Memories of a Collector

(How the idea of collecting begins)

Memories of a Collector, by Terry Hathaway, was originally published in the Mekanisk Music Museum's Review #4 Catalogue, circa 1974, with a brief introduction by Q. David Bowers. This revised edition includes information and details not included in the MMM Review #4 Catalogue. Terry Hathaway, while not directly part of the MMM, was nonetheless involved in a background, consultive way circa 1973 to 1978. It was circa 1975 when -- due to the success of Terry Hathaway's then new, several month old business venture of selling and restoring automatic musical instruments (located in Santa Monica, California) -- the new business venture of American International Galleries, Inc., (AIG) was incorporated, combining the interests and talents of Terry Hathaway, Q. David Bowers, Claes O. Friberg and Bonnie Tekstra. American International Galleries, Inc., was soon moved from Santa Monica, California, circa 1976, to a new and spacious 20,000 square foot building located in Irvine, California.

Memories of a Collector -- by Terry Hathaway

We all began our interest in instruments in a different way. Dave Bowers, for instance, saw a charming little Regina disc box at an antique show in 1960--and from that seed a deep interest grew. Claes Friberg's interest began with the acquisition of a rather decrepit push-up piano player. Terry Hathaway, co-owner of Hathaway and Bowers, Inc. from 1967 to 1972, and presently enjoying his "retirement" (1974), while rebuilding Hupfeld orchestrions and other things of personal interest, tells how his interest in mechanical music machines started.

Playland

It was a hot summer day at the beach, and in the far distance way across the bay I could see the top of the Ferris Wheel and many other intriguing shapes that comprised the Fun Zone amusement area on the Newport Beach peninsula in Southern California. I was about eight years old. My parents, my two sisters, Margaret and Kathy, and I were happily spending the day swimming and sunning ourselves at the waterfront home of friends, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Ball. Their two-story beachfront house was located on Balboa Island, situated across a narrow bay from the Newport Beach peninsula, or mainland, as we often called it. Our family had visited the Ball's beachfront home many times before, but for some reason I had never really paid much attention to the silhouette of the Fun Zone across the bay.

Later that day I suggested a short trip on the ferryboat, which was little more than a motorized barge capable of holding three automobiles and maybe fifty passengers, and that departed every thirty minutes on a schedule between Balboa Island and the mainland. My father, Kenneth Ball, along with his oldest son, John, and I scooted on board the ferry. Soon, the whistle blew and we were off to what I imagined to be a fairytale land of enchanting amusements. Midway across the bay I remember watching the sister ferryboat pass us by, simultaneously in route from the mainland to the island, as I watched the frothy waves from its wake ripple and dance in the bright sunlight. It was exciting to be whisking across the water, heading toward what I anticipated would be a fun adventure, one soon to be filled with whirling horses, scary rides, novelties, and cotton candy. Once the ferry had safely docked, I was the first to get off, moving briskly toward the Fun Zone and its numerous amusements, which were now only a short walk away. I kept my eyes more or less glued to the curious shapes and contours that described it. Not far ahead a brisk fusillade of clanging sounds issued forth from a nearby shooting-gallery, and the merry-go-round could now be seen through the sparse framework of other rides, with its gaily decorated horses continuously swirling in perfect circles. In a nearby ride a dozen noisy bumper cars banged against each other, while high above our heads the happy cries from passengers in the Ferris wheel filtered down upon us. What an intriguing world this was for me, as the afternoon seemed to fly by quickly.

