Monday, October 15, 2012


Johnie Thomas Kilgore, son of Virge and Sarah Kilgore of Nauvoo, Alabama, was the middle child of nine living children.  His youngest brother was my father, Cecil Kilgore.  Johnie’s life was cut short by a freak motorcycle accident in March 1939.  Everyone who knew Johnie Kilgore spoke his name with a special reverence.  Though I was not born until long after his death, I knew of him in so many ways.  One of those ways was through a little timepiece belonging to the uncle I did not know.  That little clock was always in our house as I grew up.

The clock is a Westclox Baby Ben, Style 4, manufactured between1934 and 1939.  Johnie’s clock was purchased, at the earliest, in late 1936.  The reason I know that is because it was not until late1936 that the wording on the dials was changed from “Made by Western Clock Co.” to read “Made by Westclox.” Based on research, the base cost of the clock when it was manufactured was $2.95.  That was a lot of money during the 30’s. 

The case of the Baby Ben style 4 is a modification of style 3.  There is no matting ring between the dial and the glass, and the base has two convex curves (one on each side) instead of four concave curves.  The glass is convex.  Baby Ben style 4, when introduced in 1934, came in two case colors.  The ivory case with brass trim had a white non-luminous dial with black figures, or a brown-banded luminous dial.  The black (actually called gunmetal, a grayish metallic paint) case with nickel trim had a white non-luminous dial with black figures, or a solid black luminous dial. The key to wind the alarm was lower on the back than on style 3, and there was a sliding cover on the regulator slot, which was also used on styles 5 through 8 that followed.   Another interesting note is that in Style 4, the numbers, 9 and 6 used a curved tail, while in later styles those numbers had a straight tail. Also the word, “Westclox” is smaller than the words  “Baby Ben” on the Style 4 clocks. The base identification number is 61N.   Johnie’s clock used a loud alarm instead of a chime alarm, which was distinguished as Style 4 A.

Here is a photograph of Uncle Johnie’s clock in its present condition.  As you can see in the picture, the gun metal black has worn off through the years, leaving the nickel metal exposed.  Originally, only the nickel rim would have been exposed along with the back, and the case would have been totally black.  You can see some of that black on the base in its present condition.  

In my childhood, clocks and watches were not common items as they became in later years.  I always felt Johnie’s clock was special because of who owned it.  It was part of Uncle Johnie’s life and so it became part of our lives.  It was of the old guard of clocks because it was strictly mechanical.  It had to be wound daily, otherwise, it would stop.  I remember the Baby Ben with the black face moving about the house depending on who needed it.  I believe that the clock accompanied me to band camp in my teenage years.  It was rare that the clock ever left the house because it was guarded carefully.  It held special sentimental value.  That value has not decreased in any way through the years.  When Mother gave me the clock, it would not work.  I recently took it to a clock smith to have it repaired.  It works fine now!

Strangely enough, I also have in my possession a Big Ben clock, which belonged to Lou Etta “Sis” Kilgore Romans, the oldest sister of Johnie Thomas Kilgore.  Sis was 7 years older than Johnie.  For many years before her marriage to Jerdy Romans, she was like a second mother to her younger siblings.  After Sis’ death on April 10, 1986, some of her possessions were willed or given to her siblings. Among those was a Westclox Big Ben clock, which was given to my daddy.

The clock itself holds no family memories as Uncle Johnie’s clock did.  But it is still special because it does serve as a remembrance of a wonderful aunt.   On the base of the clock is a tag which reads “ Strickland Rexall Drug Co.” and in pencil, the price of $9.25.  The clock itself is a stylish modern 60’s looking clock.  In my research, I discovered that Aunt Sis’ Big Ben is a white style 8 Big Ben alarm clock with brass trim and non-luminous dial.  It was initially introduced in 1964 and was discontinued in 1980.  The initial retail was $8.98.  Just like Uncle Johnie’s clock, it is spring- loaded and must be wound each day.  Sis’ clock still works and did not need any repair.  Here is a photograph of the clock for you to see.

Some of the factual information about these two clocks was found on the internet and I acknowledge the sources at this time: Westclox-An Identification and Price Guide, Gary Biolchini, Schiffer Publishing, 2003, ISBN 0-7643-1835-7; The Westclox Big Ben and Baby Ben Identification Guide, Richard Tjarks and Bill Stoddard, revised edition, 2011.
These two vintage timepieces are a link to the past and certainly stir the imagination about the lives of those who owned them.  If the clocks could talk, there would certainly be stories to tell.  These clocks serve as a reminder that time moves on. At the same time, because of their ties with our loves ones, they also serve as a token of the lives lived.  They are special keepsakes.
In Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3 there are some familiar verses that tell us of the mystery of time.  I conclude this post by quoting the opening verse.  "There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven."(Christian Standard Bible).  So goes this blog post activity as I share with you an occasion to look at two clocks belonging to our Kilgore ancestors.  Just remember that in His time, God makes all things beautiful and He does not even need a clock. 
Johnny Kilgore


  1. This is so interesting! Thanks for sharing with us. I also enjoyed your blog surrounding Johnie's accident. Interestingly, on Papa's last birthday celebration, he shared with me Johnie's story. I wanted to soak up every last minute and conversation I could have with him. Papa and I discussed a variety of topics, but he gave me much detail about Johnie's death. Even after all these years, he was puzzled by the unknown of his "accident". Thankfully, we have assurance that he has all the answers he needs now. Hope you are doing well! Blessings, Kelly

  2. I came upon your post because I have been researching my antique Baby Ben clock. My grandma let me have it when she broke up housekeeping several years ago. She told me "I got a job as a housekeeper and I had to be up before everyone else in the house. It cost all my money." After she married my grandpa in 1937 he took it with him when he traveled with his old-time band. His name, "Hub Fedie", is written on the bottom with pencil. Having this personal item that they both used is special to me. I'm sure that it's full of memories. Thank you for your article.