My Dad loves to watch Jason Davis’s “On The Road” segments and has been asking me to take him to the Bily Clock Museum for years. Iowa was not on my list of places to see and well it has corn fields, I don’t do corn fields. However I promised my Dad earlier in the summer that I would take him to Spillville Iowa to see the clocks. A promise is a promise and well I am a girl of my word so off to Iowa we went.
Iowa is a short two hour drive south of Red Wing and I will admit the drive was very pretty. The leaves are just starting to turn, the fields are a golden hue, and there is just something magical about passing an Amish buggy. Spillville is a tiny town of 400 people strong. My dad kept on saying “I am in Mayberry! Where is Andy and Opie!” Yes it did have the small town charm and the bar we had lunch at has definitely seen better days. With food in our bellies we headed on down the road to the museum. Well my Mom and I drove, my Dad he tried to walk there. We foiled his plans and made him get back in the Prius.
No cameras are allowed in the Bily Clock Museum, which means I have no photos to share with you. The museum occupies an old storefront on the main street in Spillville. In addition to the storefront there is an old log house, an outbuilding with stalls that contain an old jail, voting both, and antique fire truck. The last stall in the outbuilding was occupied by an antique horse drawn hearse from the 1800’s, it was pretty cool.
You enter the museum at the side door and are greeted by the cheerful staff who kindly tell you that the tour is $6.00. We plopped down our $6.00 and walked right into the large space where the clocks lined the walls. She told us to hurry so we could catch the current tour that was going on. Tour? I was confused, all of the clocks were in one large room…. so why the tour. Well tour is not the right word, demonstration is more like it. Our lovely “tour guide” walked around to each clock, told us a short story and then pulled the string. That, that is when the magic happened, the clocks came to life and the room was filled with music.
The clocks’ creators, long-dead bachelor brothers Frank and Joseph Bily carved clocks every winter. Over the course of their lifetimes, using only hand tools and a scroll saw made from a sewing machine, the brothers designed, carved and assembled over twenty wooden clocks. The size of the Bily’s clocks is staggering and the intricacy is breathtaking. The largest clock, which is carved from walnut, rosewood, hard maple and cherry is called the Apostles’ Parade. It stands at 9 feet 10inches tall.
Our guide told us that Henry Ford offered the Bily brothers one million dollars for one of the clocks. They politely turned Mr. Ford down solely on the basis that they didn’t think anyone had that kind of money. The Brothers never sold their work and frequently turned down offers for commissioned projects. All the clocks they crafted were kept on the family farm. Their sister Anna would show visitors the clock collection for ten cents per person.
My favorite clock was of a small church, simple in design, yet eloquently crafted. When our guide pulled the string the room was filled with the sound of “Come All Ye Faithful.” Which just happens to be one of my favorite hymns. Truth, I thought the clocks were going to be boring. My was I surprised and I am glad I kept my word. Each clock was crafted with such precision, the figures are so life like, and the animatronics they created were pretty darn sweet. No two clocks were a like in size, movement, or song.
Watching my Dad’s face light up was worth the two hour drive, he has been talking about the clocks nonstop and wants to go back. Spillville is truly a Midwestern gem and its worth the drive. An heck it only costs $6.00 to see the clocks. To learn more about the Bily Clock Museum and Spillville Iowa, please visit http://www.bilyclocks.org
****Opinions are my own. I was not compensated for this report.*****