Good Ole Days: Time Moves On
As we prepare to begin the New Year, I cannot think of a better way to start than to share a story with you about combining the quality of craftsmanship and family togetherness from the past with the best that modern technology has to offer.
About an hour's drive from Oklahoma City there is a little town that is small enough to use a 4-way stop sign in the center of town instead of a traffic light.
On Main Street, about 1-1/2 blocks north of the stop sign, is a little watch repair shop. There are no signs on the building advertising the fact that it is a business of any type or that it is even open for business. (The name on the door was placed there after I wrote this.) And if you show up at the shop around 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon, you will not find anyone there because the owner will be down at the local coffee shop for his afternoon break. That coffee shop is where I first met Burton Coate, the owner of that shop.
Burton is a very very quiet man. He does not speak much unless he has something to say and even then he will speak his peace, then fall silent again. However, I soon found out that he can fill volumes of books with his actions. Burton is one of the most respected people in his town. I learned more about his kindness and helpful attitude from others than I did from speaking with him directly.
As I walked into Burton's shop, one of the first things I noticed was a manual, gear operated time clock with a chrome pendulum that was made by International Time Recording Company in 1924. The clock is still working and keeps perfect time. I stood there in awe as Burton pulled a key out of the cabinet and wound the clock up for another day of keeping perfect time.
Then I noticed an old National Cash Register that he bought from an old grocery store when they went out of business. It is a manual cash register that only reads up to $59.99. It has a black crackle metal finish with a chrome top and it has a bell on it that rings every time the drawer opens.
He also has a real old RCA Victor portable radio that runs on tubes and took 2 flashlight batteries. He bought it in 1946; it was a couple of years old even then.
I found it very enlightening to discover that this gentle and quiet man was so interested in preserving these quality instruments from the past. Yet as we walked into his back room I received an even bigger surprise. Right in the middle of all these antiques was a brand new computer. It was definitely an unexpected combination, finding a 72 year-old man that spends part of his time repairing clocks that were made before he was born and the rest of his time communicating with people from all over the world by using the Internet.
This is the story of that versatile gentleman called Burton:
It's About Time
"I, Burton Richard Coate, was born August 21, 1924, in Murrayville, Illinois. I have a copy of my family tree as far back as my great-great-great grandfather, Marmaduke Coate, who was born in 1738 in Newberry County, South Carolina.
"My Grandfather, William Coate, was born April 11, 1835, in Bloomingdale, Indiana. My grandfather and two of his brothers were shoemakers. There was something physically wrong with all of them. One of them got hurt in the Civil War. I forgot what was wrong with the other one and my grandfather had club feet. My grandfather moved from Indiana, where he was born, to Eudora, Kansas, just west of Kansas City, where he and his two brothers opened a shoe repair shop called `The Cripple Shoe Shop.'
"I never met my grandfather, because he died before I was born, but my family has passed several legacies down from generation to generation. I still have a box of old hand tools that my grandfather used in the shoemaking trade. I also have the old wooden shoe bench that my grandfather used. His brothers made it for him. My father used it for a long time too when he learned the shoemaking trade from his father. There are still nails in that shoe bench that I pounded in when I was a little kid, but as far as I am concerned, that just adds to the value of it in terms of the family history it holds. We use it as a coffee table at the house now and one day I will pass it on to my children.
"The pistol was an old cylinder type 22 caliber with no trigger guard. It was made so that it would break in half, allowing the barrel and cylinders to swing down on a hinge and separate from the rest of the gun so you could load the shells in it, but it was worn so bad that someone had soldered it closed. It had a notch filed in the side where you could load it. I never did fire it;' it was just a keepsake. The cylinder had engravings of cowboys and Indians all around the cylinder. It would hold 6 bullets. He had scratched the words: John Coate 437th Indiana infantry on the side of it. Then, a couple of years ago, my place was broken into and someone took it and a 14" double-edge knife that my uncle brought back from the Philippines. I wouldn't have taken a fortune for either one of those items because they were irreplaceable in terms of family history.
"At one time in the 1930's, my uncle Will was the champion pistol shot of the Army. One of his things was, he would have his pistol in its holster and his left hand in his pocket, take a tin can, throw it into the air, empty the gun into the can and keep the can in the air, put the gun back in it's holster and catch the can. I still have some of his targets and his 45 with his name engraved on it.
"My dad, Omer V. Coate, was born April 8, 1883, in Eudora, Kansas. When Dad was young he got a job working on a farm. While he was running a threshing machine that was powered by a steam engine, it exploded and burnt his legs read bad.
