Cold War Clock is all Tubes

A clock built from tubes


Clocks are great projects to build. They serve a real purpose, and there’s a wide variety of ways to implement a unique timepiece. [Hank]‘s Cold War Clock only uses parts and technologies that were available in 1959. It contains no semiconductors, but has an audible alarm and reasonable time accuracy.

Looking through the hand drafted schematics, you’ll find a number of Dekatron tubes. These vintage components are used as registers to store and count the time. [Hank] found some cheap Soviet Dekatrons, but had to machine his own sockets to connect them. These tubes do the counting, but the actual display consists of nixies.

A cost estimate puts this clock at $2130 in 1959, which equates to $17040 today. Clearly this would be outside the price range of most hobbyists. The actual build cost [Hank] around $1600.

There’s some intricate details in this build. The front panel has an authentic look to it, and the manual has instructions for “demolition of clock to prevent enemy use.” [Hank] calls it a “creative anachronism.” In a sense, it’s a reproduction of a product that never actually existed.

A video of this clock in action, including the Cold War era alarm, is after the break.


  1. ehoogma says:

    Wow, respect! That is one hell of a old school project. Want one! :P

  2. bobfeg says:

    It’s beautiful in its own way.

    A true work of art.

  3. preamp says:

    Veeeery nice!

  4. eccentricelectron says:

    Stunning piece of work!

  5. Adam Henley says:


  6. HV says:

    The point to point wiring in that thing is pretty impressive looking, very nice project.

  7. Trav says:

    Sweet!! Even the alarm impressed me. I was just expecting a buzzer. It even has that is that old “hammered metal finish” on the case.

    The only thing that would make it better would be to use cloth covered wire and cable lacing ( instead of twist/wire ties.

    • reboots says:

      He did use cable lacing, and apparently (teflon-insulated?) mil-spec wire (more apropos for 1959 than cloth insulation).

      I’ve owned and taken apart a lot of equipment from that era, and everything looks 100% authentic to me. I would’ve believed it was original.

  8. anescient says:

    Pulls 40 watts according to his operation and service manual. I expected much more.
    “The use of cold cathode tubes wherever possible is a big part of why the power draw in this clock is low.”
    Only 7 of the 94 tubes are vacuum tubes.

  9. Stephen says:

    If anyone didn’t recognise it: the tune at the beginning is “The Lincolnshire Poacher”, the identifier of a numbers station broadcast from the British airbase at Akrotiri in Cyprus, presumably to spies in place in the Middle East. If you don’t know what a numbers station is, look on the Wikipedia.

    It reminds me of the equipment on the B-52 in “Dr Strangelove”. A beautiful piece of work, and I’m amazed it draws only forty watts.

  10. Ginsublade says:

    one word……EPIC……

  11. This is incredible! However I’m a little confused – is this a completely from-scratch design, or is it based on an original instrument? I can’t quite understand the existence of the “manual”, since it sounds like he has designed and built everything from scratch. Or has he made the manual as well to look like it’s been scanned from 1959!?

  12. Howard says:

    Without question, this is my favorite of all the Hackaday projects I’ve seen since subscribing. If I had to nitpick anything, it’s that the font used on the faked manual (which was awesome!!) is too modern. Engineering ‘typesetting’ at the time was often done on an IBM Executive typewriter. I have one and have used it to get that authentic old-time look on documents. The faked hole punches and water stains really sell it. And the destruction section is extra awesome!

  13. supershwa says:

    Never again will I complain about the traditional “buzz” of the modern alarm clock. This one would be like waking up to a nightmare!

  14. (Slow, reverent clap)

    This is amazing. Love the simulated coffee cup stain in the Manual!

    The detail in the theory of operation is stunning. The AND gate to detect 24:00 is interesting, too; it adds two voltages together, but neither is sufficient to trigger a trigger tube, both must be there, hence the AND function.

    Just a stunning piece of work.

  15. onebiozz says:

    at first i was totally shocked …. but then i realized that they had dekatron and now i just want to make one xD

  16. J. Peterson says:

    The attention to detail, and to keeping with the 1959 theme is just amazing. The coffee mug stain in the manual is just over the top. Wow.

  17. Rob says:

    absolutely fantastic… love love love it!

  18. Galane says:

    There needs to be a period movie starring this clock as one of the major props.

  19. Galane says:

    “I’m glad I was able to get the authentic toxic process…” Now that is really keeping things period correct. ;-)

  20. strider_mt2k says:

    Wonderful and badass and…WONDERFUL!

  21. localroger says:

    Wow, in the video the pops and clacks made by those vintage switches are sweet. I used to get surplus gear like that to take apart when I was a kid and you can’t get that stuff very easily any more.

  22. morbo says:

    Is that a civil defense sticker in the top left in the vid?! This project is superb! What a fine bit of work!

  23. NewCommentor1283 says:

    wow, just wow.

    if i owned one i would add one of those little neons (as power indicator) that have green (upconverting?) phosphers XD

    i used to have one and i miss it so bad :(

  24. DainBramage1991 says:

    Wow. Simply wow. A truly amazing work of art. Every detail is perfect. I am completely blown away by this.

  25. Jim Thompson says:

    An amazing piece of work. One very small nit: the designation CD624/GSQ-70 isn’t quite right. In the “Joint Army Navy Nomenclature” designation system used by the Army, Navy, and Air Force in 1959, “CD” indicates a cord and plug set. A more appropriate designator would be “I”, meaning “indicator”, specifically a voltmeter, ammeter, or clock. GSQ-70 IS accurate – the “G” indicates a ground-based or general-use system, the “S” means special or combination, and the “Q” also means special or combination. The use of the “S” and “Q” would only have been used where there is no other designator that applies. In this case, there really isn’t any other designation that would have applied!

  26. Mason Stone says:

    I like how the 5’s are really upside-down 2’s.
    According to Wikipedia that was a shortcut the Russians used on some of their Nixies.

  27. N8 Packradt says:

    This is truly fully art and fully functional technology. This is amazing to me. I have accumulated much vintage military electronics from the era and his equipment and related manual ‘photocopy’ hit all the marks. It reminds me of the epic vintage toy story crafted by Randy Regier which included not only the finished retrotoys but also the backstory of how the toys were lost, and photos of them being “discovered” in vintage packaging… Keep in mind all of these pictures in the flickr set are an artful fabrication. This clock is just like that. The only clue to collectors that it is not a vintage piece is the fact that Soviet tubes and other parts are used on a timepiece apparently of American origin. I feel he could have successfully trolled many a museum with this piece just as easily as admitting it was his work of art.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 96,731 other followers