If you’re walking past the Old Vanderburgh County Courthouse in the 200th block of Northwest Fourth Street and notice the giant hands of the clock faces winding abnormally, that indicates Carroll Hickrod is at work.
Hickrod, a retired mechanic from Alcoa (now Kaiser Aluminum), has volunteered the past 15 years to maintain the courthouse clock with retired Evansville Police Department Lt. Dan DeYoung.
Hickrod was introduced to the prospect of maintaining the clock by Joe DeVoy, an Alcoa co-worker who had volunteered for 20 years to care for the clock. After about a year of prodding, Hickrod finally made the 117-step trek into the clock tower and stood in awe of the mechanism that operates a treasured piece of Evansville.
The first level of the tower is on the courthouse’s fourth floor and is enclosed by windows. The next level is open and contains the tower’s loudest feature: the original 4,000-pound bell manufactured by McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, Maryland.
The energy to ring the bell is triggered by a counterweight system that raises and releases a 100-pound iron hammer that strikes the bell every half hour. The bell rings about 250 times a day and, so far, has yet to develop any significant cracks.
The enclosed third level houses the clock’s pulleys and inner workings, which Hickrod says drew his fascination when he first toured the tower.
“There are lots of times I’ll sit back and watch to make sure everything is doing what it’s supposed to do,” he says. “I’ll watch every move it makes, and that’s how I learned the little things about each part of the mechanism.”
The four faces of the clock, each measuring a little more than five feet in diameter, are found on the final level, which features a suspended staircase spiraling to the top of the copper-clad central dome, itself the base of the courthouse’s cupola.
An electric motor about the size of a sewing machine in the clock rotates gears synchronously timed to one full rotation per minute. Since the machinery is more than 100 years old, most pieces that break or wear down must be machined from scratch.
“It is complex,” says Hickrod. “It takes a little finesse.”
The clock and tower are funded through Vanderburgh County and the Old Vanderburgh County Courthouse Foundation, and the deterioration of the clock faces, bell hammer, and tower has necessitated repairs. Last year, the foundation started an online fundraising campaign to restore the iconic clock tower and hopes to raise about $200,000 for the restoration.