Long before I was ready to depart the sun had slipped much further down toward the horizon and, regrettably, I was told that it was time to leave to catch the next ferryboat. But, before leaving there were a couple of more places I just had to explore! With the others trailing behind me I led the way to a row of arcades along the waterfront. Time was so short that about all I had time to do was just glance briefly into them, admiring all the interesting looking, gleaming arcade machines and pin-ball games. The final arcade to draw my attention was "Playland," which at first glance seemed just like all the others. But then, wait! Suddenly I saw it! A huge, tall object reaching the ceiling and finished in black with plentiful gold colored ornaments and green glass panels caught my eye. I turned to face this strange and beautiful thing--obviously some sort of a mechanical device, I thought to myself silently--and I was filled with a sense of wonderment. Its architecture was indescribably handsome to my eyes. It glittered with ornate carvings and adornments befitting something regal. Four slender columns, each fitted with polished brass collars, stood tall amidst the brightly gilded carvings and striking pearlescent green chipped-glass panels. Numerous clear glass panels had replaced original wooden panels in the access doors, so that I and other admirers could easily peer into the innards of this mechanical music delight, and be further enticed into paying to see and hear this immense machine operate. It was a magnificent sight to behold, and I was immediately impressed in such as way as to never forget my initial experience of an orchestrion.

Visible through a small glass panel, centered in the front of this big machine, I could see a glistening, beautifully intricate metal mechanism holding six paper music rolls. A few of the music rolls were green colored, while others were of either white or bright red paper. Through upper level windows I could see a large xylophone, drums, a triangle, a tambourine and many tall wooden (organ) pipes, and way in the back, situated behind the roll changing mechanism and at the bottom of the machine, was a piano. My youthful eyes searched the front of this grand machine to find out what it was and what it did. In gold letters across the front and carved into the wood was the name "Wurlitzer." Below this was a hand lettered cardboard sign that read: "This ten-piece orchestra is the granddaddy of the juke box." To the left of the carved Wurlitzer logo and slightly down was a thin slot with a tiny sign reading 10-cents, which for me proved to be the key to entering into the nearly forgotten realm of automatic self-playing orchestras. I had no money with me at all, but as good luck would have it I was able to arrange an immediate loan from my father! My heart raced as I placed the first thin dime in the coin slot. In an instant I heard the whir of a motor. I watched in complete fascination as some of the intricate mechanical mechanisms began to pulse and breathe with life. Next, the intricate automatic roll-changing mechanism revolved to the next station, placing a new paper music roll in the playing position. Two metal fingers then plucked up a metal rod fastened to the beginning of the music roll and threaded it onto the take-up spool. I watched transfixed as the spool started to rotate and the music roll glide over the wooden tracker bar.

A few seconds passed when I heard a thump, as a large ventil type valve dropped shut. It was at this point that I could sense the whole machine becoming alert and alive, as energy surged through its tubular arteries. I watched spellbound the music roll spool across the tracker-bar, wondering what was going to happen next. Moments later a group of narrow control perforations along one side of the music roll became visible. These were followed immediately by many more holes for musical notes scattered all across the paper. As the perforations passed over tiny holes in the tracker bar the room was instantly--indeed my whole world, it seemed to me--filled with music from the most skilled, most fantastic, most heavenly mechanical orchestra in existence! At this moment I decided that I must someday have one of these giant machines, an "orchestrion," a term that I learned about many years later. It was around 1945 or 1946 when my first visit to the Wurlitzer PianOrchestra occurred. As the years passed I visited my musical "friend" many more times. Each time I would take a handful of dimes and listen to as many tunes as time would permit, working my way though the 30-tunes loaded onto the machine's automatic roll changer. I memorized many of the melodies and hummed them when I returned to my home. It was not until 1955, when I first got my hands on an original Wurlitzer catalogue, that I learned that this giant machine was correctly described as a Wurlitzer Style 30-A Mandolin PianOrchestra.

Now, to Find and Purchase an Orchestrion!

During the next several years I sought out and enjoyed listening to other automatic musical instruments, too. At the Newport Beach Fun Zone alone there were two other orchestrions on location, a cabinet style Nelson-Wiggen style 6 and a beautiful Seeburg Style H. In addition, Knott's Berry Farm, in nearby Buena Park, California, had a bunch of electric coin-in-the-slot pianos on display, ranging from small Seeburg style L cabinet pianos up to and including a Mills Violano and a Coinola style X keyboard style orchestrion. But, for me, no other mechanical music machine that I was able to find on location locally came close to matching the grandeur and magnificence of the wonderful Newport Beach Wurlitzer PianOrchestra!

