I’d bet you never thought you’d see a quote from Lord of the Rings on the P&P, but I promise it will make sense in a moment.
The full quote is: “A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.”
-J. R. R. Tolkien
But why would this quote matter to a bunch of western aficionados? Well, other than that it’s actually a wonderful story, it’s the first thing I think of when I think of time. Gandolf may never have used a watch, but I can practically see him pointing to his wrist and smirking at Frodo as he makes his humorous quip. Or, maybe my imagination just gets the better of me sometimes.
I got to thinking about time pieces (and how fast time flies) when walking with my youngest son down our long driveway a week ago. We were talking about his affection for watches and how he needed a new band, then he asked me a question, one that sent me down a rabbit hole or two.
“Mom, why do they call watches, watches and why is it different from clocks?”
The answer may seem obvious. I mean, it would make sense that there should be a different name for a clock you wear and one that sits there, right? Well, yes and no. Here’s where the word nerd in me gets giddy (I’ve always loved vocabulary). The word clock (older than watch) is derived from the word cloche, meaning bell in French. It is meant to be large, public, and above all, it’s supposed to make noise denoting the passage of seconds, minutes, and especially hours. A watch is meant to be personal, i.e. watched. Interesting, huh?
But all of that is from the 1500’s which is great, but not ‘western’ history, right?
And we’re all about the western history here.
Interestingly, as I was researching the why and how of clocks/watches, I found that they were much the same from the 1500s up until the mid 1800s when they became vastly more precise.
Can you guess why?
The answer is, the railroad. The railroad was, above all, a money making venture and they needed to have precise timing for trains to leave and arrive because the next train’s arrival was dependent on those before it being on time. A late train was a danger to other trains.
So, the time piece that was already incredibly accurate considering the age of the technology, became so metered, examined, and parsed as to be considered “perfect”.
While the very first clocks were created for religious reasons to keep track of prayer times, standardization came with the railroad. Small, portable watches became commonplace around the time of the industrial revolution, when the railroad was in its hay day. Interesting that the watch (whether it is a pocket watch, a chain necklace, a pin on a coat, or later in the 18C on a leather band, watches are in almost every western I read. And now you know why.
I have a collection I just released. The whole series revolves around the town of Redemption Bluff and the outlaws who find their way there looking for a fresh start. From the beginning, the townspeople want the railroad to come through so the town doesn’t dry up like so many other little towns.
I’ll offer a free ebook copy of The Redemption Bluff Collection to one commenter below.
Have you ever had a favorite watch? I still have mine although I haven’t worn it in many years. One of the very first gifts my husband gave me (before he was my husband) was a delicate Black Hills Gold watch.