As a seventeen-year old teenager the last thing I wanted to do on a hot July day, was work. Especially when this dreaded labor involved breathing in copious amounts of dust, sweating profusely while exerting exhaustive brute force while throwing fifty pound hay bales around. Summers in the Okanagan valley (located in south central British Columbia, Canada) were supposed to be spent relaxing at the beach, swimming, water-skiing or just goofing around. That is what most of my friends were doing, and I was envious!
Unfortunately, I could only dream of that lifestyle. Our family owned a cattle ranch and hay was a necessity when it came to feeding the animals in the winter, and selling the excess to other farmers or neighbours who kept a horse or two. Nevertheless, as much as I despised this task, I had no choice. I was obligated to help with harvesting the crop.
On one sweltering day in late July 1968, we were baling alfalfa in the hilly 17-acre field. The sun poured out its’ fieriness like molten metal from a cauldron. The baler with a self-contained two cylinder Wisconsin power plant was towed behind the old John-Deere tractor. Trailing behind the baler, and the primary producer of the offensive dust, was a homemade cage-like contraption called a bale buncher. This implement trapped most of the bales in a hodgepodge fashion as they were ejected from the baler, and was the primary source of the dust produced. The combination of choking dust particles and the raucous cacophony of engine and machine clatter resulted in a lousy work environment.
When dad noticed that the bale buncher was full or bales were tumbling off to either side, he reached back and yanked hard on the long rope that stretched from the tractor, through several strategically placed metal loops to the gate on the bale buncher. The catches holding the rear gate sprang open with a screech and the blocks of alfalfa and grass tumbled out onto the field in a jumble.
My job was to travel from pile to pile in the old ’49 International pickup truck, and stack the bales into neat piles, three bales high. Later, they would be collected with the wagon, and then whisked up an elevator into the barn to be stored for the winter.
When I turned one of the bales over to grab onto the strings, in that split-second a glint from a metallic object caught my eye. A deteriorated strap was neatly folded under one of the strings. It was a watch! I was both surprised and thrilled to find an exotic object in this contaminated and hostile environment. With one scoop of my fingers I plucked the watch from under the string. The black face was slightly faded, no doubt from being exposed to the hot sun. The fabric strap had rotted and was stiff and warped, an indication that it had probably spent the winter here in the hay field.
As I was marveling at the fact that I had found a Swiss Tissot watch, it dawned on me after the initial examination of my newly found treasure, could it be, yes the second hand was moving! Wow! I realized from owning a Timex self-wind watch that this watch was also an automatic.
The Tissot had no doubt been agitated when the baler collected it up and thrust into the bale channel by the plunger. These series of actions were sufficient enough to wind the watch mechanism enough to start the movement. Other than the slightly bleached black face, and tattered strap, the Tissot hadn’t suffered any other ill effects. The crystal and watch back had been adequately sealed to the case to keep out the water from the winter snows and spring rains.
It was nothing short of a miracle, that the wristwatch wasn’t crushed into tiny pieces, especially where it lay, exposed on the outside of that bale of hay, tucked under the string. It was also a stroke of good fortune that this Swiss watch ended up in such a highly visible location. Had it been on the inside of the bale, it would have been doomed as fodder for one of the cows!
When my father stepped off the tractor to have a look at my new found treasure, we ascertained that it was probably lost by one of the people sleighing or tobogganing in the field during the previous winter of 1967-68.
A group of adults with their children had been sleighing in our hay field that winter. My dad happened to discover them in the field, while he was driving by and kindly asked them to refrain from sledding there. He explained to them, in an apologetic manner, that packing the snow would result in ice, which could potentially kill the vulnerable alfalfa underneath. They amicably agreed to pack up and leave, but when my dad checked back twenty minutes later, there they still were… sledding.
It took two more emphatic petitions to impress upon this audacious bunch, that they should leave… now! Finally, and with the defiance of pouting juveniles, the group reluctantly picked up their sleds and slowly sauntered off the field.
It was sometime during that sleighing episode, we guessed, that one of the adults lost their Tissot automatic watch in the snow.
Now this watch joined the Timex and became part of my increasing collection. It kept pretty accurate time and I wore the Tissot alternately with the Timex during the last couple of years I attended high school.
When I began working full-time, after graduation, I had the financial resources available to have the Tissot properly serviced by a qualified jeweler and continued to provide good service for several more years.
In 1973 I took up the sport of fencing and during a friendly, but rather rambunctious engagement, my opponent accidentally struck the watch crystal and bezel obliquely with his foil. The crystal popped off the case like a cork on a champagne bottle. Back to the same jeweler it went, and a new crystal was installed.
Over the years, I acquired various other timepieces, some with new in vogue digital displays, alarms and calculator functions. I even received a coveted gold Bulova watch for commemorating 15 years of employment.
In the 1991 I inherited several watches my father possessed when he passed away. Consequently, the Tissot automatic was relegated to the top drawer of my bedroom bureau, …there, but not forgotten.
In the spring of 2002, as I was searching the Internet for information about connections between specific automobile manufacturers and watch manufacturers, when I experienced a resurgent interest in my old Tissot watch.
Out of curiosity, I contacted the Tissot website on the Internet to inquire about receiving more information about my particular watch. I wanted to know when it was made.
An e-mail message shot back from Mr. Hans Schwarz from the collectors department at Tissot. He required the number from the inside of the watch back and the number on the watch movement itself in order to determine when my watch was built. I took the watch to the local jeweler who took the watch back off and got the necessary numbers for me.
The following day Mr. Schwarz sent the message that my Tissot was built in 1952.
Today, there is a resurgent interest in fine quality watches. A number of prestigious Swiss watch manufacturers like Tag Heuer, Girard Perregaux, Patek Philippe and others have responded to the current retrospective trend by reintroducing famous models from their illustrious past. The more affluent and well-educated watch buyer, it appears, is tiring of the cheap mass-produced disposable watches that are popular at the time, but only lasts a few short years. These prosperous clients are looking to buy a watch with lasting quality and beauty,
These prosperous and astute clients are looking for impeccable craftsmanship, precision with a little class; a timepiece that has a brilliant legacy behind it. A watch that stands out above the crowd of dubious unknown brands.
And the future of that 1952 Tissot watch I found a long time ago in that dusty hay bale? It looks pretty promising. My Jeweler tells me that all it requires is a good cleaning and I can be wear it again, on leisurely occasions of course. This watch should be able to provide me with another ten, twenty or thirty years of service, … definitely, in a much friendlier environment than the hay field it spent the winter in so many years ago.