"I was five years old when we moved to Oklahoma back in 1929. We had a Moon Car and my sister used to make Dad so mad because whenever there was any sort of trouble with the car and he would crawl under the car to do something to it, my sister would sing an old song to aggravate him called `Get Out and Get Under the Moon.'
"Dad worked at making shoes for a long time but he was really interested in watches because he had learned to fix them when he was younger. So he ended up opening up his own Watch Repair Shop in Guthrie, Oklahoma.
"The first bicycle I had. Dad paid $3 for. It didn't have any pedals. There was a spindle sticking out on the right side and I put a bolt through the left side so that I would have a place to put my foot. When we moved, I sold that bike to a guy for $3.50. Then I bought two old bicycles and combined them to make one bicycle. I sold that bicycle for $6 or $7. Then around 1938, I went to Oklahoma City with Dad where he stopped by Harry's Bicycle Shop, and there was my dream bicycle right there in his shop. It was a rebuilt Western Flyer bicycle that looked like new. It had 26 inch wheels, balloon tires, and a basket on the front of it and a little tank mounted between the handlebars and the seat that looked like a small gas tank that you would find on a motorcycle. That tank had a little door that opened up so you could keep your tools in it. They wanted $14.95 and I had only saved up $14.50. But they let me have the bicycle for $14.50 and I kept it until I went into the service.
"I went into the Air Force and while I was in the service, I went through mechanic school first, then through gunnery training. I was an engineer on a B24. That means that I was a flying mechanic. I took care of checking the flaps, landing gear, generator, etc. I also manned the top turret guns when we were out on combat. Then later, I retrained on B29's.
"I got out of the Air Force in February of 1946 and went to work in the shop with my dad, learning the watch making trade.
"When I got out of the service, I had enough money from my service pay to buy my first car.
"That was a bunch of money back in 1946. I got that car and had it pretty well worn out when a guy from Oklahoma City happened to see it. It was a slick looking car. Well, he had a '39 Plymouth that was in real good shape and he wanted to know if I would trade. I told him I would take $50 and his Plymouth in trade. He liked the idea so we traded. I kept that '39 Plymouth until I got married and had my second child.
"A year after getting out of the service, I went to watch repair school at Southwestern Institute of Technology in Weatherford, Oklahoma."
I found out that while Burton was going to school, he would go to a swimming pool and when he would get up on the high dive board, he would take his watch off and throw it into the pool then dive in after it. Since some of the people that were watching him, were not familiar with the concept of "waterproof watches," they were not quite sure what to think of him. One of the people watching him was a 17-year old girl named Margaret Ann Henderson who lived across the street from the pool.
On September 5, 1948, the first day of school for some of the students, two girls were leaving campus to go downtown for lunch. One of the girls knew Burton and when she saw him going to his car, she asked him if she and her girlfriend, Margaret, could ride to town with him. He said they could and that is when Burton and the girl named Margaret, who saw him in the swimming pool, actually met for the first time. That evening Burton called Margaret, then he went over to her grandparents' house to see her. They went for a ride to get some ice cream and ended up seeing a movie called "Johnny O'clock."
After that, Burton went to Margaret's home every morning to take her to class. Every day he would take her to lunch and then take her home after school. He also took her for a ride every evening in his '39 Plymouth.
When Burton was about ready to finish his watch repair schooling he asked Margaret to marry him. Because being with him felt so right, she agreed.
Their marriage ended her college career but it also started the most important career she wanted _ that of being a wife and a mother. Margaret did further her education years later, taking a secretarial course and a word processing class, and she is now enrolled in a computer class at Oklahoma State University.
Burton and Margaret lived with his parents for a month before moving to Perkins, Oklahoma and getting their own place on December 11, 1948. They attended the First Christian Church where Nelson "Steve" Stevens was the pastor. Steve was also the Boy Scout leader and Mack Braziel was his assistant. Steve visited Burton's home many times and he eventually asked Burton to help him with the Scouts, and that is how Burton met the Braziel family.
While living in Perkins, Burton ended up building two additional rooms onto the little house that he bought. He later built the building that he currently uses as a shop for his business. Several men helped him with the floors. However, he built most of the rest of the shop himself or with the help of one special friend. I also found out that he is a very talented mathematician which helped him considerably in calculating the material needed for his building, and for cabinets that he has made.