My fascination for the PianOrchestra in particular turned into a deep desire to own and enjoy such an instrument, but it was not until the summer of 1955 that the first real possibility of actually possessing an orchestrion was to occur. I was on the Balboa Island to Newport Beach Peninsula ferry ride again, heading from the Island to the beckoning Fun Zone on the mainland. Just like nine or ten years earlier, my father and Kenneth Ball were accompanying me this time, too. After listening to the big PianOrchestra once again we ferried back across the channel. With some optimism I asked my father if I could have one! His answer was a cool "maybe." Later on, that Sunday afternoon, while sitting on the beach in front of the Ball's beachfront home, Kenny Ball mentioned that he had an idea: "I know this woman," he said, "who might still have some nickelodeons for sale." Then, after asking permission from my mother, who was sitting alongside us on the beach, he offered to introduce me to a Mrs. Raney, who lived in Whittier, which was only a twenty-minute leisurely drive from our family home in Santa Fe Springs. Kenny apologized to my mother several times for offering the introduction, in case, he said, he was getting my family into something that they would later regret. Nonetheless, undaunted, I insisted that Kenny arrange a meeting with this Mrs. Raney.

Mrs. A.C. Raney was the heir to a large collection of automatic musical instruments. Kenny explained that her husband, Albert Clifford Raney, had died in 1949, and that his wife, Ruby Raney, had already sold off most, if not all, of the collection. At the time of Mr. Raney's death there were between 70 and 80 large mechanical music machines in the collection, mostly housed in a large wooden building a short distance away from the Raney's modest house. It had become necessary to sell the collection because the State of California was in the process of completing eminent domain proceedings, so as to soon begin construction on a new Freeway, to be known as the San Gabriel River Freeway (a.k.a. 605 Freeway). This roadway was to go right through the center of the Raney's property, obliterating the entire estate completely. In 1953 Wait Disney visited Mrs. Raney and the collection, buying outright some thirty prized specimens for use in his new theme park, Disneyland, which was still under construction in Anaheim, California. The music machines would be used to enhance the circa 1900 turn-of-the-century main street theme of the new park (Disneyland first opened to the public in 1955).

The prospect of meeting Mrs. Raney and seeing whatever remained of the once fabulous collection was a thrilling prospect for me, and I wanted some kind of immediate action to achieve this goal! Kenneth Ball said he would telephone Mrs. Raney the next day (Monday) and see if he could arrange an appointment, promising to telephone my mother as soon as he had made contact. It was probably late July of 1955 when Kenny Ball made that telephone call to Mrs. Raney, mentioning me as someone interested in buying a "nickelodeon." I was on pins and needles -- waiting and staying close enough to the telephone so that I would not miss hearing it ring. It was Monday afternoon when Kenny Ball finally telephoned. I answered, and he gave me Mrs. Raney's telephone number, saying that she was expecting my call.

I nervously dialed her telephone number, and after several "rings" she answered. I introduced myself and stated my interest, probably sounding a bit tongue-tied due to my nervous excitement. But, undaunted, she said that she still had two "pianos" for sale: a Wurlitzer Bijou Orchestra and a Wurlitzer LX. I ask if I could come see them, but she said that they were not at her home, and were located "across town, at her repairman’s shop." My heart sank. I did not have a car, being only sixteen years old, and begging a ride from my mother to get to some mysterious place "across town" would be easier said than done. But then, for some wonderful reason, Mrs. Raney volunteered to personally drive to Santa Fe Springs, pick me up and take me to see the two remaining "pianos," and that she would telephone me as soon as she was able to do so. I stayed near the telephone for the rest of the day, waiting, but she did not call. Then, Tuesday morning about 10 o'clock Mrs. Raney telephoned me. She said that she would stop by at my Santa Fe Springs home to pick me up, and would leave to do so in a few minutes.

