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History of the Wurlitzer 165 Carousel Band Organs Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 04 March 2009

By Dan Robinson
Reprinted with permission from the MBSI’s “Mechanical Music,” May/June 2008; revised September 2008.

In 1914, the Rudolph Wurlitzer Co. introduced what is today considered the best, and best-loved, American band organ: the Style 165. According to Wurlitzer’s “Disposition of Instruments Manufactured,” 24 Wurlitzer 165s were produced. Ten complete examples survive. Three of these organs still operate publicly, while many of the others are remembered fondly by those who enjoyed them in their heyday. Some band organ fans have been lucky enough to live near a publicly operating Wurlitzer 165 (or even two, if in the Los Angeles area), while others were first introduced to the 165 via recordings. In either case, the Wurlitzer 165 can be credited by many for instilling within them a permanent passion for these magnificent machines.

As recently as 1972, there were seven public Wurlitzer 165s. On the west coast, 165s could be heard at Lincoln Park and Griffith Park, both in Los Angeles, and at Playland-at-the-Beach in San Francisco.

Originally purchased by Ross Davis, organ #3329, played at the Lincoln Park carousel then at Griffith Park before moving to New Hampshire with its present owner.

In the upper Midwest, a 165 entertained visitors to the Circus World Museum, Baraboo, Wisconsin. And in the East, 165s could be enjoyed at Seabreeze Park, Rochester, New York, and Glen Echo Park, Glen Echo, Maryland -- although that organ then played Caliola rolls. Another 165, at Nunley’s Amusements, Long Island, New York, was rarely used.

In 1994, the Seabreeze organ was lost to fire, after which the Glen Echo and Circus World Museum organs were the only publicly operating 165s. The Playland, Nunley’s, Lincoln Park and Griffith Park 165s had gone into private collections. Just last year, however, the Playland 165 returned to public use at a carousel, at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, California. So now there are three publicly operating 165s.

The Wurlitzer 165, of course, owes its existence to the Gebruder Bruder “Elite Orchestra Apollo” 65-or 69-key German organs, which Wurlitzer essentially copied to produce the 165. Early 165 facades incorporated raised panels on the drum wings, topknot, and lower center section. Deletion of the raised panels later in production, while probably a cost-cutting measure, did allow larger unbroken areas for landscape paintings. Early 165 facades included two tall statues, one on either side of the swell shutters.

The Wurlitzer 165, succinctly, contains 256 pipes and 22 bells, as well as bass drum with cymbal, snare drum, crash cymbal, triangle and castanets. It is a big band organ with a big sound, rich and powerful, yet mellow. It can handle thundering marches, operatic overtures, classical and popular waltzes, and Tin Pan Alley fox trots with ease. Indeed, music on existing Style 165 rolls made by Wurlitzer and TRT ranges from ca. 1710-20 (“Harmonious Blacksmith” by George F. Handel) to 1967 (“Indescribably Blue” by Darrell Glenn). The 165 scale is, of course, the largest and most musical of the “big three” scales used by Wurlitzer after they standardized the organs and rolls they produced. With this greater musical capability, music arranged for the 165 scale required less alteration and simplification than did music arranged for the 150 or 125 scales.

The fascinating rollography of existing 165 rolls, researched extensively by Gary Watkins and Matthew Caulfield, can be briefly summarized as follows: 105 original Wurlitzer rolls from the 10-tune era exist and have been recut; all 53 six-tune rolls survive, 19 Wurlitzer and 34 TRT (mostly recut as 12-tune composites); and over 20 rolls have been produced in quantity featuring work by modern arrangers, including David Stumpf, Bob Stuhmer, Tom Meijer, and most recently Rich Olsen.

This article details the history of the ten existing Wurlitzer 165s, along with the late Seabreeze Park 165, in the order in which they were built. The heading for each section gives the organ’s serial number along with its current location or owner.

1. Organ #2943 (Sanfilippo)
Organ #2943 is the oldest of the surviving Wurlitzer 165s. According to the Wurlitzer ledgers, it was the seventh one built. Its original home was the Sylvandell Skating Rink and Dance Hall in Aurora, Illinois, where it was shipped September 7, 1915. The organ was positioned on a large elevator which enabled it to provide music for both the dance hall on the main floor and the skating rink in the basement. Wurlitzer factory records indicate that the organ was repaired and shipped twice in as many years, first to Rochester, New York, June 9, 1922, then to Washington, Pennsylvania, December 19, 1923.

Later the organ was purchased by the late collector Jim Wells, Fairfax, Virginia. In the early 1960s Jim played it for the public on the steps of the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. (fig. 1). In 1988 the 165 was sold to Jasper Sanfilippo, Barrington Hills, Illinois. It was restored by John Hovancak and Dan Meuer, Dodgeville, Wisconsin, in 1991. Following its restoration, the organ was brought to rallies in a red 1962 Ford truck which Wells had previously used for the organ. This is the only Wurlitzer 165 that has ever appeared at organ rallies – a rare treat for lucky visitors. Even before it was restored it appeared at the MBSI Mid-Am rally in Fremont, Ohio, in July, 1990 (fig. 2). On one occasion Sanfilippo played the organ at the old Sylvandell site to commemorate its history there.

