Doyle Oliver Kisner Turns 90 Years Old

December 10, 2013 |

Over the next twenty years, most people who still know the art of clock repair will pass away, leaving the world millions of antique clocks in need of regular winding and repair.

On Dec 12, Doyle Kisner, a clock repairman from Tucker County, will turn 90 years old. For the past two and half years, Jessica Collar has been his apprentice and caretaker. In 2011, I began interviewing Doyle, shortly after Jessica began to work with him in the clock workshop.

“It escapes my day down here. It’s kind of relaxing, soothing, hearing the beat of the clocks,” says Jessica. “I’m learning something that few people probably will.”

Doyle has also created works of marquetry. Photo by Bryan Richards.

Doyle has also created works of marquetry. Photo by Bryan Richards.

Jessica first met Doyle a few years ago while he was recovering from cancer treatments. She began working with him as an in-home caretaker with the Tucker County Senior Center. When she learned that Doyle was a talented clock repairman and clock maker, Jessica urged him to start working at it everyday. Little by little, Doyle started to get stronger, and meanwhile Jessica was learning clock repair.

“He was fighting cancer. He had cancer in his prostate. Whenever I first came to Doyle he was skinny and frail and he wouldn’t talk. Now it’s just like I’m a part of the family, kind of. They’re all good people.

“She brought me alive, that’s one good thing I can say about her,” says Doyle.

“Well that wasn’t me, Doyle, that was God,” says Jessica.

Down in the basement, Doyle and his apprentice are seated while they work, amidst the chimes of cuckoo clocks and the discordant clash of gongs and bells. Jessica has a small, delicate chain between her fingers. For a few minutes, she’s been easing it into an old grandfather clock. Attached to the chain hang the weights that strike the clock’s hourly chime. She’s giving the old clock its voice back.

“You get interested, you don’t know what time it is. Time goes so fast. First thing you know it’s 12:00, it’s bedtime, and you never did even know it. That is, when you’re doing something that you like to do.”

Photo by Bryan Richards

Photo by Bryan Richards

Doyle remembers the first clock that ever fascinated him, when he was in the eighth or ninth grade. His family was too poor for the kids to get an allowance, and so during the noon hour, while a lot of the other kids would go to the general stores in downtown Parsons to buy sweets, Doyle usually passed a lot of his time looking in all the windows, alone. One day as he was looking in one of the windows, he caught a glimpse of an anniversary clock, a very small, silver clock with a clear, glass dome over the top.

“I stood and looked at that anniversary clock day after day, something about it just got me. Ran 365 days a year. You wind it once a year, on your anniversary.”

It’s been over 100 years since Doyle’s dad bought the family farm here, in 1912. The entire land was covered with forest, and Doyle’s parents cleared the land themselves, blasting stumps and hauling the timber out with horses.

“Parsons back then, there were a lot of things going on then. We had a great fair. It was right there in Parsons. We was all raised on this farm right here. We were as poor as church mice. My mother and father cleared all this land right here. But we were a very loving family,” Doyle remembers.

Photo by Bryan Richards

Photo by Bryan Richards

Doyle lost his right hand in a farming accident in 1983. Determined to show everyone, including himself, that he wasn’t handicapped, Doyle began fixing clocks. He took a special interest in the old broken clocks that other people wanted to throw away. The hobby helped him grow stronger, and it gave him confidence as he learned to live without his right hand.

“And he had to learn everything over with his left hand,” says Jessica.

“It didn’t bother me or anything. I knew it was bad, but I had to accept it. There’s no use to cry over it. It’s the way you take it,” says Doyle.

“Yeah, it’s not what you’ve got. It’s what you do with it,” says Jessica.

Doyle typically has about 10 clocks waiting for his attention. At his age, he has trouble meeting the demand, and most people usually wait 2-4 weeks to have their clock repaired. Doyle says he often loses track of time when he’s down in the workshop. It captivates him completely.

“You know, I can’t sit still, I’ve got to figure out everything,” says Doyle. “I don’t go to sleep sometimes before 3 and 4 o’clock every morning because I’ve got stuff on my mind. That’s the thing. I get stuff on my mind. Like if I have a problem with a clock or something. I’ve always got it on my mind. I want to finish it, do it.”

Photo by Carl E. Feather, originally published in Goldenseal Magazine.

Photo by Carl E. Feather, originally published in Goldenseal Magazine.

This year, Doyle will turn 90 years old. He’s been an airplane mechanic, a farm manager, a bee-keeper, and he’s repaired over 1,300 clocks. Time is what you make of it, I think, considering what Doyle has filled into his 90 years.

“I’ve got 10 here right now to work on,” says Doyle, laughing. He then turns his attention back to the clock he’s repairing, adjusting the pin of an eight-day clock.

The air fills with the sounds of 300 antique clocks in Doyle’s workshop, marking the slow, steady passage of time.

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