My immediate happiness soon turned to momentary heartbreak, however, when my mother explained to me that I could not go off alone with Mrs. Raney, who was a total stranger to us at the time. But, she continued, if I could find a companion to accompany us I could go. Who, I wondered? Francine, my cousin, who lived across the street, seemed a good choice, so I quickly ran to her house, found her at home and hurriedly convinced her to go along for the ride. Now, back home, there was little else for me to do but wait. It seemed like hours had passed before Mrs. Raney's tan colored 1940's automobile finally turned into our long brick driveway. By the time she reached the backside of the house I was standing alongside the driveway waiting to greet her. My heart was pounding in anticipation. Inside the older model automobile was an elderly, pleasantly cheerful appearing woman. She stopped her car beside me, rolled down the window and asked, "Are you Terry?" I answered "yes," and she introduced herself. Parking the car, she then met my mother and Francine, and soon the three of us were off to see the two remaining "pianos."

The "pianos," she explained, were in the city of Alhambra, and the one she was most interested in selling was called a "Bijou Orchestra." I asked if it had a xylophone--a very necessary feature for an orchestrion in my mind--and she replied, "Yes, and it has violin pipes, a drum, and a piano, too." My heart pounded as the car threaded its way through the streets of East Los Angeles, enroute to the mysterious workshop.

Maybe fifteen minutes later she turned onto Alhambra Avenue, then soon onto a short side street, and then quickly turned again onto a bumpy and rutted dirt alley that skirted the back side of several old commercial buildings. To the right side of the alley was a weed strewn railroad right-of-way with two sets of tracks. After bumping over maybe 100 feet of jarring dirt we arrived at a most unimpressive looking structure, but a place that I would visit countless times over the next ten or more years. The workshop was an old wood frame building with a corrugated metal roof and sides, and it was partially hidden from the main street by a sprawling welding shop of fairly recent all steel construction, and which itself fronted directly on Alhambra Avenue. The new facility more or less wrapped itself around the old structure, which now prevented access from Alhambra Avenue.

It was immediately obvious that the old workshop building had been there long time, and it was in fact the historic old Ross Davis merry-go-round facility, where repairs on carousels and band organs had been carried out for a long, long time. The original building had been added to over the years, enlarging it considerably. A smallish patch of asphalt-topped parking area adjacent to the workshop was stacked high with carousel parts, covered by several tarps to keep them "safe" from the sun and rain. Mrs. Raney drove up alongside the covered parts to an open door and parked her car. Before we could exit the automobile an elderly and somewhat frail man appeared and waved to Mrs. Raney. As soon as we were out of the car I was introduced to a Mr. Vincent, Mrs. Raney's repairman. I soon discovered that Mr. [Herbert N.] Vincent, worked in conjunction with the Merry-Go-Round shop, but also worked quite independently on his own, too, sometimes traveling to distant places around the United States to work on band organs and orchestrions.

With greetings done and out of the way we entered the darkened shop. Only a few dusty incandescent lights hung from the high ceiling on long cords, making the spacious interior seem rather mysterious. To the left of the entry door and along the wall was a long work bench that extended back into the building's darkness. To the right was an area containing a table saw, drill press and other assorted woodworking equipment. Looking directly ahead it was possible to discerned a number of cloth draped and covered forms, presumably band organs awaiting restoration, which littered the more distant areas of the shop. Mr. Vincent, and his son-in-law, Ray Thomas, usually worked at a cluttered workbench near the open door, with sunlight providing some of the light for the workbench area. Then, when Mr. Vincent opened several large floor to ceiling loading doors along the East side of the building, the workshop was flooded with daylight. The first instrument I paid attention to was a small Wurlitzer band organ, which Mr. Vincent had just finished rebuilding. This tiny Wurlitzer organ was about the size of four apple crates put together, so it was amazing to me when a deafening volume of sound issued forth from such a tiny machine.

