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Steam clock singing after 7 years of silence

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The Indiana Steam Clock is singing again after seven years of silence.

The clock sits directly behind Indiana State Museum, along the downtown canal at Blackford and Wabash Streets.

It’s no antique; the clock was built along with the new museum property in 2002 by Canadian Raymond Saunders. It connects to a steam line that ran directly underneath the museum and needed to be moved for building construction.

The steam clock uses whistles to sing one of the state’s favorite tunes, “Back Home Again in Indiana” at the top of every hour, with shorter verses played every quarter hour.

However, since the clock runs on electricity with metal parts, sending pounds of pressurized steam through it lends itself to corrosion and rust, according to the museum’s chief curator Susannah Koerber.

“It was a constant struggle,” Koerber said. “When you put moisture and heat in that environment it creates a lot of issues.”

The clock started singing intermittently, off-key, and then not at all in 2012. It still stood outside the museum, but the tell-tale steam disappeared from the whistles at the top.

Not willing to give up on what they hoped would be a long-lasting Indiana landmark, the curators sent for Saunders’ help in Canada. He wasn’t available, so they turned to Hoosier engineers.

“We’re very fortunate that we have experts in clock making and in historic theater organs and they could come together to really help us,” said Koerber.

The “Save the Steam Clock” team formed and took the clock to Camby, Ind. for repairs at Smith’s Bell and Clock.

Koerber says they replaced all the steam lines, moved the sensitive electronics away from the steamy base, and cleaned up every moving part in the clock.

“We like a good challenge and we were not going to give up,” she explained.

With a few final repairs and adjustments, the clock is singing again and sporting new colored LED lights in the clock face that the museum staff can change according to holidays or events.

The Indiana Steam Clock will still need consistent maintenance and tuning, says Koerber, but they’ve committed to keeping it around for years to come.

She adds it’s one of only three or four clocks of its kind in the world, and its whistles can be heard a mile away on a clear day.