulfill his duty as steward of the town clock. He`ll move the 3-foot hands back. But he won`t tamper with the constant beat of the 8-foot solid cherry pendulum.

``We`re not changing time,`` he says. ``The Earth is going to rotate no matter what we do with our clocks.`

ROLFE NEILL, Publisher, The Observer

At last, we`re near to filling the gap-toothed ugliness of the southwest corner of The Square. Final park design plans will be considered this week. The lot has been vacant more than five years as the city pondered (and dallied) on how to convert this precious space into an urban oasis for the crossroads of the Carolinas. The most prominent real estate in the largest city of two states deserves something special. The design team is Angela Danadjieva and Tom Koenig of San Francisco. They are the pair who conceived Seattle`s unique park that straddles an interstate and invites downtown pedestrians to wander and tarry in a landscaped setting of odd angles, heights and abundant greenery. Water is a key element. Water will be a significant component of our new park, too. The designers are proposing a 24-foot high (about three stories) water element. I hope it`s a water wall reminiscent of New York City`s acclaimed Paley Park just off Fifth Avenue, three blocks north of St. Patrick`s Cathedral.

Lawyer Beverly Webb, a man with a heart for music and history, leads the citizen`s committee in charge of the city-funded project. His group will meet Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. at City Hall and you`re invited. They expect to report to City Council in January. The construction budget is $1.2 million, which no doubt will be insufficient.

The new park should contain a clock. This clock needs to be large enough to be read from across the street. The half hour and hour should be chimed the old-fashion way in a pleasant reasonance that can be heard throughout the area. Ideally, the clock should not only furnish the time but be incorporated into the park as an interest center of its own.

Several years ago I described such a clock in Pensacola, Fla. The gears in a large clock are housed in plexiglass so visitors can see the wheels and levers as they move. The 1,500-pound bell is also exposed so the clapper can he viewed as it strikes the side of the heavy cast bell.

Unbelievably, we have a similar clock in A-1 working order and locally available. Jim Van Orsdel is a clock lover who gave up the mortuary business to become owner of The Clock Shop on Commonwealth Avenue. Last year, he bought a large tower clock that had told time for more than half a century at Iowa`s Tabor College. He restored the E. Howard clock, made in Boston in 1897. Van Orsdel says Howard was America`s premier tower clock maker. He reminds us that City Hall, while still located on North Tryon Street early in this century, had such a clock that towered over the three story building. The structure was demolished in 1924. First Union`s handsome new headquarters, three blocks away on College Street, has a four-sided clock in its plaza but, alas, the faces are too small to be seen by anyone except those immediately nearby. There are no public time displays anywhere in the area of The Square.

What better symbol for the crossroads of a busy city than a large, utilitarian clock? Workers hurry to their offices, urged on by advancing hands. Noontime crowds measure their lunch hour. Friends rendezvous at what will become a landmark. Riders mark the time until their scheduled bus is to depart. Concert and playgoers note the minutes until curtain time. Children - and adults - will exclaim at watching the inner workings of a grand old timepiece.

Van Orsdel got so excited about the possibilities of incorporating a clock in our new park that he drew a possible design. He is not wedded to this particular sketch, but made it merely to suggest possibilities. Take a look at the accompanying drawing and let me know what you think.

We`re going to have an extraordinary corner at Trade and Tryon Streets after the Performing Arts Center and NCNB tower are completed in less than two years. Their plaza will be diagonally opposite this new park. On the corner east of our new park will be the park area beside the existing NCNB building. We owe it to ourselves to have this final corner make a vivid statement about what we value. This is not an arrangement for the next decade, but for a century or more. Let`s do it right. Let`s include a clock on The Square.