Working at the Piano Company is amazing. The people, the machines, the atmosphere – it’s a fantastic place. When I started I wanted to get an automatic instrument to practice on at home, and much to my surprise I only had to mention a specific instrument once before my parents went for it.
As of mid-summer, we became the proud owners of a Chickering baby grand piano. Chickering among other names was owned by a parent known as the American Piano Company, which in the mid 19teens introduced their version of a ‘reproducing’ player piano.
During the years of player piano construction before the Great Depression there were three main types. The first kind is your regular run o’ the mill player that can adjust volume only by shifting the hammer rail. The second is an ‘expression’ piano, where the amount of suction in the stack is varied resulting in loud and quiet tones. The last is the ‘reproducing’ player, where the system is designed to precisely reproduce the sound of human playing.
The stack of a reproducing piano is split down the middle, so the bass and treble sections can play at different volumes, intensities, and crescendos. The system was so accurate that a host of world famous musicians recorded Rolls for reproducing pianos. Rachmaninov plays Rachmaninov, Gershwin plays Gershwin, etc.! All brought into your living room in precise reproduction.
Our Chickering piano is in decent shape, but as is expected the Ampico player has seen better days. The rubber hoses, pneumatic cloth, and cork (blech) seals are shot. In order to get the system playing again, everything has to be rebuilt. When it comes to pneumatic systems like the Ampico, that entails tearing the entire thing apart, replacing every soft material in the whole system, and then putting it all back together. And it has to be airtight. Especially in an Ampico.
As the title implies, the first thing that needs to be done is the pump. The electric motor turns a flywheel which pumps all of the bellows inside the pump. In an Ampico, four bellows are going at once, producing a steady flow of suction. In order to systematically test other parts of the system to make sure they are pulling the correct water inches (a unit of measurement used extensively in the player piano industry) I need a suction like that.
After taking notes and disconnecting what I could, my dad and I dropped the pump out of the piano. That night I had the pump pulled apart and got to take a look at how it all works. I cleaned up some of the metal parts including the screwheads, so as I progress I’ll include posts showing the process. I can’t wait to get it working!
Two days ago, late Friday December 2nd, a terrible fire on 31st Avenue in Oakland California claimed the lives of at least 24 people during a musical performance. Estimates of casualties go as high as 40, but as I type this the authorities on scene are proceeding with caution through the dangerously weak building. More are expected to be recovered.
The structure was a 4,032 square foot concrete warehouse converted into an eclectic art gallery and performance space called the Oakland Ghost Ship. Pianos, organs, clocks, paintings, vintage and antique furniture, varied benches, and vintage Hi-Fi Equipment were piled high up the walls and around open spaces. Any open wall space was covered in ‘random pieces of wood’. Furniture, cloth hangings and vintage light fixtures hung from ceilings. It was an ideal place for urban artists to display their work, but the fire on Saturday night has brought the dangerous conditions in the warehouse into sharp focus.
No fire exit, sprinklers, or smoke alarms have been recorded in the building. A survivor who tried fire extinguishers couldn’t get them to work. The single exit from the second floor was a staircase constructed of wooden pallets with no handrail – as a Boy Scout I can vouch that a stack of wooden pallets burns well. Most fires we build are constructed either in a teepee or log cabin formation very similar to stacked pallets. The pallet staircase was engulfed in flames and proved inadequate for escape.
The venue had illegal residents living there and illegal events regularly – the city of Oakland was already investigating before the fire. If the organizers and owner of the Ghost Ship has attempted to get the proper permits for the parties and live performances, or for rezoning the structure to residential living space, they would have been denied on allegations of unsafe conditions.
