The First Organ Move   

As mentioned on the main organ page, I, with the help of some VERY good friends, moved the organ.  I had first sought a price from a professional organ moving concern, but their quoted price was in the neighborhood of what I had paid for the instrument.  Umm, thanks guys, but no thanks.

Fortunately, the seller and widower of my first organ teacher lived right across the street from me.  That at first appears to make things easy, but yet you still have the matter of how to get a third- to a half-ton of wood, metal and leather from point A to point B??  And to make things interesting, this thing is a finely crafted piece (well, pieces) of hardware, which probably won't take too much banging around, and none of my close circle of friends, including myself, has ever had the pleasure (?) of disassembling and moving a pipe organ.  Could it be done?

The organ was purchased not long before the crush of the holiday season, so the move was put off until all that was over with.   Looking at the calendar, it appeared that a good time to shoot for was the President's Day holiday weekend in mid-February 1998.  In the meantime, there was lots of mental plotting and planning, and lots of e-mails discussing ideas and strategies back and forth to the friends who would be helping in the move.

The week before the move, I met with a friend-of-a-friend who is a freelance pipe organ technician, who at one time worked for the company that built this instrument and had tuned this very organ a few times.  He looked the beastie over, and peered into a number of nooks and crannies, played all the keys and pedals, and declared the instrument in good to excellent condition, and advised a few things to watch for when moving it.

Some pipes out I bid him farewell, and started into the disassembly, though not without taking lots of photos first!  The pipes were the first thing to come out, each one being carefully removed and placed in a cardboard tray, and its position carefully noted in a notebook diagram of the pipe layout.  The pipes were grouped in the trays by family and/or row in the organ chest and taped into place in the tray with masking tape.  The photo at the left is a shot of the main chest with about half of the pipes removed.

I returned a few nights later to complete the removal of the pipes and to disconnect the electrical cable that connects the console (keyboards) to the organ.  The cable was original to the organ, which meant that the cable was built with cotton-covered and rubber-covered wires.  Cotton covered wires are no longer permitted in modern electrical codes, and the insulation on the rubber covered wires was hard and brittle, and disintegrated at a touch.   In short, the cable was toast.

Console pin block The cable disconnected rather easily from the console, being terminated in "pin blocks" under the console, pictured at the right.  Each wire was soldered to a pin, which eventually connects to a key on a manual.  To disconnect it, each wire was simply clipped at the terminal.

The pedals unbolted from the console, and the contact blocks under the pedals unbolted from the pedals, thankfully since the pedal contact blocks are permanently attached by a 200+ wire umbilical to the console.

We were ready for the move.

One friend who helped in the move is an old college chum who drove over 300 miles to come and help -- that alone was a sign of a true friend.  The other friend is a coworker who has a great mechanical mind.  We headed across the street on Saturday morning at 9:30 am to tackle the task ahead.

First, we completed the cable disconnection by pulling the cable out from under the floor of the house.  Since the cable was not going to be re-used, it was cut off about 6 feet from the main organ since the plan for re-wiring was to include fitting new terminal blocks at the organ.

Bourdon 16 ft The main organ was rolled out from the wall a bit and the two cabinets that sit behind the main organ that house the bottom octave of the 16' Bourdon stop were disconnected and carried across the street.  The photo at the left shows them in place at home.

Now for the main organ chest.  To reduce the weight of the thing -- still a couple of hundred pounds with the pipes removed -- the power supply and blower cabinets were removed and carried separately.  The main swell box was disassembled and removed.  The front panel with the swell shades came off relatively easily, since it is hinged at the top, and the main box was removed in one piece.   The organ chest was rolled to the doorway and carried out the door.   We tried to roll it across the street, but the casters under the chest had flattened from sitting in one place for so long, supporting so much weight.  So, we ended up carrying it across the street.  The chest went easily in and out of the doors as it is only 26" wide, in case you were wondering.

The swell box followed, which was interesting trying to move this huge box, which is 6 ft wide and 4 ft high, and while not particularly heavy, was extremely awkward.  But with three people, we managed it.  Now at home, the box was reattached to the chest, the blower remounted and connected, and the main organ was rolled into position in front of the pedal pipes.  The pedal pipes were reconnected to the air supply and the shell of the organ was in place.