Being an early 165, the organ’s facade includes the aforementioned raised panels. In addition, the design of the topknot section of the facade on this organ is unique among the surviving 165s. The bell bars, believed to have been replaced during the organ’s restoration, are also atypical, being slightly ovoid in shape (rather than rectangular) and having a different sound than those on other 165s. While this organ would have included statues when new, the ones now present are not believed to be original.

The organ is no longer mounted in the 1962 Ford truck; it currently resides in the carousel building at the Sanfilippo Victorian Palace (fig. 3), along with several other band organs, and the Eden Palais Salon carousel, with its massive, incredibly ornate facade.

2. Organ #2992 (Carrousel Music)
Organ #2992 was originally shipped to Rochester, New York, April 28, 1916. There is apparently an entry in the Wurlitzer shipping dock ledger showing this organ being shipped to Boston, Massachusetts, March 15, 1921, but this does not appear in the Wurlitzer repair ledger. Rather, the organ is shown as being repaired and shipped back to Rochester, March 9, 1921, which is more likely. Later, the organ went to the Police Benevolent Association Park in Miami, Florida. Historian Fred Dahlinger Jr., Baraboo, Wisconsin, researched the park’s history in 1994 and was able to document that the organ had once been in operation at the center of a carousel at the park.

Jim Wells later discovered the 165 as a basket case among the “Heller Hoard” of band organs in Macedonia, Ohio. After negotiation with Erwin Heller, Wells purchased the “Hoard” in late 1977. The 165 was sold to Dr. William Black, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, the following year. Black and the late Mike Kitner, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, gradually restored the organ. It had no case, but most of the pipes and other internal parts were there. Measurements for the case and other parts were made from the Glen Echo 165 (which at the time was disassembled in Durward Center’s shop in Baltimore, Maryland, for restoration). A new case was made by a pattern shop, and assembled about 1980. A new crankshaft was cast at a local foundry, using a pattern provided by Wells. Black and Kitner performed most of the restoration work on the organ in Kitner’s shop; Black took restored pieces home and installed them in the organ. 88 missing pipes, mostly from the melody ranks, were made. Inside the pressure pump, evidence of the organ’s history at the PBA Park in Miami came in the form of ride ticket fragments that were dragged in by rodents! The tops of some of the trombone pipes were fire-damaged; the organ having survived a fire would explain the absence of the original case and other parts.
The mechanical restoration of the organ was completed in 1994, the result being one of the smoothest, finest-sounding Wurlitzer 165s ever heard. That same year the organ became the latest of Dr. Black’s band organs to be recorded for his line of Carrousel Music recordings. The 165 has been featured on 12 different Carrousel Music recordings (available on CD and cassette). So the organ’s volume is not modulated too much on recordings, swell shutters are not installed. The facade of the 165 remains unpainted. The center parts are a combination of original and reproduction pieces; the latter, along with the drum wings, were produced by the late Steve Lanick, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The raised panels can be seen on the original lower center section (fig. 4). The original facade pieces that were used as patterns for the new parts are now owned by Donald Neilson, Norristown, Pennsylvania. Dr. Black, who did not have Lanick carve the topknot section, reports that he has arranged for carver Robert Yorburg, Long Island, New York, to craft the missing piece.

3. Organ #3030 (Circus World Museum)
The original destination of organ #3030 was Toledo, Ohio, March 9, 1917. Wurlitzer records show that it was repaired at the factory, re-sold, and on April 2, 1923 was sent back to Toledo, where it would play for a three-row Muller carousel at Wallbridge Park. By 1959 the organ was in the ownership of Robert House, Manistee, Michigan, who had bought it for just $300 when the carousel and park were being dismantled. In 1962 the 165 was acquired by Skerbeck Shows, a Wisconsin-based traveling carnival, that never actually used the organ (even though their name is painted on the facade) and loaned it to the Circus World Museum, Baraboo, Wisconsin. The museum later purchased the organ outright, and it is now featured in one of the circus-themed displays there. Like the Sanfilippo 165, the facade of this organ features raised panels. A decorative eagle believed to be from the frame of the Muller carousel is perched atop the organ (fig. 5).

The Circus World Museum 165 is one of just three publicly operating Wurlitzer 165s today. Visitors to the museum can deposit quarters in a coin box to hear the organ, and step behind the organ to see its dual roll frames. The 165 was featured on two LP records issued by Cuca Records and made by R.L.P. Co. of Baraboo, “Circus World Band Organ” Vols. 1 & 2 (Cuca #3030 and #3060). Additionally, Fred Dahlinger Jr. notes that a 45-rpm single of the 165 was released earlier by the museum, before the organ was rebuilt by Stan Peters. It was later rebuilt by Richard Lokemoen, who maintains it today. The museum also owns several other band organs, the best-known being the 89-key Gavioli from Royal American Shows (which, incidentally, played 165 rolls before being restored to its original state).

