Sunday 30th November we got the old Mustang out for the drive to Bowral. No problem, but the wind was blowing a gale with gusts shifting the pony car around. We joined the 32 members and wives along with 8 kids waiting to enter Fairground Follies storage come factory unit before 10. Most of us Buickers turned up in Vintage, Classic and moderns. Along with 8 Studebaker Club members and 10 My Car Social Club members. We entered in the door past a huge “Garrett” steam tractor on the left with a Mercedes roadster replica (with Holden running gear) car on the right, to a brightly painted small street organ, a 95 key Mortier machine with a facade of a ”Limonaire Freres”. Craig Robeson’s Fairground Follies is a trust set up to restore antique musical, pneumatically operated instruments, organs and machines.
Meeting Craig and Grace as the 100year old 25 ton Gallopers English Carousel, played, with 30 dancing brightly painted horses and cockerels galloped up and down as its organ blared out “Happy Days are Hear Again”. Once the OH & S formalities were done Craig MC’D the tour and Grace operated the I ‘Pad queuing the MIDI (Yamaha?) interface for each machine to play as Craig told of each machines history, mechanical workings and features. Starting with the “English Carousel, made in 1902, formerly “Commander Baldocks Gallopers” named as and before going to “Luna Park” Sydney. The carousel has an Australian touch with verse from “Furphy Wagons” = Good Better Best, Never let it rest. Till your good is better and you better best. And a 1900’s riddle “YY U R YY U B I C U R YY 4 ME. The music is provided by a now 89 key, (and at up to 110 decibels when steam powered) decibel organ that’s now driven by an electric motor. The Number2 Gavioli organ originating in The Black Forest Germany. The carousel originally rotating at 30 RPM was slowed to 10 RPM.
Fairground Follies Trust has 2 other carousels under repair. A 1900 European carousel with 15 wooden horses, 4 chariots and a polar bear in 2 rows with the platform turning anti clockwise unlike the English Gallopers which revolves clockwise. And the 3rd built in 1896 “Savage Gallopers” was 4 abreast when made but cut down to 3 abreast in 1900and soon to have an 87 keyless Gavioli organ installed. All 3 carousels were made originally with few nuts and bolts mainly using slip joints so they could be easily pulled down and moved to the next fairground within 8 hours, packed on to wagons and relocated by Horse teams or later behind steam “Showman’s Tractors” traction engines.
Next Craig and Grace queued “The Golden Lion” a Dutch (Alkmaar in The Netherlands) street organ dancing “The Chicken Dance” with Maggie, WendyG, GeorgeF and others joining doing the hand movements, flapping their wings and waggling hips. Craig then explained the artwork of 3 paintings of African scenes and featuring a carved lions head up on top. Originally a large dance organ it was converted for street use and most probably operated, moved by 1 or 2 families throughout various towns or cities. Cranked by a large flywheel to pressurize a reservoir which distributed the air to a folding slotted cardboard book, and the slots, are read by mechanical fingers which open valves allowing the air to pass to the 12 registers; 400 pipes; animated figures; drums and other instruments.
Next was the “Showmans Wagon”, also called a Gypsy wagon, as they were carved with dragons and lions on either sides of the door to scare away evil spirits. The scollop shells because Saint James used scollop shells to baptize people, with flowers and scroll work painted brightly in all gaudy colours. These wagons, before steam, were pulled by 1 or 2 draught or shire horses and families lived in them travelling from town to town. Inside is a cooking stove (good weather they would have had a camp fire outside too) and full size bed with a cubbie under it, were a baby would sleep, hence a “Cubbie House”. Other older children slept downstairs, underneath the wagon. Had it’s own ensuite, a bucket. A little history on this wagon: it survived the fires in Marysville in Victoria as every house was burnt out, this survived in its shed. And when it gets moved something happens? So Craig recons it’s got SPOOKS.
Next was the Gavioli 87 Military Band Organ, made in Voldkerk, it’s a huge organ and loud at 100 decibels. Made as an engagement present, it has gold leaf on 7 figures, and the conductor’s arms move too. It was originally in a wagon but now on castors in the workshop, so the top fassard is missing. Craig warned use to move back as Grace started it playing. YES IT WAS LOUD.
“De Klok” the most travelled street organ in the world was next. Contracted to KLM airlines it travelled the world promoting “KLM Dutch Airlines” in Africa; North America; South America; Indonesia and everywhere KLM went. A crank handled wheel at the back, which compresses the air into the bellows, and operated on a folding slotted music book, operates it. Craig got several audience men to crank the wheel. Just to prove it was – Hard work!
