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Craftsman tends a dying art form

 A poising tool in Conroy's shop holds a watch gear.
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Date published: 1/20/2013




--Mike Conroy has just spent eight hours working at the Virginia Boat and Yacht Service.

But he doesn't head for home, the 26-foot Windsong that bobs with the other sails at the Portsmouth marina.

Instead he takes a short walk in another direction, to a shed-turned-workshop.

This is where Conroy unwinds, in a place where the purpose is actually to get things wound up.

The space is alive with the ticking of timepieces.

Fusee watches from the 1700s. Railroad watches from the 1800s. Ladies transitional watches from the 1920s.

Even character watches like Davy Crockett and Roy Rogers, popular in the 1950s.

And for every watch and clock that is measuring time again, hundreds wait in the wings.

"There is not a day that goes by that I can't dip into a box for a watch to fix," Conroy said. "I buy watches on a daily basis."

Sometimes, someone comes in and wants to buy one of his restored beauties. He's sold some online, too.

But he does not part with a timepiece easily.

"It's like my mother told me one time. She said: 'I paint a lot of pictures. But I don't like to sell them. Because when I sell them, it's selling a part of myself.'"

Conroy is 58, and his passion for timekeepers started early, as a child growing up in Norfolk watching his grandfather work.

Repairing watches and clocks was a hobby for his grandfather, too.

The older man would bring $1 watches home and tell his grandson to take them apart and put them back together again.

"Course, I had a giant graveyard with watches that I killed," Conroy said. "But I'd use those for parts to fix other ones that I messed up."

It sparked a lifetime love affair. And he found that, like his grandfather, he had a gift for reviving old heartbeats.

Over the years, he's read book after book and collected tools of the trade, buying them from the estates of old craftsmen. His is a dying art form.

Besides his grandfather, he credits his parents for inspiration. His mother, the artist, was an avid collector of antiques. His father, a machinist, gave him a love of anything mechanical.

In his lifetime, Conroy has worked on everything from hot rods to boats.

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