Pump Organs, Player Pianos; Factory Maintenance
Beginning where we left off last month in our series on my times in the music business, we will get right into the piano phase and how it started.
After rebuilding many pump organs, I started getting requests to repair player piano actions which at that time was a new challenge. After rebuilding several player pianos, I found that no matter how well they were rebuilt, they needed tuning to complete the job and make my work complete. This is when I decided to learn to tune the piano and put out a complete job on the player pianos.
This led to a very extensive sideline business and I ended up with my own customers and two music stores as well. I was self taught and made many mistakes in the early days, which I always corrected at my own expense and eventually became a very competent piano technican and tuner.
It was while I was tuning a piano at the old Russel's Point Amusement Park that I came in close contact with my first band organ. Mr. Quatman, who owned the park, asked me if I could repair his band organ and I agreed to look at it. I had never seen inside a band organ and did not know how to put the music roll on it, but I had just opened the door which has now led to the building of the Stinson Organ Company.
My first organ was not good as I had no knowledge of the instrument and did many things in the player piano fashion only to find they do not work on band organs. But it was a very good place to start. I was able to make this old 153 Wurlitzer play very well. Other clients started coming here for band organ repair, and after a few years I had an established band organ business.
I have always operated on the theory that learning the business is a never-ending process, and no matter what profession one follows, you must strive to learn new things every day until your time is up. There is never a week that goes by that we don't find a better way to build or improve our instruments.
During my early years, the business was a sideline to my regular job at the New York Central Railroad and other factories. When the railroads started to get into financial trouble, I found my job eliminated and our shop closed up. Rather than follow the jobs out of town, I decided to go to factory maintenance which was a very good move.
With this job I had to learn wiring, plumbing, welding and repairing anything that was broken. Over the years I worked in four different factories and went to many schools on machine repair and numerical control systems. The knowledge gained at this profession was a necessity in the building of quality organs.
After a leg injury at the fourth factory, I was no longer able to take the 18 hour days of both jobs, and made the decision to enter the organ manufacturing profession full time.
The organ business seemed a good move until the hidden costs one has in business start to surface and I found out one thing most business owners knowwhen you own your own business you must work very long hours and you alone are responsible for any mistakes your employees make.
Over the years I have also discovered another secret for the high quality instruments we produce is to keep the work force small and well-trained. By using this method it is possible to oversee all of the many phases of the organs during construction and produce the products Stinson Organ Company is known for.
Now that we have covered how Stinson Organ was founded we can start to relate some of the more interesting things we have encountered throughout the years in upcoming issues. It is fitting to also relate some of the many railroad stories, as it was an important part of my early life.
When I first was assigned to second shift to work with an experienced electrician, we worked on a locomotive until the dinner period was over, which consisted of a 20 minute period paid by the company.
After dinner the electrician which we will call by the name of "Jim" said, "Follow me to another job." I then made the mistake of asking where we were going and received the answer, "Shut up and follow me. I am the electrician and you are the apprentice boy." We walked past all of the steam and diesel units to the far door of the roundhouse. As we started out the door, I again asked where we were going and received the same answer: "Shut up and follow me. I am the electrician and you are the apprentice boy."
We started out through the cinder grounds toward a water tower. It was a large cylinder tank about 60 feet tall with a wooden building built around it. Inside the old rickety building was a staircase to the top.
As we started up, Jim told me to do exactly as he said and hold the flashlight, since he did not flip the light switch at the bottom of the tower. Halfway up the stairs, Jim spotted a pigeon and ordered me to hold the light on it while he picked it up. After this, we left the tower and I again asked what we were doing with the pigeon, and he replied, (you guessed it!), "Shut up and follow me. I am the electrician and you are the apprentice boy."
At this point he proceeded to the lunch and shower room and located the locker which belonged to a very small man in the pipe-fitting department. I did not know it at the time, but the little man had a very large wife who could toss him around with ease. Jim simply placed the pigeon in the man's empty dinner bucket and we returned to work. Once again he told me, "Shut up and say nothing about this, as I am the electrician and you are only the apprentice boy." The results of this little adventure will continue in the next issue.