San Antonio : Tales from the Road
I’ve worked on a lot of organ removals (I’ll resist the ‘not my first rodeo’ analogy, considering the geography) but it never ceases to be a bit surreal to perform two weeks of grueling work in a church and have less in the room at the end than you started with. I’ve always maintained that removals are actually harder than installations, if only due to the ever-present threat of the unexpected.
Rebuilding an organ with significant changes inevitably invites controversy (both genuine and contrived) but even without the greek chorus of Facebook ever at your elbow, you never escape the awareness that on some level you’re un-working the work of others. Whether they make the life of a rebuilder easier or harder, it’s always a good education if you pay attention. It can also be an exercise in Sherlock Holmes level forensic organ building.
What do I mean? Well we did, after a bit of practice, get good at dismantling the sturdy reed yokes of this instrument and their engineering mindset is understandable with some attention. Other things remain a puzzle we can only guess at; The first wind line to be removed put up a significant fight and we discovered that the extremely well cut and fitted leather gaskets of the flange had been slathered with silicone sealant. Our first theory for this unusual treatment is that it must have been a quick fix for a specific leak but we soon discovered this treatment was standard through the entire organ, making it nearly impossible to remove any wind line without damaging the gaskets. Baffling.
A similar puzzle came with the removal of the first reservoir. With the weights and springs removed we went to lift what should have been a light assembly, only to discover it had the weight of an occupied coffin. A little investigation revealed that the builder had experimented with a novel system of weights attached to the inside of the reservoir lid with bolts, this experiment apparently didn’t pan out because the nuts had been uncoupled, conventional spring rails installed, and the weights (being too large to remove through the reservoir access panels) had been left laying on the bottoms of the air box, awaiting their chance to make the restorers wonder if they missed removing a screw somewhere before trying to lift it.
Take apart an organ, and you’ll learn what the builder loves. It’s always a pleasure to find where their obsessive attention overlaps your own : Impeccable pipework, precise racking, and thoughtful wind chest design and execution, to give some examples from this organ. The wise builder is also charitable when dealing with work where their own particular fixations are not catered to : Too much silicone, Inconsistent hardware selection, untidy wiring, and an overabundance of paper conveyance tubes in suspiciously small diameters and extended lengths.
It’s a test of your empathy and wisdom to look past your hobby horses, appreciate the high spots, learn from the omissions, and wonder how your own work will hold up to a similar autopsy some time in the future, when an unknown builder may look upon it and echo what you’re saying now, whether “Nicely done there.” or “What the hell?” - it’s a certainty there’ll be some of each.
Now the truck is on the road and we shall grudgingly leave behind the local beef, barbecue and hospitality (though they’re welcome to keep the heat and periodic flooding) and turn our attention to the actual rebuilding in the milder climate of New England. In retrospect, I was wrong to characterize the examination and dismantling as an autopsy, it’s more like exploratory surgery. The organ will come back, after all.
And so shall we.