Now for the console.  Unfortunately, there wasn't much that came off the console other than the pedals and the cable, which meant there was still a lot of wires, metal, and heavy oak still in one unit.  Which is to say it is a heavy bugger!!  We managed to get it out of the house down to the sidewalk, but by that point we knew that we had no desire to carry it across the street.  A industrial- strength two-wheeler was pressed into service and we managed to roll it across the street.  Then it was up the stairs and into the house and into position.  All the pieces were in place!

Pipes in My coworker friend bowed out at that point, and my college chum and I set about racking the pipes.  The organ had not been moved in over 25 years, so there had been a fair amount of dust collected in and on the pipes.  Some pipes I had dusted off and blown out in the week before the move, but there were others I hadn't gotten to.   So, with an air compressor and a brush, the remaining dirty pipes were brushed off, blown out and put into place.  The picture at the right shows the organ after the pipes were placed, and before the front panel with the swell shades was replaced, and this was around 4:30 Saturday afternoon.  The swell shades were installed.  We were getting there.

Wiring the pin block Now for the wiring.  It was decided in the weeks before the move that the cabling between the organ and the console would be done with industry- standard telephone cabling and telephone-type punch down terminals to facilitate the wiring, troubleshooting, and any future moves.   The new blocks were mounted in the bottom area of the console, and wires connected between the pin blocks and the punch down blocks.   The picture at the left shows the wiring in process.  What a mess!!

At the organ end, the original cable just went up into the chest was directly connected to the electropneumatic valves.  The 6 ft of cable left on the organ needed to be connected to the punch blocks that were to be installed at the organ end.  Since the original cabling was all that cotton covered stuff and all the same color -- how to find which wire went where?  Fortunately, the cable was bundled by pipe family -- Fugara, Gedeckt, etc. -- and it was an easy matter to figure out which bundle went to what family.  Now to isolate the notes.  After a little while of trial and error to pick out the lowest note, the half step up from that, etc. -- when one does NOT have perfect pitch -- I came up with the scheme of removing the next pipe I wanted to find, and then hunt around with a clip lead on the wire bundle until the note that went CHUFF instead of TOOT was found.  That wire was punched into the block, labelled, the pipe replaced and the next one pulled.  Times 269 pipes!!!  Well, 257 times as the pedal pipes were identified with a different method.

My college friend left for home Sunday afternoon, and at that time we had the bottom two octaves of the Gedeckt rank playing at the console.  Not bad for less than 24 hours after the move was completed.  I continued with the wiring the rest of the day Sunday, and by the time I was cross-eyed from playing with all those terminals and wires, the entire Gedeckt rank was playable, and about half of the Fugara was working.

With Monday being a holiday, I spent most of that day continuing with the wiring.  By the "end of work" on Monday, the Rohrfloete rank was operational.  After work on Tuesday the mixture was hooked up, the pedals attached and the organ was complete.

In the weeks and months since, other little tasks were completed: namely some clean-up in the wiring connections under the console and at the organ end; a remote relay starter was constructed so that the organ can be switched off and on at the console; small lights were mounted under the lower manual to illuminate the pedals, and were wired to go on and off with the organ.  And on it goes.

The tuning of the organ held up fairly well in the move.  I was advised by the organ tech friend that it would need a "major tuning" after the move, but it really wasn't too bad.  There were a number of the Rohrfloete pipes that were out of tune, as the chimney caps slide easily, and about a dozen or so of those pipes were affected.  Those pipes are easy to tune without any special tools, and I touched up the worst offending pipes.  I "put up" with the tuning of the instrument through the first summer and into fall.  By then I had found a supplier for and purchased a set of tuning cones and a scroll key tool and I set about doing a complete tuning myself in early December.

For a note reference, I used my Roland SoundCanvas® set on the Sine Wave tone, and beat each pipe against that.  That worked very well and when I was done, the organ sounded terrific!  Unfortunately, it didn't last...

It turns out the nuts on the screw eyes that adjust the tension on the schwimmer springs on the regulator were loose and were changing position with use, hence throwing off the tuning.  Those original double nuts were replaced with nylon insert lock nuts, the tuning touched up and it has held very well since.  Even after the second organ move I didn't have to do any tuning beyond touch-ups.

In conclusion, this has been an adventure well worth the undertaking.  I now know a lot more about the instrument that I ever did before, or would have if someone else had moved it for me.  With doing the wiring myself, I know exactly how it all goes together and can chase out any problems (which there haven't been) myself.  If you find yourself faced with a similar move -- take heart, it's been done before, and successfully -- not only once, but twice!

Read about the second organ move

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Updated March 14, 2010