Three men stood on a precarious ledge about 150 feet above the ground inside the bell tower at St. Agnes in St. Paul just days before Christmas.
One wrong move would cause a quick trip to the pavement below. But the trio displayed no fear as they worked earnestly at the task at hand – fixing the east-facing clock on the tower.
Turns out, they made all the right moves on the morning of Dec. 21, which means folks who look up from the parking lot between the church and school once again will read the correct time throughout the day.
That was the objective of this $1,500 job, which took only about an hour to complete, thanks to the expertise of Boyd Owens of The Verdin Company in Cincinnati.
Aided by two staff members at St. Agnes, he removed the clock face and repaired both the hands and the mechanical device that moves them. Problems with the gears would cause the minute hand to droop regularly to the 6 position, causing errors in the time by up to 30 minutes.
“It needed to be fixed,” said John Ernster, 69, a lifelong parishioner who manages the parish archives and served as a trustee for 25 years. “Everybody’s happy [that it got repaired]. It’s the one that faced the school, so it was very obvious.”
All four sides of the bell tower each have a clock, with the other three functioning normally. Whenever one of the 5-foot clock faces is removed, it provides a beautiful view of St. Paul, especially the east-facing one.
“It’s one of the best [views] in the city,” said Ernster, who noted that the work was done during the 100th anniversary of the completion of the church. “If you pull off all four faces, you get a panoramic view of the whole city, plus you can see downtown Minneapolis.”
Watch your step
From the east face, viewers can see both the State Capitol and the Cathedral of St. Paul. The three men paused after removing the clock face to take in the sight. They, along with Ernster, who came up that morning and stood back to watch, couldn’t help but marvel at the beautiful cityscape sprawling before them. A crisp winter sky with the sun angled low nearly made the scene sparkle.
However, the narrow, 1-foot concrete ledge was a stark reminder to not get too caught up in the aerial view.
“If you don’t like heights, you don’t want to be up there standing on that ledge,” Ernster said.
Yet, the final step in the process had all three men doing just that. And, as they rotated the face to its upright position, they turned the screws to lock it into place for perhaps the next 100 years.
Fittingly, just minutes after the job was finished, the bells directly beneath the men tolled the hour of 10 o’clock.
All that was left was to climb back down, walk into the parking lot to read the correct time and admire a job well done.