Last month, OnMilwaukee.com ran two articles about "bucket lists," meaning a litany of things a person wants to accomplish before their death. In one of the articles, the OnMilwaukee.com editors contributed "Milwaukee bucket list" items, meaning life experiences they wanted to have specifically in Milwaukee.
Both managing editor Bobby Tanzilo and I had "go to the top of the Allen-Bradley clock tower" on our list, which seemed do-able. So, I made a couple of calls.
A few days later, Bobby and I, along with publisher Andy Tarnoff and regular contributor / photographer Royal Griggs, found ourselves sitting in the lobby of the Rockwell Automation building, enjoying the fireplace and about to cross off an item from our bucket list.
We were greeted by Steven Strzok, the facilities and engineering services manager, and Meghan Grocholski, who works in external communications at Rockwell. We exchanged cards and pleasantries and then Strzok asked us if we were ready to check out the clock tower. Were we ever.
We took an elevator to the 17th floor to a massive room with four walls of windows that offer a spectacular view of the city. At this point, we were actually above the clock faces. The spacious room had multiple comfy couches, along with a bar, and although it seems like the ideal space for a party or wedding reception, Strzok says it isn't available for the public to rent. Instead, it is used for Rockwell Automation corporate events.
We chatted about the history of the clock tower and learned that it was designed and built by Allen-Bradley employees. On Oct. 31, 1962, it took its first tick, and from 1962 to 2010, it was the largest four-sided clock in the world. Currently, it is the largest four-sided clock in the Western Hemisphere. The largest in the world now sits atop a skyscraper in Saudi Arabia.
According to Strzok, when the clock was originally built, an agreement was made that it would not include chimes so England's Big Ben could remain the largest four-sided, chiming clock in the world.
The face of each clock measures just over 40 feet on all sides. The minute hands are 20 feet long and the hour hands are almost 16 feet long. Aside from being a Milwaukee landmark, the clock functions as a navigational aid for ships at night.
The clock is actually four separate synchronized clocks that all keep Milwaukee time. "And if one of them gets a little off, we hear about it from neighbors," says Strzok.
When the clocks need to be changed, Strzok says a security person goes out onto the street and communicates with the person inside adjusting the clock's controls, literally saying things like "a little more, a little more, OK, stop!"
On a side note, it's interesting that the clock tower is referred to as "the Polish Moon" instead of the Polish "moons" considering there are four of them.
We next went to the roof of the tower and stood next to the American flag, whipping in the wind. With the 16-by-20-foot flag projecting another 50 feet into the sky, the clock tower is 333 feet tall in total. Strzok says because of the height, heavy winds take a toll on the flags.
"We're lucky if we get a month out of one," he says.
The view of the city was incredible. Interestingly, the same landmarks that stick out to me when I'm driving around were the most notable from 300 feet higher up: Miller Park, the Basillica, the Hoan Bridge, the mural of peace on the Esperanza Unida International Building.
"Wow, I feel like I live in a real city," joked Andy.
"We've landed on the Polish moon," I said.
The sunshine and unseasonably warm February temperature made the experience even more pleasurable. We Facebooked and Tweeted, took photos, looked for our houses, pointed and chatted with Strzok about growing up in Milwaukee. He also told us stories about former owner Harry Bradley, who used to walk his dog through the factory.
We then actually went inside the clocks, which take up the 14th, 15th and 16th floors. There are two motors for each of the four clocks, a high-speed motor that changes the time and a low-speed motor that powers the clock. We could see the shadows of the hands from inside the space. It's moments like these that change one's perspective forever. We will never see the clocks again without remembering that we were, in fact, inside the clocks.
The Rockwell Automation building also has a 48,500-square foot green roof that we visited. It is the largest single-level green roof in the state of Wisconsin and features 12 varieties of sedum and native perennials including Spiderwort, Native Onion, Native Chive and Black-Eyed Susans.
The roof was completed in 2010 and its purpose is to save energy by adding insulation that reduces heating and cooling costs. It also reduces indirect greenhouse gas emissions, diverts 500,000 gallons of stormwater from going into the sewer system every year and increases the life of the roof by 40 years because it protects the roof from harmful UV rays and temperature fluctuations.
"All of that with very low maintenance," says Strzok.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.