January 18, 2022

A career that runs like clockwork 82-year-old watch repairman keeps on ticking

BANGOR – There are some jobs that require just the right touch, something Andy Taber has learned during his 58 years in the watch repair business.

“You’ve got to know your work,” Taber said. “If you don’t know your work, you might as well leave it.”

At 82 years old, there’s not much about watches Taber doesn’t know. A master of the trade since 1946, Taber now owns Taber’s Watch Repair, a hole-in-the-wall shop located at 31 Central St., where he still works with his son Keith.

Taber’s is a throwback to the shops of the 1950s and ’60s, where you get one-on-one quality service, and no watch is ever turned away, something Taber is proud of.

“One lady came here and said, ‘I had to come to Taber’s Watch shop to get the red carpet treatment,'” Taber said.

Quality first is a business trait Taber learned at the Waltham School of Watchmaking in Waltham, Mass., where he enrolled in 1944.

After graduating from Bangor High School in 1940, Taber spent a few years working in a shoe factory before realizing he didn’t want to stand in front of a machine for eight hours a day for the rest of his life.

The war and the depression meant money was scarce, so Taber knew college was out. His father suggested going into the watch repair business, and soon afterward he enrolled at Waltham’s.

At school he learned that the wrong-size hands could ruin you for the watch business, and he found that his were just right for handling and fixing the fragile pieces of tiny clocks. Taber said the school’s strict teaching style made sure only students with the right touch made it through.

“You had to have it in you. If you didn’t, they’d just tell you, ‘You’re not suited for this,'” he said.

Flipping through old black-and-white photographs of his days in Waltham, Taber points out his old schoolmates and teachers (remembering most of their names) as he sits in his shop.

Although he has turned a lot of the work over to his son, Taber shows no signs of giving up on the business he has run for about 50 years. He said his grandparents lived to be 103, and he’ll see if he can make it that far.

“I feel good,” he said.

His days begin with a glass of low-carb chocolate milk before heading to work late in the morning. He works at an old desk that he brought home with him after his days as a student at Waltham’s. The desk used to be a roll-top, but Taber has sawed and sanded it so he has a smooth flat surface to lay down the hundreds of minuscule parts and tools that go into watch repair.

At Taber’s, you can bring your watch in for a cleaning, or to get a part such as a crown, crystal, stem or spring fixed or replaced. Taber knows all the tricks of the trade, such as resting his elbows below the desk rather than on top, or putting just the right amount of pressure on the tweezers so a part doesn’t go flying across the room.

“You’ve got to like your work,” Taber said. “It’s irritating sometimes … when you lose a part here on the floor and you can’t find it. But it’s a good trade. The good thing about this trade is, if you’re going to get a red slip, it’s from yourself.”

Taber said he has seen a lot of changes in the watch business over the years, starting from back in the days when wristwatches were new.

“Back then it was mostly pocket watches. Wristwatches came out during the first world war, and anybody seen wearing a wristwatch was called a sissy,” Taber said with a laugh, pointing to his own wristwatch, a Japanese model that someone had thrown away before Taber found it and got it running again.

He also owns a pocket watch, one of the first ever produced in the United States, he says.

A Bangor native, Taber keeps track of time not just by his watch but by his memories. His stories of the Bangor he grew up in make the Queen City sound like an old Wild West town. He remembers the time Al Brady, public enemy No. 1, and his gang were shot by FBI agents on Oct. 12, 1937, on Central Street, just a few feet from Taber’s shop.

“It was Columbus Day, oh it was cold,” Taber said. He remembers hearing the sound of a gun and running with other people on the street to the scene. At one point, he said, someone shot a bullet that went through the window of Johnson’s barbershop, which used to sit opposite Taber’s.

“That was a close shave,” Taber said.

The Bangor Daily News is profiling people age 70 and older who choose to remain in the work force. We welcome suggestions for people to profile. Contact us at 990-8138 or e-mail bdnnews


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