Terry Hathaway enjoying the Wurlitzer Bijou Orchestra, circa 1955.

Terry Hathaway is shown demonstrating his Wurlitzer Bijou
Orchestra to other family members, circa 1955. The little
orchestrion was located in the family's two car garage.

But my interest in this tiny band organ was quickly satisfied, and my eyes wandered in search of the yet unidentified Bijou Orchestra. "Where is it?," I asked, hoping that it had not somehow disappeared. Mrs. Raney pointed to a dusty case standing near the center of the shop. It stood about eight feet high, and its backside was facing me, giving no visual hint of what delights the Bijou Orchestra might actually contain. Its smallish size relative to a Wurlitzer PianOrchestra was slightly disappointing, however, as I was hoping to at least have something approaching the size and complexity of the wonderful Playland PianOrchestra. But, still, as I moved around to observe the Bijou's front side, and looked through the dusty art-glass in the upper front of the case, I could see that it did indeed have a xylophone, which was clearly visible in outline form in the dimness, along with a set of [violin] pipes and other interesting-looking mechanisms. Thus, while disappointed in its size and extent, it did, nonetheless, have some of the features I had wanted -- and it did bear the Wurlitzer name.

Unfortunately, the little Bijou Orchestra was quite inoperative, and needed, more or less, a complete restoration, so there was no way for me to get any idea of what it might sound like. Moreover, it was partially disassembled, and to make matters even worse the price was very high -- a staggering $250.00. To get the machine into playing condition, Mr. Vincent said that he could recover the pressure bellows and rebuild the main valve chest and pneumatic stack, all for an additional $125.00. Since I didn't have the extra money I had many uncertain feelings and reservations about getting into this kind of long range project. Still, I wanted the little orchestrion. Maybe, I thought, my parents would help me pay for it, but perhaps not, too. No matter, though, because I spent the next hour intently examining this wonderful relic. I could have stayed there for several more hours, but Mrs. Raney wanted to return home for an afternoon appointment she needed to keep. So, after inspecting and agreeing to buy the Bijou Orchestra for the grand sum of $250.00, we then drove back toward Whittier, for a brief stopover at Mrs. Raney's home, so that she could find the 15 Pianino music rolls that went with the Bijou Orchestra. And, she said, another 20 or 25 rolls could be acquired for an extra amount of money. Thus, once at her home I could examine these extra music rolls--about 25 of them, as it turned out, and make a decision about them.

Nearing Whittier we drove along old and winding Workman Mill Road. In an area near the main gates to the huge Rose Hills Cemetery we turned westerly onto a narrow, paved street with a decidedly rural appearance. It was Cliota Avenue, located at the western skirt of the Whittier hills, and it was probably considerably less than a mile in length. As we reached the end of the pavement we turned off onto a graveled road that wound its way through a dense grove of tall eucalyptus trees. All that remained of the home place was a modest and old looking, perhaps three bedroom, whitewashed stucco house. The large music room that had once housed the Raney’s huge collection had already been demolished, with just a bare patch of ground amidst the forest of trees as a reminder. I wondered how soon the remaining house, which appeared to be in the near middle of the eucalyptus grove, providing a rustic, secluded, and restful country setting, would also be gone. We pulled up in front of the house, and got out of the car. I glanced around briefly as we walked toward the house.

Mrs. Raney led us into the house for some freshly made lemonade and to listen to a few tunes on one or more of the several music box and coin-piano "remembrances" she was keeping. After that she would take me into the basement to get at the music rolls. The first of the keepsakes she played was a beautiful and mellow sounding Seeburg G orchestrion. I will never forget the tune it rendered: the Beer Barrel Polka. Today I still think of Mrs. Raney and that long-ago afternoon in 1955 whenever I hear this charming, toe-tapping Melodie Violin. Other instruments demonstrated included a sprightly Western Electric Piano with xylophone and a superb upright disc music box of exceptional tone and brilliance.

