HAMPSTEAD - Sights and sounds from a bygone era greet visitors to Roy's Never Stop Clock Shop, housed in a brick building on Main Street that was in turn a bank and the Town Hall.
Now the building's first floor, with its vaulted ceilings, wood floors, and 19th-century molding, provides a museum atmosphere for 500 timepieces, Victorian furniture, and Civil War relics.
Upon entering Roy's, the music of time blends its myriad melodies into a pleasing harmony. The boom of a gong's deep bass contrasts with the chime's soprano voice. Ticking pocket watches and a striking wall clock add tenor and alto to the chanting chorus. The Regulator pendulum's steady swing, ornamented by staccato cuckoos, upbeats the rhythm.
Clocks aren't just for telling time, says Steven Ashe, the shop's owner.
"Interest is growing in old timepieces. We deal mostly with antique pocket watches," says Ashe, 48. "We remember seeing something in an ancestor's home. Holding this in our hand gives a feeling of a slower-paced lifestyle and a continuity of life. A large percentage of timepieces are bought for life, unlike cars, which are traded in, and clothes that wear out."
Roy Ashe, Steve's father, who grew up on a Baltimore County farm, began tinkering with alarm clocks at age 10. After moving to Baltimore, he repaired them for friends and relatives.
His pursuit continued as a sideline during his work for Home Beneficial Life Insurance Co. When he returned to this area, Ashe started a shop in the basement of his Gunpowder Road home. After early retirement in 1975, he moved the business to Manchester and several years later to Hampstead.
"This was the First National Bank of Hampstead that failed during the Depression," said Steven Ashe. "It was also Town Hall. People still come in to pay tickets."
Steven is a former insurance agent. He joined Roy full time in 1979 "because I enjoyed it so much -- both the mechanical part and horology," which is the art of making timepieces and measuring time.
Steven said the workings of the clock were the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, which started in the northeastern United States. Clockmakers' innovations brought on ideas for other machinery. With the advent of the railroad, timekeeping became more important.
"Now people want it exactly, since we have radio and TV," he said.
Ashe estimates his oldest timepiece to be a circa-1800 wooden works model made by Eli Terry and worth about $2,500. All the parts of the shelf-sized clock, which features a picture painted on the glass, are wood, except for the shaft.
Ashe said Terry's apprentice, Seth Thomas, the "Henry Ford of clocks," went out on his own in about 1838 as a mass producer, and put the clock in the working man's home.
"I've become a historian," says Ashe. He's involved with the First North Carolina Cavalry, a Maryland Civil War re-enactment group that presents living history performances from Gettysburg to Florida.
He collects clocks, pocket watches, and other Civil War memorabilia from that era.
What's his favorite of the selections ranging from a $19 quartz wall clock to an $8,000 grandfather? Ashe is partial to railroad timepieces -- pocket watches and a mechanically driven wall clock called a Regulator that sports a pendulum.
True to his "never stop" motto, Ashe makes about 30 house calls a month, traveling in a 100-mile radius as far as the Eastern Shore and Frederick.
Business is about evenly split between sales and repair, he said. People interested in selling a clock or watch get free appraisals. He encourages others to go into clock repair.
Steven and Roy Ashe are members of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, which publishes a newsletter sharing information on the repair and collecting of timepieces.
Steven Ashe's niece, Kari Cote of Hampstead, works full time as shop manager and helps with repairs. Dennis Landvater of Hanover, assists part time. Photos at the shop picture Ashe's interest in North Carroll area youth softball teams sponsored by Roy's clock shop.
Steven and his wife, Karin, live on a 42-acre farm in the Parkton area of Baltimore County. Since 1964, they've raised English Pointer breed dogs that are in demand all over the United States, Canada and Bermuda.
"We've sold some in Japan and South America," he said. He enjoys hunting quail and deer.
The Ashes' son Kirk is 25 and daughter Kristen is 23.
Roy Ashe still keeps a hand in the business when he's around Hampstead.
Retired since 1983, Roy divides his time between the Parkton farm and a home in Deland, Fla., Steven said.
Meanwhile, time, appearing at a standstill but never allowed to run down, just keeps ticking away at Roy's Never Stop Clock Shop.