Point Reyes moo clock revived for parade

06/06/2019

For the last five years, downtown Point Reyes Station has been unusually quiet—at least, when it comes to livestock sounds. Since the 1980s, a rooster’s crow and a cow’s moo had issued from the roof of the Western Saloon, indicating noontime and 6 p.m. every day. But one day it fell silent. 

That silence ended last Sunday, when the sounds kicked off the Western Weekend parade, thanks to the work of Richard Dillman, who claims to have his fingerprints on every radio in West Marin. Mr. Dillman can now manually trigger the moo, which will go off automatically once he installs a replacement timer. 

“The resumption of regular mooing is not so very far away,” he said.

The origin of the livestock clock can be traced to the 1980s, after a town clock at the fire station  broke. Judy Borello, the longtime owner of the Western and at the time the president of the West Marin Chamber of Commerce, decided that a moo clock would be a fitting ode to the region’s agricultural heritage. According to Ms. Borello, she and Star Wars creator George Lucas, who had taken an interest in the project, found a recording of the perfect moo and rooster crow at his sound studio. Mr. Lucas’s staff then paired with local electricians to set up a system that would play the recording twice daily. 

The system lasted for more than three decades, until the timer’s batteries presumably went out. Even in its heyday, the sound never seemed to play exactly on time, but that was part of its charm. 

Mr. Dillman wrote a letter to this newspaper in April lamenting on the moo’s absence. “It was one of the great parts of Point Reyes Station,” he wrote. The feedback he received from the letter prompted him to try to restore the clock, which has been no easy task.

The system for playing the moo is complex, and there is no owner’s manual. The recording is stored in a digital recorder originally made for store announcements, and the recorder is connected by a homemade interface to a sprinkler timer. The first time Mr. Dillman looked at the unconventional system, his reaction was, “’What the heck is this?’” he said. “But step by step, you start to figure out what’s going on.” 

This isn’t Mr. Dillman’s first rodeo. In the 1970s, he restored the intermittent thunder and lightning effects in the famous Tonga Room at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. He has restored a ship-to-shore, Morse code radio transmitter from 1914 and serves as the engineer for KWMR. (The station plans to use the same recording as its noontime station indicator.) 

Mr. Dillman recalled a classic moo moment from 2005, when Prince Charles and Camilla were visiting Point Reyes Station’s farmers market when the crow and moo sounded off. The head of security ran over to Mr. Dillman in a panic, thinking that it was some form of protest.

Ms. Borello cried when she heard that the moo would play at Western Weekend. “I can’t thank [Mr. Dillman] enough,” she said.