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Part 2: The Real Value of a Pump Organ

What is the value of a musical instrument if it can’t be played? If it takes up space and means something only to me? I wrestled with these questions about my huge pump organ. When the canvas binding connecting a pedal to the bellows broke and the organ wouldn’t play, it was time to do some soul searching, with a pinch of practicality.

My maternal grandfather and his siblings purchased the organ over a century ago. I played “Rock of Ages” on it for Papa as he sat beside me. Papa left it to his three daughters in his will with instructions, “One old organ that shall be kept in the family if possible and if it’s sold out of the family, the proceeds are to be divided equally among all my grandchildren.” It was moved from Papa and Grandma’s house to our home in 1985.

After Husband and I determined we couldn’t repair the broken binding, I researched the organ’s value and the cost of getting it repaired. It was made by the Estey Company, founded in 1850 and located in Brattleboro, Vermont. Something this old must be valuable, right? Not really. I found one on eBay priced $399. The only person who advertised online to repair pump organs didn’t service Tennessee and one contact who might look at it charged a minimum of $2500 to overhaul the complete instrument. That was too much.

But I wanted it repaired. Maybe because I have a picture of Mom and her two sisters when they were children standing beside the organ or maybe because I played it for Papa or maybe because Papa wanted it to stay in the family and mostly because I’m sentimental and believe that if family heirlooms are used, they are treasured.

A friend, known to his family as Builder Bob, offered to look at the organ. After he’d replaced the broken binding, I pumped the pedals and pressed the keyboard keys and nothing happened. Both of us were disappointed. Another day Bob took the back off the organ and although he knows nothing about keyboard instruments, he’s a self-taught carpenter and worked on the hydraulic machinery on nuclear submarines in the early 1960s and he likes a challenge.

Making this organ play would be a challenge. The brass reeds were black. The bellows cracked. The stops stuck. Dust, insect droppings, dead bugs filled the organ cavity. Bob and I agreed on a price and he hauled all the organ’s workings to his home workshop.

Last week, Bob put the shiny reeds, new leather bellows, heavy cotton dampening, and all the many parts of the organ in place. After he worked for two days making adjustments, I pumped the pedals and pressed the keys and played “Rock of Ages.” How I wished Papa had been beside me.

But even more I wished he’d heard my Grands say, “Can I play the organ next?” “It’s really hard to pump those pedal things!” “Listen, it sounds like the piano, but different.”

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Post Script:  Thank you Builder Bob for your work!

 

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