THE ACHEL W. JOHNSON WWI ELGIN TRENCH WATCH STORY
Back in late April of 2014 a very kind woman named Alana contacted me about a WWI Elgin Trench Watch that she might be interested in selling. I asked her to send me some pictures and when they arrived I was absolutely delighted! Her pictures showed a WWI Elgin Trench Watch but that was not exactly the kicker......the watch also had the original owner's WWI United States Army dog tag to boot! We went back and forth trying to come to a reasonable price for both parties, we finally agreed to a number and she sent the Elgin off to me shortly thereafter. It arrived about a week later, this is exactly how it looked when I opened the package.
As you can see there were some parts missing like the stem, crown and crystal...........I knew this when I bought the watch.
But, I just happen to have some spare parts for this exact watch case that was made by Wadsworth Watch Case Company so I installed a new inner sleeve, stem and a 100% correct factory crown.
This Elgin was fitted with a Glagovsky "Daisy" Shrapnel Guard, designed by Calvin Dean. This is a VERY early model "Daisy" due to the fact that it is stamped "patent applied for" underneath the guard on one of the lugs. So, this guard was manufactured between July 18, 1917 and September 4, 1917. If it was manufactured after September 4, 1917 it would be stamped "pat'd 9-4-17"
Now back to the dog tag! This Elgin was was owned by a gentleman named Achel W. Johnson, a resident of New Bedford, Illinois, born August 31, 1891. To actually have the dog tag and the watch together is extremely rare! This pretty much NEVER happens!
Achel was employed as a farm hand before he was drafted in 1918, below you can see his US Army Registration Card.
When Achel entered the US Army in June 1918 he was sent to Camp Grant for his training located in Rockford, Illinois. Achel was assigned to the 86th Infantry Division, 344th Infantry Regiment, Company D. After his training Achel boarded "The Northumberland" along with the rest of the 344th Regiment in September of 1918 on their way to France. In October of 1918 they arrived in France and were then sent to LeMans. According to what I have read the 344th Infantry Regiment was about to see action and "go over the top" but they were very lucky! By the time they were about to see action for the very first time on November 11, 1918 The Armistice was signed and the bloody fighting ended. Achel and the rest of the 344th were sent back home in November of 1918. The 86th Infantry Division developed the "Blackhawk" as their insignia during the Great War to honor the Native American warrior of that name who fought the US Army in Illinois and Wisconsin during the early 19th century, The nickname "Blackhawks" division is derived from their insigna seen below. The 86th Infantry Division was extremely well documented during WWI, there is a very detailed book called " The Official History of the Eighty-Sixth Division" that came out in 1921. On page 213 you can find Achel's 344th Company D Infantry Regiment with all of the names of the men.
On the very next page (214) you can find Achel's name listed with this unit.
But, one thing about all of this is a bit of a bummer...............
I was able to find Achel W. Johnson's grave site in the Manlius Cemetery in Manlius, Illinois. Manlius is about 100 miles Southwest of Elgin, Illinois. His marker reads that he was in the 334th Infantry Regiment when he was in fact in the 344th Infantry Regiment. But, even with this slight oversight this is one pretty nice marker for a WWI veteran, I'm sure that Achel would be pleased!
Here are a couple of adverts for this Elgin Wrist Watch, a couple different dial styles were available for this case. This first one is from the 1917 Benjamin Allen Catalog that shows this watch with this exact strap. I've NEVER seen one of these before with the original strap, the ventilated strap is ALWAYS missing! This next advert was featured in "Outing Magazine" in their December 1916 issue. This watch was named the 19th best Christmas gift that you could give a man in 1916. Just below the watch picture you can read that this model was in fact being used by the US Army Infantry and Calvary Divisions! And now for the "wrist shot" ! ! !
Details: 1917 Elgin, size 3/0s, 7 jewels, grade 417, serial number 20534815, 98 years old. This 1917 Elgin is currently not working and the original strap is about to turn to dust among it's other issues. Give me some time and I will take it completely apart and get it running once again. Don't currently know how far I am going to go with the restoration but for the time being I will only be doing mechanical repairs. It is not very often that we know this much about the owner of a WWI military watch, the documentation that I was able to find was remarkable. And to have the owner's WWI dog tag with the watch is simply unbelievable!
Flash forward a few days: I began to break down the movement for repairs.
Just started to break down the movement, I see lots of rust but I will certainly do my best with it....................
No doubt about it now, this is in fact a 1917 model year.
Just took a look at the back of the metal dial and it is in fact marked "10-17" for October of 1917.
And then there was a pulse.................well, it's actually a lot better then that. Several parts simply had to be changed out or it would never run correctly. The mainspring barrel had to go, there was simply too much corrosion in the teeth and even if I were to remove it there would probably still be pitting which would not allow the center pinion to turn smoothly.
Also replaced the winding pinion, clutch wheel, setting wheel so basically the entire winding and setting mechanism. The pallet fork was rusted on the left side, top and bottom so that had to go as well, you really don't want the weight of any corrosion on this part, can throw everything off. I had to cherry pick from 2 different grade 417 movements for all of the replacements. The hairspring was actually in very good condition, thank goodness! Installed a new stainless steel mainspring and polished the inside of the metal bushings. The timegraph machine is reading -9/281/0.9 dial up and +27/259/0.3 crown down. These are very good numbers for a 98 year old 7 jewel movement, especially sense not even 2 hours ago it was completely seized up.
It's coming along nicely right now.
All I am doing to the case is cleaning it and removing all of that green gunk, it's is basically human sweat buildup and it's pretty nasty to leave it on there. Nothing is going to be polished, I am going to pretty much leave this one alone in it's original aged glory. But, if proper cleaning of the ENTIRE watch is not done dust and particles will get back into the movement and cause premature problems down the road. The remnants of the original radium lum was just about dust and it fell right off during dis-assembly, this happens. The hands had a lot of surface rust on the bottom side so that corrosion had to be removed and cleaned. I replaced the broken second hand with a 100% correct Elgin metal dial second hand from 1917. The new glass crystal is baking in the UV curing machine, only about 5 minutes left for that to be done. I found a similar one piece vintage strap in my bins that will do the trick so the watch can actually be worn. I'll of course saved the old one for historical purposes.
Several months ago back in June of 2014 I flew up to the Chicago area for a watch show. I went to high school on the South side of Chicago so I knew the area well. About 25 years ago in my younger days I used to frequent an Army Navy Surplus store named "Flying Tigers" in Midlothian, Illinois. I remembered that they carried a very large assortment of military patches so I decided to take a chance and see if they just happened to have a "Blackhawks" insignia patch just like the one used be Achel's unit. Once again "flying Tigers" did not let me down, they did in fact have the patch that I wanted. This insignia had some slight design changes made to it over the years but they just happened to have the WWI design! They also had a "Blackhawks" pin. The pin, patch and Achel's WWI Elgin Trench Watch are currently in a private collection in Colorado. They are in very good hands and will be properly taken care of so future generations and enjoy and learn from Achel's watch that is now once again in perfect working condition. Thousands of people have read Achel's story on the watch forums around the world and all agreed that this was a very respectful restoration done the correct way. We are all certain that Achel would agree. |