The social pleasantries and wonderful entertainment aside, Mrs. Raney led me outside and around into the back yard, whereupon she opened a large inclined (not quite horizontal) cellar door. We then walked down a short flight of cement steps into a darkened basement. In the dimness I could discern lots of old cardboard boxes of indiscriminate size that were scattered about the concrete floor, some piled high and tottering as if ready to topple over. After some groping around for a moment at the foot of the stairs Mrs. Raney found the dangling light cord and jerked it, turning on the only electric light bulb in the basement. Once the room was illuminated I was startled by the multitude of music rolls and music box discs -- piles and piles of them, some stacked up halfway to the ceiling. There may have been as many as ten stacks of Regina, Polyphon, Symphonium, and other makes of music box disks, of varying size, some stacks several feet high, all sorted by make and size. What remained of the music roll collection was amazing. Against the walls were seemingly countless cardboard boxes of orchestrion and coin piano rolls, representing many types of machines. Even to my untrained eye, I was astonished at the quantity and variety that confronted me, but I was too young and innocent then to realize the real significance of the music stash that lay before my eyes.

In just a short time Mrs. Raney found several aged cardboard boxes filled with Pianino rolls, although to get to them she had to rummage though several stacks of other kinds of boxed music rolls, pushing aside piles of stuff in the process. So, I now had my 15 Pianino rolls, in a variety of colors: red paper rolls, white rolls, a few orange colored rolls and numerous green paper rolls. Additionally, there were another 25 Pianino music rolls that would hopefully also soon be mine to enjoy. But before I had much of a chance to examine the rolls, Mrs. Raney and I picked up the boxes and headed off to her automobile, so that she could drive me back to my home in Santa Fe Springs and still have plenty of time to keep a previously scheduled appointment later in the day. As we rounded a corner of the house I asked where the music building had been, imagining that there ought to still be observable some sign of existence. Mrs. Raney pointed in a direction southwesterly from the house and said "it was over there in the trees." But there was nothing for me to see, no splintered remnants or trace remained, just a bare patch of ground, freshly leveled, and a gaping hole in the thick grove of trees. We moved on toward the car, and Santa Fe Springs.

Once back at my home, my mother cordially invited Mrs. Raney into the house and we all happily chatted about the little Wurlitzer Bijou Orchestra. The financial arrangements were settled, and with a sparkle in my eyes I thought of the day when the Bijou Orchestra would arrive in Santa Fe Springs and would be mine to touch and enjoy as I pleased. The Bijou Orchestra was officially mine now! However, my mother couldn't see spending any additional money for the box of 25 additional dirty old music rolls, especially since so many (15) came free with the orchestrion. But I pleaded, and before long, as would be the case with most mothers, my mom relented and I had my first orchestrion, along with a collection of some 40 music rolls to go with it!

[Sadly, Mrs. Raney died about one month after I met her, and just before she was planning to move away from the old home place on Cliota Avenue. Many years later I was told that someone found her lying on her side in bed, peacefully asleep forever in the old, tree shrouded, home place that she had loved, at the end of the street and situated alongside nearby San Juan Creek. In 1957 I purchased the remaining Wurlitzer LX, with Mr. Vincent’s help. He put me in touch with A. Clifford (Cliff) Raney, Jr., the son, who lived in Northern California on a foothill ranch near Madera, California. Clifford Raney, Jr, handled the sale of the last Raney instrument offered for sale. Cliff Raney passed away in July of 1992.]

