The Calumet…

When my parents started a slow decline during the late 1990’s, I went home more often. Mom was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma which responded well to chemo but the side effects caused a stroke. She was not in very good health after that. Though dad was 10 years older, he was doing well. My visits were the quickie variety, usually from Thursday until Tuesday. I’d run errands, cook their favorite meals, fill the freezer with appropriate size portions, soups, sweet breads, cookies and candy. (She had such a sweet tooth).

Made by the Sessions Clock Company for Calumet, probably during the 1890’s…

Since Mom was no longer driving, I could borrow her car if I wanted to go somewhere for a couple hours. Sometimes a trip to Sioux Falls or Le Mars, both about 40 miles away in different directions. One day I headed out to Le Mars which had a handful of nice antique stores. It wasn’t that I needed ANYTHING, my house was packed but I still liked browsing for an unusual piece of furniture, which is exactly what happened.

I love old cookbooks and have collected them for years…

It was a nice store near the railroad tracks, a couple blocks from the famous steakhouse called Archie’s. Carried a good assortment of antiques, a little something for everyone. I probably bought a piece of Blue Delft or an old cookbook. But then I spotted this oak clock that made my heart start thumping. There’s no reasoning when you covet something from the moment you lay eyes on it. It’s happened a half dozen times over the years and I usually just give into these intense feelings of “needful things.”

When Calumet was invented it started a vicious, competitive 40 year war. Royal Powder used cream of tartar, Calumet used alum-phosphate powder. Mrs. Housewife, ugh…

It was a clock advertising the wonders of Calumet Baking Powder, which had been invented in the late-1800’s. (Finally giving some competition to the Royal brand). Unlike any clock I’d seen before. ✅ It had advertising on it. ✅ It was big, maybe 40 inches tall, 18 inches wide, so it hung on a wall. ✅ It was oak, my favorite wood. ✅ It was running. ✅ Oh man, I was ✅ing all the boxes like crazy. My mouth was dry. This clock had to come live with me. Period. It was perfect.

The back cover from Calumet’s competition, Royal Baking Powder which enthusiastically endorses using cream of tartar…

Except for the price. Out-rageous. I certainly didn’t need it and they were asking way too much. No way could I justify paying that. I offered a hundred dollars less than the tag read. No, he couldn’t take less than the asking price (which drives me insane). When I’m antiquing, I gotta feel like I’m getting/making a deal. That means dickering/dealing a little. For any antique dealer, if you insist on a set amount, then jack the price up so you can come down and your customer thinks she’s getting a deal. Logical right?

The Calumet Baking Powder factory and workers in Chicago around 1900…

Got my heart rate slowed down and left the store. But I never stopped thinking (ok, coveting, sinner that I am) about that neat clock that was supposed to be mine. Over the next 4 years, every time I was in Le Mars with ‘time’ on my hands, I went to the antique store to see if the clock was still there. And if it was, had they lowered the price? Yup-it was still there, nope-same ridiculous price.

Notice they state Calumet’s sales are 2-1/2 times their competitors…

Shortly after Mom passed away in October, 2004, dad asked me to come help him for a week to sort/save/donate some of Mom’s things. I drove that trip because I would be bringing some of Mom’s stuff home with me. That trip was a game changer in a couple ways. Dad, now 87, told me he didn’t want to live in their house anymore (the place he and mom called home for 50 years). He no longer wanted to mow, shovel or pay property taxes. I convinced him to move to Michigan, a mere 750 miles east. And he agreed. Yikes! This was a surprise for both of us. We’d never been close.

After 2 years of phone calls begging for the recipe book that belonged with my clock, I stopped calling and bought a few Calumet’s on my own…

We decided to get the house ready to sell and in a month Dad would come visit us for a couple weeks to look for an apartment. When I was ready to leave Rock Valley, I thought about that unique clock in the antique store. Boy this would be the perfect time to bring that beauty home. If they were still in business and it hadn’t been sold. So I started my trip home by going through Le Mars. If the clock was still there, it definitely was a ‘sign’ it should be mine. Finally.

Calumet made double action baking powder. Activated when added to wet ingredients, then released more gas when heat (cooking) started…

I nonchalantly walked in, my heart ♥️ pounding. There she be! Same place on the wall, looking 5 years older but still ticking. (Well no one could afford her, that’s why she’s still taking up space). Told him I was interested and would he take less? “Well, it’s a very special, unique clock. Calumet Baking Powder donated this particular Sessions clock to a one room schoolhouse here in Plymouth county for free advertising.” There was an antique Calumet Cookbook that came with the clock. He would come down 50 bucks. No more.

They used the Calumet Kid as a mascot because he loved making muffins…

I couldn’t stand it anymore, it had been too long. “Sold,” I squealed. Bit the bullet and wrote out the check. Gulp. He removed the pendulum, gave me the key to wind it (every 8 days) and a fancy headed screw to keep it level once it was on the wall. But he could not find the cookbook. He’d ask his mom where she put it and send it to me. (Yeah, right) Loaded MY clock in the backseat and I was off with a song in my heart. My clock was coming home. After five years of pining, longing, yearning, hankering and yes, coveting!

Many of their ads appeared defensive because of their competitor’s bitter campaign which included bribing state congressmen over baking powder!

I ‘adopted’ that clock 17 years ago. It’s lived in two houses. And I’ve not regretted writing that check for one ticking second. She doesn’t chime or even tell you the hour with a gong, but she’s always kept good time. If she started running a bit fast or slow, Hubs made minor adjustments to the pendulum. Until this spring. We were gone two months this winter and since we came home, Ms. Calumet has had an issue with me. Don’t know if it was not being wound for 60 days or too cold in the house or she just stiffened up after being in my greasy kitchen for 17 years, but I could not keep her ticker going. I was lost without her soothing sound (I can only hear it when I’m wearing my hearing aid).

I searched for clock repair guys and found one nearby. He was busy repairing some clocks for an estate sale which would take him another 6 weeks but I could drop the clock off anytime. “No, I’ll keep her here until you have time. I’ll call back in a few weeks.” (Our great granddaughter Jovi comes over for supper once a week and never fails to mention if the clock is not running while we’re eating). I called him back after Labor Day and he was ready for my clock.

Definitely from the late 1950’s by the colors and design. She’s not very appealing though…

Gave it a quick once over while we were there but didn’t see anything major wrong other than years of dirt and crud on her little cogs and a couple of worn out bushings. Said it should take about 3 weeks, then call back. (He has the clock run for a week in his house after he’s done to make sure everything’s working properly). When the clock was repaired I called and set a time for pickup. A lady answered the door and I said, “I’m here for the Calumet.” She said, “my husband’s fixed a lot of clocks over the years and I just love yours. If you ever want to sell it, please see me first.”

That lock of hair though…

Can’t believe I was homesick for a clock. It’s so good to have her back. Hubs hung her up, got her leveled, attached the pendulum, gave it a little push and she was off and running. She’s been ticking along ever since, right as rain. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock…

7 thoughts on “The Calumet…

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