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Tulip Festival Street Organ
Orange City, Iowa

Charles Marenghi & Cie., Paris, 1909
Rebuilt Jac. Minning, Rotterdam, before 1950
Restorative repairs by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders, 2012


This unusual instrument was built by Charles Marenghi & Cie. of Paris, France. It was originally constructed as a dance organ of 79 keys. According to research by Fred Dahlinger, the instrument’s keyframe number, 2373, indicates the organ was built around the 1909-1910 period. Unfortunately, no photographs of the original dance instrument have yet come to light and little of its history is known.

Dance organs eventually fell out of fashion, and the instrument was converted to a street organ by the firm of Jacques Minning of Rotterdam (Netherlands), who reduced in size to its present 67 key configuration. The year of its conversion is as yet unknown. An early photograph of the instrument, perhaps taken in the years prior to World War Two, depicts the organ on a horse drawn cart in its much modified and smaller form. Note the absence of the three animated figures that, in later years, grace the front of the organ’s case. What is known, however, is that the street organ had been shipped to Philadelphia in 1950 to furnish entertainment at the Netherlands Trade Fair. It is presumed that the three animated figures were introduced to the organ sometime before it made its way overseas.

A view of the instrument before it was sent to the United States, without the animated figures that were added later.

After the Fair, transportation costs precluded the instrument’s shipment back to the Netherlands, so Fair officials decided to dispose of it. Harry Van Pelt, a professional actor from the Netherlands, who with his wife had just completed a three-day stand at the Orange City Tulip Festival, learned of the organ’s availability and made a call the Orange City Chamber of Commerce. Within two hours of that phone call, the transaction to purchase the instrument had been completed and a check was on its way to Philadelphia. At the time, this was only the second known Dutch street organ in the United States, and the only one in playing condition.

Our work on the instrument includes restoration of the components that allow it to function: hand cranking mechanism, keyframe, windchest, register box, damaged or missing pipework, and animated figures. Some interim repairs will carried out on the instrument’s case until full restoration efforts can be funded.

Dick Lokemoen and Linda McDonald have served as advisors to this project.

Because of its size, moving the street organ is no small task. The uppermost elements of the organ’s case hinge down to reduce its height, which allows it to pass through an overhead door. Orange City-based paint manufacturer Diamond Vogel provided a semi-truck and driver, and Lake City’s Farmer’s Co-op provided its dock and some labor. Dean Zenor brought his 1938 Allis Chalmers B to move the street organ from the co-op to the Dobson shop.

Though only half a mile, the trip took about fifteen minutes.

Once in our shop, the organ has been carefully dismantled and documented.

The reed basses are extensively mitered.

“Repaired by City of Pella, Water Department
Pella, Iowa
Bellows October 1964
Manfold [sic] March 1966”

The case, set up in our shop for repairs.

Several missing panels have been remade.

The main windchest before restoration.

The windchest table.

The underside of the windchest grid, showing some of the pallets.

A closeup of some of the pallets.

The underside of the grid had been recovered with two layers of synthetic cloth and what seemed like a vat of glue.

Detail of the two layers of cloth.

The pallet box bottom was lined with pages from old ledgers.

Bob Savage with the windchest grid, cleaned of the non-original cloth.

The restored reservoir and feeders, with the tremolo in the foreground.

The hub of the original hand-cranked flywheel is bored out to receive a new bushing.

Flywheel mounted on new crankshaft.

The new crankshaft and bearings. The bellows is immediately below.

The “keyframe,” the playing mechanism that reads the books of music.

The underside of the keyframe, showing the pneumatic parts.

The valve assembly that’s part of the keyframe.

The valves operated by the fingers of the keyframe. They’re tiny.

A block of brass nipples from the keyframe, before restoration.

The pneumatic mechansim of the keyframe, complete with brass nipples, after restoration.

The original rubber rollers that move the books of music through the keyframe.

We fabricated new rollers, which were sent to a firm that makes rollers for printing presses to have rubber applied.

A special book for testing each key and for tuning.

The restored keyframe.

The Piccolo pipes, added by Minning.

Some of the reed pipes, with their cardboard boots on the right.

Bass reed pipes and their fantastical mitering.

The three animated figures.

Careful stripping of non-original paint revealed the original decoration.

A new front wheel for the organ’s cart, made by Amish wheelwright Melvin Stutzman of Baltic, Ohio.

Linda McDonald, noted carousel restoration painter, touches up one of the animated figures.

Linda with the three restored figures.

Videos of the street organ can be found on YouTube.


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Dobson Pipe Organ Builders, Ltd.
200 North Illinois Street • Post Office Box 25
Lake City, Iowa 51449 USA
+1 712 464 8065

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