Hauling Home the Prize

I was riding along the Santa Ana Freeway (I-5) headed toward Los Angeles. The passenger-side window was rolled down, so that a cooling breeze would blow into my face. It was a hot summer day. As I watched the scenery whiz by I would frequently glance ahead looking for the sign marking the Eastern Avenue exit, an off-ramp that was maybe a mile ahead. Driving the tan colored Ford pick-up truck was Arthur Martinez, a man who worked for the Hathaway Oil Company [no longer in business] and who made deliveries and pick-ups of parts and equipment from suppliers located around the Los Angeles area. Luckily for me, for a few short hours Arthur was being allowed to help me bring home, on Hathaway Company time, my newly acquired Wurlitzer Bijou Orchestra. It had been several very, very long days since I had purchased it, and I was eager with anticipation to see it again, and to haul it home. How would the Bijou Orchestra look to me when I saw it again? I could remember its every part, or so I thought. The thirty-minute ride to the old merry-go-round shop building seemed to be long and it was very hot day. Once on Alhambra Avenue we missed the turnoff street. Thus, we drove up and down the main street several times before I finally spotted the shop building and the turnoff street that accessed the dirt alley leading to our destination. When we arrived, Mr. Vincent came to the door and waved. I bounded into the shop and excitedly pointed at the Bijou Orchestra, while all the time motioning to Arthur to hurry. Yes, happily the little orchestrion was still there unchanged and safe from harm.

To get an idea of how heavy it was I put my body up against it and nudged it. The little Bijou Orchestra barely moved at all, even though all the original castors underneath the machine were all intact and looked to be in good working order. Now I sensed for the first time just how heavy this little orchestrion actually was, and seriously wondered if we would be able to get it loaded into the pick-up truck. Anything loose or easily removable, such as the front casework panels, was taken off and set aside to reduce the weight and make it easier to grab and manipulate the thing. Ray Thomas (Mr. Vincent's assistant and son-in-law), Arthur and I struggled to push the Bijou out the door and up next to the bed of the truck, while Mr. Vincent stood to one side and smiled, watching our amateurish attempts at manhandling the awkward machine. Tipping the Bijou onto its back and wrestling its height lengthwise over the truck bed was our final solution, since it was too wide to fit down into the narrower bed of the pick-up truck. All this pushing, lifting, and grunting took the better part of a an hour, before we were ready to pack up the smaller pieces, tie the machine securely to the truck and wave good-bye to Ray and Herbert Vincent, both of whom stood by the shop door showing obvious amazement that we were successful in loading the machine onto a truck so ill suited for the task at hand. Looking back, how we managed to get it aboard without wrecking it remains a mystery to me.

The little orchestrion, secured with multiple old hemp ropes, seemed to ride okay, although I was a bit scared what might happen if Arthur veered abruptly one way or another. So, I admonished Arthur to drive carefully, and relatively slowly, as we began our journey back to Santa Fe Springs and home. As we drove along I would look back every few minutes or so, to make certain that the Bijou Orchestra was still securely and safely tied down. I had horrid visions of it falling off the truck, breaking apart and distributing itself over the roadway. Luck was with us though, and we made it back to Santa Fe Springs without incident. Moreover, the two of us unloaded it fairly quickly, without dropping or damaging it, then pushing it into and storing it in my family's spacious two-car garage. I had wanted to put the Bijou Orchestra in my bedroom, where it would be convenient to play and work with it, but my father said "no" to that idea, summarily banning it to the far corner of the garage.

The Wurlitzer Bijou Orchestra located in a back bedroom of the Hathaway home, circa 1966.

The Wurlitzer Bijou Orchestra located
in a back bedroom of the Hathaway
home, circa 1966.

Interior view of the Wurlitzer Bijou Orchestra, circa 1966.

Interior view of the Wurlitzer Bijou Orchestra. A rank of 21 violin pipes is just behind the snare drum, and a 21-note xylophone is immediately below it.

That evening when my father came home from working in the oil fields I hastened him into the garage, so that he could see and maybe appreciate for himself my wonderful Bijou Orchestra. He peered into the partially empty case, looked over the boxes stuffed with dirty parts and shook his head. He wondered out loud if I could ever get the complicated looking thing back together again. I imagine he visualized the $250 investment gone down the drain! But to everyone's amazement I prevailed, and did quickly learn to understand and then begin to work with and reassemble what parts I had of the instrument.

