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Peter Mallory's Blog

By pmallory - Posted on 12 January 2013

11 January 2013

Periodically, I get to welcome a bunch of new members to my international newsletter/blog. Today it is the Men’s Varsity Crew from Loyola Marymount University. Now and again I muse in writing about one topic or another. Most of the time it’s rowing-related, like today.


Last week my son, Philip, came for a visit from his home in Norfolk, Virginia, and he and his wife brought along some Christmas presents for us. As soon as we met at the airport I asked him, “Is one of those presents a strokewatch for me?” since he had “borrowed” my Nielsen Kellerman Interval 2000 when he began coaching a few years ago. When he told me no, I went right to the shopping tab at and ordered another one . . . but then I started thinking. I remembered that my old strokewatch from the beginning of my coaching career was still at the bottom of my memory box upstairs.

Everybody should be lucky enough to have a memory box.

Mine is the old varnished wooden box where I kept my toys when I was a kid. Once I reached adulthood - some might argue persuasively that I never really did reach adulthood, but no matter - once I reached adulthood, my mom filled my old toybox with the baby book she kept for me, with all my old report cards and class pictures, all the letters I had sent home from summer camp, a few medals and awards I had collected during my youth, a bunch of baby pics and old snapshots, the photo album of our trip to Disneyland in 1956 when Dad lost his camera so I was the only one taking pictures, stuff like that, and sent it along with a bow around it. It was perhaps her most thoughtful and precious gift to me.

Since then, I have added old passports, i.d. cards and documents, tons more photos, letters I have received, my archaeology field notebook from the excavation of the site of Ben Franklin's house, souvenirs I have collected around the world . . . and my old Heuer strokewatch that I only stopped using because the two tiny screws on either side of the face had come out and were rolling around under the crystal like one of those cheap toys you would get in your Christmas stocking where you had to get the little steel balls to rest in the indentations in the picture under the crystal, maybe the kitty’s eyes, maybe the center of the battleship you were trying to sink.

Fun memories I suppose, but in the world of coaching the little screws would only get in the way of the strokewatch’s hand and stop it dead, not exactly what you wanted to happen when you were trying to determine the rating of your crew at some crucial moment. So into the toybox it went . . . until I pulled it back out the other day.

I remember my college coach Fred Leonard had a couple of strokewatches, each with a shiny metal case that had a fair number of scratches and dents. Before practice he would stand before his open locker and place them carefully around his neck. It reminded me of a priest putting on his vestments before a church service, and, truth be told, most of the praying I did back in those days was on the Schuylkill River with Fred Leonard officiating.

I must have bought my Heuer around 1970, and it didn’t look like Fred’s strokewatches. It was a bit larger, and it had a black case. It calculated on a base of four strokes, which can seem like a very long time to wait for a reading, but it was easy as pie to time just two strokes instead and then divide by 2. Like the watch and I had our own little secret. Catch . . . one . . . two, and it reads 64, but that means the boat is doing 32. The fiberglass case would wedge perfectly between the toes of my Kaschper single. I got pretty good reaching down, clicking it and then doing my racing start. We became fast friends.

I remember for years watching my teams race while absent-mindedly massaging that strokewatch like Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny.

Well, the other day I pulled that strokewatch from the very bottom of my memory box and clicked it. It seemed to still work just fine . . . except for those blasted screws. The crystal is clear, and while the face doesn’t exactly look like it just left the factory, it looks appropriate for its age, merely displaying the patina of wisdom and experience.

Even if I never again use it in my coaching, this old friend deserves a servicing, I think to myself. So where to take it? I Google "watch repair in West Los Angeles" . . . and oh my goodness, a few entries down from the top, isn’t that a familiar name there? Feldmar Watch Company. Isn’t that the place that used to advertise in The Oarsman magazine every month for decades? It has to be.

Sure enough. Open any old issue, and there is their ad, quarter page. In the '80s it would say, “WORLD’S LARGEST SELECTION OF STOPWATCHES, CHRONOGRAPHS, FINE WATCHES AND CLOCKS.” That was where I bought my Heuer by mail order! I remember distinctly! (I notice it was the cheapest one, $67.20 in 1976! I think it was actually quite a bit less a few years earlier when I bought mine.)

If I were to take my watch back to Feldmar Watch Company, it would be like a salmon returning to spawn in the stream where it was born. I gotta do it.

I call them up and get a fellow on the phone who had been there long enough to maybe have been the very guy who handled my original order. He says they still do repairs and would be happy to work on an old friend like my strokewatch.

The address is the same as it was back when I was just starting out as a coach, and as I drove there the other day I imagined a dingy old store front with old men in a dark room hunched over old desks looking through old magnifying glasses at old watches while surrounded by old grandfather clocks that created a clanging cacaphony every quarter hour.

Au contraire, mon frere! The place looked like Tiffany’s on 5th Avenue or Rodeo Drive, everything new and modern and bright and shiny and full of Breitlings and Tissots and Diors and Breguets and Guccis and tons of really expensive stuff, case after case, aisle after aisle. (No Rolexs. I wonder what that's about.)

When I get by the very tight security at the front door I ask for the guy I spoke to on the phone, and no surprise, he was about my age. He looked at my strokewatch fondly, clicked it a couple of times, and opened up the back. He said everything looked fine, dry as a bone after all this time, a teeny bit of rust, the back gasket disintegrated, but all fixable and otherwise ready to give years more of service.

“I can’t do much about the face,” he murmured.

“I wouldn’t do anything about my own face, either,” I replied. “Like me, this strokewatch is just fine the way it is.”

He smiled and told me it would be ready at the end of the month.