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Tualatin clock repairman keeps on ticking

After 43 years of working on clocks, Donald-Willard DeLoach expands his Tualatin business
by: Alana Kansaku-Sarmiento Donald-Willard DeLoach, 65, has made both a living and a life out of keeping time. Though DeLoach considered retiring, his love for the craft has kept him working. He is now seeking street-level property in Tualatin for his business, which is currently located on the second floor of the Benlake Building at the Tualatin Commons.

The walls in DeLoach Clock and Watch are covered in timepieces of various sizes and styles. Every other surface is similarly occupied, whether by elegant pocket watches adorned with trains, Mickey Mouse watches or porcelain tabletop clocks.

'Every clock on that wall, somebody either wanted to give it away or didn't think it was worth fixing,' said Donald-Willard DeLoach, owner of the repair shop in Tualatin. 'I just work 2, 3 minutes on it, and it's running fine.'

DeLoach has been fixing timepieces since 1968. Currently on the second floor of the Benlake building at the Tualatin Commons, 8215 S.W. Tualatin-Sherwood Road, DeLoach is on the lookout for some street-level property. In the business for 43 years, he's not planning on quitting any time soon.

'I'm turning 65 in June, but I just love the business,' DeLoach said. 'I can't get out of it.'

His customers are glad of that.

'It's so nice, having people who grew up in the business,' said Tualatin resident Larry McClure, who comes to DeLoach for everything from battery replacements to gift ideas. 'These days, it's like people just take a 10-week course.'

DeLoach's heavy accent gives away his southern upbringing. Growing up in Georgia, DeLoach one day walked into a watch shop and instantly knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

'My nose came up to right about here,' he said, pointing to the counter at his waist. DeLoach is referring to a shop owned by Johnny Hale, an old German watchmaker who made his living in Atlanta. 'I kept asking, 'Whatcha doing? What's this? What's that do?' And he said, 'Come around here.'

'He sat me on his lap and showed me what he was doing. Boy was I having a good time. When he asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I said, 'I want to be a watchmaker, just like you.' That made him so happy. That's when I knew.'

DeLoach meant what he said. He learned the trade, and when he joined the Air Force in the '70s, he made extra cash fixing the timepieces of fellow flyers.

After leaving the Air Force, DeLoach met and married his wife, Bonnie. The couple moved to the Northwest in 1988.

'I read about Oregon and how the wet weather made it a haven for watch and clock repair,' DeLoach said.

When the couple moved to the Tualatin area in the mid-90s, DeLoach taught his wife the trade. Bonnie currently fixes watches at the Tigard Fred Meyer jewelry department on Pacific Highway.

DeLoach said he finds joy in having a satisfied customer.

'I got one little guy, saved his money, his allowance for six months,' DeLoach said. '(He) picked up bottles and cans and did odd jobs - he really wanted this stainless steel pocket watch. So he finally came in - it's an $80 watch, but I knew how hard he worked to save up that money, so I sold it to him for $50.'

DeLoach said the boy reminded him of himself and of the first watch he purchased, a piece fashioned to look like London's Big Ben.

'I bought it from Johnny Hale's shop for $4.25,' the repairman said. 'It was the second day after I met him. I was a little business man. I always had something in my pocket to sell: chalk, marbles, string…I told him, 'I'll give you 25 cents now, and 25 cents every week until I pay it off. I promise I'll pay. I'm good for it.

'He said, 'I'll give it to you now, because I trust you. All we gotta do is shake on it.' And man, did I think I was something. I bought my first watch on credit, at 8 years old.'

The reason behind DeLoach's fascination with fixing timepieces is simple:

'(If) it don't work, my job is to make it work.'

Even after 43 years in the industry, DeLoach said he is constantly challenging himself.

'I'm not the best, but I'm among the best. In my job, precision work, perfection, is paramount. I've always competed against what I can do; never compete with anyone else. I just try to beat my own record, and if you keep doing that, you'll be the best.'