I spent weeks, where I would often go well into the night, cleaning and working on the pile of loose parts. In the meantime, Mr. Vincent was doing his part of the job: rebuilding the wind-pressure pump and the main chest. For my first attempt at restoration I used the standard items any inexperienced re-builder tends to use, you know, caulking compound, baling wire and liberal amounts of resin glue. Once the main chest and wind-pressure pump arrived, about one and a half days were spent crowding all of the pieces back into the Bijou's furniture case. The big moment then arrived--it was ready to play -- or so I thought. I put six music rolls on the automatic roll changing device, plugged the orchestrion into an electrical outlet, and dropped a nickel into the coin slot. Clink, clink, clink, and the motor began to whirr. Gears churned, the feeder bellows throbbed and a music roll was fed over the tracker bar and onto the take-up spool. Shortly thereafter, perforations in the music roll representing the recorded music information rolled across the tracker bar, and apart from the noisy mechanical clatter, the little Bijou Orchestra remained musically silent. There was a lot of churning activity, but there was nothing musical about it whatsoever, only an occasional hint of motion could be noticed in an a few piano hammers that feebly attempted to move.

I felt crushed, what a disappointment! My confidence was broken. All of those weeks of work seemed wasted. What did I have? Gear noise and a thumping pump, along with a few near squeaks here and there. As I look back on the whole experience I am amazed that the Bijou Orchestra survived my early attempts at restoration, or that it ever played a single note. But from those frustrating early days of ignorance came a lot of learning out of direct experience. Each failure was also a tool that I could use for my eventual success, and learn I did. Now much older and wiser, I can say that I gained much from those early years, developing skills and honing methodologies that became valuable later on. The caulking compound, baling wire and crude techniques soon evolved and gave way to true craftsmanship. And in my process of learning about the mechanical mechanisms, I also grew to appreciate and love the historical and musical aspects, too.

I consider myself very lucky indeed to have known the thrill of discovery and the satisfaction of taking a forgotten relic, usually covered with dirt and often with many missing parts, and return it to its former glory. I never fail to wonder about the sorrows, the happiness and the pleasures that these magnificent instruments have seen. In the years since that long-ago day when the Bijou Orchestra made its debut in my life, I have had many experiences with all kinds of coin-in-the-slot pianos and orchestrions, as well as the collectors who have owned them. I have spent many years studying methods of piano and orchestrion construction, such as the composition of metal alloys used, the details of the woods (some of which are rare today) that the original makers found best, the ways to regulate an instrument so it sings as when new, and so on. In the process I've rebuilt some of the most sophisticated and wonderful orchestrions ever to grace this earth--and I've loved every minute of it.

I have been asked countless times why orchestrions have such a fascination. Why would anyone want to collect them? If you had asked me this in 1955, when I first acquired the Bijou Orchestra, I would have said something like, "I enjoy the music." While this may be a good answer, it doesn't reflect the deeper reasons. As I've mellowed over the years (I am now a "ripe" 35 years old) [circa 1973, when this article was originally written] I have learned that life is more than just being on this earth or existing from day to day. Life is in the living and enjoying of every day and every hour. It means looking deeper than a dusty surface and seeing something--a vision perhaps--that not everyone else sees. Life is recognizing hidden beauty, clearing away the dust and letting the joy of life express. In the case of an orchestrion, it means bringing it to the place where it can sing from its heart once again. That is why I collected orchestrions. They were not just wood and metal mechanical contraptions. They are wondrous hand-crafted automatic musical instruments, although perhaps the glories may be well hidden behind many years of neglect. Still, they have their own personalities, a marvelous past to learn from and the capacity to bring happiness to all who hear them perform.

Terry Hathaway, 1973
Extensively Revised in June of 2002

Credits:

Terry Hathaway, Q. David Bowers

Photographs:

Q. David Bowers and Jean Hathaway.

References:

Mekanisk Musik Museum Review #4 Catalogue, circa 1974.