4. Organ #3124 (Santa Cruz)
Organ #3124 is one of several 165s that started its playing life in California, where, after many years in private hands, it has since returned to public use. It was shipped Dec. 30, 1918, to the amusement park Playland-at-the-Beach in San Francisco, where it played for a four-row Looff menagerie carousel. At some point a member of the Whitney family, owners of Playland, added two tall statues acquired from Europe to the organ’s facade. Fig. 6 shows a rare photo of the organ on location, including the statues. The 165 was one of at least five band organs at Playland. At one point there were actually seven, all in the carousel building – four in the ride’s center and three around the outside! The other organs included a rare Artizan Style D playing 61-key rolls and a Wurlitzer 153, both owned today by Alan Erb, Hayward, California. Playland remained in operation until 1972, whereupon the Whitneys sold the 165 to Mike Roberts of Lafayette, California. (The Playland carousel later went to Long Beach, California, and is now back in operation in San Francisco, at Yerba Buena Gardens.)

In the late 1970s the 165 was purchased by Hathaway & Bowers. The organ was pictured on the back of Klavier Records’ 1975 LP “Catch The Brass Ring” (although according to Ray Siou and Edward Openshaw, the 165 recorded was actually #3358, then owned by John Malone). Hayes McClaran of Fresno, California, performed the restoration of the Playland 165 for Hathaway & Bowers, and subsequently purchased the organ for himself about 1981. McClaran sold the non-original statues. The original scenery on the facade was long-gone, having been stripped away, so McClaran commissioned an MGM scenery painter to paint scenes of California history on the facade. After a conversation with McClaran about the organ, Matthew Caulfield described the facade scenes thusly: “The left scene has no people in it; they had all left town to join the gold rush. The middle scenes are mining camp scenes. The right scene is an Indian on a hill pondering what the miners did to his land. The scene at the top of the organ shows the old Cliff House, which burned down in 1907.”

When McClaran moved from Fresno to Batesville, Indiana, the 165 went with him. Hayes had long wanted to see the organ return to California, and in 2006, in a deal brokered by band organ collector and historian Tim Trager and others, the 165 was sold to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, California, a historic seaside amusement park owned by the Canfield family. The organ went to Bellefontaine, Ohio, where it was restored by the Stinson Band Organ Company. For ease of operation, it was decided that the organ would be outfitted with a non-invasive MIDI system to augment the original roll frames, a first for a Wurlitzer 165. But the organ still plays its proper music, as MIDI diskettes of most 165 rolls are available today.  After over 30 years in private hands, the 165 was installed in the carousel building at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and on March 31, 2007 -- 13 years to the day after the Seabreeze 165 (detailed later) was lost to fire -- this 165 began accompanying a public carousel again, and another Looff carousel, at that (figs. 7 & 8). The carousel’s original band organ, an 1894 Ruth & Sohn, has been undergoing restoration at the Stinson shop, as well. The Ruth was converted to 165 rolls decades ago, but upon the organ’s return it will play MIDI files of both 165 music and Ruth 38 music. The Ruth, which has been without a proper facade for some time, will be fitted with a Stinson 2000-series facade decorated with scenes from the Boardwalk’s history. The park also has a Wurlitzer 146 that will be restored. The Ruth has been behind a glass wall since the 1960s, and a similar wall was put in place shortly after the 165 arrived last year. Although all three organs will be behind glass, a sound system will transmit the organs’ music around the inside and outside of the carousel building. Just one other carousel in the United States today has three operating band organs (none have more) -- the Grand Carousel at Knoebels Amusement Resort, Elysburg, Pennsylvania (a large 1888 Frati playing 61-key Artizan rolls, a 52-key Gebruder Bruder Model 107 playing book music and MIDI files, and a small Wilhelm Bruder Sohn playing 125 rolls).

5. Organ #3349 (Seabreeze)
Although this organ is no longer in existence, this article would surely be lacking if it did not include the Seabreeze Wurlitzer 165. This organ accompanied the 1915 Philadelphia Toboggan Co. carousel (#36) at Seabreeze Park, Rochester, New York. According to Seabreeze history, the 165 was purchased in 1926 when the Long family, owners and operators of area carousels, moved the PTC carousel from nearby Seneca Park to Seabreeze and the Long-built machine at Seabreeze to Seneca Park. However, Wurlitzer records show no 165 being shipped to Rochester in 1926. Organ #3349, a 165, was shipped to Seabreeze April 11, 1921, and another 165, #4292, went to Rochester in 1931. There has, therefore, been some confusion about the Seabreeze organ’s build year and serial number, but it is highly likely that it was #3349 from 1921. Whether it accompanied the Long machine at Seabreeze before the carousel switch, or whether the carousel switch was actually in 1921, is not known for certain. (The Long carousel was destroyed by a fire at Seneca Park in 1948.) For the Wurlitzer 165, George Long paid $2,000 and traded in Seabreeze’s Welte orchestrion and another, unknown organ, possibly a barrel organ.

The Seabreeze 165 was placed in the center of the PTC carousel. In the 1940s and 1950s the organ was serviced and tuned most springs by the late Ralph Tussing (TRT). In the early 1950s the pressure and vacuum bellows gave out; when the replacement cowhide also gave out, the organ was converted to run on a Spencer Orgoblow blower. In the fall of 1955, George Long, Jr. (by then the park’s owner) repainted the organ’s facade. Fig. 9 shows a rare photo of the organ in the center of the carousel and with this paint job. By the 1950s the register stops on the organ no longer functioned, so Merrick Price, Long’s son-in-law, replaced the pneumatic register controls with electric solenoids -- which could be heard snapping on and off. In the late 1960s they were replaced with an improved pneumatic system by Price and Alan Mueller, a local collector.

