Bill Galinsky has likely heard the call of the American cowbird more times than an ornithologist.
The European cuckoo, too — Galinsky hears that bird all day, every day. Whether it’s the 20 cuckoo clocks in his home or the hundreds he has built or collected or is currently repairing in his workshop, cuckoo calls are the sound track to Galinsky’s life.
Owner of the Duplainville Clock Co. located at his Waukesha home, Galinsky is among a very small cohort of cuckoo clock repairers. He invents innovative cuckoo clock designs, he carves them and brings family heirlooms back from the dead.
“Nobody likes to repair cuckoo clocks. Most aren’t willing to do something that requires so much patience,” said Galinsky.
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Galinsky, 55, repairs about 200 cuckoo clocks each year. He estimates he makes another couple hundred clocks annually that he sells from his showroom inside a store built to look like those on the Swiss chalet-style cuckoo clocks.
His Christmas rush recently finished, Galinsky took time from repairing a 1970 Hubert Herr cuckoo clock to talk about his unique business.
“They said it sat in a box for 20 years. It was grandma’s,” Galinsky said as he dabbed his index finger in carpenter’s glue and rubbed it on a broken baffle that fell off the clock’s pipe and whistle. “It’s not running and I can understand why. It’s got about five to 10 years of dirt and then it’s been sitting for a couple decades.”
He glued the tiny bellows back on the pipe, waited a few seconds to set and then blew on the whistle to test the sound. Sitting on his work bench was the clock’s metal guts — a contraption of ratchet wheels, activators, count racks, lift arms and pendulums. Everything that makes the clock keep time and sing or chirp or gong at precise intervals. Galinsky knows what every component does, something he figured out before he turned 10.
He got his first cuckoo clock when he was almost 7 years old, when his father, a mason who loved to prowl rummage sales, bought a Schmeckenbecher for a quarter. It was in pieces. Galinsky looked at the clock’s bones and metal muscles and reassembled it. He still has that first clock. Plus many others.
“People overthink clocks. They think it’s rocket science but it’s just simple physics. You make this work by doing this,” said Galinsky, who grew up in Brookfield, Wis.
By the age of 9, without the benefit of manuals but after tinkering with numerous timepieces, he understood how cuckoo clocks worked.
Galinsky started working at a clock shop in Milwaukee at the age of 91/2 and within a few months he had his own account at a local lumber yard, pedaling his bike to pick up wood and clock movements he used to make his own cuckoo clocks. He was drawn to the cuckoos because of the many different ways the clocks moved — glockenspiels playing at the top of the hour, water wheels running, lederhosen-clad figures dancing, doors opening.
He repairs other types of clocks but his love is for the cuckoo, some of which incorporate actual cuckoo bird calls. In some American clocks, it’s the cowbird.
Once he found a mouse nest in a cuckoo clock, another clock had been kept in a chicken coop for half a century. Cuckoo clocks of cat owners often come in pretty bad shape — cat hair and dander gum up the mechanism, the weights and chains batted around by cats who think they’re playthings.
Some cuckoo clocks have been singed in fires and Galinsky painstakingly cuts and mills new wooden parts, painting or sanding the new pieces to look like they’ve always been part of the clock.
The clocks that show up on his door stoop in the worst shape, though, are those that are damaged by their owners. “Guys taking them apart — that’s worse than fires,” said Galinsky.
Vern Coenen of Waukesha has taken numerous mantle and wall clocks to Galinsky for cleaning and repair, after seeing his sign on Duplainville Road earlier this year.
“He’s great. Every time I go out there I know it’s going to be at least half an hour before I get out of there because we both love clocks,” said Coenen, who recently dropped off an early 1900s mantle clock for repair. “His collection is unbelievable. He’s just such an enthusiast.”
Dean Crow has brought about a dozen clocks over the past two years, starting with a cuckoo clock Crow’s wife bought at an estate sale. Once Galinsky got that clock cuckooing again, Crow’s wife asked if he could clean others including grandfather and mantle clocks.
When Galinsky is not repairing, he’s making — hand-carving leaves, acorns, twigs and animals for his cuckoo clocks. At this year’s national convention in Milwaukee of the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors, Galinsky swept the competition in the wood-case carved clocks division.
Among his most popular clocks are designs he thought up — Galinsky never sketches anything on paper — featuring trains and hunting scenes. The train cuckoo clocks have cotton that moves up and down in the smoke stack and a twirling mustache on a Snidely Whiplash character. The hunting clocks feature weights that look like shotgun shells with trap shooters firing at orange targets, duck hunters shooting down birds or anglers catching tiny fish. They sell for $1,200 to $1,500.
Before he returns cleaned and repaired clocks to his customers, he carefully sets the correct time. He uses his flip phone for that — Galinsky doesn’t wear a watch.
Go to duplainvilleclocks.com to see more of Bill Galinsky’s clocks and to spodickclockshop.com to purchase them.