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MMD > Archives > July 2004 > 2004.07.09 > 05Prev  Next

How I Became Interested in Mechanical Music
By Bruce Clark

I was born and raised in Rochester New York.  When I was in fourth
grade in 1945, my older cousins worked at Seabreeze Amusement Park
and cousin Kirk Howland had a job running the merry-go-round for the
summer.  At that time, the Wurlitzer 165 band organ was located in the
center of the merry-go-round.  I enjoyed the music, but never got a
chance to see the organ because of its location.  Several years later
it was moved to a corner of the building, with red painted wooden
rocking chairs facing it, so that patrons could sit and enjoy the

The next mechanical musical instrument I heard was the Aeolian pipe
organ in the home of George Eastman.  Our 5th grade went on a tour of
the home, then turned to a museum.  Mr. Eastman died in 1934, but made
a provision to keep his servant, Nathaniel, on the payroll and working
at the house.  Nathaniel knew how to operate the roll player mechanism
and would demonstrate it to all who visited the house.

I was so fascinated with the music, I returned to the house many times
and became friends with Nathaniel.  Eventually he allowed me to choose
two rolls from the roll library and play them on the single roll player
contained in a mahogany lift-top cabinet located to the left of the
stairway in the front hall of the mansion.

I remember being allowed to press the mother-of-pearl push-button
switch on the organ console to start the blower, and go to the hallway
and lift the lid of the player mechanism and insert a roll and set the
tempo, and press another push button to start the player.  Next, I
would run up the stairway and sit on a bench near the organ grillwork
and listen to the music until the roll ended.  I would have played
rolls all day, but Nathaniel set a limit of two rolls, and my time
was up!

The organ still exists but is in sad condition.  One of the pipe
chambers was removed by poor-thinking management and turned into a room
for other displays.  Other parts are leaking air and the organ needs
major renovation, which hopefully is being considered.

My next exposure to mechanical music was at a cousin's house in
Massachusetts.  In the living room was a DeRivas and Harris player
piano and several boxes of rolls.  I was so fascinated with the player
I played rolls all day long.  Fortunately, it was summer and the rest
of the family, who did not share my enthusiasm, could be outside and
able to talk without being overpowered by the music.

About the time I entered high school, my dentist had a dental office
adjoining his home.  In the living room was a Franklin Ampico grand
piano that had recently been refurbished by Mr. Wells Benedict, head of
the service department at the Ampico factory in nearby East Rochester.
There was a door from the waiting room leading to the living room.
Often the dentist's wife would play Ampico rolls for the enjoyment of
those waiting or having dental work.  Several times she allowed me to
play rolls on the Ampico and invited me to her home on a Saturday when
I could set the modify switch on brilliant instead of subdued (when the
office had patients).  It was then I decided that someday I would have
an Ampico of my own.

It only took a year or two, and my dream came true.  I purchased a
J & C Fisher model B Ampico that had been "patched".  It played, but
had some problems.  I was still a teenager and had very little money to
work with; I had to figure out the mechanism and do my own restoration.

A couple of old timers who had worked at the Ampico factory, Mr. George
Binder and Mr. Max Dechau, were very patient and extremely helpful in
showing me how to use hot glue and recover bellows correctly.  Eventually
I had the Fisher playing to factory specifications, and enjoyed it for
many years.

Once hooked on the hobby of mechanical music one tends to want more.
It was still the 1950's and I purchased other reproducing pianos,
including a Steinway Duo-Art upright for $50.00, a Marshall and Wendell
Ampico upright, and many others, restoring them, eventually and
reluctantly selling them.

At the time, many music stores would remove the mechanism of a
reproducing piano and sell it as a straight piano, saying that the
mechanism was too much trouble to bother with.  Often I would receive
a call to remove and keep a mechanism for my efforts in their removal.
My parents were not too happy about this until they realized that
I was making money.  Slowly I began to work on more players for others
and eventually started doing some tuning of pianos and pipe organs.
It became my profession until I retired in 1995.

Today, I have downsized to a Haines baby upright Ampico and a nice
collection of rolls that I enjoy very much.

Bruce Clark

(Message sent Fri 9 Jul 2004, 13:42:47 GMT, from time zone GMT-0700.)

Key Words in Subject:  Became, How, I, Interested, Mechanical, Music

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