Ron Peterson

Many of you may know Ron Zissell from his work tending the telescopes at the Williston Observatory. Or perhaps you've seen him in full Scottish regalia playing the bagpipes on special occasions. In addition to these things, Ron has also been keeping the Mount Holyoke campus on time since July 1st, 1976, when he was given the keys to the Mary Lyon clock tower by the previous caretaker, Charlie Lang Lyon.

I spent some time this afternoon helping Ron with one of the observatory computers. After we were done, Ron brought me with him while he ascended the tower to perform some routine maintenance. The staircase into the tower happens to be in Elizabeth Braun's office. Tanya Williams' office is right around the corner. Her office mates had made the trip before, but she had not, so she also came along.

It's not a trip most people get to make, so I thought I'd share some pictures.

The large bell used to be rung by a rope around the large pulley, but everything is now driven by the clock mechanism. The rods going through the ceiling are attached to the striking mechanism, which is driven by the clock mechanism.

Tanya signing her name to the guest register, which dates back to 1975. Ron knows almost everyone on the list, of course, and has lots of great stories to tell. One of the guests was an alum who made the trip up and down the rickety ladders in a white dress while attending her 50th reunion.

This is the main clock mechanism. The tower shifts very slightly with the seasons, so Ron carefully balances the pendulum to keep proper time.

This is part of the bell striking mechanism. You can see a couple of the rods extending down through the floor to the bell room.

When oil came from whales, clock makers used the finest grade, extracted by tapping the blubber at extremely cold temperatures. There's just a little left in this bottle from long ago. It smells really terrible.


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