Ticktock of a pocket watch is music to this collector's ears

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Shelly Birkelo
Thursday, December 26, 2013

Watch parts and small tools were spread across the top of Bob Witzack's 100-year-old oak watchmaker's bench in the upstairs studio of his rural Rock County home.

An antique lamp and natural sunlight combined to light his workspace.

Collecting and repairing old pocket and wristwatches is a hobby of this 65-year-old retired railroad engineer who is drawn to life of a bygone era.

"It's just a passion for a world that doesn't exist anymore. They're pieces of the past," he said.

"People don't even use them anymore," Witzack said of the watches.

Instead they use their cell phones.

But not Witzack, who wore a 1918 pocket watch tucked into his vest.

It was made in Springfield, Ill., and is similar to what a train conductor might have worn, he said.

"I had to have a good watch on the railroad," Witzack said.

That's because the railroad ran by schedules and timetables, he said.

Witzack prefers pocket watches to wristwatches.

"They're easy to read and easier to work on," he said.

Since he began collecting watches in 2000, Witzack has built an inventory he's never counted.

"They're beautiful mechanisms I find fascinating," he said peering through eyeglasses boosted by an attached magnifier.

Witzack gets some of his watches from people who don't want them and sell them to Ken Corey at Dubes Jewelry, downtown Janesville, where Witzack spends 10 hours a week fixing watches and working on clocks.

Witzack is primarily a self-taught watch repairman with supplemental knowledge from reading and from several watch repair courses.

"I'm a mechanical guy who always has been interested in machines," he said.

Witzack enjoys the challenge of making a watch repair and the reward when it's fixed.

"I'm not highly skilled or do intricate repairs yet get a certain satisfaction," he said.

The most challenging, he said, is undoing the bad things--repair messes-- by somebody else.

He describes the process as "a puzzle while still being a wonderment."

Witzack trades and sells watches with fellow members of the Northern Illinois Watch and Clock Collector Club. He also has traveled to Ohio, Minnesota and Illinois to buy at watch shows and has shopped online.

Witzack has paid from $5 to $300 for watches.

His first watch was his grandfather's 1905 pocket watch. He still has the Rolex he received as a high school graduation gift. He also was exposed to watches when he worked for a family jewelry store in Beloit whose owners wanted him to go to college to be a watchmaker. Instead, he chose to get a degree in fine arts and later in education.

Witzack is a man with many interests. He is an oil painter and an amateur race car driver.

Although Witzack has a number of favorite watches, he is particularly fond of the railroad grade A. Lincoln model watches made in Springfield, Ill.

"I love the Gothic numbers. They're also are very accurate," he said. 

The ticktock of a pocket watch is music to Witzack's ears.

“It is just like riding in a caboose and listening to the clickety-clack of the train's wheels on the railroad track.”

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