To answer Bill Finch's questions about new Wurlitzer band organ rolls
from the Carousel Society of the Niagara Frontier, the society
supporting the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum, which owns the
Wurlitzer perforators and surviving masters.
For a number of years Play-Rite owned those perforators and masters,
but never bothered to make them operational, for a couple of reasons
I can think of: first, the number of tunes that can be produced by
perforators reading from surviving masters is far smaller than the
number of tunes that can be produced by Play-Rite's own perforators
reading from old rolls; secondly the speed at which the Wurlitzer
perforators cut is slower than Play-Rite's high-speed machines;
thirdly, it is too difficult and labor-intensive to cut from most of
the masters (for reasons that will be explained further down here).
If you have a copy of the list of available 125, 150, 165, and Caliola
rolls that Doyle Lane sent out 30 or so years ago when he bought the
remains of Ralph Tussing's T.R.T. Manufacturing Company, you will see
there a nearly complete list of the masters that have survived. Right
now that is the repertoire that the Carrousel Factory/Carousel Society
is able to offer, in whatever combinations they choose to make up.
You can get an up-to-date list of the 125 and 150 rolls now available
by e-mailing Rae Proefrock, who is the driving force behind the enter-
prise. Her email address is <firstname.lastname@example.org>. I don't believe they
have yet embarked on any style 165 rolls, but I know that they have
produced a ten-tune "World War II Songs" style 150 roll, which is
currently for sale.
Each Wurlitzer master contains the makings of only a single tune.
The surviving masters fall into two categories: very early and very
late. The early masters are easy to run on the perforator, because
each master is complete in itself. In the early days Wurlitzer
apparently found it most economical to put its investment up front
in roll production: it paid for the labor to mark out a complete tune
on a master. The result was a large drum (about a 12-inch diameter)
of hand-punched cardboard, but one that the ladies operating the
perforators over the years could load into the perforator and run
straight through, with a minimum of know-how.
In later times, it apparently made better economic sense to cut down on
the cost and size of the masters (typically a 5-inch drum) and to put
more time and know-how into running the master several times to produce
a complete tune. In that system of operation, a master did not contain
a complete tune, but only verse and chorus, and perhaps vamp. The
perforator operator had to run the master through, stop the perforator,
rewind the master to the beginning or to the place marked for the
second or third or fourth pass, and start perforator and master in
precisely the right place so that on the finished roll the piecing
together of the tune is undetectable.
That takes time and skill -- and was the cause of more than a few
imperfect or discarded rolls. This is the system used by Ralph
Tussing, and explains some of the imperfections in his rolls as well
the monotonous repetition that characterizes all later rolls.
Of course, the plus side of cutting from three-to-one masters is the
greater perforation accuracy in the finished product. The negative
side is the limited tune repertoire and the mechanical difficulty of
running the masters correctly. Having watched QRS's Dan Wilke run the
perforator, I now have more sympathy for Ralph Tussing's one-man roll
Play-Rite's one-to-one copying cannot match the perforation accuracy
of the three-to-one system, though Play-Rite's is superior in other
important ways. I would like to see the Carrousel Factory perforator
be adapted to read and cut from MIDI files. There are some plans for
having new masters arranged some day, but a MIDI capability would be
so much better, technically and economically. The down side of that is
that the concept is in conflict with the museum's aim to preserve and
demonstrate the old methods.