Morning Open Thread – Ball Watch Explorers; or, what have you done with your life?

Morning Open Thread is an open discussion forum for human interest news of the day, hobby and fun things, what you did on your vacation, and your local weather phenomena.

Ball Watch

Chuck Stanley’s Ball Watch


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My dad had a Ball Watch. During WW2 he tried to join every branch of the military, but could not pass the physical. Never mind that he went to college on a football scholarship, was incredibly strong and had  a brilliant mind. He had fallen out of an apple tree when he was six years old, breaking a bone in his elbow. He could not completely straighten out his arm, a condition that was not noticeable unless one looked closely. He was frustrated, because he wanted to do his part for the war effort.

So, he went to work for the railroad. He was hired by the Cotton Belt Line, which no longer exists due to mergers, but that is another story. Railroad crews were required to have extremely accurate watches. Trains ran on timetable schedules, and being off more than a few seconds could mean the difference between a safe trip and what railroaders call, “A cornfield meet.” That is, a collision out in the middle of nowhere because a train was not where it was supposed to be. That is what happened to the famed engineer Casey Jones.

On April 18, 1891, there was a head-on collision between two trains in Kipton, Ohio. Like most wrecks of the time, there were fatalities. Trains were using the same lines but going in opposite directions. On that April 18, the two trains were supposed to cross each other at a defined crossing point. However, one of the conductor’s watch stopped for four minutes. Those lost four minutes cost a number of lives and two trains.

The railroad wanted to make train travel safer, so they appointed a skilled watchmaker named Webb C. Ball  as “Chief Time Inspector.” Ball had demanding standards for the watches and timekeepers under his control. He established standards so strict, the Swiss Official Testing Institute (COSC) adopted them. I remember going with my dad to the railroad watchmaker to get his watch checked and reset. If it was off by more than a few seconds PER WEEK, he would have been laid off until he either got it fixed or replaced.

My brother has my dad’s watch now. Some years ago, pocket watches were discontinued in favor of wrist watches. The Ball Watch Company only makes wrist watches these days. The watch you see in the photo at the top is the Ball Engineer Master II Aviator watch. It has a 44mm face, which is covered by a clear sapphire crystal instead of glass. I didn’t buy it; it was given to me by someone who cares very much.

One thing about Ball watches. Unlike a Rolex or other jewelry watch, they are not for show. They are working watches. The example given to me was that although a top end 18-wheel truck and a Rolls-Royce cost about the same, one says, “‘Look at me,’ while the other says, ‘get the hell out of my way, I have work to do.'”

In keeping with the working tradition of the company, and its dedication to providing the best service to the traveling public, they created the Explorer Club. The Ball Watch Explorers represent some of the best of humanity. Adventurers, explorers, and humanitarians who can inspire us all.

Here are just a few of the members inducted into the Ball Watch Explorer Club. This inspires me to try even harder.

One of the newest members inducted into the Explorer Club is Alex Honnold, free climber.

If you have not given life everything you have in the time allotted on this earth, holding nothing back, then what are your plans?


Coffee cup

This is Morning Open Thread. Grab your cup, pull up a chair, sit a spell and share what’s on your mind today.

About Chuck Stanley

Dr. Charlton (Chuck) Stanley is a board certified forensic psychologist, with interests in aviation psychology, peace officer selection and training, ethics and communication skills.
This entry was posted in Heroism, Science and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Morning Open Thread – Ball Watch Explorers; or, what have you done with your life?

  1. wordcloud9 says:

    Thanks Chuck –
    I had read about the 1891 railroad disaster that led to the creation of the BALL watches, but didn’t know about the BALL Watch Explorer Club – wonderful stuff!

  2. Morning all. Great story, Chuck!

    Your question –

    If you have not given life everything you have in the time allotted on this earth, holding nothing back, then what are your plans?

    – contains an implicit world view that prizes action, adventure, pushing against limits, etc. That certainly has appeal for some, perhaps many, but not for me. I seek compassion, the clarity of mind to see when action is needed, and the judgement to take the right action and carry it to the right extent.

    (No preview! No edit tools! Crossing my fingers when hitting Post Comment!)

