Webster Clay Ball was a jeweler and watchmaker born in Fredericktown OH. After a two-year apprenticeship to a jeweler, Ball settled in Cleveland to join a jewelry store. When Standard Time was adopted in 1883, he was the first jeweler to use time signals from the U.S. Naval Observatory, bringing accurate time to Cleveland.
Following a catastrophic collision in 1891 in Kipton OH between two rail cars, believed to be the result of a conductor's watch being inaccurate or stopped (stories vary on this), the commissioner of railroads appointed Webb C. Ball to develop and set strict accuracy standards for railroad watches and clocks. The Ball Watch Company of Cleveland Ohio was formed.
Interestingly, though the labels inside at least its clocks refer to the firm as "Manufacturers" (see photo below),
it never manufactured watches or clocks, but had them private-labeled by other firms. Webb C. Ball strongly (some say heavy-handedly) enforced the strict standards and allowed only those watches and clocks that met or exceeded the strict standard to be signed with his name. By the early 1900's Webb C. Ball of Cleveland Ohio, was the Chief Time Inspector for over 125,000 miles of track in the U.S., Mexico and Canada, greatly increasing the safety of rail travel.
Ball established strict guidelines for the manufacturing of sturdy, reliable precision timepieces, including resistance to magnetism, reliability of time keeping in 5 positions, isochronism, power reserve and dial arrangement, accompanied with detailed record-keeping of the reliability of the watch or clock on each regular inspection (see photo just below from a Regulator No. 3). Note: some characteristics in the previous sentence apply only to watches.
Watches and clocks were signed "Webb C. Ball Company", "Ball Watch Co., Cleveland" sometimes with "Official Railroad Standard" or "Ball Standard Dial, Pat. Applied. For". Ball watches and clocks were considered the finest by rail men at the beginning and well into the Twentieth Century. They are becoming increasing difficult to find, particularly clocks with the Ball Watch Co. signature.
Webb C. Ball eventually became the vice president of the Hamilton Watch Company and focused his efforts on developing watches for the railroads.
Minutes of Proceedings of Third Triennial Convention of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers held in the B of LE Auditorium, Cleveland, OH on May 31, 1921: “At 2 PM the convention was called to order by Grand Chief Engineer W.S. Stone. At this afternoon session Webb C. Ball was introduced, he made a speech, a resolution was passed unanimously and he was made an Honorary Member of the Brotherhood.”
Seth Thomas/Ball Short-Drop Regulator
(click to enarge all photos)
Seth Thomas/Ball Regulator No. 3
Note: On their earlier models, the Ball Watch Co. apparently used a special seconds bit with a "loop" that was different than what one conventionally finds on a Seth Thomas Regulator No. 3 as you see below. In addition, we have seen two different hand configurations on Ball No. 3s, including the above (counter-balanced) hands.
We have also found that the earlier Ball No. 3s, like the one pictured two photos above, have a pair of "L" brackets mounted horizontally in the case from the back to the sides, just below the movement. Later models, like the one just below, do not have these Ball-unique brackets. We assume Seth Thomas installed these for Ball, but have no concrete evidence to back up that assumption.
Seth Thomas/Ball Regulator No. 3 Later Model
(no "L" brackets inside; later hands style)
Seth Thomas Regulator No. 2 in Cherry
from Southern Pacific Railroad
(SPRR clock • formerly in The ClockGuy's personal collection)
REFERENCE ARTICLE YOU SHOULD READ:
"Webb C Ball and the Railroads"
NAWCC Watch & Clock Bulletin
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