Dave Miller stands
in the bedroom of a Hannibal home and asks the owners where they
would like an anchor set into their wall. This simple task is nearly
the last step in a process that began more than six months before.
gallery clocks personalized with corporate and school logos
are just one offering of Dave Miller's Ralls County Clock Company.
Dave also handmakes reproduction regulator clocks and repairs
antique timepieces. This clock is one Dave made for his daughter,
who will graduate from the University of Missouri’s
College of Veterinary Medicine in 2005.
the hanger installed, Dave places a cherry wood regulator clock
on the wall. He opens the clock’s crystal face and sets the
hour, minute and calendar hands to the proper time and date. Using
a large metal key he winds the clock and gently taps a pendulum with
the tip of his finger. As the shiney brass bob swings from side to
side Dave’s work is done.
of this schoolhouse-style clock returned a family memory to its rightful
state. Jill Walker inherited her mother’s bedroom furniture
but her sister received the clock that always accompanied it. She turned
to Dave to replace the missing heirloom.
the clock back to complete the outfit,” she says. “Since
that’s the way it’s always been that’s the way it has
For Dave, the $850
timepiece represents the pinnacle of his clock-making career. Working
only from an old photograph Dave designed and built a clock that
would match Jill’s memories. With its hand-oiled,
cherry cabinet, German eight-day movement, a third hand that points to
the date, chimes to mark the hour and an authentic rag-cloth face, the
clock is a thing of beauty. It also challenged all of Dave’s skills
as a woodworker.
Dave explains the operation of a regulator clock to Jill and
Dave Walker. The Hannibal couple ordered a custom-made schoolhouse-style
regulator clock to replace a family heirloom.
probably the hardest thing I’ve
ever done because there’s
not one 90 degree angle in that clock,” he says. “That’s
a solid cherry round face that was cut out by hand.”
woodworker, Dave had dabbled with clocks in the past. Three years
ago the former airline operations manager formed The Ralls County
Clock Company and began making wall and mantel clocks full time.
few of Dave’s clocks are as complex or as costly as the one
he made for the Walkers, almost all begin the same way. The Ralls
County Electric Cooperative member rarely makes a clock to put
in inventory. Every clock is unique. Typically a customer approaches
him with a request or an idea and Dave invites them out to his
shop, located on ancestral land west of Hannibal, and together
they sketch out a design and specifications.
Only then does
Dave begin work. Using hand-selected Missouri hardwoods, he builds
a cabinet and installs the finest European hardened-brass movements.
The process can take months and the price starts at about $300
for a simple clock. A typical clock sells for $450 to $650, depending
on the complexity of the woodworking and style of movement.
Dave uses German-made, hardened brass movements in his clocks.
can go to discount stores and buy the imported look-alikes
not the same quality. They don’t even come close,” Dave
are original, hand-cut, hand-planed. They have a solid brass
the best you can buy. The glass is real crystal.
quality. It’s reminiscent of an age gone by. It’s
a real clock and people pay for that,” he says. “I
guess people are tired of junk now. They want to go back
When Dave launched
his business he wasn’t
necessarily aware of a pent-up demand for quality clocks.
He was just trying to make a living from his rural Missouri
Dave grew up in
St. Louis but often visited an uncle and aunt on their farm near
the railroad town of Rensselaer. It was there Dave first experienced
the allure of a hand-wound clock. His aunt had clocks everywhere
and the sound of all those timepieces chiming on the hour made an
eventually took over the farm, which had been in the family since
1834. Meanwhile, Dave set out for career and family. He worked in
the airline industry for 18 years, serving as operations manager
for Braniff and two other now-defunct carriers at airports in Kansas
City, Minneapolis, Detroit, New York and even Guam. In 1979, after
his third experience being laid off by a bankrupt airline, he came
home to Missouri and the family.
