My love for pocket watches springs from a childhood memory of sitting on my father’s lap in 1943. I was spellbound as he removed the back from his 21-jewel Hamilton railroad watch, revealing the tiny moving engraved wheels and glistening ruby and sapphire jewels in a fancy gold case. Dad was a switch foreman for the Union Pacific Railroad in Idaho Falls. He and other employees responsible for the operation of trains were required to carry regularly inspected, high-grade pocket watches to reduce the risk of accidents. Station masters, yardmasters, train masters, engineers, conductors and brakemen relied on precise and accurate time pieces as the scheduled trains arrived and departed while moving onto numerous tracks.
I inherited my father’s railroad watch, which has run faithfully and accurately for over 85 years without a single repair.
There was a time when most men carried pocket watches. Over 100 companies once made pocket watches in the United States; manufacturers such as New York Chronograph Watch Company, Quick Train Rockford Watch Company, or Standard Watch Company of Syracuse were the high tech industries of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Waltham Watch Company was the pioneer of the industry manufacturing over 30 million watches before going out of business in 1957. Other major brands included Hamilton, Elgin, Hampden, Illinois, Southbend, and New York Standard. Although some classic brand names survive, most timepieces are now made in China or Switzerland.
While pocket watches have long been out of style, many people have great sentimental attachment to those that exist as heirlooms in cabinets, drawers, and trunks throughout America. To keep them cleaned, oiled and repaired, we depend upon a tiny group of specialists. Among them is Ira Goldstein, who repairs and services heritage and other watches at his shop in Eagle.
Originally from Brooklyn, Ira’s love for pocket watches can also be traced back to his childhood. As a boy he was enchanted by his grandfather’s handsome 1926 Illinois pocket watch, which he later inherited and has kept running to this day. After serving in the U.S. Navy and receiving a degree in geography from California’s Humboldt State University, Ira began working at a jewelry store. After completing a watchmaker’s apprenticeship, he opened his own shop in 2009 and steady streams of customers have filed through ever since. Using tools that might be 80 or 90 years old, he repairs and services several hundred watches per month, with a constant backlog of orders. He is a hero to many, often being the only person available to restore precious heirlooms. Ira’s wife, Barbara, fondly remembers one client’s tears of happiness after Ira was able to get her grandmother’s watch running after many years in storage.
As President of the Idaho Chapter of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, Ira shares his knowledge about historic time instruments to educate others. He owns a marvelous collection of over 300 running pocket watches, with others being restored or kept for parts. He has open and covered case hunter watches; key and stem-wind; silver; nickel; gold-filled or solid gold pocket watches; and “ladies watches” worn around the neck. Some of these watches are elaborately engraved with dates and names of people who once owned them, and Ira researches them with diligence. He recently discovered that one of his Waltham watches, dated in 1892, was engraved with the name of Louis Roos. Roos was a veteran of the Spanish American War and later served as private secretary to Idaho’s youngest governor, Frank Hunt, from 1900-1902.
Ira does not carry or wear battery-operated watches. He says they have no soul. “A mechanical watch stands by itself,” he says, “like a living being with a ticking heartbeat.” Sadly, many children today have never heard the soothing ticking of a watch, nor can they tell time on a watch with hands. Fortunately, with craftsmen like Ira Goldstein to inspire us to treasure and preserve these elegant and precious mechanical works of art, they will remain ticking until the end of time.
Timekeeper Watch Repair & Sales, 1121 E State St # 100, Eagle, ID 83616
Using tools that might be 80 or 90 years old, he repairs and services several hundred watches per month.