Many people remember this retro favorite from the late 1960s and early 1970s. The rolling ball clock was not only a fascinating way to watch the passage of time it actually has the distinction of being the first absolutely original way of keeping time in, quite literally, centuries. I remember my uncle getting one of these for Christmas in the mid 70′s and being fascinated with watching the balls ticking off the hours, minutes and seconds.
Although they were licenced by a company called Arrow Handycraft and later by Mattel in the late 70′s and early 80′s, many people don’t know that they were invented by Harley Mayenschein in the 1970′s. Harley Mayenschein was an inventor and tinker from Wisconsin who invented things like a bacon cutting machine for Oscar Meyers and had a major hand in inventing the radio that allowed people to listen to the moon landing live from earth.
After being laid off from Motorola, Harley continued to tinker and invent from home. He got the inspiration for the rolling ball clock one day while helping his young granddaughter count gumballs by lining them up on his workbench. It was then that he had is eureka moment! He began to create these amazing retro clocks as his hobby from his home workshop as gifts for friends and family they were originally made from solid hardwood. Soon everybody wanted one and word began to spread so in the 1970′s he founded the Idle-Tyme Corporation and began producing the Idle-Tyme Rolling Ball Clock.
The way these fascinating clocks keep time is through the use of three numbered rails, the top rail counts off five minutes, the second rail counts the minutes in multiples of five and the longest rail on the bottom counts off the hours. An electric motor scoops up one ball every minute and deposits it on the top rail. After five minutes, the fifth ball creates an imbalance and dumps one ball onto the second rail and deposits the rest into a feeder rail at the bottom to be re-used. The second rail count off in five minute intravals until, after an hour, the second rail dumps a ball onto the third rail to calculate the hours and the rest of the balls return to the feed rail to be re-used. After twelve balls count off on the third rail, all the balls cycle through and dump onto the feed rail and the whole process begins again.
As a child, I remember waiting for all the excitement to occur at 1:00 when with the tipping of rails and the rolling of balls the whole machine clattered in a flurry of kinetic action.
Well this wonderfully innovative retro clock design is available again from Can You Imagine, now called the Can You Imagine Time Machine Tabletop Clock. It has the same ultra-modern design and features an acrylic display case that covers the entire mechanism.
After singing it’s nostalgic praises, maybe I should fill you in on some of it’s drawbacks. The Time Machine Kinetic Ball Clock is pretty delicate and it can be a bit touchy. The arm sometimes can be mistimed which can lead to the time drifting off a bit. The rails don’t always tip and occasionally the entire feeder track can become misaligned causing the balls to fall into the acrylic case. It usually takes some fiddling around to get it to work right. Also, this clock is loud, much louder than you think. The clattering racket that so delighted me at 1:00 in the afternoon can be quite disconcerting at 1:00 in the morning so I wouldn’t advise keeping it in your bedroom.
Overall this retro clock is educational, entertaining and fun so if you ware looking for a fun gizmo that is a great conversation piece, the vintage design of the Time Machine Tabletop Clock is perfect. I have found these cool modern clocks online priced between $40.00 and $80.00 but if you click on the link below you van buy one through Amazon at a consistently low price of $40.00 or even less plus free shipping.