I have done much reading on history over the years, and spent some time on historically important fires. Just based on that knowledge, the lessons from fires as far back as 1903 have gone unheeded. The Iroquois Theatre fire of 1903, the Collinwood School fire of 1908, the Cocoanut Grove club fire of 1942, the Our Lady of the Angels school fire of 1958, and the Station Nightclub fire of 2003 to name a few. The combined lessons of just these disasters alone, of clear un-bottlenecked egress, flammable materials on walls, floors, and ceilings, functioning fire alarms that contact the fire department, and readily accessible fire extinguishers (among others), totaling in over 1,464 deaths, were ignored in this instance.
This fire was needless and avoidable. Our safety codes are built on the ashen rubble of previous fires and are meant to protect the public from ever witnessing disasters like the Iroquois or Cocoanut Grove again. If you don’t read history and learn its lessons you’re doomed to repeat it, as evidenced by the burnt-out warehouse in Oakland today.
My heart goes out to the families of the victims, and to the responders sifting the rubble as we speak. Time will tell what comes from this disaster, but I doubt that there are any new lessons to learn from it. To offer support to those affected, there is a relief fund on YouCaring found here. God bless.
Postscript – A very hard to find 1950’s Royal portable with 1930’s heritage should be arriving sometime within the next week, so I’ll compare the two machines in the family side-by-side to review them both. I hope everyone in the States had a happy Thanksgiving!
(Letter written on a 2012 Lamy Safari in a limited edition Apple Green)
From December 2015 to September 2016 I was a Deli/Bakery associate at the local Kroger Food & Pharmacy, and it was easily the most frustrating job I’ve ever had. For the first few weeks as closer I had almost no idea what I was doing because I’d had one night of training! My manager was actually out to get me as confirmed by several sources and seemingly made every attempt to make my life difficult. In those early days every time I came in the floor was covered in icing to the extent that it looked like there had been a snowball fight with the stuff, but over time I got better and figured out what they wanted me to do. Whenever I got on top of things they would just add more to do nightly.
On top of that, Kroger wouldn’t accept my availability despite being part time and able to dictate my schedule (according to the union rep). As a result, I could never get in to the Piano Company regularly on the days that I requested. There was a somewhat underhanded attempt at transferring me out of the department (that same manager) that the union rep squashed. Those were the days when I was caught in the Kroger Catch 22. There was too much to do by myself without another person, but had to get out on time. I told them that either I was staying late and getting everything done or leaving on time and leaving things for the morning people, and neither of those would do. To which I replied,”I’ll need another person at night, then, or that’s not going to work.”
I’ve been told that they knew this but continued doing what they were doing anyway.
The whole situation was massively frustrating for a period of nine months. The only upside and really the only reason I stayed for that long was that I enjoyed my coworkers immensely. I made close ties with some of them, but we were all amicable and had each other’s backs when needed. That was the sole thing keeping me there outside of pay.
I put in my two weeks notice, last day being on September 9th. Luckily the schedule worked out so that my last day was September 8th, a Sunday I think. Two weeks after I left the store closed permanently and moved to the new location down the street, which I wanted to avoid working at for several reasons. When I walked out my last day, it got real for me. I wasn’t working with those people anymore, and I wouldn’t see them nearly as frequently as I used to. They also made me a wonderful cake with a typewriter on it.
On Tuesday October 4th the store closed at 5:00pm and the new store opened its doors to the family and friends of associates. I made sure to be there and document the closing of the 35 year-old store (the newest decor was about 23 years old), bringing along my Nikon Nikkormat FTn loaded with Kodak Tri-X B&W negative film pushed from ISO 400 to 800. I polished off the roll, and the results were surprisingly decent.
This post is a tribute to my old Kroger store, my coworkers (the people who made it not entirely suck),and the memories I have and we shared. These pictures were taken on a combination of an iPhone 6, a Sony Mavica FD-71, and my Nikkormat FTn.
Early Photographs (April, March 2016)
Late Photographs (August, September)
Last Day (Sept. 8, 2016)
Kroger #399’s Final Hour (Oct. 4th, 2016; 4:30-5:02 pm)
For what it was Kroger was a good experience. I’m a better and wiser person because of it, but I sure wouldn’t do it again! The people I worked with made this bearable, and the in-jokes we had kept us all going. They all miss me and I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss them. I’ve moved on and my store is officially dead.
