Stinson Band Organ Company
Designers of Magnificent Band Organs since 1965
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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.

Beginning where we left off last month in our series on mytimes 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 pianoactions which at that time was a new challenge. After rebuilding several player pianos, Ifound that no matter how well they were rebuilt, they needed tuning to complete the joband make my work complete. This is when I decided to learn to tune the piano and put out acomplete job on the player pianos.

This led to a very extensive sideline business and I ended up with my own customers andtwo 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 pianotechnican and tuner.

It was while I was tuning a piano at the old Russel's Point Amusement Park that I camein close contact with my first band organ. Mr. Quatman, who owned the park, asked me if Icould repair his band organ and I agreed to look at it. I had never seen inside a bandorgan and did not know how to put the music roll on it, but I had just opened the doorwhich 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 thingsin the player piano fashion only to find they do not work on band organs. But it was avery good place to start. I was able to make this old 153 Wurlitzer play very well. Otherclients started coming here for band organ repair, and after a few years I had anestablished band organ business.

I have always operated on the theory that learning the business is a never-endingprocess, and no matter what profession one follows, you must strive to learn new thingsevery day until your time is up. There is never a week that goes by that we don't find abetter way to build or improve our instruments.

During my early years, the business was a sideline to my regular job at the New YorkCentral Railroad and other factories. When the railroads started to get into financialtrouble, I found my job eliminated and our shop closed up. Rather than follow the jobs outof 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 wasbroken. Over the years I worked in four different factories and went to many schools onmachine repair and numerical control systems. The knowledge gained at this profession wasa 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 daysof 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 startto surface and I found out one thing most business owners know—when you own your ownbusiness you must work very long hours and you alone are responsible for any mistakes youremployees make.

Over the years I have also discovered another secret for the high quality instrumentswe produce is to keep the work force small and well-trained. By using this method it ispossible to oversee all of the many phases of the organs during construction and producethe products Stinson Organ Company is known for.


Now that we have covered how Stinson Organ was founded we can start to relate some ofthe 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 importantpart of my early life.

When I first was assigned to second shift to work with an experienced electrician, weworked on a locomotive until the dinner period was over, which consisted of a 20 minuteperiod 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 weregoing and received the answer, "Shut up and follow me. I am the electrician and youare the apprentice boy." We walked past all of the steam and diesel units to the fardoor of the roundhouse. As we started out the door, I again asked where we were going andreceived the same answer: "Shut up and follow me. I am the electrician and you arethe apprentice boy."

We started out through the cinder grounds toward a water tower. It was a large cylindertank about 60 feet tall with a wooden building built around it. Inside the old ricketybuilding was a staircase to the top.

As we started up, Jim told me to do exactly as he said and hold the flashlight, sincehe did not flip the light switch at the bottom of the tower. Halfway up the stairs, Jimspotted 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 theapprentice boy."

At this point he proceeded to the lunch and shower room and located the locker whichbelonged to a very small man in the pipe-fitting department. I did not know it at thetime, but the little man had a very large wife who could toss him around with ease. Jimsimply placed the pigeon in the man's empty dinner bucket and we returned to work. Onceagain he told me, "Shut up and say nothing about this, as I am the electrician andyou are only the apprentice boy." The results of this little adventure will continuein the next issue.

 
Next Band Organ Note No. 3, December 1998
Previous Band Organ Note No. 1, October 1998

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