December 1998

Early Organ Days; NY Central Camaraderie

In previous issues we have related how the business was started and we can now proceed with some of the more interesting things we have encountered over the years.

In the early days before the organ business was started, I had a desire to build a calliope and drove over to the Columbus Zoo Park which was owned and operated by the Gooding Amusement Company. They usually had the large Ruth organ there on display and I thought it would be a good place to seek information on where to obtain parts to start an instrument.

The people at the park office directed me down to Gooding Headquarters to talk to a Mr. Erwin Heller. Mr. Heller was one of the old school and was taught by his father that the original business was very secret and did not intend to help anyone learn anything if he could help it. I was given little information and was told that I did not know what I was talking about, which was a true statement at that time. After being ushered toward the door of his shop I decided that if all organ men were of that attitude, I would learn on my own with no help from anyone.

It was a few years later that I made a stop at another organ shop in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and found there were some very nice people in the business. I did not see Mr. Heller again for many years and understand he worked several places before he ended up working for Geren Rides in Valdosta, Georgia. At that time he was instrumental in the Geren Company purchasing a Model 87 Stinson band organ. After that came to know him much better and found out that the years had changed his outlook on some things and we became friends.

When Mr. Heller passed away his final resting place was in Valdosta and my Stinson Model 87 played the final tribute at the grave site.

For this reason I have tried to help many people seeking information as I have seen both sides of the fence. You never know when the young person you help out might also help you in later days. Almost the last time I saw Mr. Heller I set up a video camera and recorded him and me talking about old times.


When we left off last month a pigeon was left in the dinner bucket of one of the New York Central men. I understand the bucket did not get opened until the next morning and the bid flew out and all over the house. I also heard his wife accused him of putting the bird in the bucket as a joke on her, and was very unhappy about the whole situation. When he came back to work he never mentioned it but waited for someone to brag about it to find out who the guilty party was. I think that he knew, but could not prove it until much later. By that time it was old stuff and even he thought it was funny.

Now there is a reason why my friend Jim was suspected— that was because he was called an agitator and was usually behind most of the fun things going on in the roundhouse. In the old days most of the management at the local NYC Roundhouse were of the Catholic faith and they were referred to as the Irish even among their own group.

Jim was Irish and at that time followed the rules of the church. Following these rules helped catch him in a very strange situation. At the outside of the roundhouse was our locker room, and we usually ate our lunch there. In the corner of the building was a large water heater, and the men would sometimes set cans of food there so it would be heated by lunchtime. One night as we came to the lunch room and sat down to eat, we noticed one of the men was unhappy. The man came over to our table and told Jim what his problem was He’d had a glass jar of butter beans and chopped wieners on the heater, and when he found them only the wieners remained. He looked at Jim and declared that there was only one (expletives deleted) Irishman here at the table, and I know you ate the beans. "This is Friday and you would not eat the meat," he said. Jim just looked up and told him he was guilty.

The next night Jim brought in a large pot of butter beans and ham and fed everyone at the table.

And so it was at the old roundhouse.


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