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Hands Of Time

One of my childhood fantasies was to become a watchmaker. I imagined myself hovering over shiny gears and balance stems, eyepiece gripped by my left eye socket, making adjustments that would mean the trains would run on time.

It would be a good way to focus on the work at hand without any complications—you know, not having a bunch of perfect idiots all the time telling you what to do, and how and when to do it.

After taking my first grinning Mickey Mouse watch apart and not even coming close to putting it back together again, I abandoned the idea of becoming a watchmaker, a most untimely mistake, and I moved on full steam to concentrate on becoming a barber.

I saw freshly laundered hand towels stacked just so on a handy shelf, and I could smell the conditioning solution as I worked it with my fingers through golden locks of hair. With a knowing smile, I’d accept all tips. But something told me the part about sweeping up a floor full of golden hair might be something this side of permanent excitement.

I would be a dentist, but a little bird told me that pulling teeth would be a lot more than I could extract from my woeful bag of beginning talent.

Of the three missed callings, I’d have to rank watchmaking at the top of my wish-I-had list. So, before another year was out as a reporter of human ups and downs, I decided to examine more closely what I had possibly missed.

Meet J. Don Witt of Winchester.

He’s a lifelong watchmaker, born in Ford, which is located on a loop of the Kentucky River just across from the mouth of Otter Creek. At one time, Ford was giving Winchester a run for a place in the sun, but Ford burned down in the early 1930s and was never the same after that misfortune.

Before the family moved to Winchester, the mainspring of Clark County, J. Don attended a two-room school.

“Dad gave me an old dollar watch,” along with “other old cheap watches,” says J. Don, looking back at the time he had a book propped up in front of him at his school desk. You see, what he was studying was not what was in the book but why one of his classmate’s dollar watches wouldn’t run. The teach-yourself learner was using a pocketknife, and he made a miscue—watch parts flying all around like opening a bottle of fizzing pop.

The teacher wanted to know what in thunder was going on.

J. Don owned up to the crime, while he “got down on the floor and gathered up the pieces.”

At this point, some fluttering hearts might begin to think about being a barber or a dentist, but J. Don stuck with watchmaking. After the family moved to Winchester, he finagled a work permit making it legal for him to go to high school until noon, then work the rest of the day for Mr. C.A. Carruthers in his jewelry store.

Step by step, tick by tick, with each trusting customer, J. Don Witt achieved his aim in life—to be a watchmaker—which is what he is today in a tiny room on Main Street.

“Happy man?”


He’s an individual who has learned that if you want something bad enough, chances are you’ll get it. When you’re in school, it doesn’t pay to “goof around,” unless hiding behind a book and working on a dollar watch is a case of goofing around.

J. Don Witt believes it’s important to be good to yourself and good to those who need you.

As they say at the watchmaker’s workbench of life, the second hand that goes around, comes around—minute hands, too.

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