Doing Public Time

November 12, 2019

The People’s State Bank Clock was never really happy in Marion and eventually returned to southern Michigan.
Don and Esther Sible and an unknown salesman are pictured inside the Sible Hardware side of the business in 1950…before the tick-tock takeover.
A smattering of Sible’s clocks. top row, forth from right is an ornate checkerboard case clock built by Don from oak and black walnut.

by Julie Traynor

It has long been a proud tradition to publically display the time for all to see. It stems from the days when most people did not own a portable timepiece. For much of the last century, the passing public learned the time in Marion by large clocks, placed in some store windows. Omer Hall, whose Insurance and Real Estate business on the Mill and Main corner, displayed a brightly lit doozie of a clock for years. Anyone passing through Marion, Michigan at night could easily tell the time. There were also convenient clocks in most of the gas stations.

For about ten short years during the 1970’s, Don Sible gave a good shot at maintaining a four-faced antique public clock in front of his hardware store on Main Street.              

It was an adventure to visit Sible’s Hardware ( now the offices of Central Michigan Health Department), whose primary business was hardware; nuts, bolts, pieces and parts for stoves, glass cut for windows and the like, plus fishing supplies and bicycle parts. There was also a smattering of casserole dishes, pots and pans, and Christmas décor. Sible also sold linoleum and hot water heaters. There was a little bit of everything, but serious hardware and bottled gas was his mainstay. Don Sible also knew a thing or two about timepieces.

Don Sible had a knack for fixing things, and watches were a specialty. A broken watch was ticking in no time. In the early 1950’s, Don shifted his attentions to old clocks, amassing quite a collection. If a clock needed a gear, he built one. If its wooden case was beyond repair, he crafted one. Eventually, he began building clocks from the inside out, creating cases that were truly things of beauty. Black walnut and golden oak with fan molding, checkerboards, carved campus leaves and spiral columns were a specialty. He crafted clock elements and mail ordered movement pieces and some faces. This included cutting glass and etching. He had all the orders he could fill at $100 a clock, no matter how long it took. At its height, his personal collection numbered more than 450 ticking, striking, chiming, gonging clocks.

 The Sible collection eventually took over most of the hardware. Old clocks sat and hung in many places, eventually covering an entire wall in the linoleum and appliance showroom side of the business (now Dynamic Physical Therapy). It was indeed an amazing sight, and even more so when they were all wound and set to the same time. Don Sible and his clocks became quite an attraction. The crowning glory came along in 1969 when downstate contractor William Cronmiller gave him a large clock, a very large clock indeed.

Cronmiller had contracted to tear down the bank on which the public time piece hung. He asked Sible if he wanted it and, without hesitation, he said yes. The weighty timepiece came to town on a flat bed semi truck.  Sible shifted into gear and went to considerable trouble and expense to erect this clock. With permission and permits secured, a substantial I-beam post was set at the edge of the sidewalk on Main.

This clock, like all the good ones before it, needed repair. Sible met the formidable task, rewired the works and for a time all four faces of the People’s State Bank clock told the correct, synchronized time. This clock went up on Main Street in 1970 and was the godfather of the Sible clock collection. As Don Sible was fond of saying about his collection, “It works. They all work.” 

The People’s State Bank clock reigned on Main Street for roughly 10 years and left an indelible impression on many, if not the correct time. Sible sold his entire clock collection and then his hardware business in 1981. He and wife Esther retired to their home on west Main Street where there wasn’t a ticking, striking clock in sight.

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