January-February 1999

Band Organ Repair; Workin' on the Railroad

The old Russell's Point amusement park was only five miles from my home and it was there I first encountered some of the odd things people do to make a band organ play when there is no one around to guide them. This park had a 153 Wurlitzer and a Gavioli which had been converted at the factory to play 165 music. One day they ruined the last 150 music roll and needed the organ for a three day weekend.

Without asking anyone, the maintenance man decided to take the problem in his own hands and make everyone happy. He went over to the 165 machine and gathered up about five rolls, and cut them off with a band saw to the exact width of the 150 roll (some of these were green rolls). It was at that time that I received a call from the park management to explain why the rolls wouldn't work.

For the benefit of those readers who aren't familiar with band organs, just take the word of the organ people— it won't work!

On another occasion, I had to drive 300 miles to turn one screw one turn on a Wurlitzer machine because the owner did not understanding the operation of the organ. It is for this reason we always teach a maintenance course on every new Stinson organ we deliver.

One time we had an organ on an open trailer and a gentleman came up and looked the organ over and said, "Ain't that thing on the trailer called a gazebo?"

This year we had a man watch the organ play for a complete organ roll and when it started to rewind, he called me over and asked if the big roll of toilet paper was what programmed the organ to play the music.

I'm sure many of you organ owners have heard questions worse than these, and I would like to hear some of them. If we get some good ones, I will include them in a future chapter, so let's hear from you!


Workin' on the Railroad...

We had an old machinist working at the New York Central who was nicknamed "Baldy."

In the days of steam locomotives there were very few jobs which were clean and Baldy usually worked the dirty jobs. In our locker room we had the standard large round wash basins which allow about six men to wash up at the same time. At the end of the day, Baldy would cover his hands with soap and duck his head completely under the flowing water. After he got his head wet he would shut his eyes and scrub his bald head for several minutes to remove all the dirt, grease and grime.

Now, as I understand it, he had been giving his assigned apprentice boy a hard time and the boy decided it was time for revenge. That night when Baldy started washing, his apprentice boy stood over him and sprinkled powdered graphite on his head. The harder he scrubbed, the more graphite he spread around. We were all watching the operation and were trying to decide if we should all hide when he opened his eyes and looked at his hands, which were completely black.

At this time, he went over to the shop mirror and all he could see was the whites of his eyes which were glowing pretty bright. The rest from the neck up was pitch black.

Baldy was a large man and when he was angry, no one bothered him, we all pretended we did not see what was going on, in fact we all kept our distance which was the most prudent thing to do. When we all left that night Baldy was still scrubbing and no one ever dared ask how long it took to get it off.

Baldy was a very fine gentleman and when he retired he moved back to his home town in Tennessee. After my father retired he was on his way to Florida and visited Baldy. At that time Baldy had lost one leg and was in poor condition.

We miss the old men who worked very hard days to maintain the steam locomotives and helped makes this country what it is today.

And so it was in the old round house.


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