A Gramophones player (modern for 1950’s) that looked like small piano until you opened the keys wooden cover to changed the record. All to impress the neighbours.
A “Hupfelds” orchestrian large pianola with violins, drums, pipes etc operated off a special pianola roll. The front cover paneling was off it to show its internal working parts.
A “Goliath” jukebox that lifted records by a vacuum came next. Not working except for the radio part of it.
Another jukebox which was banned in Australia, due to moral values back then of scantily dressed women dancing as they sang, appeared on a TV like projection screen at the top of the jukebox. It had everyones attention!
Next the big draw card, “The Mortier Taj Mahal” machine, built for a dance hall after WW1, for St Jeans Palace in Antwerp Belgium in 1924. It was moved 3 times in Europe before being disassembled by Craig’s team and coming to Bowral in Australia. It’s 26 feet long and 20 feet tall, and has 101 keys. Mortier built it as a symbol of good luck, prosperity in the shape of the Taj Mahal with a Saint Cecelia statue blowing a trumpet; Aphrodite at the top; Grecian urns of plenty; good luck dragons; spinning columns; paintings; alternating colour lights; and remembrance flares with its musical instruments being separate to its amazing façade. Grace programmed it to play the “Star Wars Theme”, truly an amazing and spectacular machine with its flashing lights co-ordinated to the music!
The Treumo machine made by Automarta came next, fashioned on a famous Italian piano accordionist Tino Rossi (died in 1960’s), set against a Parisian cafés street surround scene. The look a like Tino’s head and eyes move as it plays the accordion and drummer plays too, all controlled by a reproducing piano mechanism.
A “Decaps” brothers (founded in 1902 by their father Alois) Jazz Robot machine from 1946’s, a thing of the future where robots are programmed to play 2 saxophones, 2 accordions, a trumpet and drums as the 3-robot musicians move their arms etc. And finally the saxophonist stands up, sits down while playing and finally at the end he/it rises and takes a bow.
Calliopes, where represented, with there unique sound, this one was banned for a long time in Australia when run by steam as they were really loud and their whistles could be heard 16 miles away, now its “Rupes” air compressor operated.
A beautifully made cabinet with carved door panels where 3 violins, with a rotating bow player as an orchestrian roll and is read by the machine, the violins pivot onto the bow and play the music.
Tony “Decaps” also made a single piano accordion mounted on a mini system organ cabinet, approximately made 1920’s. We heard it play “In the Mood”.
Craig holds up a square record. And asks why square? Because round records were already patented, most probably by Emile Berliner (1895) with his invention of “round disc record gramophone”. In 1901 Berliner and Eldridge Johnson formed the Victor Talking Machine Company, later RCA Victor.
Next, a Christmas tree stand-base that plays Xmas music by winding a key that winds a spring. Like the old whisky decanters with chiming music, I remember Dads played “Little Old Wine Drinker Me”.
Next a Calliope Xylophone that sounds like you would hear at an old style circus. This one played “Mr Sandman”.
Or a musical chair, not for anyone to sit on, but to encourage children to sit on it, to get toilet trained.
The last musical machine Craig talked about is their latest project restoring a “One One O Rudder” machine, the largest built in Voldkerk Germany. The owner died before it came to Australia. Parts were lost including trumpets. More were trumpets were made, but the transport company lost them. It sounds reasonable, Craig said, but missing a few ranks and also parts of the facade, that have to be recarved. Along way to go yet!
John Saddington thanked Craig and Grace for the morning tea and the 2 hour tour on behalf of our Buick club. But as we were leaving Craig explained about the why the Garrett Showmans Tractor “Pride of Scotland” was parked at the front door as it had been out for a Bowral street parade the day before. And why it’s part of the collection, found in America and was used to pull 6 container wagons for the Gallopers etc, plus a living-in gypsy wagon and the organ wagon from fairgrounds to state fairs etc. Now full licenced and can be around on its solid rubbered tyres. Thanks again from all of us for a great day.
Leaving FF we played follow the leader in convoy to the Bowral Bowling Club for lunch and drinks. Being a small club with limited small kitchen and a few staff and so many of us, our lunch orders came out slowly. But all good there was a lot of talking still to be done. We left at 2.30 and got home by 4 to Camden. Later Gwen Allen sent us a mobile phone photo of Geoff Wards car on a tilt tray truck. It “failed to proceed” when evidently a timing gear failed.
Answer to the riddle: YY-W-U-R. YY-W-U-B. I-C-U-R. YY-W-4-ME
To wise you are. To wise you be. I see you are. Two wise for me.
SWAK. Gary Ferrett. X