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Pull Out All the Stops!

By Gabe Ross, Farm manager
I really enjoy music – listening, playing, writing … you name it. I’m lucky to work at Gallant Farm where I get to do some of these things occasionally. One of my favorite parts of giving tours in the farm house is showing the parlor and watching kids press keys on the pump organ – and seeing the surprise on their face when no sound comes out. After a quick demonstration of how the pedals need to be pumped for the organ to work, many visitors will then pick out a tune if they know one.

Requiring no electricity, but only human power, the pump organ is an engaging example of life before rural electrification. Pump organs were quieter than pipe organs and pianos and were also much easier to move, less expensive, and fit better in small rooms. They were popular up until rural electrification and the growing popularity of electric organs in the 1930s. There were once more than 600 manufacturers of pump organs in the United States.

Click on the image for a look at an old pump organ ad.

It’s a bit of a workout for the brain to play one, because you must engage both hands and both feet all moving independently, but it’s entertaining, and the organ makes a really rich sound. Pump organs have a series of knobs, called stops, above the keyboard that, when pulled out, allow air to flow over different reeds that vibrate to make sound sort of like a harmonica or accordion. Different stops pulled out make different sounds. When all the stops are pulled out, every sound that can be made comes out at once. This is where the term “pull out all the stops” comes from. It means to give it everything you’ve got.

Until recently the Gallant Farm pump organ wasn’t working, but thanks to the help of a very handy resident of Delaware County, Ken Hagan, who donated his time for its repair, it’s now up and running. Maybe this year we’ll incorporate the organ into our folk song programs, and there will be no more excuses for organ players not to attend! We’ve got one for you to play right here. But you don’t have to wait until the folk songs programs later this year; stop on out during open hours and give it a play.

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