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MMD > Archives > October 1999 > 1999.10.01 > 10Prev  Next

How To Pack a Pipe Organ For Transport
By Richard Vance

Answering Mr. Cooper's question in MMD 99.09.27, about the weight of a
residence organ; I have one (2/13), and I haven't a clue.  I would
guess 3000 to 5000 pounds.  But the problem in not so much weight as

When a pipe organ is taken apart and properly prepared for moving, it
magically expands five-fold.  Also, one must allow for some long
objects; if the pipes were not very much mitered, the longest 8' pipe
will take at least 9' of space.  If there is an open 16' rank, allow at
least 17'.  Also measure the longest dimension of the swell shutter
frame, which is sometimes tall and narrow in a RO.

Don't even think about a van; we are talking a truck here.  As to
whether you hire a mover or do it yourself, I suppose there are
commercial firms that specialize in packing and moving a pipe organ,
but I cringe at the thought of how much that would cost.

The only way I would trust an ordinary mover with the job, would be if
I were to spend several days at the present site, disassembling
everything, packing up the things that need packing, and then dividing
up the load into easily identifiable units, bundles and packages.  And
I would insist on 'exclusive use', 'direct door-to-door service', and
the privilege of closely supervising both the loading and unloading.
All this costs extra.

Here's how I did it.  I hired four husky mill workers who do 'odd jobs'
on the side; they rented the largest U-Haul truck, with as many
blankets and straps as they could persuade the agent to include, and we
all drove to the pickup place.  Everything was then loaded, driven back
to Pittsburgh, and unloaded into my garage.  A long day, and it did
cost me a fair amount (including several 6-packs; essential fuel for
the Pittsburgh working man), but it was worth it.  I'm not claiming
that I did everything right (I didn't), but here is what I would do
now, based on that experience.

Whether you hire a mover, or do yourself, if the organ has not al-
ready been taken apart for shipment (mine was), you will have to spend
several days at the site getting ready.  The organ will divide itself
into three main classes of objects as follows:

1. Unit items.  The main windchest(s) and the console may well weigh
400 to 600 pounds each.  They seem to be hollow, but wood was cheap in
the old days, and few of the pieces were made of less than 1-1/2"
stock.  These things can be safely moved in one piece, but these is no
way to take them apart into more manageable segments without exposing
their innards to potential damage.  That is why you need four people.
Other smaller units; the swell engine(s), regulators, pedal chests,
relay cabinets, reservoir, blower, etc., are somewhat easier to manage.
But collectively they take up a lot of space on the floor of the

2. Bundled items.  The chest legs, framework, and walkboards; the pipe
racking, the disassembled swell shutter frame, the old trunking, and
other bits and pieces that result from the disassembly, end up to be a
large number of items.  These can be either tied up in bundles, or used
as fill-in around the load.

3. The pipes.  Wood pipes (except the smallest ones), and the zinc
pipes that comprise the first octave or so of metal ranks, and the
separable zinc bells of the larger reeds, can be safely stacked up with
mover's blankets, and securely strapped into the truck.  But the
'metal' pipes, the smaller reeds, and the boot assemblies of the large
reeds, must be carefully handled.  Metal organ pipes look substantial,
but they are very soft, and many of them are made of very thin metal,
about the consistency of a toothpaste tube.  Any bending or dinging
around the mouth area, however small, will wreck their voicing.  This
is the part that I didn't handle so well, so don't repeat my mistakes.

First, make some pipe trays.  They can be crudely but effectively made
from cheap 1/4" Luan or masonite, cheap 1" x 3" furring strip, and
3-penney lathing nails.

   _||        ||_
  |_||        ||_|
    ||        ||<----Frame; four pieces of 1 x 3 on edge.
    ||        ||
    ||     <--||-----Bottom; 2' x 4' (or 2' x 6') piece of 1/4" sheet.
   _||        ||_
  |_||        ||_|<--Two pieces of 1 x 3 nailed flat to the bottom of
    ||        ||     the completed box.  Make them 2'6" long; they give
    ||________||     strength to the trays, and the protruding ends
    ------------     make them easy to stack safely.

I estimate that four 2' x 4' trays for the majority of the pipes, and
two 2' x 6' trays for the few metal pipes between 4' and 6' length,
would be needed for a 2/7.  Might as well make five smaller ones; this
will add up to 3 sheets of 1/4" material

Each pipe should be wrapped with newspaper around the shaft, but
leaving the mouth area and foot uncovered.  Use just enough paper so
that the exposed mouths and friens won't touch anything, even if the
pipe should roll around in the tray.  Then pack the pipes snugly but
not tightly, no more than two layers (only one layer for the delicate
violins) into the tray.  Some wadded paper and tape straps will keep
the layers flat during the trip.  The smaller reeds and reed base units
should go in their own box.  They won't hurt each other, but they are
so heavy that they would mash up a flue pipe if the load happened to

Welcome to the world of the amateur residence organ owner.

Richard Vance

(Message sent Fri 1 Oct 1999, 20:24:34 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  How, Organ, Pack, Pipe, Transport

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