While working at his craft of repairing watches and clocks, Burton is always ready to show people what his work entails and he will take as much time as is needed to explain how the different parts of a clock or watch work.
On one wall in Burton's shop is a poem written in Calligraphy by his daughter, Rita.
You sprinkled magic on my days
And helped me grow in many ways.
From baby shoes to roller skates,
You held my hand to ease a fear
Or hugged me close to wipe a tear.
And even though the years have passed,
I know our bond will always last.
A special man, so wise and strong,
I'll love you, Dad, all life long.
Your Daughter, Rita
Tribute from a friend, Mack Braziel:
It is always great to reflect back on the years I have spent with Burton Coate and his family, I am the second person Burton met when he moved to Perkins, Oklahoma, 48 years ago. Since Burton was a second generation watchmaker, he bought a house on Main Street and used the front room of the house as his shop. When Burton and his wife Margaret were expecting their first child, I helped Burton build a bedroom onto his house in order to accommodate his growing family. Several years later I helped Burton build a separate building next door to his house and he moved his watch repair business into the new building.
To this day, he still uses that same building as his watch repair shop.
Burton was always real economical and he likes vehicles that get good gas mileage. Back in the 50's he used to own an English car that was called a "Hillman." They don't make the vehicle anymore but it used to get real good gas mileage.
One thing I have always admired about Burton is that in all of the years that I have known him, I have never seen him get angry, swear, raise his voice or say anything bad about anyone. It has been great having Burton and his family as friends all of these years.
Burt, you would be a hard act to follow. May God continue to bless you and your family in the years to come.
As ever, your old friend, Mack Braziel.
Comments from Burton's Wife, Margaret Coate:
We would see our grandparents almost every weekend. They would either come to visit us or we would go to Guthrie to visit them. When we went into their house, everything was spotless and in it's place. Then at twelve noon, if you couldn't stand the noise, you would have to cover your ears because all of the clocks would start chiming. It was wonderful, and to this day I hope to someday have a house full of clocks that chime on the hour and half-hour because it reminds me of my Granddad.
We would take two vacations every summer. We either went to Arkansas to see some of our relatives or we went camping in Colorado. I remember one time when we went to Colorado and the ground was frozen and we couldn't drive the tent stakes into the ground, so we had to get a motel room. That was my first time in a motel room and even though we had all five kids and our parents in one room, it was still fun.
Dad liked to work on his cars out in the garage and Mom would always go out and hand the tools to him. That was always a special time for them. To this day, when my husband works on my car, I need to be out there handing the tools to him.
I know that Dad is 71 years old, but I do not consider him old. He never will be old to me.
Dad is they type of person that is always willing to help anyone that needs it. He would always put his family first, but then he would help others. I really love that about him.
Burton and Margaret have been married for 48 years now and are eagerly anticipating celebrating their golden wedding anniversary in a couple more years. They worked together as a team, remaining friends and partners as well as husband and wife. Margaret would sometimes help look after the shop when Burton had to be away, and she also helped when she could with the finances by offering to sew or take in ironing for the public.
I can show you how caring this family is by telling you of my own personal experience with them: One day I was sitting in the same coffee shop where I first met Burton. I was sitting at a "community table" and talking with several other gentlemen, when I noticed Burton and his wife coming over to the table carrying a large cake dish. It turns out they had brought a large dish full of homemade apple crisp to share will all the local gentlemen that meet at the community table each day. This was not a holiday or any special occasion, it was just a small sample of the type of caring and giving people they are. Later, when they found out that I was going to be in their area for some time and that I did not have any family of my own in the area, I was invited into their home to spend a very interesting evening visiting with them, and the evening was topped off with one of the best home cooked meals I have ever had the pleasure of devouring. So, I can personally attest to the fact that Margaret must have spent many years perfecting her ability to cook.
Burton and Margaret have five children, seven grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and are expecting another great-grandchild in a few weeks.
I found out that Burton is very appreciated for his ability to take care of his family. In this day and age, it is nice to see a man that takes pride in this ability and is happy for the opportunity to care for other people.
Burton is leaving many valuable legacies for his descendants. His son, Richard, learned the watch repair business from Burton, then went to watch repair school to further his education, and is now a partner in business with Burton.
They repair watches for many jewelry stores in a variety of towns all the way from Perkins to Oklahoma City. I find it very admirable that this family is continuing to preserve the family traditions and leaving a legacy for future generations. I can only guess how wonderful this world would be if more people cared as much about their family and helping others as Burton Coate does.
Time Moves On
By Franklin T. Wike
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