About 1970, the organ was moved to the basement workshop under the carousel building for its first major rebuild. The facade was repainted again, this time to resemble its original appearance, by Merrick Price. An LP record titled “Band Organ Memories” (fig. 10 from its cover) was produced by Ermeck Corp. (Merrick Price and Eric Hauptman) soon after the rebuild, with liner notes by Price describing the work that was performed over two winters: “All the pipes were removed, cleaned, repaired and shellacked. The pneumatic pouches and bellows were recovered. The oak case was refinished. The ornate front... was stripped down to the original decoration. The original colors were carefully matched and the scenes were painstakingly restored. After the organ was re-assembled it was voiced and tuned.” It was decided upon its return to the carousel building that the organ would be installed outside of the carousel itself, partly to facilitate better access for repairs. The organ was placed along the north wall of the building (fig. 11). Park patrons could sit and relax in the rows of red rocking chairs, watching the carousel and listening to the organ. Some rockers even faced the 165.

Another restoration of the organ was done in the spring of 1991. All the pipes were removed and cleaned, the pallet valves were redone, pneumatics were recovered, and Parsons Organ Co. repaired the bass pipes. This rebuild was largely undone just two years later by a leaky roof. Water got into the organ and dissolved many of the glued joints in the windchest. As a result, another rebuild took place before the 1993 season, and only then would the organ have been considered fully restored. That year, the organ played probably the finest it had since it was new. Both rebuilds were performed by Alan Mueller, who by then had maintained the 165 for 30, and Merrick Price, with assistance from local resident Nicholas Rosica.

The park built up a large collection of 165 rolls over the years, some of them original Wurlitzer green-paper rolls. Excessive repetition of music was never an issue; according to Alan Mueller, Merrick Price would change rolls twice per day. Dynamic Recording produced three well-known commercial recordings of the organ: “Carousel Breezes,” “Carousel Christmas,” and “Carousel Breezes Vol. 2” (released in 1989, 1992, and 1994, respectively, and available on CD and cassette). Dynamic also recorded additional music from the organ, at least some of which they released, though not widely, in an earlier ten-volume cassette series. All of the tunes on the first “Carousel Breezes” came from the last three cassettes in that series.

On the windy afternoon of March 31, 1994, the carousel and band organ were tragically lost in a fire accidentally started by workers repairing another roof leak. Park workers made a heroic attempt to save the 165, but were only able to budge the 3,000-pound band organ a short distance before the smoke forced them out of the burning building. Two miniature carousels built by George Long, one of them a replica of the PTC carousel, were also lost, along with other treasures including the entire collection of 165 rolls. Fortunately, the original rolls that were unique to Seabreeze had been loaned to Play-Rite for recutting in the late 1980s, so their music was not lost.

The loss of PTC #36 and the Wurlitzer 165 was devastating not only to Rochesterians but to carousel and band organ lovers all over the country. In obtaining another carousel, the Long family could have taken the easy way out (a fiberglass carousel with recorded music), but they vowed that a new carousel and band organ would pay tribute to, and be worthy replacements for, PTC #36 and the Wurlitzer 165 -- and they followed through. On June 1, 1996, the new Seabreeze carousel opened. Very similar in overall appearance to PTC #36, it carries new horses carved by Edward Roth of California, as well as four horses which were off the old machine at the time of the fire, and two horses carved by George Long, Jr. (see photos on the National Carousel Assoc. web site, The new band organ, a Wurlitzer 165 replica built by Johnny Verbeeck of Belgium, arrived soon after and began playing July 3, 1996. The organ was modeled after the 165 in the collection of Dr. Robert Gilson, and includes original Wurlitzer roll frames from a European organ, owned by Gilson, that Wurlitzer had converted to 165 rolls. This was a win-win for both parties; while Gilson had that organ restored to playing its original book music, Seabreeze obtained the authentic Wurlitzer roll frames.

Today the Seabreeze Verbeeck 165 is maintained by Matthew Caulfield, who donated his entire collection of 165 roll recuts to be played on the new organ (and who had worked at the park as a teenager). The Seabreeze roll collection is the most complete collection of 165 rolls anywhere, some rolls containing tunes missing from other collections – and every roll label can be read through the glass doors of the large roll cabinet in the carousel building. In 2000 Caulfield installed an LED display to show which tune on which roll is currently playing (a modern-day version of the tune cards that used to be used at Griffith Park and Lincoln Park, Los Angeles). Seabreeze patrons can once again enjoy the carousel and band organ while sitting in (new) red rocking chairs. The Verbeeck organ still lacks a facade. In 2001 Dynamic released a CD of the organ titled “Carousel Memories.”

