The Theatre Console History

Leroy Lewis at the College Theatre Console, July 31, 1955

This is the history of the console as related to me by Robert Dilworth of the Dickinson Theatre Organ Society.

As you know, the console was part of a 3/14 Möller Theatre Organ installed in the College Theatre in Bethlehem, Pa during 1928 for $15,000. At one time, I saw a photo of Leroy Lewis sitting at the console while it was still in the theatre. At that time, someone had added a light box in front of each vertical on both sides of the pedal - garish.

Sam LaRosa removed the console from the theatre at some point . He sold it to Jim Glass at the Hinsdale (IL) Theatre. Sometime in the early 70's, I attended an ATOS National Convention and they had a program at the Hinsdale. As part of the show, Jim turned on the lights behind the movie screen to show the pipes installed on the stage back wall. Lo and behold, there was this 3 manual white console behind the screen (stage right).

Also in the early 70's, the Dickinson Theatre Organ Society had rebuilt their Kimball console using the newly touted wonderful Perflex to recover all the pneumatics. It was in the late 70's when it became evident that we would have to replace every pneumatic once again because the Perflex had a life of about 5 years and was biodegradable. In 1979, while George Wright was preparing for his second concert for DTOS, and knowing the plight we were in, suggested a possible solution. He had, in storage in California, a Möller console that might just be enough to get us by until we could rebuild the Kimball. Upon the arrival of the console and as be began to assess its condition and contents, we began to realize that we had been handed another project.

First of all, we would have to cut down, drastically, on the unification (and possibly the number of ranks) in the organ. Second, the entire bottom row on both sides had only an "off" portion of the mechanical combination system. The left row included all the percussions, the right row consisted of couplers. Third, when we tried to hook up an air supply to run the pneumatics that operated the mechanical combination system, nothing moved. Either we didn't have enough pressure or they were too stiff. Later we found out that part, not all, of the problem was a cache of hazelnuts in several of the big power pneumatics.

A decision was made that we would modify the Möller console before we installed it. We would scrap the mechanical combination system and all the pneumatics that ran it and replace it with an electronic combination system. That mechanical system was installed in another console in a home nearby. Meanwhile we located a source of additional Möller theatre stop tabs and decided to use the Syndyne Stop Action Magnet assemblies. What we didn't know was that almost every organ with electronics used the positive common. Our organ was a negative common and some additions to the coupler system - using diodes - made it impractical to change. Therefore, it was decided that additional electronics would be created to "reverse" the output of the new combination system.

Then we heard about this new relay system that was "tried and true". We made a trip to Hinsdale where part of the organ was using this new Z-Tronics system. We felt that the Z-Tronics system was far superior, especially since it had a good track record having been installed in more than a dozen (at that time) organs.

That still left the problem of a combination system. The Peterson system was far too expensive and the others all seemed to incorporate the relay with the combination system and used a total multiplex design. We felt that in a total multiplex system, if anything happened to the system, the entire organ could be shut down - with an audience waiting for a concert.

The Z-Tronics, at least, was a partial multiplex system so that it was unlikely to lose more than one rank in case of trouble. Well, the combination system was the stumbling block. We had heard of the Trousdale system - relay and/or combination system. However, Bob Trousdale did not distribute his system outside of California - except for one system in Florida.

I worked to convince Bob T. that it was time to make another exception and he finally agreed to furnish us with a combination system. It took a great deal of time and effort to decide on the specifications for this console. The organ had grown to about 28 ranks by this time and we, really novices at this type of thing, talked to various artists, talked to others we thought (hoped) were knowledgeable and then made up the specs. One fairly novel part of the specifications was caused by our third chamber on the stage. The basic purpose of this chamber was to back a chorus on the stage because the main chambers would overpower any chorus before the chorus could hear the organ. It was decided to dedicate a part of the new console to an organ within an organ and the stage chamber had its own set of tablets on both the Accompaniment and the Great manuals - each with slightly different specs. It turned out to be a respectable "two manual organ."

By the beginning of the 84-85 season, we were getting a little panic stricken because the Kimball console was so unreliable. The five year Perflex was now ten years in service. Many of the tablets would not turn on with the combination system, many would not turn off, and some wouldn't do either. It was embarrassing to us to have to explain these shortcomings to the artists. The Möller console was "finished", ready to be used for the Hector Olivera concert in November of 1984.

As soon as the concert started, it was obvious that Hector was struggling. It was not until he came offstage at intermission we learned that the combinations were changing each time he pushed a piston. With difficulty he was able to get through the concert. We spent the time until the next concert trying to find answers but no luck. Finally, we found out that the Trousdale system had a "press to set" feature as well as a capture feature. This allowed an organist to press a piston and move the tablets he wanted on that piston. It was discovered that when a piston was pressed, the tablets set in memory would move - but the magnetic fields created by the SAM magnets caused the reed switches to either open or close in adjacent tablets - thus simulating the press to set function. Syndyne suggest that we install a metal shield on each SAM unit but that meant a complete disassembly of the horseshoe. It was discovered that a slight manipulation of the reed switch on those SAMs that were affected would eliminate the problem. Much later on, we discovered that the "press to set" feature could be disabled.

