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MMD > Archives > August 1997 > 1997.08.23 > 01Prev  Next

Introduction; Restoring "Beale Street Special"
By Gerry Bay

This is an introduction and a love story.

I am a 57 year old businessman and entrepreneur who will retire in
November.  I'm recently remarried and have a 22 year old daughter and
three step children.  I love to sail and own a racing boat.  I also
love old sports cars and own a Lotus Elan and a Porsche 914.  I am a ha
radio operator, W1XY, and fool around with computers and electronics.
I played cornet as a kid and have always enjoyed music of all kinds.

About a year ago, I spent a wonderful evening around a player piano at
a friend's house and got semi-hooked.  At the time, I had never heard
of such a thing as an orchestrion.  Then, in January, I stumbled into
an antique store and heard a 15" symphonion and was blown away...never
heard such beautiful music from something you don't even plug in!  This
year, I have collected about 7 music boxes including a Regina autochanger,
Polyphon bell box, organettes, player zither, cylinder boxes, etc.  I
have also purchased and restored a player piano and read a zillion books.
A trip to Arkansas for the Miles auction zoo was the highlight of the
summer.  I am in love with mechanical music of all kinds!!!

But this story is about last May at the White Plains auction which
featured a number of Disney pieces, nickelodeons, etc.  I went to the
auction just to hear some of these marvelous pieces before they went
into private collections.  What a thrill for a first timer to hear band
organs, Mills Violano, Seeburg KT, etc.  But there was one piece that
I just couldn't stay away from:  The Beale Street Special formerly know
as the Eakins Special.  This orchestrion was originally built by Paul
Eakins based on a Coinola Reproduco.  It was modified for "O" rolls and
a glass breakfront was added to show the percussion instruments in
action.  I loved the music and loved seeing the percussion.  I knew it
wasn't a "pure" instrument such as some of the beautiful nickelodeons
with their stained glass, etc. but, my God, I loved it.  Losing my mind,
I started to bid and ended up buying the thing!

The next problem was moving it since this was Saturday afternoon!  The
auction company loaded it on their truck and took it to Maine and then,
eventually to my home in RI.  There, it just barely fit into the garage.
I stayed up all night playing rolls even though it was badly out of tune.
Also, the mandolin rail wasn't working, the organ keys were frozen up,
the instrument was very leaky (it had two suction motors driving it!),
expression wasn't working, the two ranks of 49 pipes each were playing
in tandem rather than one being solo, etc.

I worked with a wonderful man, Kirk Russell, and we restored it.
Amazingly, after all the hard use at Disney, the piano was in good shape.
We finally got it into my living room by putting the blower and suction
motor in the basement and running tubes to the instrument.  We hid the
base pipes behind the player piano across the room in order to squeeze
everything in.  We have about 15 rolls and listen to it every night
along with our other musical instruments.  I just can't get enough of
this wonderful hobby and am obviously becoming somewhat of a nut!

Now, I have a few questions that maybe some of you more experienced
people can help me with:

   1. I am interested in buying more "O" rolls.  However, they are
      expensive and, thus, I'm worried about getting a "dud."  If you
      have an "O" roll instrument, you probably have a few rolls that
      are your favorites.  If you could share that with me, I would
      appreciate it and would give some of these a listen.  I know this
      is a broad question, but I already have two or three favorites
      and assume you do as well.

   2. I'm very interested in finding out more about the history of this
      piece.  How did it come about with Eakins?  Was it a favorite
      piece or an experiment relegated to the back of the museum?  Is
      there a history of the Eakins museum in St. Louis?  When did
      Disney pick up the piece?  Where was it located at Disney World
      and for how long?  (I vaguely remember seeing it on a trip down
      there some time ago.)  I have contacted Disney and have been
      unsuccessful in getting any info at all from this Byzantine

   3. I have heard that there is a recording of some of the Disney
      pieces including the Beale Street Special but can't find anything.
      Again Disney "knows nothing about nothing."

I hope I haven't taken up too much "air time" here.  If anyone is ever
in Rhode Island and wants to hear this fine classic, please give me
an e-mail.

Finally, congratulations on MMD; it's a wonderful source of info for
a newcomer like me!  (I've sent in my donation by the way)

Gerry Bay

 [ Editor's Note:
 [ Gerry,
 [   Welcome to the group.  It looks like you didn't waste any
 [ time once you decided you liked mechanical music.  I hope that
 [ some of our subscribers will be able to answer your questions.
 [ Oh yes -- thanks, in advance, for the financial support!
 [ Jody

(Message sent Sat 23 Aug 1997, 21:53:46 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Beale, Introduction, Restoring, Special, Street

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