November 1999

Organ Repairs, The Duck Pond

Today our story is for organ repairmen who have no doubt had the same problems as I am about to relate.

We are in the act of restoring a basket case Wurlitzer 146 and have had more than the normal problems. We found both bellows had been rebuilt by Ralph Tussing in 1960 and the work was very good, as usual. The rest of the organ, however, was not so good.

After doing the bellows over with new leather, we started the wind chest and found it cracked down the center and the glue had broken loose. Now, this is a common probem with Wurlitzer organs, but this one had about a hundred small nails driven through the top to hold it in place. This problem was solved with a new chest top.

The bottom pipes which are usually glued in place with leather gaskets had been removed and glued wood to wood to the bottom and they were in very bad condition. The pipes were removed with some unavoidable damage, revoiced, refinished and replaced the proper way. Some of the trumpets had the wrong reeds in the wrong pipes and the reeds bent out of shape. This is only the beginning of the story—we won’t take up space to finish the gory details.

My shop foreman and I do not know who did this job, but we both agree he might have been wearing a white apron and was an expert with a meat cleaver, as most butchers are. I’m just wondering if any other organ men had one which could top this one, since it is the worst for this shop since 1965.

When I picked up a long metal yardstick to measure some leather, I was once again reminded of my friend coming to the shop and giving me a lesson on measaurements. He would take out his tape measure and pull it out to 70 inches and remind me it represented an average man s life. At that point he would put his finger on the inch mark indicating his age and say, "Look how much I have used up and how long I have left." I don’t think as highly of tape measures as I did back in those days.


Back at the old New York Central, it was early winter and I was assigned to work with my agitator friend, Jim, when I reported about two hours late for work. The foreman would then ask why you were late, take out your time card, and mark the time you reported and stamp his signature to the card. When asked for an explanation for being late, I related the following true story:

Just before leaving for work, which was second shift, the operator of the county home knocked at my door and asked if I could do him a great favor.

The county home had a small pond, and it was covered by a thin skin of ice. Many of the older women were sitting inside watching as the pet ducks were struggling to walk on the ice. They were out in the center and every time they tried to walk they would fall down, causing great concern for the elderly ladies. This is why the manager of the county home was at my door, asking if I could get my boat out of storage and rescue the ducks so he could get the little old ladies off his back and get things back to normal. Being civic minded, I brought the boat down and we broke the ice out to the center and picked up the ducks. At that time he offered them to me for roast duck dinners, but I refused. He was not very happy about the situation and the ducks were not seen on the ice again and things were once again quiet at the county home.

Now Jim had walked up as I was telling this story to the foreman, and upon completion of the story, the foreman simply turned around, spit out a huge wad of chewing tobacco and looked at me for several seconds, which seemed more like minutes. He took out my time card, looked at it, and again at me, and then said, "Anyone who could think up a (expletive deleted) lie like that deserves a full day’s pay, and if you do not change your ways, you will end up just like Jim when you grow up!"

I was late a few times after that, but never again did he ask why.

And so it was at the old round house.


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