In The Space Of A Steeple

Snow prevented my progress down the I-80 and forced me to take cover here in Laramie. A happy detour was always my reaction, but I never guessed so monumental an event would ensue.

Woe to those who’s plans n’er go astray.

For me, the snow prevented my progress down the I-80 and forced me to take cover here in Laramie. A happy detour, I must confess, but I never imagined such a memorable experience to ensue.

St. Matthew’s I admired from the moment I rode into town. It’s an Episcopal Cathedral located at 3rd and E. Ivinson Street. It is a Cathedral, and the seat of the Diocese of Wyoming, but its proportions are not immense and its design is only handsomely ornate.

It was Sunday, so I thought my chances of getting a peek inside were good, and the door was open. Inside, a few parishioners were lingering after mass, and I was greeted graciously, though inquisitively, “What do you want?”.

I said, I’d like to know about the building, and was introduced to Punch, the acting Deacon, who is a cheerful fellow with a British accent, and versed in every detail about the church.

While we were talking, Michael, a faithful volunteer shows up and asks Punch about resetting the clock in the tower – apparently it’s hanging up on the quarter hour and causing the bells to miss chine Westminster.

Punch tells Michael it’s too difficult to explain, but he’s happy to show him – and he invites me to join them.

We climb a narrow ladder bolted to the wall, up two flights, then through a small hatch in the ceiling. Inside this first section are stacks of bellows built into a large wood frame, resembling bread in a baker’s rack – though these loaves are twenty four inches wide and three feet in length. The bellows chine the bells when activated from the organ console in the nave below.

The next section up is where the eleven bells are hung – all of them lovely and dusted with snow.

Above that is a space with only enough headroom to squat. Here’s where the links to the three clock faces are located, and, due to the frequent high winds outside, all three faces tell different times – so you can never be late to mass. The weights, which power the clock, and the pendulum, also share this space. They hang through roughly sawed holes in the floor above. It gives them the length they need to descend or swing. The clock is rewound once each week – the main drive train is still wound by hand.

And, finally, above that, is the clock – which appears to be a collision of cogs and eccentric sprockets of well lubed shapes and sizes – all making a concerted effort to keep time from running away. The paddles of the two governors are the size of coffee table books, and the whole assembly rides in a cast iron base, painted Kelly green, with E. Howard Watch & Clock Company written across the front in raised letters.

The three of us stood in the belly of the highest steeple in the country, with scarcely enough room for the mechanism itself, while Punch – perfectly familiar with procedures – explained how to stop the clock, disengage the chine train, investigate the problem, then advance the time to make up for the interruption we caused in the pendulum’s swing.

Plans and time are but play things for chance and fate.