The Courthouse Clocks

by Rachel Ehnert, Communications Specialist for Weld County

While the Weld County Courthouse boasts some of the most beautiful architecture, stained glass and ornate plaster carvings of any building in the state, perhaps its most coveted feature is its pneumatic system of clocks. This system, powered by the large grandfather clock on the second floor, uses compressed air and a labyrinth of pipes to move the hands of the four subordinate clocks.

This was a particularly noteworthy addition to the building during its construction in 1915 as, at the time, these systems were considered a luxury; they were more reliable and budget-friendly opposed to electrical clocks, which then required heavy and expensive acid batteries.

These clocks proved to be a sound investment—they ran for decades, with a special courthouse employee stopping by throughout each day to re-crank the grandfather clock to keep the system in sync.

However, sometime in the last fifteen years, the clocks stopped, without an obvious cause.

However, this system of clocks is even more noteworthy today—thanks to an increase in the availability of electricity, pneumatic clocks were all but phased out entirely. Today, there are only a handful of these clocks left in existence in the state—and there are even fewer that are still operational. In fact, these clocks are so rare that when they were cleaned and repaired earlier this year, representatives from the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors were called upon for their expertise in rare clocks.

Tim Orr, one of these representatives, was impressed by what he and his team uncovered when they opened the grandfather clock and removed its mechanical center.

“There is very little wear on the gears,” Orr said. “That’s a sign of an expertly designed and incredibly well-built clock.”

Sure enough, with a few days of tinkering and cleaning the intricate, button-sized gears by hand, Orr and his team had the grandfather clock running like it was 1917 again. The bad news? That was the easy part. The real work began after the grandfather clock was functional again—Orr’s team had to figure out what within the walls of the courthouse was preventing the puffs of air from the grandfather clock from getting to the other clocks in the system.

What they discovered wasn’t entirely reassuring—many of the pipes had been damaged over the years by various courthouse repairs and restorations. While the master grandfather clock continues to keep time outside of Division 7, most of the subordinate clocks have been replaced by battery operated versions.