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Christopher Buerkett keeps time

Friends & Neighbors: EVERYONE HAS A STORY

December 21, 2011
By DIANE CHASE - Special to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Christopher Buerkett admits it has been quite a journey to get where he is today, melding his vast job experiences with his many interests to form a unique combination editing and antique clock repair business.

He speaks quietly and precisely about his journey in helping to preserve the past, and present, with each tick of the clock.

"My journey here has not been straight, but one with many twists and turns," he said, "though it is all connected."

Article Photos

Christopher Buerkett’s two businesses combine his interests in editing and antique clock repair.
(Photo — Diane Chase)

Originally from Illinois, Christopher finished his undergraduate degree in biology from Illinois State University . He met his future wife Rebecca during a summer of independent research at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. (The Marine Biological Laboratory is internationally recognized for its research and education in the fields of biology, biomedicine and ecology.)

Christopher applied to graduate schools, finally settling on the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he received his master's in fisheries biology. During that time he and Rebecca married.

After graduation and a cross-country tour, the young couple lived and worked in Vermont and Maine before making a permanent move to the Adirondacks. During those tough years, Christopher could not find work in his chosen field, so he fell back on the job that helped put him through college - "tin-knocking," the installation of forced-air systems and ductwork in homes.

He quickly moved up the ranks from tin-knocking to mechanical contracting, learning as he worked. In Maine, Christopher continued to work in mechanical contracting at a semiconductor facility, where his responsibility was working with pollution mitigation systems.

While living in Maine and shortly after the birth of their first child Autumn, the couple decided to risk everything and make a change, though finding employment would have to follow.

"We had come to the Adirondacks many times, winter and summer camping, and always thought we wanted to retire here," Christopher said. "It is so pastoral. We love the mountains. The people are kind and friendly. It was one of those moments we looked at each other and said, 'What do we have to lose?' We packed up Autumn and moved.

"We had the conviction to make it work," he said. "The first job I took was with Olympic Tree."

Once again, Christopher relied on his hard work ethic. He had never run a chainsaw and had to "earn his way again" by learning the skills necessary to succeed. Within two years, he was the crew boss and lead climber. After a time, Christopher wanted to get back to his academic roots and just walked into the state Department of Environmental Conservation office to inquire about openings.

The DEC recommended that Christopher speak with the people from Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation to see if they were hiring.

"As it turns out, ALSC had a grant to produce communications as a means of public outreach," Christopher said. "They wanted to develop a website, brochure and full report. Walt Kretser hired me, but first he asked me to write something from scratch to prove that my abilities were equal to the demands of the job. I had written a successful master's thesis and countless pieces before that. I chose to write about an earnest conversation I had shared with Autumn, though she was just a little thing at the time. Walt loved it and said it demonstrated how clearly I could convey a message. I was to be half-time in the field and half-time writing in fulfillment of this grant.

"One opportunity I had was to create and mange a database on acid rain. Basically, it included any article that was germane to acidification science. They wanted a highly recognized figure to author the report and brought Jerry Jenkins on board. It was wonderful working so closely with Jerry. He is truly an Adirondack icon. I worked as the technical editor for the report which eventually turned into the book 'Acid Rain in the Adirondacks: An Environmental History.' After all the work had been done, I was offered authorship (along with Jerry, Karen Roy and Charles Discoll). I was responsible for the scientific information in the book. From content, accuracy and copy editing to captions for the figures, I went through the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb.

"This project was a perfect match for my strengths. I tend to be a very focused person. That is the way I like to work. It's one of the things that makes me so suited to editing. ... There is no level too deep for me to go. I love chasing ends. I know that when I feel I've gone far enough, the product is going to be good. It is just the way that I'm wired."

It took six years to complete all aspects of the project and for the grant to be fulfilled. After this, there was nowhere for Christopher to go within the organization.

"I had this strong creative need. I had been woodworking at this point for more than a decade," Christopher said. "I wanted to explore ways to encourage my creativity. I left ALSC and decided to go work for Cascade Builders. Though I had made furniture for consignment and hire, I had never worked on a job site doing production carpentry work before. So again, I was starting from scratch. It went well. I graduated myself through the knowledge base and worked with Cascade for four years. I eventually was doing the fine finish work."

During that time, Rebecca's grandmother gave the Buerketts a family heirloom, a grandfather clock. John Blanchfield was still operating his clock repair shop in Saranac Lake, so they hired him to repair the clock.

"A year went by, and I started stopping by the shop to see how the work was progressing," Christopher said. "I really became smitten. I enjoyed John's company. We talked about all sorts of things related to and unrelated to clocks."

Christopher also brings up that John had been in ill health during his three-year clock apprenticeship. So before Christopher knew it, he was showing up with a screwdriver in his hand and restoring other people's clocks that were in the shop for repair.

"There was no plan. This just evolved," Christopher said. "I essentially became John's eyes and hands while he provided the knowledge and experience. Somewhere along the line it seeped in, not just the knowledge and experience, but the bug.

"For me, it is about the challenge, the mechanical complexity, the frustration that you have to overcome." Christopher said. "Most of all I have this strong belief in respecting the wisdom of an older time. You can call it nostalgia. I think we are all moving forward so fast that it's hard to keep up. When I am working on a clock or talking about one with my customers, I feel this overwhelming appreciation for what came before"

According to Christopher, the best clocks running more than 200 years ago could keep time to within seconds. He says that today the standard for our timekeeping is measured by the vibratory resonance of the electron in the outermost shell of the Cesium 133 isotope, the element most commonly chosen for atomic clocks.

"You are talking billionths of a second versus a couple of seconds," he said. "It is believed that the very first mechanical clocks were invented in the late 1200s. It is the awe of that statement that gets me when it comes to clocks. It is our responsibility to preserve something so lasting and important."

Carpentry is difficult work and takes a toll on the body. After years of heavy lifting, Christopher needed shoulder surgery that left him recuperating for more than five months. He kept close ties during a change in Cascade Builder's ownership from Peter Moles to Reed Abbott.

"I began to explore having my own business, and I started with writing and editing," Christopher said. "One time when I was going to Cascade Builders, I told them what I was doing. Reed called and wanted to put together a client book that would chronicle the renovation process."

Christopher went into the office and compiled photos, produced an outline, assembled, organized and wrote what turned into a book about the project. He later produced a second book for Cascade, which Christopher refers to as an architectural memoir.

"Before I knew it, a book emerged with history, pictures and even original poetry," Christopher said. "The owners loved it. That is the direction I see my writing going. At that point I was still recovering from shoulder surgery and not sure if going back to carpentry would be possible."

Christopher choses his words carefully: "I love preserving what has come before because I think we have to. It's just as important to see from where you've come as it is to see where you're going."

Christopher knows people can reach him through traditional methods, as he is the only clock repair company listed with the Saranac Lake Chamber of Commerce, or find him through his website, buerkettclockrepair.com, but the best way he likes to get business is by word of mouth.

"When a satisfied customer tells a potential customer, it eventually makes its way around," he said. "When it has, then everyone knows the level of service they are going to get. This isn't just about fixing clocks, especially antique clocks. When I take on a clock for someone, it doesn't stop with just getting it running. I do Web research to find out about the manufacturer, history, anything I can. Clock repair is a relationship, not just a service."

Christopher reflects on how all the various jobs he's had and his willingness to always learn something new has provided him with a wealth of information and experience.

"Trusting instincts is important," he said. "We all take risks in our lives, and sometimes it pays off. For me, I would much rather give myself the opportunity to fail than not to try at all."

 
 

 

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