By Kathleen Neal

Tom Bowers looks like something Hollywood made up: Short with a roundish face that sports eyeglasses with a small loop attached for detailed work. His patriotic suspenders complete the look. You almost expect him to catch his thumbs on them and gently rock back and forth on his heels while telling you everything you ever wanted to know about your grandfather clock.

The second-generation owner of Bowers Watch & Clock Repair on Cheshire Bridge Road in Atlanta, Tom is an expert on tall case clocks, or grandfather clocks.  He is also the go-to guy for all other types of clocks and watches in need of tender loving repair. But the grandfather-type clocks are stars of his show. And as part of that show, he is careful to point out that grandfather clocks are tall case versions that are six feet tall and over. A clock that is five to six feet tall is called a grandmother clock and Tom says that you can go on down to classifying aunt and uncle clocks, based on the height, if you so desire

In 1943, Henry Bowers founded the company in the back room of a shoe store. The business moved several times before landing in its current location. Over the years, Henry’s three sons, Douglas, James and Tim all worked in the shop to learn the trade – from answering phones and shipping to specialized clock and watch repairs. Their wives all pitched in to help as well.

After Henry’s health forced him out of the day-to-day business, Tom and brother James purchased the company in the late 1970s and in 1980, Tom became the sole owner of Bowers Watch & Clock Repair. In keeping with the tradition of family running the show, Tom’s sons Mike and Tim are also part of the mix, taking care of the watch department and most clock repair, leaving the elder Bowers free to run the house-call service, repairing grandfather clocks in your home when necessary.

Tall case clocks have been around for centuries, first appearing in the US in the late 1600s. Most clock makers at that time were not furniture makers, which may be why it is rumored that the cases for the early clocks were originally made by coffin makers. That would explain why your grandfather clock case may be called a sarcophagus. Before 1800, almost all the cases were made of walnut, so if you have a clock case crafted from cherry wood, it probably wasn’t created in the 1700s.

Tom Bowers started seriously working for the company as a teen, while attending Grady High School. “I got into a little trouble at school,” he confesses sheepishly, “and my father made me report to the shop 15 minutes after school let out.”

Every day after school young Tom was put to work fixing the same clock. “Same clock, but with a different problem everyday,” he says. “Of course eventually that clock ran out of problems and I was moved on to working on repairs for others.”

A 22-year military career ended when Henry Bowers called his son, on duty in Germany at the time, to urge Tom to come home and take over the business. Heeding that call, Tom has been in clocks and watches ever since. These days, at 77, his sons handle the majority of the business, leaving their father to handle the house calls and unusual situations. “Basically, I do whatever I want,” Tom says with a twinkle in his eyes. “I mean, after all, I still write the checks!”

Grandfather clocks fell out of popularity for a while, Tom notes. “Shorter ones are more popular now,” he says. Although that may change since one of the reasons for fewer tall clocks in the home was that after World War II, the housing being built in the 1950s and 1960s tended to have much lower ceilings. “I did work on a job where we cut a hole in the ceiling to accommodate the clock,” Tom remembers. “Seems like everyday I see something I’ve never seen before.”  Like the clock he found that was three feet wide and twelve feet tall. Maybe that is a great-grandfather clock!

So you would think that this grandfather clock guru would have a house full of them. Not quite. He does have two tall case clocks in his home but claims he doesn’t like either one of them. ”They become a chore after a while,” he says, referring to having to remember to wind them up. And then he points out that “Battery clocks keep really accurate time.”

Retirement is not in Tom’s plans at the moment, although he says his sons think they already own the business. Don’t be surprised if you visit Tom’s business and see a couple of Bowers grandsons and a granddaughter taking care of customers, handing out change, sorting things or standing on a stool next to grandpa as he works. Tom reports that they are all good little workers, so it looks like the family tradition will most likely continue at Bowers Watch & Clock Repair.

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Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.