  3. shortfinals says:

    What have I done? Not much…nowhere near enough!

    Been one of the curators of the National Museum of Science and Industry, London – Dep, Airshow Co-ordinator, RAF – designed/opened an aviation museum – ‘fifth-seated’ a Concorde to Mach 2.02/FL650 and back in – thrown grain out of the back of a C-130 over Africa during relief flights – picked up a couple of minor awards for things that were just my job…..

    Unfinished business – Director of Engineering & Airframe Compliance for a project to restore a de Havilland Mosquito !

    I am seriously inspired by the whole Stanley family/clan – live long, Chuck!


  4. JoF:
    That is action too. The whole idea is to do one’s best, whatever that best is. That does not necessarily mean action in the sense of building structures or flying higher than anyone else. Sheldon Kopp was right, “Don’t just do something; stand there.”

    We could use Stephen Hawking, Helen Keller, Gandhi, or the Dali Lama as role models as well. Or how about the profound wisdom of the dying who cannot move, but the mind is not yet stilled? We have both seen that, and recently.

  5. shortfinals,
    You certainly have tried to use your time well. You sir, are an inspiration to me. And to hell with armchair critics who call themselves “rescue rangers.” How is restoration of the Three Terabyte Imperial Brick coming along? I am about to start digitizing at least that much in old films that date back to the 1930s. It will be a full time job, because I want to include the provenance of as much as I can, so people decades from now won’t need to scramble and guess as they are being forced to do with those films I described last Monday.

  6. Hi all. Leaving my first post here. This posting without a preview thing is scary stuff. I usually manage to set records in grammatical and syntax errors even with a preview.

    I’ve done quite a few things in my life, but when I’m gone they will be almost entirely forgotten. In some cases that’s for the best. I’m trying to fix that though.

  7. shortfinals says:

    I shall leave no heirs (and few graces!)…Most of the technical books will go to TPM – apart from one which is already in the hands of the person it was intended for. The photographs (particularly of air operations in Ethiopia in 1983, which were not well-covered), will go to the RAF Museum, London

  8. Jake Bodhi says:

    I have my grandfather’s Elgin railroad watch. Since the serial number doesn’t have a letter prefix I think it dates to the early ’20s. You can’t change the time without pulling out a metal piece. I read once that they used to be sealed with wax so the supervisor could tell if anyone attempted to change the time. Every now and then I wind it up and place it on my wooden dresser so that it makes the same echo tick it used to make in my grandfather’s bedroom when I was a little boy.

  9. Jake,
    I also have my Grandfather’s Elgin watch. The real serial number is inside the sealed case. I took the watch to a local jeweler, and got the third degree on why I wanted him to take the inside back off. He finally understood when I told him I wanted the serial number, which is different from the serial number engraved on the inside of the flip open part. I was surprised he didn’t know that. He had to use a special tool to pry the back off without scratching it.

    Sure enough, there it was–the real serial number. He wrote it down for me, and it’s now kept with the watch in a glass case. The number dates it to a time frame of the last couple of months of 1879 or first half of 1880, according to the factory serial number file.

    While he had the back off, he inspected the inside carefully for wear or debris. After putting it back on, he told me to never, ever, try to open it myself.

  10. pete says:

    There is always something oddly satisfying about a well made, well designed piece of equipment. Whether it’s a watch, an auto or motorcycle, an aircraft or a firearm. Just as there is nothing more aggravating about a poorly designed, sloppily made POS.

  11. Pete, well put. I also enjoy it when somebody does things after everyone else writes them off.

    Whenever I hear somebody make an ageist wisecrack about old people, I just smile and ask if they have heard of Brian Binnie. Then I get to explain how it is that a senior citizen, an elderly guy, smoked every test pilot in the world.

  12. Pete,
    Regarding well made. According to the specs, my watch is shock resistant to 5,000 G. That is five thousand times the force of gravity at the earth’s surface.

    My question was “why?”

    Dale Earnhardt, Sr. hit that wall at Daytona with about 200 G force and it nearly tore his head off. Hit something with 5,000 G and what is left of you ends up looking like tomato soup. But, your watch is still ticking away so your descendant’s may enjoy truly accurate time.

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