The Antique Typewriter Collectors’ Meeting is a week away as of today, and the excitement is definitely building! Our arrangements put us there around noon on the 28th, driving more or less straight there from Columbus. That drive sans detours will be 3 hours, 48 minutes and 253 miles. That’ll be the farthest I’ve ever taken my car in one go. That means that it’s time for all the necessary work to make sure that it won’t become a fixture on the side of a road somewhere.
In the past month I’ve been working on that. Rotated my tires and checked brakes. Seatbelts? Drivers’ side needs to be replaced. Coolant? Low. Windshield wipers? Replace ’em. With no warning my JVC Bluetooth stereo decided that working wasn’t high on it’s list of priorities and crapped out, and that simply won’t do. The list goes on.
While I do have a parts car in my possession, I had either taken out the parts I needed and had discovered that they didn’t work (in the case of my dome light switches in the doors) or that they were already missing (in the case of the cold start valve). Off to the junkyard we go. A nearby junkyard does have a Rabbit but it was perched high above a mini-van, and as such was unusable. Dad found a place in Columbus called Woody’s Auto Salvage and we set out on an expedition.
On the first trip to Woody’s, I got the HVAC components that go under the hood at the bottom of the windshield out of an ’87 Cabriolet. Before those parts my recirculation didn’t work and I got a puddle in my passenger footwell whenever it rained. Glad that’s over. By the end of the day I’d retrieved HVAC components, a cold start valve, a complete ashtray (I don’t smoke but I want the thing to work and be original), parking brake & door switches for the brake warning light and dome light, relays, and original pedal covers. Mine had been replaced with ‘sporty’ looking pedal covers that I said I’d replace the moment I laid eyes on them.
The next day my wisdom teeth were removed, and I was out of commission. During that time I revived the blog after a time spent manually porting each post. Another thing that I’m glad is over.
I took the pedal covers out of my parts car and used the best out of the bunch to replace the sporty covers with stock. Dad went back to Woody’s and while he was there I had him fetch the center console from that car, which contained a cassette tape holder that was in much better shape than that in my parts car. After some tinkering with the door switches, the retrofits were complete!
Using Dad’s vacuum tester I discovered that the vacuum servo for the center vent was faulty, preventing it from opening and warming the car up. With winter around the corner I tore into my parts car to retrieve the functional servo contained therein – in the process learning how to remove a mid-80’s VW Golf dashboard. Fun times. I also took the vacuum control head for the HVAC system from that car since the mounting brackets on the one in mine had shattered. After installing it I discovered that it leaked. Badly.
The second expedition to Woody’s Auto Salvage was wildly successful. After removing the ’87’s HVAC control head I sought out a late-90’s Cabrio. I’m considering replacing the door, trunk, and ignition lock cylinders on my car with those compatible with the far more secure sidewinder style key in use on modern VWs. I knew that the ignition cylinder from a Cabrio of that era would fit in my steering column, and I was quite content when I found a white 2000 Cabrio not far from the ’87. Unfortunately I hadn’t brought the tools necessary to remove it, but as I looked about the car I thought that the cassette stereo still in the dash looked like it would fit in mine. All I had was a hole were the JVC unit had been. I bit the bullet and retrieved it. Dad told me that these stereos were compatible with a 6 CD changer that he’d seen in several cars, and soon I had one of those too.
Dad was skeptical about the radio, and honestly I was too. We tested the CD changer when we got home and discovered that it didn’t detect that the magazine had been inserted. Still unsure on how to fix that. The bench test of the stereo went well, showing that it functioned perfectly.