6. Organ #3358 (Chase)
The public life of organ #3358 was at Sunnyside Park, an amusement park in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where it was shipped April 28, 1921. It played from a rare spot for any band organ, not in the center of a regular carousel but rather in the center of a racing derby ride made by Prior & Church (fig. 12 is a rare glimpse). As the horses circled the “track” (much faster than a carousel and a much larger diameter) the horses in each group of four would move forward and backward, “racing” each other! Just two racing derbies exist today; one similar to the former Sunnyside machine is at Cedar Point Park, Sandusky, Ohio, and one with Illions-carved horses is at Playland, Rye, New York. Neither has a band organ; one wonders how well the 165 at Sunnyside could be heard over the noise of the racing derby!

According to the late Captain John Leonard of St. Catharines, Ontario, Sunnyside closed about 1957. Walt Disney had been inspired to start his own park via Ross Davis’ carousels at Lincoln and Griffith Park in Los Angeles, and Davis arranged the sale of Sunnyside’s Dentzel carousel, with its Wurlitzer 157 band organ, to Disneyland. The 165 was supposed to go to Disney, as well, but it did not; Davis kept the organ for himself. In the late 1960s it was sold to John Malone (Play-Rite Music Rolls), Turlock, California, who performed his own restoration work on it. The late Marc Elbasani wrote on the online “Mechanical Music Digest” that when Malone was only in his late teens or early twenties he “bought the Wurlitzer 165 in millions of pieces. It took him years to get it all back together, but when he did, he had the most magnificent mechanical music machine right there in his own home.” Malone also fitted the organ with auxiliary roll frames to play Style 150 and 125 rolls, so it was capable of playing any Wurlitzer band organ roll that Play-Rite was producing! This 165 must have auditioned many a roll during its time with Play-Rite. Matthew Caulfield heard Style 150 rolls on the organ and wrote on the MMD that they “sounded so much richer and fuller on the 165 than on a 146 or even a 153 -- solely because of the pipe complement they were driving in the 165.” This organ is one of three surviving 165s with lights on its facade (fig. 13).

According to Ray Siou, who sold rolls Play-Rite cut, two well-known CD/cassette recordings feature the Malone 165. Klavier Recordings’ “Catch The Brass Ring” Vols. 1 and 2 (LPs released 1975 and 1978, respectively) were recorded from this organ while it was at the Oakland Coliseum, although they are not labeled as such; the LP jacket for Vol. 1 features a photo of 165 #3124, then in the Hathaway & Bowers collection. (Klavier’s “Catch Another Brass Ring” was reportedly recorded from 165 #3378, noted in the next section.) Also, Marc Elbasani released three CDs he recorded of the Malone 165, of which all of one and half of another featured Play-Rite transcriptions of 66-key B.A.B. arrangements. In 2006, the organ was sold to Arnold Chase of West Hartford, Connecticut. It is being restored by Tim Westman, Woodsville, New Hampshire, and the facade is being restored by Rosa Ragan, Saxapahaw, North Carolina. Chase reports that the organ, which was converted to run on a blower, will be returned to the original pump and bellows system as part of a “100-point” restoration.

7. Organ #3378 (Gilson)
Organ #3378 was originally shipped to New York, New York, June 25, 1921. For many years it resided at the center of a three-row Stein & Goldstein carousel (currently in restoration) at Nunley’s Amusements, Baldwin, Long Island, New York. According to Gavin McDonough, who maintained the carousel’s Wurlitzer 153 band organ, the 165 was rarely used because it was too loud for the building. McDonough bought the 165 from Nunley’s in June, 1980, and decided he would keep either the 165 or his unique Ruth Model 36X, converted to 165 rolls, which came from nearby Nunley’s Happyland when it closed in 1978. McDonough chose to keep the Ruth, with its nine articulated figures. Just a few weeks after he purchased the 165, it was sold to Dr. Robert Gilson, Middleton, Wisconsin.

The 165 then went to the shop of Durward Center for a gradual, painstaking restoration, and the facade went to Rosa Ragan. Work was completed in the summer of 1987. McDonough, who had described the organ’s earlier state as “excellent unrestored condition,” wrote upon hearing the finished product, “That organ came a long way in both sound and sight since it left Nunley’s seven years ago.” It is believed that the organ did not originally have statues; those on it today (fig. 14) were likely modeled after ones in a Bruder factory illustration of an “Elite Orchestra Apollo” (precursor to the Wurlitzer 165). According to Ray Siou, this is the 165 that was used for Klavier Recordings’ “Catch Another Brass Ring” (1990, CD and cassette).

Organ #3437 in the Winstead Collection. This organ originally shipped to St. Louis in 1922, then went to Cincinnati, OH, where it played at Kings Island Amusement Park from 1925 to 1953.

