How to Repair a Railroad Pocket Watch

Updated July 20, 2017

The Railroad pocket watch was the most accurate and highest grade watch in its price range. The watches were made for a very small and very specific market-- railroad workers. For this reason, old railroad watches are difficult to find. They were badges of office for the train conductors; the more accurate, better quality watches went to the higher ranking conductors. The last known railroad pocket watch was produced by the Hamilton company in 1969. Repairing any kind of watch at home requires time and the appropriate tools. If you are not looking for that kind of investment, taking it to a jeweller is your best bet.

Open the back of the watch. Most pocket watches open on a hinge, you can simply use your fingernail to pop open the back.

Wind the open watch to locate the click. The click will sound every time it passes over a gear.

Hold the watch in one hand with your thumb and index finger firmly holding the crown, or the button used to wind the watch, in place. Then wind the watch slightly to move the click out of the way of the gears.

Use a toothpick to move the click so that it is completely out of the way of the gears, then let go of the crown. The watch should begin to unwind itself. Let the watch unwind completely.

Loosen the screws. Many pocket watch movements are held in place by two screws, unscrew these just enough so that they are clear of the movement.

Remove the face of the watch by either unscrewing it or popping it out of place, then very carefully remove the movement from the case.

Place a little bit of paper on the face of the watch to protect it from the hand remover tool, then use the tool to remove the hands. Put them in one section of your parts tray.

Loosen the screws that hold the dial in place, they will be on the side or at the back of the watch. If the dial does not come off easily, loosen the screws a little more. Forcing the dial will damage it. Put the dial in your parts tray.

Remove the hour wheel, located in the centre under the dial, with your tweezers. Place it in your parts tray.

Carefully remove the cannon pinion, located under the hour wheel, with your tweezers. Place it in your parts tray.

Find a safe spot where you can place your watch while you work on the back. To work on the back of the watch, you need a platform on which to place the watch where the hand post will not touch anything, otherwise it will snap off. You can drill a tiny hole, big enough for the post to fit through, into a small piece of wood to ensure that, when you place the watch down, the post does not touch anything.

Disassemble the watch. The watch should look like it has different sections. Remove the sections and gears one by one, placing the parts in your parts tray. Be sure to remember, write down, or sketch where the parts go.

Remove the balance wheel--or the part of the watch that has a tiny spring coiled in the centre--by removing the screw then grabbing the underside of the balance wheel with the tweezers and hold the upper-side of the balance. The two parts must be removed together. Be sure to set them upside down in your parts tray.

Remove the pallet fork, which is located under the balance bridge and shaped like a "T".

Take a small amount of the watch cleaning solution and begin cleaning the parts one by one so as not to get them confused. Place the wet parts on the watch paper and dry them with the blower.

Take the watch oil and lightly lubricate all of the pivot holes. The pivot holes are the spaces where the different gears rest and rotate.

Work backwards to put all the parts back in their places and wind the watch. It should begin working as normal.


Be sure to have a parts tray with enough compartments to keep all of the parts separate. Place the parts you take out in order to make them easier to put back. Draw yourself a diagram or take pictures of how the parts look in the watch before you remove them to help you remember how they should be put back. Replacements for any broken parts can be found online or at a watch speciality store.


This is not a Sunday afternoon activity, it will take a lot of time and patience to complete. Be prepared before you start.

Things You'll Need

  • Clean workspace
  • Screw driver set
  • Parts tray
  • Tweezers
  • Watch cleaning solution
  • Watch oil
  • Toothpick
  • Loupe or magnifying glass
  • Blower
  • Hand remover tool
  • Watch paper
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About the Author

Maggie Kmiecik is based out of Chicago and began writing professionally in 2010. She specializes in creative nonfiction. Kmiecik is a University of Illinois at Chicago graduate holding a Bachelor of Arts in English literature.