That night in a marathon session of momentary vehicular madness I removed and reinstalled my dash, replacing the faulty servo and control head in addition to fitting and wiring the radio. It fit perfectly! Unfortunately there was a discrepancy between the wiring diagram and the wires present in the dash, so the radio remained silent much to my chagrin. Some tinkering the next day resolved the issue. More tinkering two days later (three days ago) by dad repaired the previously silent left stereo channel, though the two rear speakers still don’t work. Only the two forward 4×6 speakers function, but it’s better than nothing. The next day I went out & bought more supplies. Plywood, carpet, antifreeze, a spring compressor, an air filter, etc..
Once home and with more than ample assistance a trunk floor panel was measured, cut, fitted, carpeted, and installed. The spare was flipped right-side up and inflated from empty, in the process discovering that my car jack is unoriginal since it has ‘Ford’ stamped on it. I have no idea where I’m going to find the right one.
A long-time joke with a coworker of mine from Kroger finally became a reality after I sat down with some paint and a brush for longer than I anticipated, but for the most part it looks good. This also saw the long – awaited removal of the irksome space-hogging subwoofer and its amplifier. Now my trunk is much more spacious and typewriter friendly. There’s still more to do, however. My shock bushings are collapsed, my CV boots are torn, I need to check and top off my fluids, and the front-end needs to be aligned. The list of things to do to my car is steadily shrinking, and for that I’m grateful.
As always, thank you for reading and have a good day!
This is the second update in the interim between official series posts, intended as both an update on the progress of the series as well as a general update.
In series news, I am learning a lot, and I hope that you do too when I finally finish it. A major revision is needed to the title, though… instead of being “The Rise and Fall of the Video Game Industry, 1960-1983” it will have to be titled “The Rise and Fall of the Video Game Industry, 1947-1983”. I had no idea that the beginnings of the industry were as far back as 1947, but there you have it. I have also quite accidentally found a connection to Australia that while brief might be of interest to Mr. Robert Messenger of Oz Typewriter, and if you aren’t reading his blog you should be. He does a lot of well-researched and interesting posts surprisingly frequently for their level of detail, and it really is a very interesting read. The address is http://oztypewriter.blogspot.com.
In non-series news, I have a few things to say. Firstly, I’m now on Twitter as @T1peM0nkey! I originally did this to follow @NewsTypewriter, which is an apparently sentient 1949 Royal KMG from the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper that has an amazing sense of humor!
Secondly, my collection of phonograph records just grew in a not-so-insignificant way. Five new LPs and six new 78 box sets, apparently with at least three disks in each. The 78s are all classical music since I decided that I didn’t have enough classical.
I finally found a copy of Walter Lord’s book ‘A Night To Remember,’ a factual account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic from a passenger, Mr. Lord himself. This book was made into a film in the black and white silent movie era and was very popular. Which reminds me that I’m thinking about doing a series on the Titanic next April…. any thoughts?
I added ‘The Towering Inferno,‘ the classic 1974 Irwin Allen disaster movie, to my VHS tape collection, and I’m beginning to seriously consider LaserDisks (LD). The only thing really holding me back is the fact that I don’t have a LaserDisk player, but that hasn’t stopped me from dipping my toes in with two purchases: The Abyss (1989) and Twister (1996).
And here’s some irony for you…. I have been practicing for the Polt/Brumfield showdown in October, and in the course of that have found a good tool to find practice material. The internet! So I find myself sitting at my typewriter with my digital copy holder, working on retyping articles and the like. How anachronistic can you get?
I hope to return soon with ‘RISE OF THE REGIME, EP.1: The Rise and Fall of the Video Game Industry, 1947-1983’ sometime in this following week. The post will be a pretty long one for this blog, and will be as illustrated as I can make it – finding images and getting permission to use them is the one big worry that I have about this series. If I don’t personally have that particular computer or console and can take photos of it, I’ll either have to link to images or put them on the blog (which is choice). That requires permissions, and I am working on finishing the research so that I can find appropriate images and get to work on said permission requests. Until next time, typosphere!