8. Organ #3437 (Winstead)
Organ #3437 was originally shipped to St. Louis, Missouri, April 20, 1922. It was rebuilt and sent to Cincinnati, Ohio, April 15, 1925, where it played at the Kings Island amusement park. In 1953 the organ was given in trade to Ralph Tussing (TRT) in exchange for his rebuilding of the park’s Wurlitzer 157 (later replaced at the park by the 157 purchased from the late Paul Eakins; the former 157 is now in the Bronson collection, Dundee, Michigan). Tussing sold the 165 to the late Howard Walton, who used it at his roller skating rink in Mentor-on-the-Lake, Ohio, near Painesville, its last public home. Fig. 15 shows a rare photo of the organ on location at the roller rink. Every night at closing time, Walton would play roll no. 6510, titled “Home Sweet Home,” a medley of four waltzes (“Good Night Ladies”, “We Won’t Go Home Till Morning”, “Auld Lang Syne”, “Then We’ll Go Home”) in order to let his patrons know it was time to go. This five-tune length roll is unique among surviving 165 rolls today, and Walton loaned this original copy so it could be recut. Even after his roller rink was no more, Walton kept the 165, selling it later to Don Rand and Edward Openshaw (who also owned the Lincoln Park and Griffith Park, Los Angeles, 165s). For the 165, Rand and Openshaw gave Walton a Wurlitzer 153 they restored for him plus an unknown amount of cash. Matthew Caulfield notes that when the organ was in Rand’s garage in Thomaston, Maine, its facade, one of three 165 facades with lights, still sported the pink-and-baby-blue paint job. Rand and Openshaw, having bought the organ from Howard Walton, sold it to another Howard – Howard Winstead of Warwick, Rhode Island, who performed his own mechanical work on it. When he bought the organ he commissioned Rand to restore the facade to its original appearance. Due to the ceiling clearance in the roller rink, about one foot had been cut out of the topknot section of the organ’s facade, so Openshaw crafted the missing section. Fig. 16 shows the restored facade after it was returned to the organ. Winstead passed away on March 2, 2008, at age 90. His family plans to keep his collection of band organs.

9. Organ #3629 (Openshaw)
Organ #3629 is certainly the most well-known of the Wurlitzer 165s that no longer play publicly. It was shipped to carousel builder Spillman Engineering, N. Tonawanda, New York, Feb. 26, 1924. Later that year the organ was purchased by the late Ross R. Davis, a Los Angeles-based dealer for Wurlitzer and Spillman, and installed at Lincoln Park, Los Angeles. At that time a Herschell-Spillman carousel operated there; that machine (now at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco) was replaced at Lincoln Park with a large Spillman carousel around 1930. (A photo of the 165 at Lincoln Park dated Aug. 26, 1924, shows that the organ, best known for accompanying the Spillman machine, must have previously played for the earlier carousel.) The Lincoln Park carousel was one of several Ross Davis operations in California (another being Griffith Park, also in Los Angeles, detailed later). The Spillman logo on the facade was covered with the banner visible in fig. 17, which shows Ross Davis’ name (this was in turn covered with the names of later owners Don Rand and Edward Openshaw). Like the 165s in the Chase and Winstead collections, this organ has lights on its facade.

While at Lincoln Park, the organ was featured on a number of records, including “Merry-Go-Round Music for Adults and Children Too!” (Fairlane Records, 1959); “75 key Wurlitzer Fair Organ” (British issue on Crystal Records); Concert Recording releases including “Marvelous Music Machines: Wurlitzer Orchestral Band Organ” Vols. 1 & 2, “Fairground Favorites: Music of the Circus Midway” (with three other instruments), and “Carousel Christmas” (also not all from the 165); “Bozo’s Merry-Go-Round Music, Ride 1” and “Ride 2” (Capitol children’s records, 2 tunes each, 1954); and the 78-RPM records issued by Ross Davis (at least five known, ca. 1953). Bel Canto issued a reel-to-reel, “Carouselle Band Organ, album 1.” Ross Davis also issued reel-to-reels of the organ for use with the “electronic band organ” he sold, which consisted of a tape player and speakers behind a decorative front (similar to the Allan Herschell Co. “Merri-Org” and the systems by Baptist Sound).

Ross Davis knew the importance of good band organ music at a carousel, and the Lincoln Park 165 was always kept in good repair (as was the Griffith Park 165). “Some operators pay no attention to the music that goes with the ride,” Davis said in an interview, “but I don’t feel that way at all.” Gary Watkins, who compiled the Style 165 roll catalog now maintained by Matthew Caulfield, wrote, “I was one of a number of people who visited the parks [Lincoln and Griffith] each Sunday just to hear the fine Wurlitzer arrangements on the well-maintained organs.” Davis built up a large collection of rolls, many of which were used to produce the recuts that exist today. Some rolls not in the collection could be found at Playland-at-the-Beach in San Francisco; Davis gave away rolls he did not particularly like. Watkins wrote, “Some of these rolls occasionally made their way to the Davis carrousels for a rare playing.” And according to Watkins, repetition of music was minimal: “Ross Davis usually did not let rolls repeat and was open to requests.” Davis set up a system at both parks whereby patrons could learn the titles of the tunes they were hearing. Large tune cards were made, one for each roll, and the ones for the rolls playing were placed on an easel which had a light bulb next to each tune title. As each tune played, the correct bulb would light up, via the coin trip hole in the music roll. (Matthew Caulfield devised a modern-day version of this at Seabreeze Park, Rochester, New York, using an LED display.)

