Family donates ice classic clock UA Museum of the North - InfoNews

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Family donates ice classic clock UA Museum of the North

In this photo taken March 21, 2019, Jim Hlavacek, left, talks with columnist Dermot Cole, center, and UA Museum of the North director Patrick Druckenmiller, right, while donating a clock used for timing the Nenana Ice Classic in the contest's early years at the museum in Fairbanks, Alaska. "The reason we're donating the clock is because our family feels it's a part of Alaska history and that it needs to be up here, not with us," Jim Hlavacek said. (Eric Engman/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner via AP)
March 30, 2019 - 7:11 AM

FAIRBANKS, Alaska - A clock from the beginning of the Nenana Ice Classic has come home to Alaska while the tripod still stands on the river for this year's round of betting.

"The reason we're donating the clock is because our family feels it's a part of Alaska history and that it needs to be up here, not with us," Jim Hlavacek said.

Hlavacek, for whom the clock was a family belonging, donated it Thursday to the University of Alaska Museum of the North.

"It's a clock — it's actually a ships chronometer," Hlavacek said. "It was manufactured by the Waltham Watch Company which, at the time, was actually one of the largest clock manufacturing companies in the world."

Waltham Watch Company shut down in the 1950s, and Hlavacek, of Salinas, California, wanted to know more about his own Waltham antique. So he sent it to clock collectors in Pennsylvania. Uncovering the serial number on the back, they discovered the clock would have been made around 1913.

"This is the kind of thing that's such a treasure here," museum Director Pat Druckenmiller said to Hlavacek as they inspected the chronometer. Housed in a wooden box, the clock face is seated in gold and is protected by a screen, which can be lifted to turn the face over and get the serial number off the back.

Hlavacek initially contacted the museum in November, when he spoke to Angela Linn, in collections. Linn said it was "one of those cold calls that you just love to receive."

The chronometer was used to keep time and mark when the tripod dropped through the ice in Nenana. Linn was excited to acquire something so closely tied to the Interior.

"I was just blown away," she said.

Hlavacek and Druckenmiller finalized the paperwork at 10:25 a.m. Thursday, shaking hands over the chronometer. Prior to the donation, the museum's one other chronometer was from World War II.

Hlavacek inherited the clock from his mother, Pegge Parker Hlavacek, who received it through unusual circumstances as a gift while working at the News-Miner in the 1940s.

"One day an old-timer shuffled into the office of the News-Miner with a newspaper bundle under his arm," Parker wrote in her book "Alias Pegge Parker."

Her visitor was a man named Charlie Wilson, who presented her with the clock for her coverage of the annual Nenana Ice classics. Supposedly, he should have thrown the clock into the river when the inaugural Ice Classic had concluded, but he took it home instead.

She had wanted to give the clock to the university, but, as Wilson had asked, she kept quiet about it until he died. The clock stayed with her for years.

It was after his parents' deaths that Hlavacek inherited the clock, aware of its history from his mother's stories. Hlavacek had visited Alaska twice before arriving Tuesday: once to take a cruise through the Inside Passage and another time, in 2012.

"We were here in 2012, and at that time we toured the museum at the university (and) thought it was a wonderful place full of Alaska history," Hlavacek said. "So when I decided this clock should be donated, I called the museum."

He said it feels good about bringing the clock "to where it needs to be."

"Otherwise it just ends up on a garage sale, an estate sale," his wife, Monica Hlavacek, added.

The Hlavaceks went to Nenana while they were in town this week, on the hunt for more information about the clock's history.

"The one thing Jim was hoping to confirm was, you know, a purchase receipt of that clock," Monica said.

Hlavacek also wanted to find out what he could about Charlie Wilson, who had given the clock to his mother. The search, however, didn't turn up the information he was looking for.

"They said they had a flood in the '60s and that took away everything," he said.

The venture was not entirely fruitless, however.

The couple were able to see a chronometer currently being used for the Ice Classics. It's like seeing double: the same squat, wooden box holding a ship's chronometer. Only the manufacturing company's name seems to have changed over the decades.

"The clock that they use, one of the two, is so similar to mine," he said.

More than 100 years after the Ice Classic began, the new tripod clock ticks on and Hlavacek's clock will be in the museum, back in the state where Alaskans once waited to see what time it would stop.

"I'm very happy because finally, the watch is where it needs to be," Hlavacek said.


Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner,

News from © The Associated Press, 2019
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