HardmanStudio Wurlitzer Theater Organ

The history of the Wurlitzer organ in Great Falls has been reviewed earlier in these pages. In short, Wurlitzer sold the organ which included this console to the Strand Theater in Omaha, Nebraska. Later it was used by Bill Brown in one of his pizza restaurants. Some years later, Dave Junchen installed it at Marian and Jasper Sanfilippo's home in Barrington Hills, Illinois.

I started searching for an organ to set up at our home in Great Falls, Virginia, during a period of time when very few instruments were or became available.  I had begun to think that I would have to assemble a suitable instrument using orphaned parts from other organs. When Jasper offered this console to me, I decided to acquire it because I wanted a 4 manual console, and it had been restored once by Dave Junchen who had already retrofitted Syndyne stop action magnets to the stop rails.  The case was already in pretty good condition, and the console satisfied our needs very well.

One weekend I flew out to Chicago and rented a small van just large enough to carry the console back to Virginia.  After loading, I started driving east, and spent the night near the Ohio border, and finished the trip to Great Falls the next day.  I got some help unloading the van in the barn. Over the next 2 years we continued the renovations to our home while continuing the search, waiting for an organ to came along.

Well to keep the story short, I learned from a friend that the Simonton organ was likely to be offered for sale soon, and I ended up buying it and moving it to Great Falls. The modified console used at Simonton's was sold and shipped directly to Mike Coup in Wichita, Kansas. Jasper's console remained stored in the barn while we restored and began to install the organ.  When we could see that the organ would soon need the console to start testing the installed organ parts, I finally had the motivation and incentive to start its restoration.

First all the parts inside that would not be reused were either scrapped or carefully removed and sold to those who were able to use them. Brian McGuire helped me prepare the outside for painting, and one late afternoon when the barn was quiet, I sprayed the console with its first coat of primer. The next morning Brian and I could see and repair the many imperfections that were revealed by the primer coat. That night, I sprayed another thin coat of primer, and the next afternoon I sprayed two coats of semi-gloss enamel.


Gutted Hardman Studio Wurlitzer Console
Painted inside and out, it was time to start installing the Uniflex® organ control system and begin wiring. Not shown here is the wood panel that holds all the input and output circuit boards. It will be installed later after Hoa Nguyen ("Juan") has mounted the scanner boards that detect switch closures, and the magnet driver boards needed to operate the Syndyne stop action magnets.  The SAMs are used by the combination action to respond to an organist's pushing one of the thumb pistons or pedal toe studs to cause a preprogrammed combination of stop changes to take place.


Mounting Uniflex Driver Boards
Having premarked the locations of the mounting screws for each board, Hoa is shown screwing thin sheet metal screws into pilot holes drilled for the purpose. The printed circuit computer boards have stand-off spacers already mounted.


Wurlitzer Organ Stoprail Hardman Studio Organ
Preparing the stop rails turned out to be a lot harder than expected. Simon Gledhill's Specification for this installation required a slightly different number of stops for 3 of the four divisions (keyboards) on the console. Wurlitzer used small nickel plated metal dividers to separate the stops in each division from one another. Unfortunately, the divider is not of the same width as a stop action magnet. This meant that most of the SAMs would have to be repositioned slightly with new pilot holes drilled for their fastening screws. What a hassle. That was a week's work in itself, and thankfully, Don Phipps who was visiting from Massachusetts, and was able to help out. It was one of those jobs where extra hands and his experience really paid off.

 Syndyne Stop Action Magnets Hardman Wurlitzer
Wiring the stop action magnets took a while, but Tim Rickman gave me some pictures to give me the idea of what it should look like. After I got the hang of it, it began to look the way it should. Dick Wilcox designed and made the Uniflex organ control system used in this Wurlitzer.


Hardman Studio Wurlitzer Backrail Stop Actions
Here is a picture of the rear of the back rail above the Solo (upper) keyboard. These stops control the tremolos, second touches, the piano, chimes, chrysoglott, marimba, xylophones, and most other tuned and untuned percussions and traps.



The four keyboards were rewired to provide discreet (non-multiplexed) key switch contacts. I was able to reuse the wiring paddles and edge connectors installed previously. These cables are easily disconnected making it possible to remove a keyboard for convenient bench service and adjustment if necessary.