In 1976 Lincoln Park’s Spillman carousel was destroyed in an arson fire. Fortunately, the 165 was being stored in a shop for repairs, as was the Griffith Park 165 with its 157 facade. Don Rand and Edward Openshaw, by then the owners, decided to restore the Lincoln Park 165 for installation at Griffith Park, feeling its lighted facade better complemented the lighted carousel, and they placed the Griffith Park 165 in storage. The Lincoln Park organ, as it is known, would play at Griffith Park for ten years. Rand and Openshaw carried on the Davis tradition of having as little repetition of music as possible; according to George Karpel, who made personal recordings of the organ playing every roll they had, they “truly enjoyed the sounds of the organ. They made it a rule never to play the same roll twice before going through each and every roll.” Cassette recordings of the organ were sold at the carousel.

In December 1986, the organ “gave up the ghost” at Griffith Park. The new owners of the carousel, Warren Deasy and Rosemary West, who were leasing the organ, did not adhere to Rand and Openshaw’s weekends-only rule for playing the 165 (a smaller North Tonawanda organ was supposed to be played during the week), and the pressure bellows gave out. Like their other 165 ten years earlier, Rand and Openshaw removed the Lincoln Park 165 from the Griffith Park Carousel. Deasy and West acquired a new Stinson Model 87 band organ (which plays 165 rolls) for the carousel.

When Openshaw moved to Rumney, NH, the 165 went with him. Unfortunately, it is currently not playable, needing a total restoration, but Openshaw has recently expressed the desire to get the grand old 165 playing again.

10. Organ #3779 (Glen Echo)
During its first five years of operation, the 1921 Dentzel carousel at Glen Echo Park, Glen Echo, Maryland, was accompanied by a Wurlitzer 153 band organ. On April 12, 1926, Wurlitzer organ #3779 was shipped to the park. This Wurlitzer 165 was installed in an alcove facing the carousel, and it remains there to this day. In the late 1940s or early 1950s the organ was converted to Caliola rolls, most likely by TRT, due to Caliola rolls being more plentiful and/or less expensive than 165 rolls at the time. Homemade recordings exist of the organ in this altered state. In 1968 the amusement park closed, and the carousel and band organ were both purchased by Jim Wells. A community organization raised $80,000 (the last $10,000 from an anonymous donor) to purchase the carousel and band organ, which never left the park, from Wells. The group gave the carousel and organ to the National Park Service, which operates them today. Glen Echo Park would later become a cultural and arts center.

The National Park Service began the process of having the carousel restored, and in 1978 the Wurlitzer 165 went to Durward Center’s shop for restoration. The decision was wisely made to re-convert the organ back to 165 rolls, which by then were readily available from Play-Rite Music Rolls, Turlock, California. Ten pipes had been replaced to accommodate the Caliola scale, so Center made ten proper replacement pipes during the restoration. After hearing the restored organ playing 165 rolls,  after it had been “wheezing” along playing Caliola rolls for years, Matthew Caulfield said, “Durward Center worked a miracle with that organ.”

Interestingly, the tracker bars on the organ to this day are still Caliola bars; the two offset holes are not lined up with the bass and snare drum on the 165 roll, but rather two other holes. This causes no timing problems in the organ’s performance, calling into question whether the offsetting of the holes on the tracker bar was ever necessary.

Glen Echo Park now has a nearly complete collection of recut 165 rolls, lacking only about half a dozen of the existing rolls. The organ’s facade was restored by Rosa Ragan, who uncovered and restored its original paintings. (Over 20 years, Ragan restored the entire carousel to original factory condition; see before-and-after photos at She delivered the restored facade to the park in January 1998 (before and after, figs. 19 & 20). The Glen Echo 165 is considered to be one of the finest sounding 165s, due partly to the brilliant acoustics of the organ’s alcove and of the overall Dentzel carousel building.

Carrousel Music released two cassettes of the newly-restored organ in 1979. Art Curtze, State College, Pennsylvania, released an LP of the organ titled “Ride The Carousel!” on his Artacus label in 1984, and carousel operator and band organ arranger Max Hurley recorded and sold a series of cassette tapes of the organ. Durward Center services and tunes the organ twice a year. The organ went to Center’s shop for various repairs in the Spring of 2007, the first time it had left the carousel building since the 1978 restoration.

11. Organ #4338 (Neilson)
Organ #4338 was not only the last 165 that Wurlitzer sold, but was the last roll-playing automatic instrument sold by Wurlitzer. Ross Davis purchased it for his Spillman carousel at Griffith Park, Los Angeles, where it was shipped June 14, 1939. The organ was probably built some time before, and remained unsold until that year.

When the organ was sold, a 165 facade was not available, so it was fitted with a 157 facade. Interestingly, during some of the time this 157-looking 165 was facing the Griffith Park carousel (fig. 21), an actual Wurlitzer 157 was at the center of the carousel. (The 157 now resides, unplayable, at Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, California.) While many recordings were issued of the nearby Lincoln Park 165, it is believed that the Griffith Park “157-165” was not used for any recordings that were commercially released.

Don Rand and Edward Openshaw purchased the Griffith Park Carousel in 1976, and they decided to restore the 165 from the lost Lincoln Park Carousel to install at Griffith Park, as that organ’s lighted facade would complement the lighted carousel. The “157-165” went with Don Rand to Thomaston, Maine (fig. 22). In 1986 Gary Watkins reported that it had not been playable for some time. That same year, the Lincoln Park 165 stopped playing at Griffith Park and was removed, and carousel owners Warren Deasy and Rosemary West soon acquired a new Stinson Model 87 band organ (which plays 165 rolls and, with its Wurlitzer 157-inspired facade, looks very much like two of its predecessors at Griffith Park, the “157-165” and the 157 now at Knott’s Berry Farm). Don Rand sold the “157-165” in 1997, by which time it had been returned to good playing condition, and it became part of the collection of Donald Neilson, Norristown, Pennsylvania, where it resides today.

