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MMD > Archives > June 2009 > 2009.06.27 > 02Prev  Next

Marty Roenigk, Dave Bowers, Dave Beck
By Reg Smith

In reading Dave Bowers' and Mark Singleton's remembrances of Marty
Roenigk and Mark's respectful tribute to Dave's own work in the field
of mechanical music, I feel compelled to offer a heartfelt thank-you to
Dave for his superb book, the "Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical
Instruments," known as the Bible of Mechanical Music.  We all are
indebted to you, Dave.  Without that masterpiece our hobby would be
like watching in black and white a program intended for viewing in

Mark's fine tribute to Dave Bowers leads me to write a few words of
gratitude to, coincidentally, another Dave in our field, Dave Beck
formerly of Atlanta, and now in Newnan, Georgia.  Like Mark, I too had
a small Thorens music box movement in a child's toy which fascinated me
to no end.  Also, like Mark, I eventually took it apart, breaking the
plastic housing to investigate what wondrous device could make such
beautiful sounds at the mere pull of a string.  As a child I took apart
and successfully repaired practically every manner of household device
or appliance, but also quite a few small music boxes.  This was to be
somewhat prophetic, although I didn't know it at that time.

Many years later, when my father was in the latter stages of
Parkinson's disease, my sister and I decided we wanted to find a person
who could repair Dad's grandfather's large cylinder music box.  He had
inherited it and yet had never heard it play because parts of the
governor were missing.  This was long before the days of the Internet,
but somehow my sister found Dave and Carol Beck in Atlanta and she took
the music box to their shop for what we hoped would be a repair we
could afford.  The cost quoted was far beyond our combined means at
that time so we sadly returned the old blackened oblong box to its
home, high on a shelf in my parents' bedroom.

By this time of course, I had "investigated" the mechanism myself and
realized the massive worm gear with lead weights, loose inside the
case, could not be original nor would it be workable.  (Later I
recognized this as a Victor phonograph worm gear).  After a few months
I decided to contact Dave Beck again, but this time with a different
approach.  I told Dave about my Dad and how sick he was and that he had
never heard the music box.  I asked him if he would be willing to give
me some guidance, and sell me whatever parts were missing, in order
that I might effect the necessary repairs myself.  I was quite naïve in
thinking it would be a simple matter of Dave selling me replacement
parts.  He patiently explained that parts were not interchangeable and
that this would be impossible.  Nevertheless, Dave must have been moved
by my desire to make this happen for my father before he passed on; so
he invited me to bring the music box to his shop one Saturday morning,
which I eagerly agreed to.

That Saturday turned out to be one of the memorable days of my life.  I
will never forget the moment I entered Dave's workshop.  Somehow, the
combination of dozens of antique music boxes in all states of repair
and awaiting repair, along with the smells of old machinery, shellac,
oils, and so on, had an immediate effect on me that I can best describe
as the proverbial love at first sight.  I instinctively knew almost
instantly that this was the sort of work I was born to engage in.  I
stayed with the Becks all that day, and left rather reluctantly that
evening, having just experienced a marvelous introduction to many
aspects of music box repair and restoration.

I watched in awe as Dave made up and fitted the missing governor parts,
and we actually heard the old machine come to life, playing for the
first time in at least seventy years!  Of course, it needed much
more work.  There were two broken teeth, which Dave made from scratch
and fitted into the comb block.  Also, the cylinder needed repinning.
This was to be my task.  We melted the cement out of the cylinder and
Dave left it immersed in an acid bath to dissolve the old pins.  I
returned the following weekend to pick up the cylinder, now mounted on
a wooden fixture for repinning, along with a couple packets of the
special pin wire in the required size.  It took me several months of
inserting pins a couple hours at a time, a few nights each week, but
finally I finished the job and returned the cylinder to the Becks for
re-cementing and grinding the pins to final height.

I also cleaned and restored the case to its original beauty.  The
transformation was hard to believe!  It had been almost black, the old
finish opaque and completely obscuring an amazingly beautiful exotic
wood inlay on the lid.  The sides of the case had to be grain finished
as originally done.  Dave taught me how to do the job properly and
carefully, and the results were spectacular.

In time, all the parts came back together and I was finally able to
present the music box to my father one memorable evening.  His joy was
so great that tears ran down his face, and indeed, there was not a dry
eye in the house that evening.

Along the way, while I had been working on my great-grandfather's music
box, other people began bringing music boxes to me, having heard I was
repairing this one for my family.  Before I knew it, I had several to
repair.  I could not have been more delighted.  As the years went by I
devoted more and more of my time to music box work and finally gave up
my position at the University of Georgia in order to devote myself full
time to what I loved best.  I have never regretted that decision.

All of this brings me to the point of these paragraphs: without the
extraordinary kindness and generosity of Dave and Carol Beck, I might
not be restoring antique music boxes, and whatever work I might be
doing, it could never have given me the pleasure or satisfaction that
this field has given and continues to give me.  I am therefore, deeply
grateful to both Dave and Carol Beck for sowing the seeds that would
enhance my life in a way I could not have imagined possible.  If you
read this, Dave and Carol, I thank you both from the bottom of my

Reg Smith
Sublime Harmonie Antique Music Box Restorations

(Message sent Sat 27 Jun 2009, 18:56:31 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Beck, Bowers, Dave, Marty, Roenigk

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