May 1999

Measure of Life; NYC RR Grease Monkey

Over the years I've come to the conclusion that organ people and the help they employ might not be the same as "normal" individuals. Some of the things that made me think this way were some things going on here in the factory and elsewhere.

I remember the time Jerry Betts, a dear friend and carousel and band organ aficionado (now deceased), called and said he would be at my place early the next morning. He instructed me not to fix breakfast as he was bringing the coffee and rolls. When he arrived with his Thermos bottle and a stack of green 125 music rolls he wanted me to play on the Carpenter Bros. organ, I knew I’d been had.

I also remember the time Jerry called and said he was coming over to pick me up as he knew where a good organ was playing. It was a very hot summer day, and after getting in the car, we drove 150 miles round trip just to hear a 105 Wurlitzer band organ play three rolls of music.

Then there’s the time Ken Smith was here and we had some nice thick steaks on the grill and were looking forward to a nice dinner. While the steaks were cooking we sat down on some yard chairs and became engaged in some heavy organ discussions, only to look back later and see the steaks burning up and the flames about one foot high. Well, we had to chalk this one up to band organs, with the help of a knife to scrape off the burned parts, we ate the remains. Everyone said they were good, but I think we were all lying to one another just to be friendly. If I remember correctly, we might have had a 153 organ playing in the shop at the time.

Another incident was when a good friend would come into the shop and pull out his tape measure, hooking it on the edge of the bench and pulling it out. He would always put his finger on the 70 inch mark and tell me that it represented an average life span. Then he would put his finger on the spot which marked his age and remark about how much he had left, and how much he had used up. I am far enough along in years that I do not want to see this tape measure again!

I also remember the time when I returned to the shop and found my large moose head, which was mounted high on the wall, very well decorated. The men put a dust mask on its nose, electrical and masking tape on the antler points, a motorcycle helmet on the head, and numerous other things we won’t mention here. To top this off, they hid the ladder so that I couldn’t climb up and clean it up.

These are just a few of the funny things that happen here at Stinson Organ. I can’t wait to see what my next visitors have in mind.


Reflecting on "the good old days" at the New York Central, I was working as an apprentice when I was called into the main office to see the boss. This was one office no one wanted to be called into. A few days before I had replaced the grease cake on two bearings on a steam locomotive. When we checked the locomotives the rule was to have a large enough grease cake to make it to the other end of the line.

The records showed where the locomotive had made more than one trip, and some worker outside our shop just signed the sheet and didn’t check the grease. This resulted in a burned out axle, and someone had to get the blame to keep everyone happy. I just happened to be the youngest man on the payroll, and the general had not yet had a chance to call me to his office and teach me how good he was at chewing people out.

When I first entered the room and stood in front of his desk, I heard his booming voice saying, "Five hundred dollars! Five hundred dollars! Five hundred dollars is what you cost me with that bad grease job! Five hundred dollars!" Later on the union proved me right, but I never received any sort of apology from him, and it stayed on my record until the union forced the issue, and only then because my uncle was the union rep.

My friend Jim also had to go in on his own one day, and took me along with him. He told the general he wanted to take some time off to go fishing, which was promptly turned down. At that time Jim told him he might just have to pull the pin, the railroad term for quitting, if he could not have the time off. The general just looked up from his desk and said, "Pull it then." Jim just stood there for a few seconds and replied, "I never did like the fish in that lake, and I don’t think I need to catch them all this spring."

The old man was a tough old bird, and he usually got his way. Many years later I was having my gas tank filled and the station owner, who used to work for the NYC, asked me if I recognized the man in the car behind me. It was the general, and my first thought was, "Five hundred dollars!" I didn’t go back and speak to him but in later years after much thought, I regret not doing what I should have done.

And so it was in the old round house.


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