Box 146, Mt. Royal, New Jersey 08061
In the late '20's and the early '30's the only amusements of any importance that I remember, were the traveling carnivals with their beautifully painted steam showman's engines and their ornately carved carousels. I was a boy then, and the area was Norfolk, England.
If I can remember correctly, there were about three outfits that always visited this part of Britain, there were Underwoods, Harry Grays, and termed the best was Kenny Grays. Kenny had the joy of all, he had a nice set of what the English refer to as, steam driven gallopers. I think that this was a Savage machine, but the years have gone by and time tends to dim ones memory, although I can always remember my Great Grandfather asking me, 'Did you get a road on the big steam hoses yet'.
What fascinated me, I think, the most was the organ with its moving carved figures and drum sticks that always were in time with the music. I can remember seeing the almost endless belt of slotted card going through some sort of box, that, at that period of my life, I had no idea of its identity. The organ was the center piece and this seemed to give everything the correct atmosphere, for a carousel without an organ is sort of like a record-player with no needle. It goes round and round and nothing comes out. At times the smoke would drift down from the engine stacks and the attendants of the coconut shy's were shouting always the same words that go along with the song; 'What a lovely bunch of coconuts a penny a pitch'. There would be the roar of the crowd along with the cracking of rifles in the shooting gallery, the clicking of the rods of the engines and the steady hum from their generators. Then, above all this came the melody of a Strauss waltz reproduced by the mechanics of that Italian genius, Ludovic Gavioli.
Gavioli was the greatest organ maker of all, and as his organs became more and more popular at the European galas and fairs, he moved his works from Modena to Paris, France in 1845. There he was more localized to cope with an increasing market. With the development of the British steam driven merry-go-round, there became a much greater demand, and it seemed as though the organs got larger and larger. It may also be of interest to know that nearly all of the crown jewels of Queen Isabella of Spain were smuggled out of the country inside of one.
There are many names given to these machines and the first one always makes me sort of revolt, that is the name, Calliope. There is Pipe Organ and Hurdy Gurdy, and I have also heard mine called a Calliola. I suppose that in these modern days it could be referred to as an automatic pneumatic organ, but for a better name, I think, that band organ is a much more appropriate definition. Programming was carried out in the earlier machines by a large barrel into which were inserted pegs that lifted up the keys of the valves that admitted the air to the various pipes and movements. This however, had its limitations, for only five tunes could be pegged and the change from one tune to the other was done by sliding the whole barrel endways bringing the next row of pegs under the corresponding keys.
Whether Gavioli actually invented the key board and the slotted cards; or books, as they are referred to, I am not sure, but it is certain that he must have modified it to suit his organs. Some of the other makers used a paper roll much like the player piano, some used the card books with what was called a keyless keyboard, but Gavioli seemed to favor the keyed type. To describe any of the above would take a very lengthy article so I will just adhere to a brief description.
With the advent of electronically produced music, these machines became obsolete and in many cases, were literally dumped. In recent years there has been a great enthusiasm in the restoration of them both here in the U.S.A. and Great Britain, where the largest of all are to be found. I have many pictures of them and my pet organ is the machine that belongs to a Mr. Arthur Mills of Northampton, England. This is with 89 keys and was built in 1904 for the James Crighton Bioscope show and not a carousel. The bioscope show being a carnival version of the movie house before they became a permanent place of entertainment.
On my last visit to the jolly old U.K. I visited a steam show near Northampton, and there Mr. Mills had his organ on display. There I made recordings of it and had a nice chat with Arthur. To own such a machine as this, even if I could find one, would be far beyond my financial ability, but in the back of my mind there always seemed the possibility that a fair simulation could be constructed. I came back from England with this in mind, and the accompanying photograph was the result.
The main construction is 1/2 ins. plywood and, so it can be moved without much trouble, the whole is put together with 1/4 ins. wing nuts. The end of the lower section is fitted with hinges and upon dismantling, folds inwards. The center section is the only large piece and this contains the drums, part of the pipe display and the mechanism on the inside that drives the cams for the operation of the drums and figures. By unscrewing 8 wing nuts, the head board and the columns are removed, with figures and cymbal likewise.
What appears to be carving, is really designs cut out of 1/4 ins. plywood, and to get the effect, one designed piece is nailed on the top of another. The two rather antique looking mirrors I picked in a five and dime store and all the painting I did myself including the English carnival scene. I think the figures took me the longest time for not only did they have to look right but the arms and heads had to be able to move. The cymbal was once a Ford hub-cap and the horns were made from children's plastic toy trumpets, with the whole front being lit up with 2 sets of Christmas tree lights. The size of my creation is 8 ft. long and 6 ft. high.
For the music I use a Grundig tape deck, Stereo, with a speaker behind each drum. The small electric motor that drives the cams for the movements is rheostatically controlled so that as the beat of the music changes, so can the beats of the bandmaster and the drums, be changed. At the change of a tune, a button on the control box is pressed and the movement stops. This is the very thing that gives everything its most realism, for the audio and the vision start and stop at the same time.
Many times I have been congratulated for performing such a grand job of restoration, as it was thought that my creation was real. While it was on display at the 25th Kinzers reunion, one old fellow sat for an hour and watched and listened, and then he came over to me and said, 'If you tighten that bass drum up a little, I'll be able to hear it better'. I did not have the heart to spoil his nostalgic feeling.
I have never collected a penny for the many times it has been exhibited, though it has helped to raise quite a lot of money for several of our local organizations. On one occasion the school kids organized a gay nineties ice cream social for their playground fund. With the aid of the home made band organ, over $500 was raised.
To conclude, there are such things as Calliope's, Hurdy Gurdy's and Calliola's, but there is a vast difference between them and a Gavioli band organ.