As the hands of Camden's town clock tell time once again, and its bell rings in the hours, Bob McGowan, its caretaker for nearly 30 years is passing the work of maintaining the clock on to his son, Joe.

The clock has been housed in the steeple of the Chestnut Street Baptist Church, overlooking the Village Green, since the Civil War. Last June, it was packed up for safekeeping while the church spire was removed, and a major restoration of the aging steeple and spire undertaken. Due to leaks in the spire and steeple, the clock was damaged by water infiltration and rust. Restoration of the town clock by Balzer Clock Works of Freeport was an important part of the project that spanned eight months.

Like Bill Brawn, the caretaker before him, McGowan has climbed ladders inside the steeple to maintain and adjust the clock about three dozen times each year, for decades. He is ensuring that a machine built in 1920 keeps time and chimes on the hour. He is not paid, or a member of the church. The work is the type of quiet community service that has kept much of Camden ticking for countless generations.

McGowan feels he is passing the care of the clock to his son at a good time, following the restoration of the church steeple, the construction of a new spire made from composite material by Lyman Morse, and the work involved in restoring the clock.

"This clock is 100 years old, and it's like brand new. And it's never had as good a steeple. It's a brand new steeple, a reconditioned clock, both in excellent condition. And, it's got a new timekeeper."

He notices that many towns in Maine have derelict clocks that don't keep time: clocks with no hands, clocks that have been forgotten by the people around them. "I notice, because I'm looking for that sort of thing," he said. "In Bangor, you can pick out five or six right away."

He credits everyone who cares about the Camden town clock, and whose support keeps it going. McGowan was maintaining the town clock when Balzer restored it in 1995 and again in 2017, and is well aware that restoration is costly.

"But the clock rarely needs work, and when it does the clock company comes up and fixes it for free," he said. "They charge a good amount of money for what they do, and they back it up." He smiles recalling someone saying back in 1995, “You're going to pay for a Cadillac and you'll get a Cadillac."

When a problem occurs, the clock will stop, McGowan explained. There are times when the east facing clock ices up in the winter. "When the dial ices up, there's nothing you can do," he said. "You just have to wait until mother nature's sun melts the ice on the dial."

He says Joe is ready to take over. "But I still want to come up a few more times. I can't walk away from it completely," he said. "Working in town [at French & Brawn], I'll have people coming in to tell me if it's a little fast or slow. I like that," he said. "And, I'll call Joe."

Joe McGowan has climbed up inside the church steeple that houses the town clock most of his life. "Growing up, I'd often come up with him," Joe said. He remembers many times he climbed the ladders before the steeple was rebuilt and watched his father adjust the clock a minute or two. "It's been a long time, almost my entire life," he said.

On Jan. 20, as Bob and Joe gave a tour of the inside of the steeple and the clock mechanisms, bringing Joe's one and a half year old son Willard along. To entertain Willard, they clapped along with the loud ticking sound inside the steeple, and Willard clapped too, keeping perfect time.

Reflecting on passing the work of keeping the town clock on time to Joe, Bob McGowan said, "Joe's honest, hardworking and totally reliable. Always has been. It's kind of a natural fit. He's interested in it. He's in better shape than I am by far, and he has many more years in front of him. I'm proud to hand it to him."