There, he briefly
tried his hand making clocks. A 1982 newspaper story hanging on the
wall of his shop attests to those early efforts. But that enterprise
never really took off so Dave put his tools aside and moved to the
East Coast to work as a salesman until 1996, when his father
|Dave sights the placement of a clock face. To perform properly
the dial and mechanism must be expertly installed.
grown children, Dave moved to Missouri to care for the 135-acre farm.
He fixed up the house, rented out the farm ground and returned to
an old passion, woodworking.
been building with wood my whole life,” he says. “I’ve
made furniture, cabinets, doll houses for my
With no job and
an expensive radio-controlled model airplane habit to support, Dave
decided to try building clocks again. He remodeled the old storage
barn that held his earlier shop, bought tools and began learning
all he could about building clocks.
“Two or three
years ago I decided this is it. I’m too old to keep
playing games so let’s get it on,” he
says, recalling his decision to launch a
In 2001 he hung
a sign heralding his enterprise on the gravel road leading
to his home. “Ralls County Clock
Company, Antique Clock Repair, Fine Hardwood
Reproductions, By Appointment Only,” the
the world did not beat a path to his remote door.
Still, through word of mouth, local advertising
and a page on a community Web
began attracting orders. Most of his
sales have been to customers within a 150-mile
radius of Hannibal but he’s also
shipped clocks to California, Oklahoma
and Texas. Slowly but surely, he says,
the business is taking off.
been very hard,” he admits. “Only
recently, in the last six, seven months,
have I seen the end of the tunnel.
really starting to click.”
Miller adjusts the movement of an antique clock he’s
restoring. Dave’s Ralls County Clock Company refurbishes
old clocks and makes modern reproductions using Missouri hardwoods.
building clocks and offering a few
imported clocks for sale Dave also
restores antique clocks. Typical
of these is a Seth Thomas mantel clock
with a damaged cabinet. “When
I got it the movement was all gummed
up. It wouldn’t
run. I got it cleaned and oiled,” Dave
says as he winds the clock and operates
a lever inside the mechanism that
causes the clock to chime.
clock was probably built anywhere
from 1870 to 1900. It’s the
original movement and it’s
still running,” he says. “Once
the cabinet is done it will command
value of old clocks is one reason
Dave says his heirloom-quality
clocks are an investment rather
than a mere luxury.
are exactly the kinds of clocks
that I build,” Dave says. “I
am not into junk stuff. There’s
no plastic. It’s all
original and hand made. They
will last as long as these
Dave is building his reputation
on modern versions of traditional
clocks, he hopes to build
his business with a more modern
offering. Dave has discovered
a niche, producing large,
round, gallery-style clocks featuring
hand-painted faceplates emblazoned
with corporate logos or university
Already Dave has
produced personalized clocks for area banks and other businesses.
He is currently designing a series of clocks for the Burlingtone
Northern and Santa Fe Railroad and is negotiating with the University
of Missouri system for use of its logo.
|Dave waxes the hand-oiled finish of a clock cabinet at his shop
near Rensselaer. Miller specializes in hand-made regulator clocks.
These clocks, which
sell for about $500, are ideal as corporate awards and gifts to recognize
a retirement or other special accomplishment, Dave says. One sample
he showed the university bears the logo of the College
of Veterinary Medicine and the proclamation “Dr. Jen Miller,
DVM, Class of 2005.” Dave’s
daughter will receive
the 21-inch clock when she graduates next year.
Unlike the reproduction
clocks Dave makes, these
gallery clocks feature
mechanisms. Most of his clocks,
however, require more involvement
on the part of the owner.
got to wind it,” Dave
says. “Once a week, you
just plan on it.
like mowing the grass.
to do it whether
you like it or not.”
return for this
minimal attention, Dave says
his clocks reward
their owners with
their beauty and
about it. It’s
the sound. It’s
watching that pendulum,
the quality of
the cabinet,” he
get used to it
and you have to
For more information call the Ralls County Clock Company at (573) 221-4002 or