Glock Clockwork: The complexity of Glockenspiel is a challenge to maintain | News, Sports, Jobs
NEW ULM – Schonlau Park’s glockenspiel is one of New Ulm’s most high-profile attractions, with visitors turning up like clockwork to catch one of the mechanically choreographed musical performances.
The glockenspiel is also one of Minnesota’s most complicated specialized mechanical devices.
The clock tower was dedicated on May 25, 1980. The 45-foot-tall structure is one of the few freestanding chime clock towers in the world. It contains 37 bells that ring every quarter hour and play programmed tunes at specific times of the day. Meter-tall animated figurines appear and move to the beat of the music while depicting the history and development of New Ulm.
With so many moving parts, maintenance of the glockenspiel is an ongoing need. Ulm New Park and Recreation Facility Maintenance Supervisor Ryan Weier said the glockenspiel is a very unique structure, which brings unique challenges.
City staff can perform basic maintenance, including refinishing the hands and clock face, but with dozens of interior and exterior components, specialist exterior work is required. The glockenspiel is made of a variety of materials, including fiberglass figures that move by mechanical means. The bells inside the glockenspiel don’t actually move, but the strikers are programmed to strike the bells at the right time. This means that all mechanical operations seen on the clock tower are synchronized through specialized software and programming.
Weier said the glockenspiel is a one-of-a-kind structure, but it comes with unique and complex maintenance issues. Specialized operators must be hired to operate the clocks.
The clocks for the glockenspiel were supplied by a Pennsylvania company in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The company is still in business and continues to provide contract work to complete repairs.
Currently, the east-facing clock on the glockenspiel is off by 10 minutes. Weier said all four clocks are supposed to be in sync, but there was probably a problem with the gear ratio on the east face that caused the minute hand to slow slightly.
Due to the complicated clock programming, the city will have to wait for a special maintenance team to fix the lost time.
The city has an annual maintenance contract with a company to inspect the figurines and bells. Over the past six years, all figures have been refurbished and replaced.
City workers recently replaced a figurine earlier this week. The figure has been out longer than expected due to supply chain issues, but as of this week all the glockenspiel numbers are in place.
The town even has special nativity figures ready for the Christmas holiday season.
One of the biggest updates to the glockenspiel in recent years has been its control panel. The panel was converted to all digital two years ago to better automate the structure.
The clocks are automatically updated. Previously, the city had to make manual adjustments to clocks during daylight saving time.
The new digital control panel was a significant update to the system. Weier said in 1980 that the glockenspiel was programmed with recorded tapes. All the music played was based on these recorded tapes, but now the programming is digital. In theory, thousands of songs can be played on the bells. Also, the songs are played in random order.
Weier said each timed performance of the glockenspiel will feature a different musical sequence. He said a person could listen to every performance of the glockenspiel for 30 years and not notice a repeat in the song sequences.
Despite all the unique maintenance issues associated with the glockenspiel, it continues to entertain dozens of visitors every day. Schonlau Park was full for several performances during Bavarian Blast.
Weier commented that during the summer months he usually sees a crowd gathered in the park for the timed performances.
He said that in terms of maintenance, the glockenspiel can be frustrating, but added that it’s also rewarding that so many people enjoy it after all this time.