Every 15 minutes, the chimes in the Laxalt Building ring through downtown Carson City, marking the passage of time with a classical tune or a Beatles melody, even the state’s song, “Home Means Nevada.”
But it hasn’t always been that way.
When Bill Hartman moved to Carson City in 1996, it seemed in a way that time stood still.
“I noticed there was all this construction at the Laxalt Building,” he said. “But every time I drove by the clock, it was always the same time.”
Built between 1889 and 1892, the building, 401 N. Carson St., was originally home to the federal courthouse, with the courtrooms and judges’ chambers still evident. It was later used as a post office and as the Nevada State Library.
He approached state officials and offered to restore the piece of local history with fellow retired Navy officer Lee Carter, both of whom had a history in engineering.
Upon entering the clock tower for the first time, Hartman said, they found the clock in a heap on the floor. They learned it had been disassembled in the 1980s as part of earthquake retrofitting after the Dixie Valley earthquake in 1954 broke some spires off the top of the building and caused damage to the clock.
With no experience, they set about restoring the artifact to working order.
“Engineers can just tinker around with stuff,” he said.
And they resisted the urge to modernize it.
Hartman estimates they invested about 100 hours to restore the clock works. The clock officially ticked backed to life on June 10, 1999.
But the work was not finished.
Shortly after the restoration, a committee was formed to add a carillon, an automated mechanism that plays Westminster chimes, to the tower
Between Oct. 1 and Oct. 20 of that year, the community raised $11,000. With such a tight crunch before the Oct. 30 Nevada Day celebration, Hartman propped the speakers out of the window of the Laxalt Building.
They played “Home Means Nevada,” as then-Gov. Kenny Guinn drove past, a tradition that continues today.
The speakers have now been permanently mounted in an abandoned ventilator shaft on the main roof.
The Carson City Carillon and Clock Committee continues to meet quarterly, establishing the schedule for the chimes and conducting general business. The clock is wound weekly.
On a recent summer day, Hartman wound it. To get there, he takes an elevator that was installed in the 1920s. Once in the former judge’s chamber, which now serves a state office, he climbs a ladder built in 1892 up into the clock tower.
With no ventilation, the tower is stifling hot.
“If someone was to write up here now, it would be graffiti,” Hartman said. “But give it some time, and it’s historical stuff.”
With the ease of routine, he turns the large wooden handle to wind the cable, which is anchored to a 75-pound weight that powers a 39.15-inch pendulum. He checks the clock’s time against a satellite clock he keeps in the tower, and makes a note in the meticulously kept logs.
To him, all the work he’s put into it just makes sense.
“The clock should be working,” he said. “It’s just as simple as that. Part of my mission is to make sure it never stops again.”
The three, 60-inch diameter dials are all a quarter-inch glass, frosted on the inside with hand-painted Roman numerals on the outside.
On two of the dials (east and north), on pieces of a broken dial and in a photo of the building circa 1927 showing the west face, the 4 o’clock position is is marked by IIII. The current west face dial is marked by the traditional IV.
This, and the fact that the frosting and color of glass of the west face are slightly different from the other dials, indicates that the west face is a replacement.
The dials are each back-illuminated by two electric light bulbs. The original source of lighting for the building was gas light.
Roughly cut pieces of sheet metal nailed with square-head nails in the wood beams directly above the existing lights suggest that gas flames originally illuminated the clock faces, with the sheet metal shielding the beams from the heat of the flames.