Installing Uniflex Relay in Hardman Studio Wurlitzer Console
At this point I have nearly finished the wiring, and comprehensive electrical testing was started. Two power supplies can be seen on the floor of  the console.  The one on the left provides logic voltage for the digital circuit boards, and the other one is to supply power to energise the stop action magnet coils which flip the stop tabs up and down. Each octal integrated circuit driver chip will control 4 stop action magnets with 4 ON coils and 4 OFF coils.


Uniflex driver boards in console
Here's a closeup of the wiring for the input and output boards. The heavy 12 gage red wires at the bottom deliver the power for the Stop Action Magnets (SAMs). The 96 thin wires at the top deliver power to the ON and OFF coils of the SAMs to enable the computer-controlled combination action to flip stop tabs on or off as needed in response to the organist's pressing a piston or toe stud. On the right are the ground returns that I wired for the 574 stop action magnet coils. They are fused as required by the National Electric Code.



Here are the 21 SAMs for the Pedal Division. Wurlitzer used red stop tabs to control reed pipes that are made to imitate the sound of certain woodwinds, like clarinet, oboe, kinura, krumet, and brass instruments like the tuba, saxophone and trumpet. White tabs indicate flue pipes like tibias, flutes and diapasons, and the yellow tabs are reserved for pipes that imitate the sound of orchestral instruments with strings.


Hardman Wurlitzer Console During Restoration
Carlton Smith made the two swing-out switch trays for the console. The tray on the left contains the functional equivalent of additional SAMs. In his Specification, Simon had to place them here when he ran out of room on the stop rails for the additional control functions needed. The momentary push on/push off buttons are normally dark and light up to indicate when a function has been selected. The tray on the right side contains a number of similar illuminated push/push switches that provide the organist with convenient control of the Uniflex combination action and record/playback system.


Swing out control tray by Carlton Smith for Hardman Studio Wurlitzer
Several "Select" stop tabs appears on the stop rails. The result of depressing a Select tab is determined by what has been programmed by the corresponding Select switches on the tray.



The original Wurlitzer pneumatic organ control relay has been replaced with a modern Uniflex computer-based software programmed system that makes it easy and convenient to implement the inevitable changes found desirable after first setting up the organ and beginning to use it. Since all wiring has already been accomplished, all changes are now implemented in software by interactively modifying the organ definition model using a common personal computer's keyboard and video terminal.



The computer connects to the console with a 25 conductor ribbon cable which can be seen in this picture. A similar ribbon cable connects the computer to the two pipe chambers to deliver a multiplexed data signal daisy-chained to all magnet driver circuit boards. The driver boards decode the signal to provide the individual outputs which energize the selected pipes' magnet coils.


Hardman Wurlitzer Console Stoprails Raised
This young engineering student visiting from Germany had never seen a theater organ console before and was interested to see what was behind the keys and under the lid.


Hardman Studio Wurlitzer on Shop Floor
This is the setup used by Clark Wilson during his initial tonal finishing. The console is still on the lower level, under the bridge and centered between the two pipe chambers. After it is moved to the upper level it will undergo gold leaf decoration and  two more week-long sessions of tonal finishing, a very laborious process described in another chapter of this story.



With a week's preliminary tonal finishing accomplished, the console has been loaded on a utility trailer and will take a ride around the side of the barn where it will be moved onto the upper level through the doors at the front patio end of the barn. An affable Brad McClincy from Marysville, Ohio, just couldn't resist a little clowning for the camera as Harold Wright and Brian McGuire wait patiently. A licensed Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Brad McClincy really enjoys working on theater pipe organs in addition to pursuing a keen interest in mechanical music-making machines and their history, repair and restoration.  Alright; let's move out . . .


Moving Hardman Studio Wurlitzer Console Upstairs
It was a cold March 3rd in 2003 when we towed the trailer around the side of the barn to the upper level entrance using this restored 54 year old Ford 8N farm tractor used for mowing and snow plowing the long driveways. We were glad to have our gloves on.


Moving Wurlitzer Console into Hardman Organ Studio
The console has been placed on two furniture dollies and is being ramped down the one step into the small courtyard in front of the barn entrance doors.  You can see two of the many empty pipe boxes that were stacked up on the left.


Brad McClincy HardmanStudio Wurlitzer Console
Following its first placement in the barn, Brad sits for a minute now that the heavy lifting is finished. This is the console location where Clark Wilson and John Struve will continue the tonal finishing process in two week-long sessions  accomplished during two separate visits several weeks apart.

The next chapter in the story describes the process of gold leaf application to the console ornamentation.
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