Newport's Rhyne Clock Company takes word of mouth worldwide

Newport's Rhyne Clock Company takes word of mouth worldwide

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Larry Messer says he uses oak because "it's just a better grain, a prettier look. Since it's a smaller clock, it makes it stand out a little better." Larry Messer says he uses oak because "it's just a better grain, a prettier look. Since it's a smaller clock, it makes it stand out a little better."
"After the second world war then it got very busy and we shipped things overseas to Europe," said Bill Williams, who married into the Rhyne family. "After the second world war then it got very busy and we shipped things overseas to Europe," said Bill Williams, who married into the Rhyne family.

By KRISTIN FARLEY
6 News Anchor/Reporter

NEWPORT (WATE) - A Newport clock company is billed as one of the oldest existing businesses in Cocke County.

Rhyne Clock Company may be nestled off the beaten path, but its products can be found in homes all around the world.

When you walk through the company's doors at 211 W. Main Street, it's like returning to simpler times. 

Right now there is only one clock maker, Larry Messer. He's been at the company for 26 years taking raw, local lumber and turning it into art.

When 6 News visited, Messer was working on a frontier style clock called a Laura Lynn. It's being re-introduced after it was out of production for years.

The clock is made from solid oak lumber grown in Cocke County, and it can be stained in three finishes.

Messer says he uses oak because "it's just a better grain, a prettier look. Since it's a smaller clock, it makes it stand out a little better."

The wood is an important part of the company. In fact, it was founded as a lumber company around the turn of the century when much of the Smokies was being timbered.

Decades later, it was purchased by the Rhyne family. Lumber was still key, but business really took off when the company started manufacturing the wooden components of clocks.

"After the second world war then it got very busy and we shipped things overseas to Europe," said Bill Williams, who married into the Rhyne family.

However, as the decades continued the companies that assembled the clocks started going out of business.

That's when Williams says a phone call changed everything. "They said the company that you are shipping parts to is going to declare bankruptcy Monday morning, and they have 2,500 clocks that have to be made. They said to me, you have to put it together now and finish it and put the movement in it and I said, we really don't have clock makers."

Williams says he sent three workers to Germany, where they manufacture the movements for their clocks, to be trained in complete assembly. 

From then on, workers at Rhyne Clock Company began installing the movements in clocks, putting the hands on the faces and calibrating pendulums.

Now Messer makes it look simple, but he's careful to make sure each clock is a precision time piece.

"If it is hotter in someone's house, or cooler, it (the metal components) will expand and contract and you have to adjust (the pendulum bob) for that," Messer explained.

Rhyne produces its clocks in batches, often 50 or 100 at a time. It usually takes months to complete an entire batch.

Despite its long history, if you've never heard of Rhyne Clock Company you're likely not alone.   The company does little or no advertising. It relies almost solely on word of mouth.

"That doesn't sound right," Williams said. "Except that's the very best advertisement you can have, when people say, hey that's where you ought to go. So that's how we do it."

Although the Internet is often a valuable tool for small businesses, Rhyne Clock Company does not even have a website.

The only place these clocks are sold today is the outlet store still standing on the same property as the original lumber company.

"What we prefer to do is to have people come in," Williams said. "We like to teach them about a clock. It is a very personal business."

One way a lot of people hear about Rhyne Clock Company is in historic tours of the area.

You can also call and schedule your own tour of the factory and outlet store. The phone number is 423-623-2324.

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