Other 165s, Partial or Lost, and Looking Ahead
It is noteworthy that, in detailing the history of the existing 165s, certain names come up repeatedly. Jim Wells was involved with three of the 165s; he owned the one now in the Sanfilippo collection, briefly owned the 165 from the Heller Hoard (now the Carrousel Music 165), and very briefly owned the Glen Echo 165 before the community organization bought it back. Ross Davis owned three 165s -- the Griffith Park and Lincoln Park organs and the 165 now owned by Arnold Chase. Don Rand and Edward Openshaw also owned three 165s -- the Griffith Park and Lincoln Park organs that Davis had owned (Openshaw still owns the latter organ) and the 165 now in the Winstead collection. Additionally, three of the 165s -- the Glen Echo, Gilson and Chase organs -- have had their facades restored by Rosa Ragan. The Glen Echo and Gilson organs themselves have been restored by Durward Center.

In addition to the ten complete 165s, a partial 165 exists in pieces and sans its original case. This organ, #3106, came from Westview Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which closed in the 1950s. Its first private owner was the late Jake DeBence, who later sold it to Steve Lanick. It is now owned by Donald Neilson, who is having it made whole again by restorer Joe Hilferty, York, Pennsylvania. (Neilson, speaking of repeated names, already owns 165 #4338!) Hilferty reports that the finished product will be about 75 percent original parts. A replica 165 facade is being created by Robert Yorburg. This organ will truly be the eleventh existing Wurlitzer 165; it will be no less a real 165 than is the Carrousel Music organ, which was restored from a similar state (and no one would dispute that organ’s status as a true 165).

One of the 165s no longer in existence today played at Hanlan’s Point in the Toronto, Ontario, area (not to be confused with the Sunnyside Park, Toronto, 165, now owned by Arnold Chase). Captain John Leonard, who in his youth enjoyed the 165 and its three-row Dentzel carousel, reported that when he returned to Hanlan’s Point years later, the carousel had been stripped by looters and vandals, and the organ was just a shell, with little more than the case remaining. Leonard picked up a tracker bar from the ground and gave it to Ralph Tussing (TRT).

In examining Wurlitzer’s disposition and repair ledgers, certain entries for 165s are particularly interesting. One of the 165s no longer in existence, #2914, was shipped to Cedar Point Park, Sandusky, Ohio, in 1921. Cedar Point, the famed amusement park on the shore of Lake Erie, has seen many carousels and band organs over the years (and still has two of each, plus a racing derby). What happened to the Wurlitzer 165 that was at the park?

Another lost 165, #4292, was shipped to Rochester, New York, in 1931. Rochester’s Genesee Valley Park had three carousels over the years; the second was lost in a 1953 fire, which was quite possibly the fate of that 165.
Another lost 165 was #2871, shipped May 13, 1914 to J. J. McQuillan for the Skating Pavilion at his Lake Minnequa Park, Pueblo, Colorado. Restorer Art Reblitz, Colorado Springs, Colorado, remembers being visited years ago by a group of Colorado amusement park enthusiasts. Upon inquiring about the Lake Minnequa 165, Reblitz learned that after the park closed in 1938, the organ was severely damaged from being stored in a leaky building. One of the men said he trucked the remains of the organ to the Pueblo city dump!

It should be noted that Wurlitzer converted various organs built by others to play 165 rolls and then sold them as Wurlitzer 165s. An existing example is Knoebels Amusement Resort’s “Wurlitzer 165” (#2344, Elysburg, Pennsylvania), originally a DeKleist barrel organ. These organs today are obviously not considered actual Wurlitzer 165s.

Looking ahead to the future of the existing Wurlitzer 165s, one can be confident that the three publicly operating ones will remain so. It was truly significant when organ #3124 began playing at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the first 165 ever to return to public use from private hands. Hopefully, organ #3629, remembered fondly from Lincoln Park and Griffith Park, will one day emerge from its long slumber and play again. And there is always the possibility that another 165 will return to public use and spark a lifelong love of band organ music in new listeners.

The author, who has been gathering information on the Wurlitzer 165s for years, would like to thank the following for information provided for this article: William Black, Matthew Caulfield, Durward Center, Mark Chester, Alan Erb, Joe Hilferty, Richard Lokemoen, Hayes McClaran, Alan Mueller, Ed Openshaw, Marty Persky, Don Rand, Art Reblitz, Tim Trager. Ron Bopp’s book “The American Carousel Organ” was also a primary source of information. The author would also like to thank the credited photographers for permission to use their photographs. Organ shipping dates cited are from Wurlitzer’s “Disposition of Instruments Manufactured” ledger; it and the repair ledger can be downloaded online at

This article was originally published in the May/June issue of “Mechanical Music” (the journal of the Musical Box Society International).  For information on MBSI, visit them at

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