Rarely, if ever, do I venture into downtown San Antonio (even though
I live only sixteen blocks away) but a few weeks back I was forced to
go downtown in order to settle a matter with the city. Downtown San
Antonio has become a vast wasteland of closed stores, theaters and
chain stores; however, the city's largest industry, tourism, keeps the
On the way back to my truck I rounded the corner and came face to
face with the stained glass of a Western Electric Mascot coin-operated
player piano sitting on the sidewalk in the hot sun, its lid propped
open by a pilaster from some long-demolished banister.
Whenever I see a Seeburg product like that I always try to get the
serial number and send it to Art Reblitz, who is compiling a list of
every piano Seeburg ever manufactured. Good luck, Art.
After copying down the serial number I dropped a coin in the slot and
the unmistakable hum of an Emerson pancake motor came from the locked
interior. Surely I was to get more than that for my five cents!
I waited and the motor hummed away. The roll did not move so there was
something definitely amiss. Suddenly the door to the shop behind the
piano flew open and a florid-faced man emerged, screaming, "You did not
ask to play the piano".
"I did not see the sign", I replied, calmly.
"The one that says 'Please ask before depositing a coin in the piano.'"
"There is no sign."
"That's my point!"
The storekeeper disappeared into the store and that's when I noticed
that the extension cord bringing electrical power to the humming piano
was being squeezed and frayed between the door and the aluminum door
frame. I certainly hope he has liability insurance.
Sweating profusely, the storekeeper returned with the non-original key
for the bottom door. It was one of those Mascots with a single lift-out
door. The interior was clean, the pump had what looked to be new cloth
and the main rubber tubing was heavily covered with duct tape. The
Emerson motor hummed away and I noticed that the belt from the motor to
the pump was slack -- problem number one.
The owner turned the friction drive wheel, the belt grabbed and we had
vacuum. The reservoir under the pump closed and the spill valve hissed;
a good sign, but still no music. It was then I noticed that the volume
control was closed all the way. A simple turn of the rod extending out
the front of the machine (in this case marked "xylophone") would have
solved the problem of no music.
"How much for the piano," I asked?
Without batting an eye he answered, "12,000 dollars."
"It is a shame it does not play," I muttered, walking away in the
As I said, I don't like going to downtown San Antonio.
Ed Gaida -- 16 blocks from the Alamo in beautiful (already getting hot)
San Antonio, Texas, where one of the largest block parties in the nation
starts next week: Fiesta San Antonio, a million people letting their
hair down for ten days. Y'all come!