April 2002

Origination Of The Stinson Band Organ Company

Many years ago, in a workshop within rural Ohio, a music hobbyist by the name of Donald Stinson produced his first mechanical musical instrument, a Circus Calliope. Today, the amazing history unfolds regarding how the Stinson Band Organ Company, builders of traditional mechanical band organs since 1965, became a player in the International business world.

Don Stinson, like many residents of rural farm communities in the 50's and 60's, was a secure employee of one of the nations then renowned railroads, however as the result of what many refer to as fate, his career changed. In 1960, railroads were suffering a steady decline, and the division that Don worked for was in the process of downsizing. Steam locomotives at the Bellefontaine Ohio yard were transferred to Toledo Ohio. Handwriting on the wall reflected the uncomfortable likelihood that lifetime employment with the railroad was becoming slim to none. When Don’s number came up, he was offered an opportunity to relocate with the railroad to Toledo or Cleveland, or go on furlough. Furlough was simply a nice manner to say unemployment. At the time, it did not appear feasible to Don to sell his home and relocate to a strange city without any assurance that job longevity with the railroad was in the cards. So fright, and uncertainty of unemployment, became a scary reality.

Don reflected upon being a young lad, and being required to take several years of piano lessons where the teacher offered half-hour lessons weekly. On Saturdays, students returned to the studio for a long class on music theory. When Don became unemployed, and uncertainty came into play, the possibility to make use of his music knowledge entered his mind. Having a hobbyist interest in player pianos, and pump organs, brought forth the thought to try his hand at repairing pianos and organs part time. Soon after, Don decided to learn the specialized art of piano tuning. This was to become the beginning of a small piano tuning and pipe organ restoration business. During the same period of time, it was necessary for Don to find part-time work doing anything that would assist to feed the family. Fortunately, an opportunity presented itself for Don to work part-time for a local factory doing electrical, welding and plumbing jobs. Don recalls that this work allowed for the opportunity to learn trades and techniques that turned out to be of tremendous value to his yet at that time unknown future endeavors.

While tuning a player piano at a local amusement park ballroom, the owner asked Don if he would repair a band organ. Don’s reply was promptly affirmative regardless that he had never seen a band organ in his life! Soon after this opportunity, by chance, Don found himself with a healthy list of mechanical band organs in the area that required annual maintenance and repair. However, this stroke of fortune lived a short life lasting until 1965. At that time, magnificent band organs of yesteryear, within amusement parks and skating rinks, started to disappear. Maintenance costs to repair mechanical band organ devices, which could be said to be self-destructive, were continually climbing. For a while, it became necessary for Don to return to part-time work on band organs and pianos, plus work part-time at a local factory to make ends meet. Ultimately, two jobs started to take their toll on Don and his family, so a brave decision was made to abandon the security of factory work, and go headfirst into designing and producing new, and more modern, mechanical band organs that had been the lifeblood of amusement parks, carousels, boardwalks, dance halls, skating rinks, and living rooms of the more fortunate.

Don’s initial approach was to resolve one situation that plagued mechanical band organs of yesteryear, which was the necessity to dismantle band organs to bare basics to effectively repair and maintain them. High maintenance and repair costs had started to become responsible for many magnificent band organs to slip into the background. Don became more determined than ever to design and produce magnificent new mechanical band organs that would overcome fallacies of the past. New designs facilitated replacement of components without major disassembly. This reduced maintenance costs, and more repairs were facilitated with ease in the field. New motors and blowers were introduced to replace problematical bellows and crankshafts. Demand started to return.

In the year 2000, Stinson’s “Mighty 2000M” MIDI (Music Instrument Digital Interface) controlled orchestral concert band organ was introduced to eliminate troublesome paper roll music systems. Fourteen different and magnificent MIDI controlled mechanical band organs grace Stinson’s product line today. A large abundance of beautifully arranged music, to include waltzes, foxtrots, polkas, marches, musicals, classical, Christmas, European, Spanish and more, are readily available for Stinson’s ornate MIDI controlled orchestral band organs that are designed to play 75 Note scales. More than 500 tunes are available for Stinson’s MIDI controlled traditional 46 Note carousel band organs. Not to be overlooked, is Stinson’s wooden pipe calliola band organ designed to play circus calliope music that is wonderfully pleasing to the listener’s ears.

As this story comes to a close, the Stinson Band Organ Company just finished the largest orchestral band organ ever designed by Stinson, and the largest band organ presentation ever built in North America, for delivery to the largest hotel in the world, the First World Hotel and Resort in Payang, Malaysia, which boasts 6,200 rooms. Stinson’s “Mighty 3000M” is appropriately named “Broadway” since it will be situated as a focal attraction within a food, retail, and entertainment complex that is titled “Times Square”.

Stinson’s new “Mighty 3000M” debuts Stinson’s System Monitoring Panel, which illustrates systems information to ensure optimum performance. A new line of coin-operated band organs is on the drawing boards with the first being delivered in November 2001.

The Stinson Band Organ Company web site is updated often to illustrate an abundance of information for those interested to learn more about the Stinson Band Organ Company, and the magnificent music machines being built for the twenty first century. Those interested are invited to visit http://StinsonBandOrgans.com, or call (941) 358-8835 for more information.

And, so it was in the old organ shop.

Next: Band Organ Note No. 36, May 2002
Previous: Band Organ Note No. 34, March 2002

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