The next concert was much better in that the console was behaving with only occasional combination glitches as we found additional SAMs needing "the adjustment." That problem continued for almost five years - growing less and less common as time progressed. During this same time, we were beginning to convert the chambers to the new Z-tronics relay system. Over the earlier years, we added a second pneumatic relay to the system as the number of ranks increased. This second relay was causing us many problems (again, it was done in Perflex). It was the first to be converted. However in the conversion, a common wire was left off an offset chest of the Solo Tibia Clausa by mistake. During the John Seng concert, in addition to having to deal with a console that was, at this time, not too reliable, a cipher began in the 16' Solo Tibia. Not only did it begin,but it cascaded through the entire 20 notes of the Tibia on that chest - and the 8 pipes of the Clarabella Flute also on that chest. The concert temporarily had to stop and our organ Guru, Brant Duddy, had to figure a way to stop the cipher, i.e. refill the pouches. To do this he had to close off the regulator - and then allow it to refill. It was not a comforting time and the problem's solution was not discovered for another week.

The Möller console had totally replaced the Kimball console at Hector's concert so we were happy that finally, it was settling in. Most of the artists who played it told us that it was a comfortable console to play.

One of the early decisions concerned the additional tablets we needed to fill out the expanded horseshoe. Of course we had the ones that it came with - but we needed about 50% more. A supply of additional tables was purchased from Bernie Blum, a Philadelphia organ parts collector. He had enough of the mottled yellow tablets so that we didn't have to mix those with the flat mustard colored yellow tablets found on some consoles. He also had a few mottled green tablets - but not enough so we had to use the leaf-green tablets since he had enough of those. The tablets for the piano were another problem. We didn't want just ivory tablets for that - but what? Bernie had just enough mahogany mottled tablets to do that job. The only ones we had to purchase from Hesco were the blue ones that handled our programmable stops.

Originally, the relay system, installed as a complete system in the console, was going to interface with the pneumatic relay currently working the organ and a gradual conversion of the chambers would take place. An unfortunate problem with a backed-up condensation drain in a chamber air conditioning unit caused us to lose the Accompaniment Second Touch relay and the bottom two octaves of the Great manual. This occurred the day before the last concert of the 84-85 season. During that summer, then, the entire organ was rewired to accommodate the new relay system.

The Möller console was used as our concert console from November 1984 unti September 1989 when the rebuilt Kimball was once again "back on line." At that point, the Möller console's Z-Tronics was modified to allow it to play though the Kimball console's Z-Tronics box. That means the clock and sync signals had to be shut down in the Möller and be received from the Kimball console. It was in this way that the two consoles were totally independent in their operation. The console situation was essentially a 6 manual with 2 pedal board organ. The only operation they shared was the operation of the swell shades (whoever had them the farthest open was the controller). This setup allowed us to have true two organ concerts. Of course they shared the same pipes - but each could set his own stops. The Möller console was able to control aprox. 28 sets of pipes and the Kimball could control all of them - even up to the present 66 ranks.

Several "double organ" concerts were presented over the period from '89 to '98. The first was Kurt von Schakel & the late Gerry Gregorius in March of '90; then Lyn Larsen & Barry Baker in April '91; Tom Hazleton & Jonas Nordwall in April '92; Kurt and Gerry again in '93 was the last of the double concerts. Artists who played a solo concert on the Möller are: Hector Olivera, John Seng;, Dick Smith, Neil Jensen, Lew Williams, Candi Carley, the late Lowell Ayars, Tom Hazleton, the late Fr. Jim Miller, Walt Strony, Gaylord Carter, Lyn Larsen, Dennis James, Charlie Balogh, Jonas Nordwal, Jim Connors, Ron Rhode, Kay McAbee and Bill Vlasak.

Early on, it was noticed that the Möller console looked very large - and very plain. I had seen the two Wurlitzer consoles in Richmond, VA that had a scarf and so we had a scarf made with a large "D" painted in the Velvet ("D" for Dickinson). That helped a great deal take the glare of whiteness under the spotlights although it did cut down on some of the lighting effects. The artist who had the most fun with that console was the late Fr. Jim Miller. He often made some comment to the audience about its size or the fact that he didn't know whether to play it or serve communion from it. In a booklet I wrote about the "Dickinson Story" there are several "Fr. Jim" stories including the time was chided him about his suspenders with suspenders for the console.

Following the last double concert we held, in '93, we were ready to work on our "new" Kimball console. We had purchased the 3 manual Kimball console from the Stanton Theatre in Baltimore and were ready to modify it for our second console, replacing the Möller. The Stanton console was an exact duplicate in size, era, and shape of the original Boyd Kimball console and we felt it would be a more pleasing picture when we presented a double concert. Thus, the Möller console was prepared for sale. This meant we had to reestablish the clock and sync lines.

I must add that I'm glad we were not forced into a position where we had to strip the console and junk the remains. Every TO console destroyed in one less that will ever exist.

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