October 1998

NY Central RR 1955; Band Organ Origins

I have been asked to do a series of stories relating some of the experiences encountered since entering the music business around 1963. Many things have happened during this time which might be of interest to the readers of The Carousel News & Trader.

Now I might as well start at the beginning as everyone seems to have one, and I remember mine very well.

I returned from the United States Air Force in 1955. My old job with the New York Central Railroad was not there as they were starting to replace the steam engines with the newer diesel units and I had no training on them.

They offered me the chance to serve a four-year apprenticeship as a diesel electrician starting at $1.66 per hour, and I accepted. Times were not good, and jobs were hard to find, so I felt fortunate to even find employment in my hometown. Almost all of the Stinson family were connected with the New York Central and I felt at home there.

Since this series will include more than just the organ segment, I might at some later time relate some of the fun things that happened at the N.Y.C. RR, starting with the time one of the employees did not like a particular member of a crew running a steam engine from Bellefontaine to Cleveland, and spread a large quantity of Limburger or some other brand of bad smelling cheese over the hot parts of the boiler. The crew had their heads out the window in cold weather much of the way in the beginning until it started to go away. That is the way it was in the old times before all of the government rules and regulations ruined many of the fun things which today would result in a lawsuit.

I had just finished doing some house wiring for my father-in-law and he was short on money when I completed the job. He had an old pump organ on his back porch which was in bad condition and full of raccoon droppings. I said I would take this, as it was new to me, and that is where I started in my life of music. I rebuilt the organ and installed it in our house where others admired it and asked me to rebuild one for them.

It was not long before I was doing pump organs in almost all of my spare time. Then came the player piano phase, which we will cover in detail in a future column and I'll explain how it led by accident to the band organ business.

We are fast approaching our 100th organ with no two being the same, and it is strange to recall how one old pump organ led to this occupation. I have heard that almost everything you do in life has some bearing on your remaining time, and this has held true for me in the organ business.

Another thing that makes this such a nice occupation is the type of people we've dealt with over the years. I have found that people who like musical instruments have been very fine to deal with. I've really enjoyed the many new friends I have met over the years. These friends and special people are as important to me as the profits in the business.

Next month I'll share with you how the actual band organ business got started.


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