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Courthouse clock rings true once again

The clock is back in action Sept. 2 after being restarted to make it correct. Robert Miller, with La Plata County General Services, is in charge of keeping the clock ticking properly. (Action Line)

Dear Action Line: Why is the La Plata County Courthouse clocktower always sounding 8 minutes after the hour? Today I think it was actually 14 minutes late. Can you inquire with Quasimodo about this inconsistency? – Laura

Dear Laura: Quasimodo was not available, but perhaps that was OK. Quasimodo (from Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” of course) hung out in a tower, but was there a clock? Just a bell, right?

Action Line learns so much when researching these questions. If you study religion, you may know that the Sunday after Easter Sunday is called, in Latin, Quasimodo Sunday. That’s the day the hideous-looking baby Quasimodo was “found” at the orphanage, and why he got that name.

That all has absolutely nothing to do with answering the question. On the other hand, thanks to prompting from Laura and Action Line, the clock has been fixed, so who cares?

You still care? OK then. Here’s more:

The county’s clock was built in 1891, which by quick Action Line math makes it 130 years old. It’s a relic. But with loving care, it has been kept working. In the 1980s, it was repaired and reinstalled in the new courthouse on East Second Avenue by lifelong Durangoan Tony Ferdinando (1922-2016). Since then, a bevy of folks have babied the clock along, so we citizens have a common timepiece by which to all coordinate our watches. (What? I’m being told that some people use their cellphones now instead of their watches. Preposterous!)

When Action Line contacted county spokesman Ted Holteen with the clocktower issue, Mr. Holteen bolted from his office and frantically raced around to find the person currently in charge of the clock. That is Robert Miller, with the county’s General Services Department.

It’s been Miller’s job for five years to tend the 19th-century clock, manufactured by the Seth Thomas company, renowned in its day. He has found it to be finicky.

“It seems to have a personality of its own,” he said. “Sometimes it’s too fast, sometimes too slow.” And without rhyme or reason.

Robert Miller with La Plata County General Services restarts the clock on Sept. 2 by setting the pendulum in motion at 12:46 p.m. In the old days, residents set their timepieces by the courthouse clock, but these days, the county sets the clock by its modern timepiece, the cellphone. (Action Line)

When the clock is running too fast, you just stop the pendulum for a few minutes – however long it takes for time itself to catch up. Then you restart the clock.

However, when it’s running slow, you can’t just speed it up. So, Miller stopped the clock Sept. 1 at 12:46 p.m. (nearly 1 p.m. actual time), and waited nearly 24 hours to restart it. At 12:46 p.m. Sept. 2, he put the pendulum back in motion, and the world was right again.

For now.

Like many employees, Miller will be keeping one eye on the clock. In his case, that’s part of his job. One day, who knows exactly when, the persnickety contraption is going to need another tweak.

Dear Action Line: The city of Durango noise ordinance says that any vehicle is limited to 80 decibels, yet the vast majority of motorcycles, especially on rally weekends like Labor Day, are far above that limit. Why isn’t that ordinance enforced? Having to stop conversations every two minutes as gangs ride by or hearing them from my house a half-mile from Main Avenue all evening is absurd. – Max Molello

Dear Max: Action Line just loves questions where one wrong word will incur the wrath of the Hells Angels, or worse, those mean thugs on the opposite end of the spectrum – you know, those bad-ass librarian types.

Southwest Coloradans just spent a weekend during the annual Four Corners Motorcycle Rally either freely enjoying their two-wheeled rides, or cowering in their homes until the intruders departed. And some of us found a middle ground by just dealing with it or beelining for the backwoods.

So, what to do?

Some among the Harley-Davidson crowd love to feel like they’re rebellious by installing after-market mufflers and breaking the noise ordinance, which in many places, including Durango, is 80 decibels.

From the factory, Action Line’s in-depth research shows, modern Harley exhaust systems are no more than 80 decibels. So to break the noise ordinance, you have to twiddle illegally with the muffler. There are many ways to do so.

Some enjoy the relative peace and quiet that only a small town like Durango can offer, and take offense at the notion that they should be subjected to illegal amounts of noise in their own town.

Keep this in mind: Eighty decibels is loud, perhaps louder than many of us realize. Not just LOUD, but REALLY DANG LOUD!*@#*! Eighty decibels has a sound intensity 10 times that of 70 decibels, which is still pretty darn intense.

When it comes to enforcement, local officers are in a tricky spot.

“It all comes down to prioritization of calls,” said Bob Brammer, Durango’s chief of police. “Every year prior to the rally, we educate our officers on the ordinances pertaining to noise. Depending on call volume we can be proactive in our enforcement efforts.”

Officers can contact those whose motorcycles appear to be emitting excessive noise or have modified exhausts. But inspecting all Harleys is unrealistic, Brammer said.

“Historically, we have used decibel readers to measure noise, and what is thought to be exceeding the ordinances is actually well within the limits,” he said.

One could argue, hey, deal with it. It’s only a few days each September, and a lot of people have a lot of fun, and the local towns make boatloads of money.

Or one could argue, hey, it’s too loud – illegally so at times – and it shouldn’t be allowed to happen. It’s chasing away other potential tourists who don’t want anything to do with bikers.

There. Now Action Line will sit back and wait to see who has been most offended.

Flowers item addendum

Regarding last week’s Action Line item about the flowers in the barrels, to give people their due, it should be noted “this is a team effort,” said Levi Lloyd, Durango’s director of City Operations. City Operations brings the barrels downtown (or removes them, as they were set to do Wednesday), and Parks and Recreation plants and initially waters the flowers. Individual businesses take over the care from there.

Email questions and suggestions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. Oh, and by the way, if you’ve ever been in a clock or bell tower when it rings, you understand why Quasimodo went deaf. Or maybe he just rode a modified Harley too long.