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Don Stinson's Band Organ Notes
Stinson Band Organ notes are authored by band organ architect and builder Mr. Donald Stinson. Stories includes experiences, past and present, encountered during design and repair of mechanical band organs, along with Don's unique experiences during his early days with the New York Central Railroad.

Over the years I have had the privilege of knowing andworking for some very special showmen. Many of them were small operators butwere men of integrity. The two from Ohio were the Carpenter brothers and JimmyChanos shows.

Today we will dwell on the Chanos shows and relate some ofthe times shared and some items which were passed on by the old timers. I mightstand corrected by you readers if you know any of the old workers who might havebeen there.

The first time I can recall anything about the Chanos showswas many years ago when I was in high school and my mother had a concessionstand set up on his midway in Fort Recovery, which is near the Indiana border.Now Jimmy liked to spend his spare time at card games and wagers were always onthe table.

Some concession man came down the midway and told everyonethat Jimmy had just lost a pile of money in a card game and might have lost thewhole show. He might have lost some dollars but no way would his wife let himlose the show.

I do know that in later years when doing work for him andpayment time came he would cut the cards for double or nothing but I never gavehim the chance to clean me out as he was too good with the cards even in asimple thing like cutting the deck.

The first time I approached him about servicing his band organ wasin Lynn, Indiana. I recall him standing on the carousel while the men wereturning it by hand and installing the horses for opening the next day. He told me he was an old man and he would let me pick theorgan up at the end of the season and work on it in the winter but be sure andtake good care of it.

Well, he might have been an old man, but we kept his bandorgan playing for many years after that and it was always a pleasure to go onhis lot to service the organ. Jimmy had the most well preserved band organ inthe world because of the way he powered the ride in those days.

Inside the carousel was an old Allis Chalmers gasoline enginewhich put out enough oil smoke to scare the wits out of the local firehouse ifthey would have looked in his direction. When the organ was taken down forrepairs every part had a coat of black oil film inside and out.

The old people are all gone now and there is no one I can askunless one of you readers can tell me whether he was born in the U.S.A. or if hecame from Greece. The old showmen used to tell how he started out as a youngman going into the ring at the local carnival and offering money to anyone whocould last for a certain amount of time. Jimmy usually won and not many peoplecollected the money.

One of the exceptions occurred when a big farm boy came intothe ring and Jimmy punched him in the nose. The old boys tell me the farm boyjust shook his head and with both hands held together came down on Jimmy’shead like a sledgehammer. Jimmy lost the fight and was out of commission with a short neck for a few days and the boy went homewith the money.

Jimmy never believed in spending money where it was notneeded and the band organ was never repaired until the last pipe quit and thatis when I would get the call. When he was ready to pay for the services he always had alarge roll of money in his pocket and would count out the exact amount andrequest a receipt.

One year after doing extra heavy repairs on his band organ hetook out the roll, started to count out my money and used up all the money inthe roll. He then told me I had broke the bank. I was about to wonder what hewould do when he reached in his other pocket and pulled out a larger roll withnothing but large bills in it. That is the way he ran the show.

One of the old men told me he was running the carousel whenrides were only five cents and he gave a boy a free ride. Jimmy’s wife caughthim at it, promptly chewed him out and told him not to give any more free rides.

At that time the worker told her the Gooding shows was in thenext town and needed help and he would just quit and go there and get adifferent job. The workers father was also working for Jimmy and said he wasgoing where his son was going. The word got around the midway fast and severalmore decided to go with them. Now this left Jimmy in a tight spot with the showrunning and help starting to leave. After talking to the men he persuaded themto stay and turned around to his wife and said, "Look how much trouble youcaused for just one five cent ride."

I could tell many stories about the Chanos shows if spacewould permit, but I will close with one last item. The last time I saw Jimmy wasat Fairborn, Ohio. His carnival was set up there, as it was a location he hadplayed for many years. I was just passing through and stopped to see if he wasin. I was told he was a sick man. As he was of the old school and a trueshowman, he still felt he belonged on the show. I found him in his trailer andwas told I could come in for a short visit. Jimmy had always had bad eyesight inlater years and did not recognize me until I told him who I was.

He then rose up out of his bed and told me he was very gladto see me again. After a short visit I suspect he knew it would be our finalmeeting. He looked up and told me it was a pleasure dealing with me over theyears and thanked me for always treating him with honesty. Even in his conditionhe was still a true showman and was still on the midway. Jimmy has been gone formany years now but the memory of the old gentleman still lingers on

 
Next Band Organ Note No. 17, June 2000
Previous Band Organ Note No. 15, April 2000

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