By Davey Burgess
Photo courtesy of alfa-img.com
Band Organs are old organs designed to play tunes from a roll. While modern merry-go-rounds use recorded music, these organs are a sight to see. Despite being out of production, they have been kept through the years by being well maintained, or restored.
These old band organs are still around today. Made and manufactured by Wurlitzer, the company has produced several mechanical band organs through the 1900s. In the 40’s, band organ production ceased. When the band organs were first introduced, the roll would have to be manually pulled. As technology moved on, mechanical roll scales were made for the band organs, meaning simpler playing rolls on the organs.
Additionally speaking, the Wurlitzer 153 is most recognized for merry-go-round music. It has a bell set, a cymbal, a drum, lots of horns, lights, a 150 roll scale, and flaps that open and close. Several of these organs were produced. The most notable locations to find them are American Treasure Tour, Dorney Park, Kennywood, the Victorian Palace, the Columbus Zoo, Lake Compounce, Hershey Park, and others.
William E. Black, a Wurlitzer organ expert, once cared for the Wurlitzer 153 in Hershey Park, PA for seven years. To this day, he is selling his Wurlitzer organ recordings to other organ lovers and to good homes.
In an interview with Mr. Black, he explained how he got into band organs, and how he made his own store. “In 1972 I had a chance to buy my first organ, a 146, couldn’t afford a 153,” Mr. Black said. “In 1980 I got a 125 and put it in a trailer to take out on location to grand openings and fairs etc. I began to make recordings to sell cassettes when I had it out playing. These were picked up by a magazine to sell by mail order. Carrousel Music was born. In 1979 I bought a 153. It had been if a flood and was in pieces. Over the years I acquired 8 organs and used them for recordings. About 80 different one hour cd’s were produced.”
Aside from the Wurlitzer 153 band organ, newer models were created from the model 50 to model 180. The older models up to 125 used a 125 roll scale. Models up to 153 used a 150 roll scale. Models 157 to 175 used a 165 roll scale, and only the Wurlitzer 180 used the 180 roll scale.
The last remaining Wurlitzer 175 can be found in American Treasure Tour, which is located in Oaks, Pennsylvania. Only 2 were built, but the other one was destroyed in a fire. So only one remains.
There are only 2 Wurlitzer 164 Band Organs left, since the third one was destroyed in a fire. There is a Wurlitzer 164 called The General, which is located in American Treasure Tour, however, the other’s whereabouts are unknown.
There’s also a Dick Hack Wurlitzer 153 in a private collection in Annapolis, Maryland. It’s located in the Dick And Cheryl Hack Collection. Other organs in this collection are a Mortier Dance Organ, and a Ruth & Sohn Fairground Organ.
The biggest out of all band organs is the Wurlitzer 180. There is one at the Nevada City Music Hall in Nevada, The Victorian Palace in Illinois, and one privately owned in Texas.
Reached by email for an interview, Black shared that his favorite band organ tune was “Dream Lover.”