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MMD > Archives > March 2007 > 2007.03.29 > 02Prev  Next

State of America's Carousel Organs
By Matthew Caulfield

Andrew Barrett's posting to yesterday's MMDigest leads one to think
that all is not well with the publicly operating band organ.  To an
extent that is true, but there are exceptions.

THREE CHEERS for Charles Canfield, Hayes McClaran, Tim Trager, and
everyone else who had a part in getting the old Playland Wurlitzer 165
band organ brought back to authentic carousel use at the Santa Cruz
Beach Boardwalk.  The organ has been moved in, is in top shape both
esthetically and musically, and is ready to go on the park's Looff
carousel.  Here is a link to fifty-four pictures of the moving-in

According to Donaven Staab, who is in charge of the process, Don Stinson
is to visit the park today (Thursday) to make sure that the organ is
ready to be cranked up Saturday, March 31, 2007.  If you plan a visit,
I recommend you phone Donaven (1-831-460-3317; cell: 1-831-234-1827)
to make sure that I have not misinterpreted his statement (which was:
"As a reminder, Don Stinson will be here Thursday afternoon and we will
prepare the organ for operation by this Saturday, March 31") and that
things go off as scheduled.

Other carousels with band organs in excellent condition spring to mind.
Glen Echo Park's Wurlitzer 165 is kept in top shape by Durward Center
through an annual inspection and tuning.  Durward had the organ in his
Baltimore, Maryland, shop over the winter for a re-leathering of the
windchest pallets.

The Wurlitzer 155 (Monster) on the Kit Carson Carousel, Burlington,
Colorado, is well cared for by Art Reblitz.  The Griffith Park
Merry-Go-Round, Hollywood, California, has always had a well-maintained
band organ since the days of Davis family ownership down to today, under
the ownership of Warren Deasy, using a Stinson band organ.  Bill Black's
care sees to it that Hershey Park's carousel organ is ready to go each

Knoebels Groves, Elysburg, Pennsylvania, is one of the older family-run
traditional amusement parks, where band organ music and carousels are
an important part of tradition.  You will not find any of their several
band organs neglected.  Seabreeze Amusement Park, Rochester, New York,
shares that traditional feeling, and it is now clear that Santa Cruz
Beach Boardwalk has joined the ranks of organ-conscious parks.

Those are just a few of the "good" organs.  Andrew has named some of
the "bad" organs.  His list is disheartening, all the more so because
their owners are unlikely to have both the money and the motivation to
fix them properly.  And it does take both.

The Gebrüder Bruder Elite Orchestra "Apollo" at Corona Park, Flushing
Meadows, Queens, New York, plays (if it does play at all) B.A.B. rolls
on one tracker and Wurlitzer 165 rolls on the other.  Right before the
National Carousel Association's visit to the carousel in 1990, Max
Nowicki, an old-time get-em-running organ man, brought the Bruder to
life after a 25-year silence.  Corona Park is not in a location where
it gets the traffic one would expect, and at the time of the NCA visit,
concessionaire Carlos Colon was barely eking out a livelihood from
his labor of love.  (We found a flock of chickens free-ranging on the
carousel grounds.)  Carlos Colon has since moved on, signing in April
1994 a 5-year concessionaire contract for the Forest Park carousel
in Queens, New York, while some corporation stepped in as Corona Park
concessionaire.  So prospects for work on the Corona Park Bruder do
not look bright.

Andrew mentions the failure of the Crescent Park Ruth to properly
handle the registrations built into the Wurlitzer 165 rolls which the
organ was converted to play.  I have several tape recordings of the
Ruth, and my guess is that the register chest in that organ doesn't
function properly.  The register chests of Wurlitzer 165's are the
organ's Achilles heel, because the Wurlitzer design just expects too
much of an integrated system having to cope with multiple register
signals being filtered through a dual tracker setup with unpredictable
vacuum levels.

As for the silent Paramount's Kings Dominion Gavioli, I say "No hope!"
Institutionally-run amusement parks are not, contrary to what one might
assume, band-organ-friendly places.  Band organs are trouble-prone
machines, and the corporate minds that run these parks see no reason
to sink a few thousand dollars into fixing an organ that came with the
park when they took over, while they do see the value in investing
a million or more in a new thrill ride.   They lack the necessary
connection with the past to see a band organ's place in their present
operation.  And maybe they are right; as one young Seabreeze thrill
seeker said last season, without bothering to take off his iPod
headset, "Hey, ain't ya got any hot music?"

Ideally, it would be nice to see the European organs which were
converted in the past to roll play converted back to book operation.
But practically speaking -- and successful park operators have to
think practically -- it is just not feasible.   I can think of only one
carousel in the U.S. that runs its organ on book music.   Reconversion
is something that will only happen when an organ passes into a private
collection, where what it plays won't matter to many.

Matthew Caulfield
Irondequoit, New York

(Message sent Thu 29 Mar 2007, 23:23:12 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  America's, Carousel, Organs, State

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