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Uncles Pizza Restaurant - 3/8 Morton
Anchorage, AK
Organ installation timeframe: 1975 -
 
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Uncles Pizza, c.1976
 
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Uncles Pizza, c.1976
 


From THEATRE ORGAN FEBRUARY - MARCH, 1976
 
As told by Franklin Butte
 
If one year ago someone had said, "A year from now you will he playing a pizza organ instead of building radio and TV stations." I would have told them they were nuts! However in mid-October 1974, the phone rang just as I was conducting a tour through the mini-museum’ with the nine rank Wurlitzer at home,. Someone named Joe Lounsbury was on the phone from Fairbanks (about 400 miles from my home in Anchorage) wishing to know if I would be interested in installing an organ in an Anchorage pizza joint called Uncle’s! "Yes, I could be,” I replied. “But how much will it cost?” I dunno! was the answer. Will you sell your Wurlitzer? NO!! Well, then, try to find one. O.K.
 
Thanks to the good old ATOS magazine and its For Sale column, a few long distance calls, a deposit and Northwest Orient Airlines, I was off to Kansas City, Missouri with tool box in hand. Bob Jones greeted me at the airport. We called Fairbanks on the phone and I played the Morton for Lounsbury. I handed Bob the remaining balance, and (ugh) started dismantling the 3/8 instrument that had graced his residence for the past 15 years. It had originally come from the Kennedy Theatre in Kirksville, MO, where it was installed in 1929. Chuck Martin. manager of Uncle’s in Anchorage, flew down two days later. We rented a Hertz Rent-a-Truck and started the dubious task of loading the plunder. Jones’ residence is a charming, small 100-year-old home with very tiny windows in the basement through which the Bourdons and 16’ Tibias had to pass. Since I have had to move my own Wurlitzer several times from Portland. Oregon to Juneau to Anchorage. always by air. I used the same old techniques: rolling the little pipes in newspapers and stuffing them into bigger pipes, ad infinitum. After six days of this exciting work, we fired up the van, bade fond farewell and took off for Everett, Washington, a trip of nearly 3,000 miles. And what a trip it was. Six days on the road with intermediate stops at Santa Fe to visit Chuck’s folks, and a day in Portland to visit my dad, and see the Organ Grinder and get depressed. We decided on the southern route to avoid snow and as many mountains as possible. We were, to say the least, slightly top-heavy in spite of our very careful packing procedure. Twice we almost spilled it. once when we stopped for gas and there was a steep curbing and then again when we passed over the Markham bridge going into Portland at midnight. I hadn’t been there for years but recognized the streets we needed to get to my dad’s place. Turn here, I said to Chuck who was driving.
 
So he turned and instantly we were lofted over the Willamette River by what seemed to me at least 1,000 feet. The ramp onto the bridge was highly crowned.
 
"Don’t look down,” I said, trying to remain calm. The boats below looked like little fireflys. The top-heavy van wanted to favor the crown of the road. We made it but we required a shot of strong medicine to recuperate from the shock.
 
We arrived at Everett, Washington some 12 days after I had left Anchorage. It was Saturday and aided by a friend, we off-loaded the Morton, which so filled the 18 foot van that there was scarcely room for our suitcases. From there the Morton was flown to Fairbanks and then trucked to Anchorage. It started arriving about January first. One great pile of ”junque!!”
 
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Franklin Butte at his Anchorage residence 2/9 Wurlitzer
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Uncles’ manager Chuck Martin. Also engineer, driver and excellent pizza cook
 
Lounsbury decided he wanted everything but the console behind glass, so we selected to sacrifice the far end of the restaurant for installation of the organ. It is 36 feet across with a 10’ foot ceiling and we used about 10 feet for depth. Since absolutely everything was to show, it meant a rather arduous task of refinishing. The 4" thick plate glass is about 6’ 2 feet high with a solid wall above with appropriate openings for the shutters. We divided the room down the middle with the main organ on the left with Violin I and II, Flute and Diapason, also the Chrysoglott. The right chamber houses the Tibia, Trumpet, Vox and Kremone, plus the toy counter. We tried the toy counter outside the chambers as is done in so many other pizza joints, hut the Morton traps were absolutely humongous (big) and the effect was nerve-shattering. The Glock, Chimes and Xylophone are now scattered about the periphery of the room.
 
The console had been stripped and stained to fit Jones decor, but we felt it was “un-pizza-ish” so back it went to the original ivory and gold finish. With black laquer on the key cheeks, and a touch of bright red felt here and there, the effect is stunning. Actually, the chests were in remarkable condition and required very little re-leathering but the bells and traps were a bit tired and had to he completely re-leathered. I am a stickler for authenticity and the layout, chest-work, pipework, etc., had to be nearly factory-installed as possible. This slowed down the process of installation a bit but the results were worth it. All of the wooden pipes were re-shellacked, and the mitered Strings and Trumpets straightened to give the most impressive straight-up appearance. At this writing, six of the eight ranks are installed and working. The original instrument was only a 2/6 and thus space for additional wiring must be made for the extra ranks and the Glock which, though authentic, were not a part of the original.
 
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Console while installed in Missouri at Bob Jones' residence
 
The basic installation reached a primary plateau about April and we started giving luncheon and evening concerts, even before the plate glass was installed. This drove a few of the less appreciative customers to find pasta elsewhere, but after these several months, many are returning and we find a whole new clientele now emerging.
 
The chambers are lit with various colored lights. Reds on the shellacked woods, blues on the silvered pipes, greens on the low strings, and a clear spot on the flat black blower-generator box. All the bells are equipped with supplemental 12 volt lights to show which one is being played. When doing a “pot-pourri” similar to Foort’s “Nightmare in the Mosque” (circa 1956) it keeps the kiddies busy visually hopping trom light to light.
 
The main chamber is on its own regulator tremolo system, and the Tibia, Trumpet and Vox on separates and they are set for maximum depth which gives the instrument a very BIG sound for its smallness. The pipes are placed with the top ends towards the shutters and virtually all the sound gets out. Most of the wind ducting is with PVC, which, even though not authentic, is a very inexpensive, quick and sturdy way of ducting.
 
Future plans are to incorporate some of the old Anchorage and Fairbanks Empress (Kimball) organs in this installation. I guess the next priority is to get busy and learn more tunes. And I’ll have to admit this practicing five hours a day does wonders for one’s technique!

All photos from THEATRE ORGAN, February-March 1976


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