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$50,000 Worth of Time Clocks

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, January, 1946

$50,000 Worth of Time Clocks

During the war, the New York Port of Embarkation was a vital cog in our military machine. From this base, thousands of soldiers and many tons of vital supplies were shipped to the fighting fronts of the world.

There were, and still are, hundreds of civilians employed at this port. And it takes $50,000 worth of time clocks to figure out whether the people at the port come to work on time. The clocks - 160 of them - are kept running by Robert J. Smith, payroll supervisor of the Harbor Boat Branch, who spends nights and Sunday~ and any other spare time he has taking care of these eight-score clocks.

Three types of clocks are used at the port - Simplex, International and Cincinnati. The most expensive one is the International which costs $375 and not only keeps time and punches time cards but rings bells and blows whistles. One of these clocks is used on the third floor of the Kenyon building to ring a bell at the beginning and end of lunch and rest periods.

Smith estimates that more than 12 million time punches a year are recorded at the New York Port of Embarkation. That's enough to wear out four clock ribbons, (something like typewriter ribbons) a year on each time clock. Approximately 300 people punch in and out daily on each clock.

Timekeepers are time clock detectives, says Smith, and they can tell from the time cards whether any one has tampered with the cards. He won't give away the trade secret, but he warns that manipulating time clocks won't give anyone extra pay. Banging, kicking or punching the machine will not make the time pass any faster, either. 

The ending of Eastern War Time gave Smith an extra job. He came to work the Sunday the time changed and spent eight hours turning every clock at Bush Terminal, Staten Island Terminal and the Base, ahead 11 hours. The clocks could not be turned back. Smith also has an extra day's work at the end of every 30-day month, for the clocks are set to operate on a 31-day basis.

The main reason why clocks break down, declares Smith, is not mechanical but human. Save for the accumulation of dirt which clogs them all up, the clocks would run smoothly if all the users used them properly. Instead people jam their cards into the clocks, throw such things as buttons, gum wrappers, and scrap paper into them and push them to make them go faster.

Winter provides a big problem for Smith, since time clocks in cold places like piers often freeze and refuse to function. Rheostats, small heating devices, must be installed to keep them warm.

Smith first became interested in clocks when he noticed an outside repairman came in most of the time for minor adjustments. He watched the man repair the clocks, then learned how to do it himself. 

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